A reader is disturbed by the controversies surrounding the launch of Starfield and what that means for the reliability of game reviews in general.
I imagine it must be a tense time for video game publishers and developers, on embargo day, waiting for reviews to be published. You spend all this time working on a game, only for some smartass to come along and tell you it’s horrible… or amazing.
Of course, reviewers tend to be much more polite about this than ordinary gamers and their user reviews, but despite decades of evidence suggesting that reviews have little to no effect on game sales (or movies or anything else), they are still processed. as something essentially important.
I think they are important. I love reading a good review, both as a buying guide and as a description of a game from someone who hopefully knows what they’re talking about. I’m really excited to see what the scores will be and even though my level of investment is nothing compared to that of the people who made the game, I always get excited or deflated when I see the final score.
So imagine my confusion and growing anger when I realized what was happening with Starfield. For those of you who missed the controversy, Bethesda refused to send review copies to a few select websites in the UK and, as far as I know, nowhere else. Some Bethesda fans immediately tried to claim that this was some sort of mistake, even though it was clearly aimed at the website that Bethesda knew was least likely to influence.
I’m not sure the extent of those who were blacklisted, but it included Metro, Eurogamer, Edge and The Guardian. Hilariously, some have tried to claim that these are less trustworthy or unreliable sites when in reality, one can see that they are actually the opposite, and frankly, anyone included in this list, like GC, should be proud to be in such company.
Not receiving the review copy until launch day meant their reviews were over a week late, but Metro and Eurogamer ended up giving the game a 6/10, with comments very well written and argued (Edge is a magazine so it will take even longer). Bethesda didn’t leave these sites out because they thought they wouldn’t tell the truth, but because they knew they would.
I will say now that I haven’t played Starfield, because I was waiting for reviews from Metro, Eurogamer and Rock Paper Shotgun and they were all negative. But it’s not really Starfield that interests me, it’s the reviews themselves and the way Bethesda tried to manipulate them.
It’s very obvious that the reason they held back copies is to try to get as high a Metacritic score as possible before launch, and in fact the Xbox Series X/S score was around 87 at that time and is now down to 83 with the Eurogamer review and likely set to drop once Edge’s comes out – and all those left out.
How can anyone have respect for a publisher that acts this way, I don’t know but what worries me the most are all the sites, and there were many, that gave the game a perfect score 5/5 or 10/10.
Differences of opinion should be encouraged, but fans will often turn to any site that delivers a game that is inferior to what they think it deserves – so what about all those sites that said that Starfield was practically perfect?
I’ve talked to a lot of people who played and enjoyed the game and that’s the one thing they wouldn’t say about it. And if you even read the positive reviews, you will admit all the flaws, just as much as in the negative reviews.
But since these sites went ahead and still gave the game top marks, the overall metacritic is still relatively high. It’s an embarrassing situation, frankly, and a damning indictment of the state of video game criticism – or rather the lack of it. When even IGN (and with no insult to them) gives the game a 7/10, I think you need to say something to yourself when you give it a 10/10.
If this whole debacle has been good for one thing, it’s revealing who can and who can’t be trusted, and that includes both websites and publishers.
By reader Gonch
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