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    Monday, July 13, 2009

    Eurogamer Editor Tom Bramwell On Embargos


    By now we've all read RAM Raider's post about Batman reviews. I wrote Rammy an email on Friday night in which I raised a few points about it, and, as with all good Friday night emails, I regretted it immediately when I woke up on Saturday morning, because I was horribly inarticulate and bonkers throughout. So I wrote another email asking if I could write a clearer reply making a point that I think is often overlooked or goes without discussion, and then maybe he could publish that. If you're reading this, rather than a post entitled "Eurogamer editor sends mad email then panics", then Rammy is a gentleman. (Although, actually, that's still quite a good title.)

    I believe we would all be much better off without review embargoes. One day, I hope to live in a world where developers finish making games, and their publishers immediately ship them off to as many critics as possible, encouraging us to write them up whenever we like, and allowing us to tell you whether we love them or hate them well before you find yourself staring at them in the shops. You would have plenty of time to make your mind up, developers and publishers would have lots of feedback to consider, and the quality of reviews would dictate the success or otherwise of the magazines and websites that published them, so there would be no sense in rushing to be "first!" (People would still do that for a while, but they'd get over it.)

    That's the dream, so what's the reality?

    With websites, the most common approach taken by game publishers is to provide review copies a week or two before release and specify a date and time that the review can go live. This is usually just before the US release date, which is a few days before the European one. Some publishers only specify embargoes on big releases, and allow other reviews to go up as soon as the publication likes after receiving the game. Elsewhere, there are a couple who I'd happily single out for praise. Sony frequently provides review code a month or more in advance of release on major games, and although it does set embargoes, these are usually well ahead of the release date, as with Killzone 2 and inFamous this year. One company, meanwhile, often provides games a month or more ahead of release and seldom sets any embargo at all. Stand up Nintendo, and take a bow.

    However, it's not all like that. In the bad old days, websites struggled to get hold of review copies until the day of release, and sometimes had to wait until after that. Or - more frequently with magazines than websites, as far as I know - review copies were only provided if a publication agreed to a high score in advance, which is the sort of thing Rammy is highlighting. This behaviour is much less prominent than it used to be, but it does still happen. One of the biggest publishers in the world, for instance, makes it very difficult to review its games in the UK before the US release date, and sometimes even the UK one, even when said games are actually very good.

    In this case, I'd like to separate the two aspects of Rammy's report and try and demonstrate why there is hope amongst the apparent bleakness. Whether or not the events described are true is immaterial - this sort of thing does happen, and the two key parts are: 1) A game provided for review in time for magazines to publish their thoughts ahead of release. 2) An offer to allow people to publish earlier if they really like the game. The part about the 9/10 proposal is something I've written about before, and as I said then, I think that in theory it is acceptable providing the publication behaves honestly. It's then up to its readers to decide whether it acted honourably or not.

    In this instance, I think it's worth focusing on the first part: the idea of a publisher providing review copies in sufficient time for all manner of magazines and websites to publish their verdicts before the game is available to buy. This is becoming more common, and I believe that's progress. Similarly, I think Sony and Nintendo and the other examples I provided originally are signs of progress.

    One has to remember that a game publisher's ideal scenario is completely the opposite of ours. Theirs is that only positive reviews appear before release, and preferably right around release, so that people's attention is drawn to the launch of something apparently loved by critics. While some do still attempt to stage that situation, plenty are now on the road to siding with us. There are loads of reasons for this, but one of the most prominent is that the internet remembers, and people don't like being fooled. It's actually better, a few Mr Publishers now believe, to live with the fact that a mediocre game is going to get low scores, because one day they will have a really good game to sell, and people will be more likely to believe the good things they're hearing about it.

    Let's not paint too rosy a picture: we're still a long way from the dream scenario of tons of early reviews and every publisher taking the bad with the good, and it's important that commentators like Rammy continue to talk about review embargoes and let the people publishing games know that, in the long run, it will be best to do away with them completely. But the point I wanted to make, which I've hopefully stumbled into somewhere in the knots of text above, is that we *are* getting there, slowly but surely, and I believe that, in attacking the practices of PR and marketing people, we must make sure that we define our criticism specifically so as not to discourage that progress.


    Tom Bramwell
    Editor, Eurogamer

    10 comments:

    1. A quick summation: Embargos are bad but things are gradually changing for the better.

      Rammy, your last Blog entry really touched a raw nerve. You notched up a grand total of 16 'cunty' reactions - a new record.

      I'm inclined to believe Bramwell when he says that piecemeal change is afoot. A revolutionary transformation in the way game publishers think was never on the cards. So yeah, a tick in your 'illuminating' box from me.

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    2. Anonymous12:56 pm

      Another part of the whole PR chain that even the eloquent Mr. Bramwell forgets is that PR cunts are under the gun too. Most of the time the poor sods are being told to do these 9/10 things or told to call up and whine about reviews by some cunty boss. Not to say that it's all unautonomous, but there's always that to consider.

      PS: excellent and articulate article from Bramwell

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    3. Anonymous2:29 pm

      I think it will get a lot worse before it gets better, particularly now that studios are under even more pressure to produce hits and keep the misses to a minimum. Embargoes are only really part of the problem, and with gamers feeling the pinch as much as anyone else, you're going to see a lot more PR stunts like the 9/10 Arkham thing - and not all of them will receive as much coverage as that particular nasty little instance has.

      Good response TB, if that's you being incoherent then gotta wonder what a coherent reply would've been like !

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    4. Am I the only one that finds it bizarre that gaming gets such a raw deal from marketing & PR? Of course, there are scores of folk in such industries that do a bad job, but not many that seem to disregard the basic rules that make marketing successful in the first place with such regularity as those that work for games publishers.

      Odd.

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    5. Anonymous3:30 pm

      The 'Unreliable Eurogamer' speaks, eh? Nice one Ram. Won't an end to embargos just mean more reviews of unfinished preview code? And none of this justifies your Batman rant.

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    6. If you had any journalistic integrity you'd wait for the game to come out then review it and not be in this strange sybiotic relationship with the people whose products you are trying to review.

      The review would come out a few days after the game and customers could wait until then to make an informed discussion (most consumers wouldn't but meh). This rush to be "First" is ultimatly damaging because of the comprimises some outlets are willing to make.

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    7. Anonymous1:58 pm

      Sure, but the idea is to sell magas and get page hits. You wouldn't expect the same of a newspaper, and if you did they would not be journalists as much as historians - and newspapers have got far, far worse. Why people expect so much from this particular multi-billion business is probably down to the fact that many grew up with games built in a cottage industry and still have a romantic view of how it should go about its practices. Thing is, a lot of reviews in mags will come out after release because the days of getting review code in a month or more before hand are gone. I'm getting more and more boxed code to cover, and lets not forget that you can rent any new £40 -£50 console game for a week for a fiver. It's never been easier for consumers to avoid the bullshit.

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    8. Couldn't agree more. I've not had that much experience with embargoes (literally, one game so far, and to be fair I was given the game a few days in advance of the embargo which itself was over a week before release Europe wide beyond Germany) but generally the whole thing struck me as being a bit indicative of the problems driving widespread disaffection with critical reviews. Often, the first reviews ear marked for publishing prior to the embargo lift are the only ones that seem to get any attention, and it seems to lead to a somewhat nepotistic situation where the quality of a review matters less than the level of "respect" the particular publication in question is held in by the PR officials. To me, it seems that things are geared for the publisher's/publication's benefit, rather than the end user.

      Yeah, these things have got to be with a mind to assisting the marketting of a game. They've got to make money, and make it fast to reclaim development costs, and I can respect that. But they're also there to help the end user make an informed decision as to whether or not to pre-order. And the sooner a wide spectrum of pre-release reviews are out there, the better peoples money can be placed.

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    9. Anonymous1:32 pm

      Never understood the need to pre-order, really. So many places sell games these days that the only game I've failed to get hold of when I wanted was Mario Kart Wii and that really wasn't worth the wait. The way that magazines have raped the word 'exclusive', has sullied the whole thing anyway and, thanks to the internet and Blockbusters, I haven't bought a game based on one single review for years. Ram isn't sick of the games industry, he always rants about marketing and magazines. That's not the industry, it's just a small part of it. Marketing is shit everywhere. Magazines and websites need readers to survive. "The guy who is sick of Future Publishing" would be more fitting, which makes this just another blog by a guy who hates their job who really thinks they are better than it while refusing to move on to find something else.

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    10. Anonymous11:20 pm

      See the first review (I believe) of Batman, in Games Master UK?

      96/100.

      Game's apparenetly a bonnified masterpiece, according to'em .

      This whole issue sullies that early review irregardless of how good the actual game is, which is the sad part. (I think most people would agree that the game does look very solid... )

      -Random 2bit Internet games journalist guy

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