The trend toward withholding review copies from game critics continues. Recently, Bethesda announced that it would no longer send out review copies earlier than one day prior to launch. In practice, that has meant mere hours before launch—a laughably short time to actually review games that take many hours to complete, let alone download and install.
That meant that a lot of gamers weren’t aware of all the performance issues that plagued Dishonored 2 before launch. You might think that would work out well for Bethesda, since they were able to sell the game to consumers without a lot of bad press before launch. Unfortunately, it just meant a lot of bad press after launch instead—something I warned about when Bethesda made the announcement. (You can read my review of Dishonored 2 here.)
Now Ubisoft has decided to not send out review copies in advance of the launch of the company’s upcoming extreme winter sports game, Steep. I played that game’s beta and it was quite a lot of fun, but it turns out that the success of the beta has convinced the game publisher that reviewers should experience it along with the rest of the gaming community.
“To ensure a complete experience, Steep reviews will commence when servers are populated with actual players,” the company wrote in a blog post. “With that in mind, reviewers will receive their copies of Steep on December 2 when it’s released, enabling them to experience Steep’s essential multiplayer functionality with a larger pool of online players.”
Now, while Steep is indeed a multiplayer game, much of the experience can still be had solo. Ubisoft even admits that in the very same blog post, noting that gamers are “always free to go solo and explore the mountains at your own pace when you play Steep” adding that while that may be the case “the success of its open beta reaffirmed that it’s best experienced with an active community.”
I disagree with this on two fundamental levels. First, it isn’t for Ubisoft to say how we will best enjoy the game. I may prefer to play it solo; you may prefer to play with friends. If it can be played both ways, reviewers should at least have access to the game ahead of launch so that we can see how well it runs and how good the game is. Surely enough people will be playing that some form of online play can be achieved.
Second, even if it is best played in multiplayer, that isn’t really the point of having reviews ahead of launch. Reviewers can still determine that they prefer to play with others and still test the game for bugs and other problems and give consumers a clear idea of how the game operates and whether it’s worth their money. Many reviewers will even withhold their full review until they’ve spent a little bit of time with the servers fully online.
Now consumers will have very little information to go off of and reviewers will all rush to be the first to post a review (minus those of us who prefer quality over speed.) It’s really a shame. I’ve explained in more detail why I take umbrage to this sort of thing (as it relates to Bethesda’s policy, however) which you can read here. I also worried Bethesda’s move would set a bad precedent, which I hope isn’t what we’re seeing. Perhaps it’s just coincidence.
I hope Steep is awesome. It’s just too bad we won’t know one way or another until December 2nd when the game launches.
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