So I talked about Bethesda's new review policy before and well as this has widened more and more I think it's time to do something bigger and more general about it.
It's no secret that some companies are holding back review copies to closer and closer to launch, some even only giving them out on launch. Now I see this as hugely anti consumer by making it so reviews either have to be rushed or delayed till after launch. Meanwhile developer are piling on more and more incentives to pre-order the game and get bonus items.
The pushing of pre-orders on one hand is anti consumer due to the withholding of review copies .Though I will say on one level if pre-order bonuses are offered for say the first week or so to anyone who buys it then it's somewhat pro consumers. They're rewarding those who paid more for a worse version of the game that someone who buys it 8-12 months down the line for a reduced price with more bugs etc patched.
The idea of less reviews happening is coming about for a number of reasons. Firstly companies want a tighter control on the perception of their game. They've seen places like Polygon declare games problematic and sexist and likely don't want that to be part of the perception for their title.
The second part and this is where I and many others are part of the problem is the internet and games media is vast, very vast and still expanding with more and more place popping up. The big issue companies face is who to supply their game to, I mean obviously I'm a tiny, tiny, speck in terms of my own tiny little review site so clearly AAA developers won't be flocking to me. However there's a lot of places out there to choose from and if one site is known for not playing ball or delivering as expected they'll likely try another place. With so many places covering video games these days the question is who to really send the game to? Is the Mary Sue more worthy of a review code than Destructoid (yeh I know the answer no here but I hope the point still makes sense)
The third part of the problem then comes when outlets realise they're being snubbed and make a huge fuss about how unfair it is. Outlets playing the martyr because a company decided not to do them a favour. Because that's what early review copies are, a favour so when certain sites refuse to actually finish the game then it reflects badly on the video game journalism industry as a whole. Also the possible fallout and bad PR from a major outlet claiming they've been snubbed is huge hence the new policies where companies are in essence punishing the whole games journalism industry for the actions of some pretentious twats in it.
The Final part of this is the rise of youtube videos. I mean why bother reading what someone has to say when they could just go watch the game and see it in action. They could hear someone talk about the game in a critical context while seeing what they mean not just having to rely on the person being honest. Youtube is the living example of show don't just tell when it comes to visual media criticism.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not defending companies action here. I think delaying reviews so much is shitty and harmful to consumers and trust in the industry itself. I'm attempting to work out why it's happening and that simply is companies want reliable dependable results with minimal backlash or pettiness sent their way by those who were denied review copies. They don't want "Wild cards" that could destroy their carefully crafted multi million dollar advertising and PR message about the title. So rather than take the risk they'd rather pay a hand full of streamers to play the game or some youtbe lets players to make sponsored content for them. There are even stories of youtubers and lets players being flown out to company offices to make let's play content on dev builds. Youtubers are taking over the sponsored events and companies attempts to woo and influence people that the traditional written word press used to enjoy. They want to make sure there's minimal wild cards out there to destroy their carefully crafted message.
Like it or not this seems to be the future many AAA companies have decided to take. To forgo the traditional media and use youtubers or Twitch Streamers to get their message out there in what they see as a more reliable (in terms of keeping on the message the company wants) way.
But on the bright side it could mean more exposure to indie games who are more willing to give out review copies as they don't have Million Dollar advertising budgets to play with or the ability to fly people round the world to do lets plays.