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Review Embargoes: The Subtle Straitjacket

Review Embargoes: The Subtle Straitjacket

Mon 25 Mar 2013 8:00am GMT / 4:00am EDT / 1:00am PDT
Media

How reviewer's guides and embargoes are stunting the growth of games criticism

I'm sorry to report that General Karn is dead. I'm sorry not because I'll particularly miss General Karn - he's a vicious war criminal who rides around on the back of a giant monster and frankly deserved everything he got - but because I'm not supposed to report his demise at all.

General Karn is the villain of Gears of War: Judgment, and his fate is one of seven items deemed off limits by Microsoft in reviews of the game. I'm not entirely sure why this is considered a spoiler worth protecting. It certainly won't come as a surprise that in the game's climactic battle players are expected to shoot both Karn and his monstrous mount repeatedly until they die, but a spoiler it apparently is and one that Microsoft felt important enough to pro-actively fence off from critics before fingers touched keyboard.

"We take it as gospel that embargoes are important things and that we must abide by them under fear of...what exactly?"

It's just the latest headscratcher from the prevalent yet little discussed practice of "reviewer's guides", those polite but firm PR missives that inform those of us who write about games where our indelicate syllables are allowed to tread.

Let's be clear: I'm not singling Microsoft out for this. Rare is the major release that doesn't come with some kind of PR guidance these days, drawing a barrier of red ink around the things we're not allowed to talk about, nudging us towards preferred talking points such as marketable new features or openly insisting we sign contracts binding us to specific review conditions.

Here's the surprising truth: we know how to do our jobs. The popular image of the games critic is still one of nerdy amateurs, slick with fanboy flopsweat and palpitating at the thought of getting paid to play games, spurting their half-baked thoughts across whatever blog or content aggregator will have them. And, okay, fair enough, that does happen.

But the vast majority of the specialist press is made up of mature, experienced professionals who take our jobs - frivolous though they may be in the grand scheme of things - seriously enough to think and care about what we write.

It's a subtle kind of straitjacket, a far cry from the sort of cash-in-envelopes strong-arming that many erroneously think greases the wheels between media and publishers. That doesn't mean it's always a good idea, however. Few would want to navigate the PR fallout that followed the release of Sony's early PS3 exclusive, Lair, when developer Factor 5 sent a lavish reviewer's guide to the press after the dragon-based shooter had already attracted negative coverage. Under those circumstances, the intent behind such material is in plain sight. "You're playing it wrong," is the implicit message, which rather ignores the fact that if a game needs special documentation to draw attention to its highlights, maybe those highlights aren't so special after all. Rather than making reviewers reappraise Lair's slender charms, the action merely drew attention to its flaws.

"When a publisher tells us how to review a game they're stepping beyond their boundaries and making an editorial decision on our behalf"

So when a publisher tells us how to review a game, insisting we're not allowed to mention anything that happens after Level 3 or that entire characters must remain off the table for criticism, they're stepping beyond their boundaries and making an editorial decision on our behalf. That's unacceptable. "Thou shalt not spoil the ending" is one of the key commandments for any critic of the arts, but it's not up to the PR department to tell us where the line is drawn. If I were to decide that the fate of General Karn is important enough to mention - or even basis enough for the entire review - that's between me and my editor.

As patronising as reviewer's guides can be, they're nothing next to the inexplicable lunacy of embargoes. Perennially unpopular, yet rarely commented on publicly, I've yet to find anyone who can adequately explain what the benefit of these archaic chokeholds is. Certainly, there's absolutely no benefit to the media outlets that abide by them. Publishers get all their coverage in a neatly timed package, maximising the profile of their game on the date they want, while websites end up splitting their audience as the biggest feature of the day becomes the one literally everyone else is running at the same time. It's madness.

I certainly don't hold publishers and their PR representatives responsible for this state of affairs. Much as we journalists would like to believe the role of a PR is to help us get access to the materials we need, their top priority is to make sure that the product they're handling is represented in the manner their employer wants. It's hard to blame them for trying to shape what we can say and when we can say it. That's what they're paid for.

What's shocking is how readily we, as a supposedly independent media, go along with it. We take it as gospel that embargoes are important things and that we must abide by them under fear of...what exactly? We dutifully run through the new features, helpfully bullet-pointed in press releases and underlined in reviewer's guides. It's as if we've all been bamboozled by Derren Brown, a simple yet binding "would you kindly?" request so effective that Bioshock's Andrew Ryan must surely be nodding in approval.

I suspect this is partly down to the uncertain nature of games criticism in the first place. It has always been a discipline caught awkwardly between consumer journalism ("Does this product work?") and arts criticism ("Does this piece work creatively?"), and the temptation has always been to seek the familiar safety of the former rather than risk splashing into the uncharted intellectual waters of the latter.

There are, at least and at last, signs of resistance. Time was, breaking an embargo meant a publication jumping the gun and putting a review live ahead of time in a bid to grab the first exhilarating rush of clicks. Increasingly, we're seeing sites ignoring embargoes in the opposite direction, delaying their coverage until they're ready to publish on their own terms, thank you very much.

Edge and Eurogamer didn't publish their SimCity reviews until over a week after the game's disastrous launch. Videogamer.com was late publishing its Tomb Raider review, and openly told readers it was because it couldn't agree terms with publisher Square Enix for early access to the game. GameSpot opted to publish a first impressions piece rather than rush its review of Gears of War: Judgment.

"The overly chummy relationship between the two sides of the fence often masks a prickly undercurrent, an innate distrust, that serves neither party all that well"

I'm certainly not suggesting that the press should give the finger to publishers and run amok, but that the overly chummy relationship between the two sides of the fence often masks a prickly undercurrent, an innate distrust, that serves neither party all that well. We're not writing for an ignorant audience. Our readers know about embargoes, they often know when those embargoes are, and the very mechanical routine of it all provides fertile soil for rumour and conspiracy to take root. A late embargo means the game is crap and the publisher is protecting its pre-orders. Positive reviews delivered on-time are viewed with suspicion. If abiding by the rules benefits nobody, then the rules need to change.

The solution is simple. The vast majority of console reviews these days are written based on boxed, finished promo copies of games anyway. All the context we need should be there. Send the games over when they're ready and leave us to it. Trust us to experience that game on our own terms, write about it accordingly and publish when we have something worth saying. Please don't tell us, however politely, that certain aspects of the creative process are not to be discussed because it doesn't fit in with the marketing plan. Please don't assume to set our deadlines for us.

You'll still get the coverage you need, but you'll also get more thoughtful, more insightful criticism. Gaming won't get its own Pauline Kael or Lester Bangs until we stop treating reviews as a product, a part of the PR mix, and start seeing them as an end in themselves. Interesting criticism sparks debate, not about scores but about the art itself. It helps us find new angles, new subtexts, new themes which in turn shape the way we view the next work to come our way. We are all - writers, designers and gamers alike - being undersold by the current system, which locks writing about games into dusty old boxes that are no longer relevant.

24 Comments

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,530 1,330 0.9
Yeah! *high five*

*cough*

Pity this is just preaching to the converted. Is anyone actually going to defend embargoes? Does anyone think the consumer - you know, the person who stumps up the cash at the end of the day - is treated in any useful way by them? But this has been going on for years. Edge's Skyrim review went online on day of release. Which means for the print edition, it was about 2 weeks after release. And it's not just AAA publishers who do this - I've got a page on NeoGAF bookmarked under "Dustforce embargo".

Which is not to say that there aren't sites that don't play by the rules. But it's just a shame - I remember reading a Crash! retrospective where the editor essentially said "Major retailers waited for our reviews before ordering copies of games; that's how much our opinion mattered." Can anyone really see that happening nowadays?

Posted:A year ago

#1

Lewis Brown
Snr Sourcer/Recruiter

198 56 0.3
I disagree if its around spoilers, I don't want to know the ending even if I can probably guess it just as if I watched a film. It would ruin the journey.

Otherwise I agree that there needs to be more trust and respect given both to the reveiwers and that they will do a professioanl job and back the other way,

I also think that reveiws I read can be very unbalanced and I will often pick up a game which a poor review on sale (probably because of the poor review) and actually really enjoy it. Other times a game with great reviews will be totally underwhelming. There will always be an amount of subjectivity to game reveiws scores and thats a good thing but when one person gives a game a 9 and another a 5 thats too much of a range. Either somebody is over marking for whatever reason or on the flipside has an axe to grind.

Posted:A year ago

#2

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

525 768 1.5
Popular Comment
Well, surely the truly honest way would be to go buy your own games rather than expect a free copy off the publisher in advance. I know that means the review won't be ready on release day but it sounds like that's becoming less unusual anyway. That way you're just an ordinary customer giving your opinion and can say anything you like, because it's freedom of speech.

Posted:A year ago

#3

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

558 607 1.1
With regards spoilers i'd just like to say that so many games reviews these days are telling a story. I.e. they focus on the main story of the game rather than actual facts about components.

To me that clearly distinguishes the amateurs (bloggers) from the pros. A pro won't need to use a spoiler. A pro might well mention part of the narrative, where it fits the review and to generate drama, but focuses on the meat of the game: the gameplay elements, the difficulty, the progression, the package as a whole and of course (the main thing for most people these days) the visual quality.

In a review i don't want to know what the story is like and if the reviewer liked it or not. What i want to read about is what kind of game it is, what i will be expected to do as a player and how well those elements are executed compared to other games in the genre.

The biggest problem i have with games reviews these days is that they seem to be written in haste, due to massive competition on the web, and that bloggers seem to take a centre spot in a lot of cases, with very objective opinions. In that context, embargos are not bad - having an official "release" date for reviews levels the playing field.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Robin Clarke
Producer

303 691 2.3
To play devil's advocate - perhaps publishers and PRs wouldn't feel so anxious to impose guidelines on reviewers if editors actually called out the (thankfully few) reviewers who didn't take the job seriously? I'm not saying that they should openly contradict them, but it's absolutely within their power to not run pieces and stop giving work to writers who think it's 'funny' or good clickbait to perform hatchet jobs on perfectly acceptable games. They're supposed to put their readers first after all.

Not sure I follow the last bit. No embargo stops a publication from covering a game later and in more depth.

Posted:A year ago

#5

Lewis Brown
Snr Sourcer/Recruiter

198 56 0.3
Ultimately everyone to blame to some degree for the situation we are in and I guess until everyone takes some responsibility nothing will change alas.

Posted:A year ago

#6

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,530 1,330 0.9
In a way, by the time the review stage is hit, it's too late. Previews are the point when editorial restraint should be shown, and they're also the point when the marketing machine starts to spin-up. Critical in-depth appraisal during a site's preview process would be a definite step in the right direction. For instance

http://uk.pc.gamespy.com/pc/sim-city-5/1221798p1.html

There is nothing critical whatsoever in this piece. It's nothing but advertorial. Now, yes, it's a shade-over 1 year prior to the game's release, but surely there was something that wasn't shaping up too great.

(And, yes, I know I keep using Sim City as an example, but it is relevant to the point).

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 25th March 2013 12:03pm

Posted:A year ago

#7

Chris Thornett
Editor at Future Publishing

6 7 1.2
Popular Comment
Dan, any chance of a piece about the controlled conditions that PRs/marketing departments employ for reviewing certain games? I think a lot of gamers would be extremely interested and probably surprised by the constraints.

Posted:A year ago

#8

Nicholas Pantazis
Senior Editor

1,020 1,467 1.4
There are advantages to embargoes too. It gives small sites (like us) time to play the game and NOT release two weeks behind IGN, Gamespot, etc. who use massive advertising and publisher influence to get review copies quite a long time before us.

I also have never seen a review guide or an embargo that mentions score in any way. They are more subtle than that, and generally just advertising blurbs ("The new XXX system is revolutionary!"). I can't imagine there are a lot of reviewers influenced by that.

Also, at least with small sites, we have no communication with the advertisers nor are even made aware of the advertising contracts. Content creation operates in a bubble separate from business, and running a Dead Space 3 ad in no way obligates nor influences us to raise a score.

I do think there are some serious problems with gaming journalism. I wish we didn't have to give a score, for one thing, but humans are a number-centric species (that's why they prefer to go to Rotten Tomatoes over reading all the movie reviews too). There are obviously some issues with the big trips and gifts bigger sites go on and receive. Even those who claim they don't (Polygon says they won't accept a gift over $50) I suspect will be right out at those open bar, publisher-thrown E3 parties, in which they're definitely dipping into well over $50 in free drinks.

But again, all of these aren't problems caused by an embargo.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 25th March 2013 2:46pm

Posted:A year ago

#9

Caleb Hale
Journalist

154 230 1.5
While I know this suggestion isn't going to be palatable to those on the business end of these gaming sites, editorial staffs really need to stand up to the heavy-handed PR tactics prevalent in the gaming industry. I don't see how game journalists are benefiting (other than a paycheck, of course) at all in their toxic relationships to these PR folks.

Professional reviews have become just another step in the marketing campaign of major releases. Thanks to embargoes that end at the same time, the effect of each individual game review has been diminished. From the standpoint of someone selling the game, what they get is a sudden flood of exposure, as virtually every major gaming site is talking about their game that goes on sale tomorrow or next week.

Good, bad or just decent, if the net message from all these reviews isn't about how terrible and broken the game is, the influx of chatter about it is enough to get people thinking about it as their next purchase. In that sense, no matter what the reviewer is trying to say about a game, they've become merely a vessel to carry a portion of a bigger marketing message aimed at getting those launch day sales up.

I get websites want to strike while the iron is hot and hype is up for a game, they just shouldn't allow themselves to become part of that hype. Don't tell me an outlet that devotes its staff to playing video games can't buy its own copy of a title and produce a review within a week of release, a review that fleshes out the writer's thoughtful response to the game, free of the constraints a publisher's PR copy wants in exchange for early access.

Not everyone buys a game on launch day, and if they already have a pre-order in, chances are they've made up their mind on the title regardless of a review. Gaming journalists should assume they have an important role to play in protecting consumers' interests, so being timely with information is important. But, let's not assume both the consumers and journalists are slaves to the timeline PR reps want to set for how, when and where new games get discussed.

I read a lot of video game reviews, and I never really remember where I read the first one. I do, however, remember reviewers and sites where I read the best reviews.

Posted:A year ago

#10

Ashley Barley
Community Manager

8 5 0.6
Whilst I don't think anybody is going to defend rigid reviewer guides that essentially censor any sort of criticism or negativity directed at a specific game, I think it is perfectly reasonable for a publisher or studio to say that they don't want you to post spoilers. I can't think of many other similar examples that would warrent a reviewer guide though.

In regards to the purpose of embargoes, I think there is a misconception that these are some form of censorship as opposed to an important arm of a larger marketing campaign for a media product. When the next 'Halo of Duty' comes out the publisher doesn't want reviews coming out in random drips, depending on which journalist has the quickest type-speed, they want them all to come out at once.

This way when release day comes around every major publication has their game on the front page and any gamer that finds themselves anywhere near a computer that day is well aware that it is 'Halo of Duty' day and they need to go out and buy a copy if they haven't preordered it already. I'm sure there are plenty of companies out there, not just in the gaming space, that can show you graphs that explicitly show that being able to fully coordinate the publicity of a media release results in higher sales and ultimately that's the reason why publishers offer out copies of their games for review before release. Are you beholden to these embargoes? Not really... but breaking them really depends on how much you care about maintaining a relationship with that publisher I guess.

Posted:A year ago

#11

Klaus Preisinger
Freelance Writing

1,093 1,048 1.0
It all comes down to the launch day sales phenomenon. PR does nothing else but to stir up that itch to buy the game on the first day, or the first week the very latest. A bullet to the head of every reviewer using the word "finally" in his review to shift the mood in his article from the tension of the wait over to the 'objective' review. You already bought into it.

Any self respecting PR person will tell you they can sell a bad product based on exposing audiences to selective information. "Eat shit: brown is this year's trend color and you want your food to have a trendy color, don't you?"

If you manage to kill an audience willingness to decide on a purchase while still being exposed to limited scope previews, you could potentially kill the entire system (at least for your audience). Who said that previews have to withold ratings? A 6/10 preview will hardly ever muster more than an 8/10 even with the most dedicated development team. Why tiptoe around it? Previews are nothing else but the shiny trinkets bundled to release day purchases, or trailers shown in advertisement breaks. A means to an end for publishers to trigger a purchasing decision based on a non-critical description of the game.

Stop the madness of release day purchases, stop the madness surrounding reviews, previews, etc. Easy as that. Although I might concede the odds being stacked against you, so: as you were!

Posted:A year ago

#12

Adam Rosser
Broadcast Journalist

1 7 7.0
Popular Comment
With regard to embargos: these are not new and are in no way restricted to the games industry. We see them every day from book publishers, film companies, committees of MPs at the House of Commons, scientific institutions, the list goes on and on. They are a way of doing business that's been established for years.
Are we playing into the hands of the content holders by sticking to them? Arguably yes. But if it wasn't like this what's the alternative? One endless free-for-all and that works to no-one's advantage.
Embargos allow publicists, and their clients, to work to a date while dealing fairly (one hopes) with the people making requests on their time. Without them the people shouting the loudest, or waving the biggest stick, are going to get to the head of the queue over and over again.
All that said I decided not to engage with Square Enix's Croft related nonsense. They were attempting to impose restrictions and civil penalties that were, frankly, alarming in their scope and that would be a precedent I wouldn't like to see followed.
We need to break away from the idea that 'first with a review is best' because we all know that's not true.

Posted:A year ago

#13

Christopher Bowen
Editor in Chief

419 581 1.4
I long ago grew weary of the idea that games PR was in any way, shape or form our friends. They're not. They're adversaries, and should be regarded as such. It's by nature an adversarial relationship, and any attempts to have it be otherwise fall right into their hands. "But so and so is different! Tom Ohle is different! They're ni--" No. They're not. They might be nice people, but their only stated goal is to protect their game and their employers. Since our goals are so drastically different, I don't see how I can have anything but a cordial working relationship with PR, and yes, that has included me saying "respectfully speaking, no" often in the past.

When a PR team embargoes coverage of their game, all they're doing is controlling the message. And I object to anyone controlling my message but me. I don't need early access to your game, especially considering - as cheekily proven by Kotaku - you probably went ahead and gave that coverage to IGN anyway, who went and gave your game a 9.6. Yes, I'm sure that's a good score for the game - other reviews confirm - but considering the PR team for that game seem to have given a different embargo for IGN than they did for everyone, even larger sites, we're justified in questioning that.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Christopher Bowen on 25th March 2013 5:45pm

Posted:A year ago

#14

Christopher Bowen
Editor in Chief

419 581 1.4
@Robin - I once called out an IGN reviewer for going forward with a review for a sports game; the review dropped before the game even released, the game got a 9.something, and - lo and behold - the damn online functionality was a pig's breakfast.

I proceeded to get lectured that what I was doing wasn't going to endear me to the writing community - as if I give a flying shit what other writers think of me as a person - and good luck "getting anywhere" if I didn't have any friends. He's got a point - for some reason, making nice with other writers is important, even if it serves no interest to my readers - even though he didn't once bring up a retort to the issues I brought up regarding his review that blatantly ignored online play for a series that is notorious for bad netcode.

Posted:A year ago

#15

Tim Ogul
Illustrator

335 462 1.4
I like embargoes. A recent review on the topic, by Ben Kuchura, I think, gave a very good reason for them. It's so reviewers can play the games. Without embargoes, then if everyone gets their copy to weeks before the game launches (and there's no guarantee that everyone would get them on the same day), then everyone would be blitzing through it to finish, knowing that the first review out will get more hits than the second or third, regardless of quality.

I would rather game reviewers be allowed to enjoy the game, low pressure. Give them a week or so in which they know that their competition won't be breathing down their neck, and then come out with something that fully conveys the game, rather than the best they could manage in 72 hours from opening the box.

One thing game review sites should do (assuming they have the staff for it), is to keep the game reviewer for a given game separate from the previewer. That way, the "reviewer," who actually gets to play the game and review it, would have to stick with the embargo, while the "previewer" would not have access to the press build of the game, but would be contractually free to talk about the game however they wish, based on available information outside the review copy.

Now, late embargoes are of course BS, but you know that if they didn't have embargoes and they wanted to prevent bad reviews then they'd just send the review copies out super late so it'd be impossible to finish the game and get out a review too soon. So yeah, the problem is not embargoes, those are fine, the problem is with late ones designed to trick customers into buying bad games. So long as the reviewers get the game at least a week or two before launch (ideally even earlier), and the embargo point is no less than a week or so before launch (ideally sooner), it's a fine thing because it puts the reviewers on a level playing field.

If you don't want to worry about your own story getting swamped by dozens of reviews on the same day, then just post your review a few days later, when the furor has died down. The only reason I can think of to be upset by fair embargoes is because you feel you can clear and review the game faster than some other reviewers, but that only makes your review faster, not better. I'd prefer better, and I know where to look to find such reviews.

Posted:A year ago

#16

Caleb Hale
Journalist

154 230 1.5
There's no journalistic benefit to letting PR reps call the shots. Getting exclusive access or first dibs to a game in their controlled environment can scarcely be considered journalism at all, unless you're doing a story about the tactics PR folks use to hype a game. For all the "no comments" I see from PR reps when journalists try to fish out gaming news, for all the times I watch game journalists watch someone else play a game while trying to conduct a substantive review with the title's designated spokesperson of the moment, I don't see how that's an equal relationship.

Posted:A year ago

#17

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,530 1,330 0.9
@Tim

This:
So long as the reviewers get the game at least a week or two before launch (ideally even earlier), and the embargo point is no less than a week or so before launch (ideally sooner), it's a fine thing because it puts the reviewers on a level playing field.
How many reviews of Bioshock: Infinite have you seen that fulfill that criteria? And BI is supposed to be absolutely awesome (according to the guys who pirated it on the 360, anyways).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 25th March 2013 6:53pm

Posted:A year ago

#18

Tim Ogul
Illustrator

335 462 1.4
@Morville Honestly I haven't read any interviews of Bioshock because I know I want to play it already and don't want any incidental spoilers. To a broader point though, I'm certainly not saying that embargoes are generally done right, just that they can be. I do think that the bigger sites should push back against PR departments to ensure that they do get their games as early as possible, and they do get to release reviews as early as possible, I just think it should be on a level playing field, where every reviewer can release at the same time, rather than the first review going to the first guy who can blitz to the finish line after staying up all night, missing who knows how many special features, and then slaps together some half-assed collection of words and phrases that his gamer fuel-laced mind can string together, all in the effort to get his review out a day earlier than the other guy.

It should definitely be give and take, with the sites insisting that they be able to publish reviews well in advance of release, but at the same time publishers have every right to try and focus the attention in a way that keeps people interested right around the launch, and for readers they would want to have a broad selection of the most well-researched reviews possible, rather than a shotgun of random thoughts from addled minds. If you have something truly worthwhile to say, it can wait a few days for everyone to collect their thoughts on the matter.

Posted:A year ago

#19

Jason Sartor
Copy editor/Videographer

104 33 0.3
One of the best reasons to have an embargo and have reviews all released at once is it offers consumers a blind review.

If every outlet is unaware of the review score from competing outlets then there is no outside influence on any other reviewer. It also helps aggregating sites because the true overall ranking comes in at once rather then a handful of sites deciding that Game A should be Game of the Year and have the highest Metacritic rating so they then release a review lower than it would have been in a blind review process so that Game B will be Game of the Year or hold the higher review score.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Jason Sartor on 26th March 2013 2:04am

Posted:A year ago

#20

Jed Ashforth
Senior Game Designer, Immersive Technology Group

107 178 1.7
Do people really exist who would trust an unknown site's opinion just because they post the first review? I would think only hardcore gamers care about day 1 purchases and first reviews, and we can safely expect them to know better, or learn quickly if it turns out they don't agree with the review(s) after they make a purchase.

Embargoes are a beneficial deal between PR departments and websites, with all the problems and caveats you mention Dan, but obviously none of that benefits the consumer in any way I can see. It's two businesses protecting their interests. Consumers aren't stupid for long, and once a named reviewer on a review site has steered them bad once or twice they aren't likely to keep visiting, just as they're not likely to keep buying from a brand they've had bad experiences with.

As a consumer I welcome any review site that comes along that dares to be brave; ignore embargoes and reviewers guides, write what you really think, and let the process find it's own new equilibrium. Weather the shitstorm. Short term it might turn ugly, but long-term it would be beneficial for all. If the PR departments refuse to play ball with you, buy or rent a copy as suggested elsewhere.

As a realist, of course, I know this will probably never happen with a large business-driven group like Gamer Network, but for a smaller site with nothing to lose, not playing by the rules this way and championing entirely unfettered opinion is always a potentially good way to get yourself noticed - isn't this essentially how Harry Knowles and AICN built their reputation back in the day?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jed Ashforth on 26th March 2013 12:18pm

Posted:A year ago

#21
Tim in #17 has it spot on - we have embargoes on our titles (1 week before release, normally) purely to ensure that the reviewer has had time to play it (we deliver review code 10 days to 2 weeks in advance of that). We don't have any other restrictions about what people can, or can't, talk about in the review though.

Posted:A year ago

#22

Tim Ogul
Illustrator

335 462 1.4
@ Jed, yeah, I don't know that I would trust a review just because it came out first, but if I were very interested to get a first impression on the game I might read their site just for getting it up first (assuming that I was aware of them), which means that they'd get page views. I would also then likely back up that position by reading from sites that I had more trust in, but if it were the other way around, if everyone released at once then I would never view the review by the guy who would otherwise be posting first. So yeah, I can see the incentive there, page views he wouldn't otherwise get. I just don't think that it's something that really helps the players, or the developers.

Personally there are only a few sites that I really trust on reviews (even when I disagree with them), and then a few others that I might read anyways just to get their take on the situation (with a grain of salt), but sometimes a story will filter in from the fringes. I don't think that individual sites should blatantly ignore embargoes if that's what they agreed to, that is just dishonest behavior and if I ran a publisher I would not give them any more access to our products, but I do think that major sites should ban together, and if a publisher insists on an unreasonable embargo, one that hurts the customers, then the sites should insist on pushing it back to a more reasonable point if the publisher wants to get favorable coverage leading up to the launch.

If, for example, a publisher says that they're unable to publish any reviews until launch day or right before it, and the game is just really bad, then the major sites should insist on being able to convey that information to the players and should present a united front against the publisher in such a case.

Posted:A year ago

#23

Roland Austinat
roland austinat media productions|consulting

127 67 0.5
I like reviews that tell me how it feels to play a game, not regurgitate the story. A short story segment, sure. But then back to how it feels. Not just a list of facts and bulletpoints, this is not a washing machine review.

Embargo wise, in my 20 years of writing about games I've learned that there are really just two reasons for them:
1. There is an exclusive with a big media outlet that got it because they did x of pages of editorial content and/or ad booking.
2. The game is horrible and the publisher wants to sell it at least a week or so until word of mouth has traveled around.

If one doesn't want to play along, all one can do is educate the readers that one is buying the game and will review it then. However, that will make the outlet look "late" when all the other shiny ratings between 8.5 and 10 show up - yay for the 15 point rating system. But that's a discussion for another time.

Posted:A year ago

#24

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