Defending A Developers Right For Post-Release Embargo’s On Reviews
Ubisoft has come under heavy scrutiny recently following a series of decisions that cast a shadow over the developers intentions when providing review copies, decisions that restrict critics from publicizing their opinions until an embargoed time and date post-release. And in true gaming fashion, the masses have taken up torches and pitch forks before taking the time to look at the problem logically – ya know, that little voice in your brain that attempts to stop you doing anything stupid before you do it?
Assassin’s Creed Unity launched this month to a very mixed reception, mainly due to an array of technical problems suffered across multiple platforms but even with these problems, the brunt of complaints appeared to be aimed at post-release embargo agreements that prohibited critics from publishing reviews until after the games street date. Several respected gaming folk and popular media outlets jumped on the bandwagon almost immediately, criticizing Ubisoft for “weaponizing” review embargo’s and attempting to mislead consumers.
Things heated up further at the start of this week following a post on the Ubisoft blog in which they warned readers to approach early reviews for The Crew with caution, as they would not be offering pre-release access to critics.
The two incidents provided the perfect chance for opportunistic outlets to stick one to the suits and represent the little guy, AKA the consumer. Attacking Ubisoft for what could be perceived as an attempt to mislead consumers is almost guaranteed to earn respect and admiration from viewers, but has anyone actually stopped to look at the problem properly? Instead of attempting to impress with an outspoken view towards one of today’s biggest developers, I opted to use logic as my weapon of choice.
This is not a battle between developer and consumer. This is a fight between the journalists and a constantly evolving industry that cannot always stick to an expected list of rules or requirements. Over the years games have evolved and have become something more. The anti-social experience tied to games of yesteryear is a thing of the past. In its place is a new era of socially connected experiences that rely very heavily on the involvement and interactivity of its community.
With that in mind, would it be a good idea to review a socially driven, multiplayer game prior to its street launch? The problem here is that developers give critics the opportunity to prepare launch day reviews by providing early access, which is a mutually beneficial relationship and is generally good news for all involved. However, that relationship changes when the developer decides to impose restrictions.
While we’re far from the biggest outlet in gaming media, we have developed relationships with developers and members of the PR world since our launch four years ago and occasionally, we are offered the chance to get pre-release access to certain games. As was the case with Assassin’s Creed Unity. Although the game was widely criticized for its technical instabilities and lack of polish, it was the multiplayer element of reviews that intrigued me the most. I played the game for over 20 hours before its general street date release and in that time, I was only able to enter a multiplayer game on one occasion, despite having match making open for hours and trying to connect with others. When speaking with other members of the gaming media, they echoed very much the same. It was widely accepted that multiplayer was unreliable and almost an impossibility for some. However, come launch day there were literally dozens of reviews published with some claiming to have experienced multiplayer, while others failed to mention it nearly at all. While I’m sure some outlets did indeed get the chance to sample multiplayer content prior to release, I cannot bring myself to believe all such similar claims.
As a result of the multiplayer problems our review was delayed by several days as I wanted ample time to play the multiplayer content before making my final judgement. Although this meant we were unable to offer a readers insight on the day of launch, it eventually meant we were able to deliver an honest review across a multitude of the games features. One of the most important aspects of a reliable review source is the ability to provide in-depth opinions on new releases on launch day. Even a 2-3 delay on the publishing of a review can mean thousands of potential viewers lost – a bottom line that means a lot to many in the gaming media. As such, it’s in a websites favor to publish a review on launch day regardless of its actual contents or integrity.
And herein lies the problem. A developer needs to offer consumers the chance to make judgement prior to a purchase and popular review & let’s play individuals are vital to that approach. However, a very thin line is easily slurred when members of the media need to provide content when its clearly not ready.
The same concerns prove true for The Crew. Having played the open beta for almost 15 hours and experiencing much of the games content, I could potentially provide an opinionated review of the game on launch day but that’s not how we roll. In doing so I would not be giving the game the time and attention it deserves, I would be abusing the trust of our readers, and delivering a review void of many of the games best assets.
Reviews offer consumers the chance to get an in-depth take on a game and its features, providing the opportunity to make an educated purchase based on the opinion of a familiar and trusted source. However, we are not even close to being the majority here. The average video-game consumer isn’t likely to hang on the every word of a review, bringing into question the level of impact Ubisoft’s decisions will make.
Wouldn’t you rather a review source deliver a verdict based on the intended experience? The lesser percentage of players that base a purchase solely on a review will have to wait a few extra hours or days, is that so bad? I for one would rather wait to read a trusted review based on the entire game, rather than one designed to attract the numbers of the first-post-first-viewed crowd.
So to you I say: Don’t simply accuse developers of shady tactics when post-release embargo’s are in place. Look at the type of games involved and take some time to investigate the actions of others, this is not as simple as an attempt to obscure the truth from consumers.