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

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