The recent news regarding Bethesda basically not giving review copies anymore (might as well not considering reviewers only have a day before release) prompted us to put out something expanding on what we do in the review process. What has surprised me greatly since the announcement from Bethesda is just how many people think this is not just a good idea but a great one. Those that disagree this is an anti-consumer move, please read below.
Let's start by putting reviews in context. When they work as intended, and how they have largely worked up until now, reviews are put out before a game is released or incredibly close to release. That is information consumers can seek out before they decide to purchase a game. I honestly don't think that benefit can be argued against.
Lack of Review Copies Puts Consumers at RiskThe only argument for Bethesda's practice I see is that people say that they don't think certain publications should get review copies because: 1) they dislike said publication, 2) they do not like reviews from a publication for X reason (usually political, not that they are poorly written or something else along those same lines). If you disagree with the content of a review or what they are critiquing a game on—what concerns that publication most, what categories they choose to place more emphasis on, etc—go somewhere else.
Some people want to read reviews from a religious viewpoint. There's nothing wrong with that. Some people want to read a review that addresses issues they personally feel deeply about, whatever those issues may be. There's nothing wrong with that either. Publications exist because people read them, and if you don't like what they are writing, you're not their audience.
If you really dislike a publication enough that you believe they should either cease to exist or at least stop receiving review copies, don't give them traffic. Convince others not to go somewhere. Don't try to sacrifice an industry-wide benefit—not just for publications—through killing off some outlets you believe are bad apples.
I have seen this sentiment a surprising amount, that everything should be burned down to start over again. Do people really think that if companies can control messages even further with consumer consent that they will not try to take all that they can? Whatever they can get away with to build up hype or stave off negativity?
Some people either haven't thought about potential consequences or are delusional beyond reason.
In any case, I still stand by the point that the primary purpose and value of review copies cannot be dismissed. Besides, it's a mutual benefit all around from the publication's perspective, the consumer's, and the developer's/publisher's. Publications put out some content, consumers get some information, and developers/publishers get some publicity.
Game Review Copies and YouTubeI've also seen a lot of people cheering the idea that only YouTubers or other gamertainers get copies of a game, rather than traditional media. Entertainers should get copies of games to show off, but journalists shouldn't be excluded.
People can argue that they can see how a game plays all they want while watching a YouTuber play a game, but it is inherently flawed from the very concept. The purpose of those videos is to entertain—to grab your attention. With the exception of just a few YouTubers, the vast majority that have primarily gaming content are there to entertain an audience, not to inform, critique, or give insight.
Critique, information, and insight is the exact purpose of a review. TechRaptor strives for objective as possible reviews that take into account the context of a game as well to best inform you on the game itself, period. Nothing more. Many other publications take many different viewpoints on what they value, how they critique, etc. At the core, however, they all have the same purpose: critique, information, insight.
That is not completely lost with YouTubers, and watching someone play a game certainly has value to consumers in learning about a particular game. With the above in mind, though, YouTubers and the like will focus solely on the things they think their audience wants to see. That can be some really cool moments in a game, the "so bad its good" moments, or the YouTube-bait games intended to create funny instances, glitchy messes, etc—those are the main three anyway. Or, they mess around with the game to fit the personality they put on for their videos, which skews it even further as the game is often played in a way that very few others will.
A final thing to keep in mind is that YouTubers are likely more susceptible to certain ethical dilemmas journalists try to avoid. Where the journalist feels obligated to avoid conflicts of interest, the YouTuber may not consider it. It's likely not something at the forefront of their minds. That's not to say they are trying to manipulate their audience, but they certainly have companies they like to work with and franchises they enjoy, so they look at them positively, consciously or not. In other words, they often do not have some sort of guiding principles like we here at TechRaptor do—among pretty much every other worthwhile publication—that they commit themselves to.
Review Copies and Consumer ManipulationThe real big point to remember, however, is that only one group stands to benefit from not giving out review copies: the companies handing them out. It's all about control of a message and manipulation of marketing for a product—the game—they are trying to sell. That's it. Do people really want to let that run more rampant? To approve that sort of use of power? If your answer is yes, then anything I've said or will say is irrelevant to you. The idea of giving even more influence to private companies that have such a stranglehold on the gaming media already is impossible for me to understand. Why would anyone want to give them more?
Review copies are one of the few defenses—and pretty much the only that companies willingly give—for the consumer against manipulation. Picking and choosing who gets a review copy, and largely stripping it from many of the media, does away with that defense entirely. The game releases and consumers then have to take a gamble that the game is what was marketed to them. And companies never mislead in what they show, never. We all know that's always the case. Yep, always the case. Even Steam is taking a measure to protect people from manipulation now.
It's not a good idea to put more power in the hands of private companies to choose which publications do well—that does nobody any good. For one, it takes some of that power from consumers themselves. What publications do well should be a decision by consumers and the audience at large, not whether or not a private company deems said publication worthy of their favor. Sticking it to journalists is not a win in this case.
Power is with the consumerTake that power in your hands as a consumer. Don't view sites you don't like, and if you really don't like them, make an effort to let others know as well. Find what you care about; look for alternatives. Letting private companies do that for you is nothing but bad news in a culture of business where taking an inch is only one step towards taking a mile.
You can dismiss everything I've said above if you want, because I have a vested interest in the matter. I would hope our recent blog post would dissuade you from that line of thinking, as we've never and will never let review copies affect our reviews, content-wise, in any way.
To me, this is a symptom of a larger issue; one of large companies taking a step towards controlling their message even tighter. It's just another attempt at more influence in what's said about a particular game. I would think, and hope, most would be more interested in letting many people from a wide variety of backgrounds and viewpoints offer as free as possible opinions to anyone who will read them, rather than the select few handpicked by individual companies.
What do you think of the value of review copies? Is this an isolated issue or something larger? Is it anti-consumer?