Publishers Must Stop Weaponizing the Review Embargo

Every year, we see more than a couple of AAA games make their way to our beloved gaming machines. Be it PC, PlayStation or Xbox, we get our share of big budget titles. Since most of us don’t throw our money at every game that comes out, we turn to reviews to know which title is worth our time and hard earned money.

Same is the case with movies but compared to video games, movies are reviewed by a plethora of critics and also, movies don’t cost $60. So, that makes pre-release game reviews even more important for gamers.

As writers and reviewers, it’s our job to let you in on the facts about the product you are planning to purchase. However, over the years reviewers have been reporting the facts with one hand tied behind their back.

Publishers impose embargo and stop writers to let the people know about the game before a certain time period. There are many reasons behind this and most of them seem justified. For example, in the case of Bungie’s sci-fi shooter Destiny, Bungie stated that the game focuses heavily on its online features and gameplay and servers of Destiny won’t be active until a day before the game came out. So, reviewers won’t be able to judge the game properly without its online element.

Seems reasonable right? Well, to quote Kaz Miller, “they played us like a damn fiddle.”

I say that because creating an online environment for reviewers is not an impossible task. Developers test their games on in-house online environments all the time. Secondly, other titles have done the same thing before.

That leaves the singleplayer campaign, which I think we all know isn’t something which most of us played twice. So what was the point of enforcing an embargo and risking a controversy? To know the answer to that, read some of the reviews of the game.

Destiny broke sales records but did the game lived up to all the hype that was created? I don’t think so.

Just recently, I spoke to a colleague of mine about publishers weaponizing the embargo and he argued that there is no such thing.

At that time, I was sort of skeptical myself so the argument went in his favor. But, then came Assassin’s Creed Unity and I was happy to be the one telling him that “I told you so.”

Unity’s release was nothing short of a disaster, not in terms of sales (thanks to a review embargo) but in terms of performance. The game suffered from severe frame-rate issues, character faces disappearing and what not.

This time the embargo was enforced by Ubisoft but the reason was pretty similar to the one given by Bungie, online multiplayer!

“The nature of games themselves and the way they are being reviewed is changing, as evidenced by games like Assassin’s Creed Unity, Destiny and The Crew – games that have significant online components,” said Ubisoft

We all know what happened to Unity After this statement. To this day, the game has issues and patches are rolling out.

There is no way that developers who are creating a game and spending millions on it, don’t know the issues it has before launch. They could have delayed Unity but instead, they decided to enforce a review embargo, according to which, no reviews will be available until the game comes out.

Thanks to the embargo, players had no way of knowing what is coming there way and Ubisoft benefited from the first rush of sales.

This is an highly unethical business practice. Surely, companies gain short term benefit from this but in the long run, it damages consumer trust. I can’t speak for anyone else but when it comes to me, I no longer purchase a game until the reviews are available. No matter how good the pre-order incentive is, I don’t purchase. So who’s on the losing end here? Not me!

The reason I am writing this, is to try to deliver a message to companies that want to benefit from the first rush of sales and completely ignore the fact that their game is just not ready. It is not right to release a broken game and then come and apologize while trying to make things right with free content.

Fans have the right to know what they are buying and everyone out their should see that companies have started weaponizing the review embargo. And as gamers, we could also play our part by choosing not to buy a game until the reviews come out as publishers will keep on doing this only if we keep on pre-ordering games without knowing about the actual product.

I am not saying that every company is doing this or it is being done with every release. The Crew had an embargo as well but it was a pretty nice game and scores were decent as well. But again, with passing time, we are seeing this happen more often just like Microtransactions and DLC concepts. Eventually, everyone might start doing it and we don’t want that, right?

Well, that’s what I believe atleast, and I will be happy to know your point of view on the matter. The comments section is waiting.