E3 2017 has come and gone if you don’t watch mountains of pre-release coverage, and it has revealed to me some hard truths about the video game industry. In the midst of all the elusive content, exciting reveals, and misleading trailers, one company was so horribly smug and blatant about its anti-consumer practices. It was Bethesda.
It’s really shocking because just two years ago, Bethesda was lauded as a pro-consumer company. They created vast single player games with boatloads of content, they generally had high-quality releases. They were honest about their game’s content. Bethesda trailers show genuine gameplay that strongly resembles the final product, and in an industry that spends millions on CG trailers. Yet, it only takes a few, really repulsive decisions for your fanbase to do a complete 180.
When Bethesda announced the Creation Club, a system that allows people to pay for tinkering for video games, they essentially confirmed that they are charging people for modifications to their games. As much as Bethesda attempts to paint this as “necessary” and as a “gift” for the fans, its transparency is obscenely blatant. May I remind you that mods for any PC game have been free and community made since the dawn of PC gaming. And this is also a reminder that mods are essential for a game’s longevity and end up doing a great job of selling a product. I personally never would have bought Fallout: New Vegas if there wasn’t a mod that fixes a majority of its bugs and crashes on my computer. Even though I bought it 75% off on a Steam sale, some money is better than no money for a company. New Vegas was also a 5-year-old game at the time of my purchase, and many developers wish their games endured such longevity of sales. Skyrim would not be the 10th highest selling video game ever, and 3rd highest selling standalone game if it were not for mods.
The fact that Bethesda believes it can fool any of its hardcore audience with this is downright insulting. The core of their fanbase are dedicated, often PC focused gamers who are savvy when it comes to purchases regarding software. They know superfluous details and can see through this scam. In fact, most people can, as evidenced by the astounding amount of dislikes on Bethesda`s Creation Club YouTube trailer.
The gall of Bethesda to charge its passionate fanbase even after previous transgressions shows a company that is shockingly out-of-touch with its audience. It feels like grandpa took the wheel on the company and the capitalist zeal overtook Bethesda. Bethesda used to be a company that prided itself on selling games that guaranteed players got plenty of quality content for full-price. They took their time releasing their games, but people appreciated the effort and honesty.
But things have taken a really bad turn. Bethesda`s downward fall from fantastic Public Reception to the vitriol they currently face is nobody`s fault but their own. Other than a few outliers who were dissatisfied with the buggy experience of Bethesda games, the overall perception of the company was positive since the release of Morrowind in 2002.
SO WITH THAT KNOWLEDGE, LET US CUE THE SERIES OF EVENTS THAT TRANSFORMED BETHESDA FROM THE THE INTERNET’S BABY TO THE INTERNET’S DRUNK UNCLE.
2015 saw the release of Fallout 4 late in the year, which was one of the multitudes of open world games released that year. Because of this, Fallout 4 became the subject of comparisons to other open-world games. Fallout 4 suffered great scrutiny when compared to Witcher 3, Mad Max, Just Cause 3, and many other games released that year. The antiquated qualities of an outdated game engine and their refusal to improve themselves on the technical end became apparent. People were willing to forgive Skyrim when it first released in 2011 because, for a few years, all anybody would make were online multiplayer first person shooters. It is what the “FOCUS GROUP OVERLORDS” deemed most profitable. Skyrim came at a time to disprove and shake the gaming industry with new trends. Skyrim likely started this glut of open-world games, as “endless amounts of content” is appealing to a consumer. However, for Fallout 4, many of Bethesda’s “quirks”, became real issues for many people. As the amount of open-world games gradually increases, the quality of them increases as well. Fallout 4 felt like it was still stuck in 2011 – four years behind its competition. Its fetch quests were boring, its graphics were underwhelming, and the “RPG” aspect was gutted in favour of making the player feel like “le the super badass ecks dee XD.” Is my bias showing?
Yet, in 2016, Bethesda decided to re-release Skyrim with updated graphics for the PS4 and Xbox One. This is an understandable business move, as there may be some people who may want to play Skyrim on a console, but never had the chance beforehand. However, this release was botched with three major problems. Firstly, the game was full-price for a remaster of a five-year-old game. The second issue was that the remaster, despite being released on significantly more powerful hardware, continues to run at 30 frames per second. And the last issue, and what I personally find most egregious, is that the game shipped with even MORE bugs than the original. They simply updated the graphics and didn’t bother to playtest or make any alterations. The PR, business-like response to this is “we desire to emulate the experience that everybody first had”, which is complete garbage. If people wanted the original experience, they can buy Skyrim on Steam for $7.50 on sale. And if Bethesda truly means this, then they would never have bothered to create the remaster. It was an outright cash grab to suck in new customers who may have been uneducated and clouded by the positive bias towards Skyrim.
To this, you may say, “well, isn’t it the people’s fault for not doing their research or watching any reviews?” Why thank you for asking that question, nobody, as Bethesda themselves implemented a Review Embargo system. This prevents reviewers from getting review copies from Bethesda and notifying people before the game releases of its quality. Do you believe this is a scummy act to prevent the average consumer from hearing negative feedback like they did for Skyrim Remastered? Well, Bethesda sure doesn’t! The excuse that Bethesda provided was that they want gamers and reviewers to experience it all at the same time and that everybody should have the same start!
This is dumb. On many, many levels. First of all, they are attempting to silence criticism. What does that say about the company? If you cut off a man’s tongue, it doesn’t show you have power, it shows you are scared of them. Bethesda attempting to silence their audience breeds animosity and a lack of communication. It shows that they do not care about the individual, and only seem to care about profits. This is obvious for a business, but to create more profits, a company wants to establish a positive connection with their audience. This act just ostracizes them and potentially repels prospective sales.
Another reason this review policy is idiotic is that it negates PRAISE for their games, not just criticism. Bethesda is so scared of people saying hurtful things, that they are willing to shirk off compliments to their products. And as I have said earlier, Bethesda used to have a glowing image in the gaming community. There are still some apologists out there trying to justify their anti-consumer actions. What is even more terrible, is Bethesda prevents review copies to legitimate reviewing industries like IGN, Gamespot, and Giant Bomb. But…the freelance YouTubers who are willing to say any positive words for review copies and Bethesda fun bucks get an early copy! This isn’t flagrantly scummy whatsoever! Random people on YouTube with microphones can say as many positive things as we want because we pay them! Yay!
And furthermore, this has caused nothing but backlash towards Bethesda. If you deny the largest corporations and critical YouTubers copies of your game, that doesn’t bode well for your company. You may forget that you can halt their copies of the game, but you cannot halt their words. Bethesda is foolish for thinking their actions would not have repercussions within the gaming community, and that this news wouldn’t spread like wildfire. They are foolish for thinking their core audience of savvy gamers would somehow remain ignorant. Those same companies you denied a review copy? They made articles saying that you denied them copies and what your reasoning is. Bethesda honestly couldn’t have expected to get away with this business practice unscathed.
The newest game to come out after this review policy, Prey, has taken a hit in its initial sales, because people are tentative about it, or they do not have any knowledge of it. Prey eventually sold a lot more once reviews came and YouTubers began to cover it and give it free advertisement, but the initial slump does show that gamers aren’t completely suckered into money grubbing tactics. Not completely.
All I can say Bethesda, is that my ancestors will be smiling on me. Can you say the same?