Although initially excited for Mafia 3—one of my most anticipated games of this year—my enthusiasm for the title had diminished somewhat, ever since I had heard that no review copies were given out prior to release. While this of course was not indicative of the game’s quality, it did raise a few red flags. And now that Mafia 3 has been released, some of these suspicions have been proven correct. The game struggles with a damaged PC port, a boring open world, and a repetitive mission structure. However, was the original lack of review copies, a response by Mafia 3’s publisher to stall any negative reviews?
First of all, there are many reasons as to why a studio or publisher might choose to not give out advance copies for the purposes of review. And not all of them are necessarily based around shady motives. For online games specifically, servers don’t even go live until the proper release date, so reviewers can’t play until then. The same goes for games that have a heavy leaning towards multiplayer modes or online connectivity. There’s also the idea that some studios want both the press and public to get the game at the same time. However, that excuse has a few holes in it, considering all the benefits that come with positive reviews for an actual good game.
In the past, there has never really been any statement from a large game publisher that talks about refusing to release review copies for the purpose of stalling possible negative reviews. But that hasn’t stopped people, including me, from casting the aspersion. Whenever review copies aren’t given out to the proper media outlets, it immediately spells a company’s lack of confidence in the product. This reaction also applies to when a review embargo is pushed back until the game’s release date, which is also a pretty crummy thing to do. Both of these alleged techniques have the purpose of dispelling as many pre-order cancellations as possible, and keeping people at the store to buy day one copies.
Other than screwing over just consumers, this practice also makes things tougher for game journalists and content creators. Of course, companies don’t have any responsibility to give out copies in advance, and the recipients should always accept it as a privilege. However, the overall impact is that reviews take several days more to be released, already after the game’s initial launch. Whether you like it or not, reviews are an important part of every industry. Reviews provide customers a basis for their purchase, and without that, less-informed people will go in blind and hand money to companies that will learn no lesson at all because of it.
There are few actual reasons for not giving the gaming press any review copies for a game. In Mafia 3’s case, the game’s quality has spoken for itself by now. But I hope they enjoy the dollars they got from pre-orders and uninformed customers who bought a game with little guidance.