Review Code Controversy: Do You Really Need To Be There On Day One?


Tension over game publishers giving critics early review copies less and less often seems to be coming to a head with Bethesda being forward about the practice through an announcement regarding Skyrim Special Edition and Dishonored 2 review copies. One lesson someone might take from this would be to not pre-order games since you don’t really have to anymore. I’d go beyond that though and ask: do you really have to play that game on day one (or day zero)?

Looking at the suspicion over Dishonored 2 (which is one of the few big releases I plan to buy this year) — how you won’t see reviews until a little while after launch, I realized none of it matters to me because I’m probably not going to be playing Dishonored 2 on day one. I think I’ve said on this blog before that I let go of the need to be there for a game on launch day. I can wait. The game is probably just as good on day 91 as it is on day one. I didn’t start DOOM until weeks after it came out and that didn’t stop it from being in my Game of the Year running. Would these 50-percent-off sales for the game matter if everyone bought it day one? The most hardcore fans may have been playing Grand Theft Auto V since its initial release in 2013 but sales numbers show people are still buying it in huge numbers. I still haven’t started it. The only reason I pre-ordered Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is because of a Green Man Gaming deal where I got it for probably $47, and I only paid that money a few days before the game came out. I didn’t actually start it until maybe a month later. I imagine I’m going to repeat that cycle with Dishonored 2.

There are so many good games out right now I’m busy with. I haven’t started Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma, I’m in the middle of Mankind Divided and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (the latter of which I bought months after launch on a deep discount). Because of that, the waits for big games are no longer as agonizing as they were in the days when I only owned Nintendo hardware and had to deal with their long software droughts. Making people pay more for games in order to play them early (EA Access, the Call of Duty Infinite Warfare deal, etc.) is an understandable trend. Publishers are trying to wring more money out of a stagnant console user base. Those tactics don’t really have meaning in my current situation though. I established this rule a while ago and it has worked pretty well for me: don’t buy a game until you’re ready to play it.

I say this again because it takes the dilemma out of critics not getting early access to games. I know there are probably some metrics somewhere showing that most people look for reviews right when a game comes out and that they lose most of their value afterwards, but personally I mostly look for reviews when I’m curious about a game that’s been out for a while. I actually think this might be one reason why some are gravitating more towards Steam reviews — many are written long after the pre and post-launch hype glow has faded.

Another advantage of waiting to play games are the patches that fix early problems. In the days following Mankind Divided’s launch I read lots of complaints about corrupted save files and other issues. I just let the game sit there on my SSD, collecting patches. By the time I did start it the complaints had died down and I haven’t had any issues with it as of this writing.

As for paying for a game sight-unseen, I usually only do it when I really trust a developer or franchise. Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a fantastic game, so that justified the early purchase on Mankind Divided for me. I’ve played every game Dishonored developer Arkane Studios has made, and it hasn’t let me down yet. I’ll probably drop the money on a Nintendo Switch and Zelda: Breath of the Wild as soon as I have a release date for the game because unlike a lot of people I’ve thoroughly enjoyed basically every mainline Zelda game I’ve ever played. I’ll admit I kinda got burned on Street Fighter V’s launch content as well as No Man’s Sky. In the former case this is a very unique situation in the SF franchise’s multi-decade history, and in the latter case there has been a lot of controversy over how Hello Games hyped No Man’s Sky.

Actually, the other day I went ahead and jumped on a GMG deal for the Dark Souls III season pass without reading reviews or impressions on Ashes of Ariandel. Even the “worst” Souls game I’ve played so far — Dark Souls II, is still better than most games coming out these days. It’s really better to call it the “least good” Souls game, so we’ll see how Ariandel goes…


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