What’s a games press to do when all of the sudden they’re not privy to early access to an upcoming video game to review? Especially from a publisher that has already started anti-games press things like “blackballing” certain outlets, and by “outlets” just Kotaku and not releasing early review copies of the most excellent DOOM earlier this year.
Bethesda Softworks, creators of such fine video games in the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series announced a couple of weeks ago that they were essentially doing away with day and date reviews for their games. Citing the previously mentioned DOOM and its glorious reception from both gamer and games press alike, it has decided to forego sending out review copies of games of Skyrim: Special Edition and Dishonored 2 well in advance of their release.
Not to toot my own horn, but I have been calling for this for a long time now. I even wrote about why the written review was a useless endeavor for games publishers.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the utter and complete end of the games press, and I wholeheartedly disagree with Forbes’ Erik Kain that certain gamers shouldn’t be gloating about the games press being declared “dead”. Nevertheless, this does portend a growing trend of their needlessness in general. Perhaps a culling of the apes is in order.
More damning, in that all of the articles and podcast “hot takes” I found no real compelling reason from the games press as to why this was a bad thing. Instead a near universal din of this move being “anti-consumer”. How much this would make a reviewer’s life more unbearable by being forced to marathon a game review in order to beat competitors to be first.
Ideally, this only affects maybe 25 people. Moreover, that’s a games press the world over.
Last year when I quoted the ESA report on video game buying habits, “Written Product Reviews in Video Game Magazine and Websites” polled at an anemic 3% of influencing purchase power. It’s not even referenced this year, instead it seems to have been absorbed in to an all encompassing “Other” of about 22%, or maybe it’s finally fallen of to be statistically a 0%?
Aside from the hot takes, there seemed to be this assertion from many in the games press that this really didn’t matter, as there’s been a shift from “day and date ”to a more long view“ games criticism take on games. There is no need to feed the content monster when you can clog it up with such hard-hitting pieces of playing a ten-year-old PS2 game in 2016 and shaking your head at all the misogyny and general Japany-nonsense all up in it!
More to the point, it’s apparently another way for the games press to pooh-pooh the video game focused Youtubers who once again come out on top in all of this.
Anecdotally, I’ve always used reviews as a validation device. I buy most video games I want to buy day-and-date, and then I’ll go read the reviews from a few select sites. It’s usually not until the following week that actual discussion and breakdown of a game occurs anyways. So why is there such an apparent “pro-consumer” need for a day-and-date review? Aside from competing websites trying to be the first one and therefore getting the most clicks.
Barring that, most video game websites have a plethora of gamed related “content” surrounding almost every major release, so that regardless of an actual review on the site itself there’s a spike in interest for the game. The game gets some sort of coverage, and with the games press being another de facto wing of the marketing department these days, that’s about as good as you can ask for.
Video is king now. People are more interested in seeing the game in action, getting some form of “hot take” on the video game. Personally, I find this lacking, as most video games are hour’s long endeavors at best, and a quick hot take just cannot do most games justice. I mean how many times have your cemented an opinion on a video game in the first few hours. The only thing you can really comment on is how ubiquitous the tutorials are…at best.
I’ve always been of the mind that video game publishers are wasting precious resources trying to get video game websites to cover a game. It’s not that’s there’s literally too many games to play, but the games press is getting smaller and leaner, and becoming more pointed in their coverage. In addition, the average games press member is a chubby white guy in his late 30’s…he’s tired. He cannot stay up all weekend trying to marathon a game for review. Hell, he cannot even bother to write a review in anything approaching a timely manner.
Youtubers, for lack of a better word are what the games press should be now: young. There’s this jaundiced, cynical, chubby staleness to the current games press that can no longer be ignored. There’s a lack of enthusiasm for video games, and it’s gotten palpable to publishers.
What sells games better? “Meh, here’s another one of these.” or “Hey, this just came out and it. Is. Awesome!”
To readers that listen to video game podcasts, how many times have you heard the hosts not even bother playing the games that are currently out, or they’ve only played a few hours to “get a feel” for a game of the year discussion to happen later or to deliver some sort of “hot take”?
More publishers need to follow Bethesda’s example and eschew the games press and just take it to the gamers. Have giveaways on social media for early copies. Get the word of mouth out on a game. That’s what really worked for DOOM, early adopters started playing the game, found it to be awesome and spread the word!
Of course, it’s not going to work in all cases, a new Elder Scrolls game or Dishonored 2 doesn’t need reviews. It’s going to sell a boatload of copies just on name and previous excellence alone.
Gamers are much more informed than they were in the past, and day-and-date reviews are a more recent development. There were literal decades as a gamer you didn’t know the quality of a game until you played it. If you were really itching for an opinion, you could wait for a magazine to say something….a month later. Typically, word of mouth, previous games in the franchise, or the publisher dictated purchasing a game.
This whole notion of the move away from review copies being “anti-consumer” is absurd. The games press has long proven itself more “anti-consumer” than anything a publisher could do. Taking the message directly to your fans, who actually want what you’re selling, is an infinitely better business move than shoveling your games at a disinterested chubby shaved ape that might not even play your game. In the post, Bethesda even acknowledges that if you are so desperate for a review, just wait for it, then make up your mind.
Nintendo has long proven the uselessness of a games press and many, many year’s later publisher like Bethesda are coming around to this idea. The games press is not your audience, the games press is dead.