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Review Embargoes are Hurting Everyone

by GH Staff

Reviewers and YouTube content creators are regularly sent press copies of games, yet big companies like Ubisoft and EA keep adding embargoes that only lift once they have launched. With zero-day launch incentives, that makes it too late for keen gamers. So why is this happening?

What are Review Embargoes?

It’s basically a contract that means you’re not allowed to release your content until a specified date or time. It’s not an uncommon practice, and (according to Wikipedia) there have been journalistic embargoes since 1924. Usually this is to prevent one particular body having an advantage (breaking news at 9am GMT would limit audience awareness in PST zones) or to protect someone (both Prince Harry and George W Bush had news embargoes in place for touring Afghanistan and Iraq respectively). For these reasons an embargo makes a lot of sense. There have also been situations where embargoes have been placed on certain publishers because the producer has a deal with one particular company. It happens.

In media, they can also be used to discourage spoilers. Although I think most reviewers have the decency to not ruin plot twists, embargoes are used this way as well. Sometimes these turn out to be the strangest of all, but they at least serve a purpose and don’t prevent the consumer from working out whether they want the game or not.

How are Embargoes being Abused?

Ours is a culture of immediacy. We want everything right now. Faster downloads, quicker websites, games as early as possible. Companies are throwing pre-order incentives at us with reckless abandon. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype. Look at Steam Greenlight or Kickstarter and IndieGoGo – so many games being added with few features, very often unplayable. Yet gamers are still buying them because they want to be the first. They want to be in from the start. I totally understand it, and in the past I’ve been guilty of succumbing to incentives and buying a game sight-unseen. Sometimes for the best, sometimes not so much.

Consequences of Breaking Embargoes

Publishers don’t mess around when it comes to enforcing embargoes. They’ll almost certainly try to have the content removed, that goes without saying. It doesn’t take much to get a YouTube video removed, at least temporarily. But beyond that, they will make sure that the person who broke it (individual or company) never receives pre-release copies again. It’s a big issue when it comes to people trying to make a living from game reviews. In a recent video, TotalBiscuit said that interest in his content falls away after launch. That’s a problem.

How Does it Hurt the Consumer?

This part should be pretty obvious. If you pay £40 ($60/€50) for a game before any reviews come out, you’re acting in good faith. You’re hoping the game turns out to be good. If it’s a franchise you’ve enjoyed in the past, or a developer who has made games you’ve enjoyed before then there’s less risk. However, it still doesn’t guarantee a good product. Look at Ubisoft’s recent launch of Assassin’s Creed Unity – an established franchise from a big developer, yet launched with game-breaking bugs. You can never tell.

So that’s money you’re not getting back. If you’ve bought a digital copy of the game then you’re unlikely to get a refund. If you’ve bought a physical copy then you might have a better time, but you might have to argue with several people as you go up the chain of store command. And even if you choose to do an immediate trade-in, you’ll be lucky to get back 75% of what you paid.

However, more important than that – to me at least – is what they think they’re doing. Do they know about these issues before launch? And on consoles it can’t be that hard to QA test on unified hardware. If they don’t know about them, it shows a serious problem with their testing process. If they do know about them then all that shows is how much contempt they have for their customers. The people paying for this treatment. The people giving them money to treat them like they don’t matter.

And How Does it Hurt the Developer?

This is something that I haven’t really seen anyone talk about, but it does hurt both sides – to a limited degree. If a company releases a run of buggy, broken, unplayable games, their reputation will take a hit. Consumers will only put up with that for so long before they just give up altogether. Why would we choose to pay for something that spoils the whole experience when we could wait a few days and get the whole experience? Embargoes will no longer matter, because nobody will be interested in launch day purchases. And then the development team gets fired because they made a product that isn’t selling.

And before you say it, yes the industry is that cut-throat.

How Can We Stop it?

There’s only one solution and you’re not going to like it. Stop buying games on launch day. Stop pre-ordering. Wait until you know that a game is worth buying before you buy it. Find a few sources you trust and wait for them to tell you if a game is worth your money. You have all the information in the world at your fingertips, use it.

Also, remember that you can often get these pre-order bonuses after launch from 3rd-party sources. Right now you can still get Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Zero-Day Edition from Toys R Us, eBay and a whole bunch of other online stores (in the UK at least). Make the companies earn your money rather than throwing it at them.

Note: This article was originally written for Dajmin.com and modified for use here