On press embargoes


I’m not a massive fan of the press, games or otherwise, being told they can’t report on something and it’s happened twice this week so far.

Last night at Midnight the BBC announced that two recovered Patrick Troughton Doctor Who stories were being released at that moment on iTunes. Everybody was happy, especially as it includes both The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear (one episode still missing but reconstructed), which sees first appearance of then Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart fight Yetis on the London Underground. They just don’t make TV like that anymore.

The dumb part of this story is that the press were told in the early afternoon and everybody was sworn to secrecy so that, presumably, the official announcement could be the second that they went up on iTunes. This of course didn’t work as expected as throughout the afternoon and evening leak after leak happened, some deliberately and some accidentally. Newspapers published stories early and pulled them, front pages were released on line and towards the end iTunes had the shows available early anyway. In the end we’re all happy that we have the episodes but was that wait really needed? Did it actually add anything to the level of anticipation?

Earlier on in the week Beyond: Two Souls released in the US (out today in the UK) and there was a review embargo until the day of release. Now my general rule is that if there is an embargo it means one of two things: The publisher doesn’t think the reviews will have any real affect no matter what they say (e.g. GTAV) or that they are worried that they will (Beyond). Now I get why in theory an embargo is good for games as otherwise there’s a race to get reviews up for that all important first published review for an anticipated game that will bring in a lot more clicks than otherwise, but release day embargos for games that are reviewing badly just stand as almost colluding with the publisher to not tell the public that maybe the game sucks, especially if they’ve purchased the game online because of the hype and it gets shipped out the day before anyway.

Now while pre-ordering games, especially one that was always going to have the same problems as the other David Cage games (bad writing, lack on interactivity) is always a bad idea, but the idea of the press agreeing to self-censorship in a way that is without a doubt at the detriment of their readers who have pre-ordered seems just wrong to me.

The press have little choice. You publish that review early and you’ve pissed off Sony, which means you might not receive early review copies of any other Sony games. This is a bad time to be risking that so it’s just not worth the risk. That isn’t to say that the reviews haven’t all been fair; it seems as if there has been no pressure at all to nudge the scores of the game upwards, but only to ensure that it came out on the day of release.

This happens all the time, and there’s no way to stop it. The best advice I can give is don’t pre-order based on hype if you haven’t liked the previous games by the developer.