Big Picture Mode
Industry issues given the widescreen treatment
Nathan Brown on the inevitable suspicion surrounding embargoes
When our copy of Wolfenstein: The New Order arrived in the post for review, it came with a bulletpointed list of instructions. This included limitations on video capture, requests not to live stream the game and to deactivate its activity settings on PS4, plus the timing of the review embargo. It’s standard stuff in an era when even a game’s Achievements are considered spoilers by some, and we’re used to it. Punters, however, aren’t, and I felt for the forum user whose online order of
Wolfenstein turned up a couple of days early, before the embargo had lifted. Mindful of how many of his fellow posters were on the fence about the game, and with the review embargo yet to lift, he hit the Share button on his Dual-Shock 4 and started streaming. Within a couple of hours, his Twitch account had been suspended. He’d broken an embargo to which he had never agreed.
This is a new low. It needlessly punishes a player who bought the game in good faith. It undermines the online retailers whose reputations have been built on getting games into eager players’ hands a day or two before release. And most of all, it harms the game, serving only to put off the potential players who are already suspicious enough of the embargo’s timing. They’re shutting down streams now? It must be terrible.
Whenever a big new release has an 11th-hour embargo, it is immediately assumed the game is going to be rough, that publishers are trying to withhold the truth about its quality until it is too late to cancel your preorder. That might be true in some cases, but embargoes are designed to serve more than just corporate cover-ups. Ensuring that all the outlets sent early code are working to the same deadline means none of them can rush up a review for the sake of being first and getting all that sweet Internet traffic. That, in turn, protects players from basing a purchasing decision on a halfformed critique. And for publishers, it’s not just about burying bad news until it’s too late
The culture of mistrust between player and publisher is only going to worsen until someone comes up with a solution
to matter, but also guaranteeing a broad media presence that reminds the less engaged that a game exists and is now on shelves.
Release-day embargoes do, however, reinforce the belief that the gaming press is simply another cog in the big publishers’ marketing machine – that we are too scared of being denied future access and advertising spend to disobey them. Open any forum thread discussing a game’s review scores and you’ll find people claiming they no longer trust the press, and put more stock in fellow posters’ impressions than those of a bent so-called ‘journalist’. Yet that doesn’t work either, and Watch
Dogs is a fine recent example of why. Through a combination of PC piracy, high-street indies willing to break street date for a sale and online retailers, social media was awash with impressions of the game several days before the review embargo lifted. Naturally, they were all over the place. My favourite was the fellow who posted one night to say it was dreadful, the next morning to say it was at best a six out of ten, and then was back later that evening to say he’d been playing it all day and was rather enjoying himself. What is the fellow potential buyer whose mouse is hovering over the ‘Cancel preorder’ button on Amazon supposed to do with that? Ubisoft’s botched marketing of Watch
Dogs has been fascinating anyway. There was the 11th-hour delay, announced so late that it prompted accusations of being deliberately withheld until players couldn’t cancel the PS4 hardware bundle they’d preordered; the graphical downgrade from the game’s announcement at E3 2012; and the nowinfamous Paris preview event where attendees were sent away with assets stored on Google Nexus 7s. All gave the suspicious still more grounds to believe Ubisoft was sitting on a stinker. A review embargo timed to lift at a minute past midnight (on the US West Coast, of course) on the day of release only made matters worse.
In an era of digital releases and day-one patches, developers are working on games until much closer to launch than in the halcyon days where finished games shipped on discs. As such, review code is going out later and later. Meanwhile, players are being asked to commit to a purchase earlier than ever. There’s no easy answer, but the culture of mistrust between player and publisher is only going to worsen until someone comes up with a solution. No longer punishing your paying customers with account bans seems like a logical place to start. Nathan Brown is Edge’s games editor. All opinions expressed are embargoed until 00:01 PST on July 3, 2014