Bethesda have caused a bit of a stir by announcing they will not longer be releasing review copies until they day before the official release. It also appears like EA has decided to be more discerning about who it gives review copies too.
It's all too easy to lay the blame for this of duplicitous publishers and their anti-consumer ways. There is almost certainly an element of this involved I think it's mostly down to publishers being sick of how "Games Journalists" have been behaving the last few years. They've had the idea they are "cock of the walk" for a while and it seems both gamers and creators are tired of them.
This change is likely to be common in the industry but it shouldn't matter to anyone who doesn't make their money by telling others about games. Let me tell you why.
We Do Not Pre-order! (Mostly)
For a start you shouldn't be habitually pre-ordering or buying games on release day without knowing what you are buying. If you do and you get caught buying a "pig in a poke" then that's on you. Now, everyone (who doesn't get their games weeks before everyone else, for free) has the occasional game they'll buy no matter what. Maybe it's developer/publisher loyalty or there is a deluxe edition with some tat you must have.
I pre-ordered Civilisation (a week before release) because I'd watched a number of videos of it in action. It seemed relatively bug free and fun. It is. Had their been no information on the game I would have waited. Which is what happened with Mafia 3. I was very interested in the game but other than a few promo videos I had nothing to go on so I waited. It turned out to be a bug-riddled piece of crap.
Wait for information so you can make an informed decision. If that means waiting a week after the games release then do so. If there is a company you trust only let them burn you once.
Games "Journalism" is a Joke
Video games journalism is, at this point in time, more or less worthless. You have the likes of IGN which are little more than PR outlets. Then you have your Polygons who are more interested in writing facile political screeds than covering games. Shills and glorified Bloggers. You can't trust the former and you get no useful information from the latter.
Games have no intrinsic value to people who get them for free. It's why pirates have such large mostly unplayed games collections. Reviewers who get free copies obviously haven't paid for the game so if it's a lemon they've lost far less than you would. Things that could ruin your gaming experience might not even appear on their radar.
You can already see a trend in certain circles that the most highly reviewed games are short ones with limited game-play. Games with little investment of time or effort.
Media reviewers of all stripes are more prone to genre fatigue. How often since 2010 have you seen a movie critics harping on about Superhero movie fatigue despite the movie going public consistently gobbling them up. The same happens when you have to (not choose to) play similar games constantly.
Reviews Aren't Currently Good Enough.
Even if you find a site/individual that you can trust most reviews still aren't adequate. They are largely subjective opinion pieces with little or no objective information. They try to ape movie reviews and generally lack anything technical. A (non-exhaustive) list of things I find lacking in today's reviews:
- Performance analysis. FPS, CPU usage, etc
- Playing on multiple systems (entry-level, average, performance). Most reviews don't even comment on whether the systems recommendations from the publisher are viable.
- Detailed info on discovered problems.
- In-depth description of game-play. Balance, quirks
- Covered by reviewer familiar with genre. Nothing worse than reading an RPG review from someone who literally hates RPGs.
- Game options and how the affect the game e.g. difficulty, graphics levels, etc.
My list is geared towards PC games because that's what I play but some of the points apply to console titles too. The focus seems to be on story, characterisations and graphical fidelity. Like I said, aping movie reviews.
Video game reviews need to be more like PC hardware reviews. Broken down into sections, riddled with data, as objective as possible and informative. Until they are why bother with them out of anything but curiosity?
When reviews are done before the games release they are often done on pre-release code or lack the now compulsory day one patch. Because volume of traffic is hugely important massively multi-player game reviews are essentially pointless.
How Do You Judge a Game?
Because games reviewers won't do the leg work you have to. Absorbed the information released by the developers/publishers but keep a healthy degree of skepticism. Try not to hope on board the hype train, just watch from the platform as it passes though the station.
Watch game streams or lets play videos (if there are any) to get a feel for the game. In the 24 hours after release read pertinent forums, sub-reddits or boards to find out about any issues. Trust your friends and people you know.
Like a savvy consumer make an informed purchase. Yes, doing all this can be exhausting. Such is life.
The problem of course is if everyone is patient in this way very little information will become available. Which is where the games journalists would come in, if they deigned to do their jobs.
If you must pre-order or purchase on release day do so for more reasons than you want the game "real bad". Make sure you trust the developers or publishers. Make a judgement call on what the likelihood of the game being a solid release. Be prepared to take the financial loss on the chin if you make a bad call.
This change in policy and potential for the development of an industry trend will only catch out lazy and impatient consumers. Likely it wouldn't be happening at all if Video Games Journalists had spent more time doing their jobs.