The latest drama in the strange world that is video games, is the fact that Bethesda (known for games like Skyrim, Fallout, and the recent Doom) has decided to no longer send out review copies ahead of the launch of their new games (note: just one day in advance). Games journalists, journalists, and gamers alike are outraged by this decision. This is yet another move by a big game publisher which tarnishes the trust between producer and consumer. At least, to the people who care enough about video games to be outraged by this. I used to be outraged by these type of moves by publishers, but not anymore. And neither should you. Allow me to explain.
Game publishers have been making moves the past ten years which are essentially anti-consumer. Ever since Bethesda started selling horse armor for an equivalent of €5 as DLC about a decade ago, many more followed. DLC (short for ‘downloadable content’, small snippets of content which can be purchased for small to medium amounts of money) started being cut from the end product, and either sold as pre-order bonus (“buy before launch and get this shit for free”) or started being sold on their respective store pages from day one. Games started being pushed out in incomplete states, not just with DLC in mind, but also needing patches weeks, sometimes even months after launch in order to function properly (see Total War: Rome 2).
This last example is coincidentally the last game I ever pre-ordered. At the time, I paid €40 euro’s to play a game that wasn’t even finished. Entire YouTube careers have been built around the glitches that game experienced at launch. Nowadays, a ‘triple A’ game is purchasable at €60, if you don’t purchase the season pass (promising you all unannounced DLC which will be released over the coming 6-12 months for free) which will traditionally set you back another €30. So essentially, you pay €90 for a completed game, 225% of what it used to cost. And no, the games haven’t become better – except for the tech used to run these games on. This game, for instance, was released 9 years ago, and looks as good, or even better, than most games released nowadays.
Instead, the premium you pay nowadays is to fund the big marketing budgets of these so-called ‘triple-A publishers’. Take a look at this list, for instance. Destiny, the most expensive game to be released, cost half a billion to produce. Its marketing budget, however, was 357% of what it cost to actually make the goddamn thing (which wasn’t even that good).
Why do big game publishers spend ridiculous amounts of money on marketing? Because the people it targets, are highly susceptible to it. If the ad for the game is good, they will buy the game no matter what.
Every time a big game publisher does something the gaming community dislikes, people tell themselves to “vote with their wallet”. “Don’t pre-order”, they say. And yet, these same people are the ones who complain about glitches in the very games they agreed to boycott.
Reviews do a tremendous amount of good for people who are on the ropes about buying a certain game. However, if you are on the ropes, that could mean a few things: A) you are not sure whether the game is good, or B) you don’t have a lot of money to spend so you need to make what little you do spend worth your while.
Whether your answer is A or B, my answer would be: don’t buy it. At least for now. Buy it a year later, at a discount. Hell, I just finished Borderlands 2, a game which was released in 2012 and which I bought in a sale about a year ago for just €5. There are so many gems out there you haven’t experienced yet, or haven’t fully finished yet. Maybe you could start over playing your favorite game but with the DLC that came after you finished it. Buying a game at €60/€90 is not worth it.
If you still buy a game at €60/€90, regardless of reviews, you deserve to have the occasional lemon in your collection. Now, I know this is a personal opinion, but I couldn’t care less about not being able to talk about a newly released game with colleagues or friends. There are other, more important things to talk about around the water cooler or in a bar. Gaming is not the thing that defines you, just something that you thoroughly enjoy.
The backlash is mostly created by the games journalists themselves, because their livelihood is dependant on it. They are the ones who need review copies in order to make a living. I do feel bad for them, but they are blowing this out of proportion just because they feel threatened. And the fact of the matter is, there is already an abundance of game reviewers as it is now. I, personally, could do without the likes of Kotaku making a living with their clickbait articles and unfounded propositions. These websites, which used to be quite respected, have turned to these tactics because their audience became too widespread over other outlets. They started focussing on, and starting, drama within the industry, because their audiences demanded something juicy which they were unable to offer using traditional journalism. So, they make stuff up.
This is starting to sound like an angry rant, so I will wrap it up with the TL;DR. Game publishers have been using malpractices for years because they can, because they know the gullible gamer will cough up the dough regardless of outrage. Game reviews might benefit a few, but only those who have been brainwashed they need the newest of the new. There are other, better games out there. More complete. Better functioning. Cheaper. Yes, they might be older, but you are sure to get more enjoyment from these true and tested video games. Don’t buy games at €60 (or $, £, whatever). Don’t support an industry that doesn’t give a shit about you.
The video game industry is working towards a point where there are two options. Either big game publishers will feel the wrath of gamers once they have pushed their luck too many times, or there arises a culture where ‘triple-A’ games’ publishers can do whatever they wish. In which case (the latter), there will always be a champion of the consumer who stands up and shows how pro-consumer practices can pay off (looking at you, CDPR, if you drop the crunch). We, the conscious gamers, either don’t have the resolve or the manpower to elicit change, no matter how outraged we become. So I advise you: keep calm and carry on playing cheap games. Games will only get better with age, and they won’t run away. Open your back-catalogue and look for some games you haven’t given a try yet, instead of dishing out €/$/£/60 no matter how good a game is. Don’t be outraged by something so miniscule as the case above. Now, I’m going to enjoy some Shadow Warrior. Yes, the first one.