The entire video game industry still considers itself young.
After more than 30 years the industry still has few concrete ideas of what is considered professional critique from the industry’s journalists. It should not be that hard for them. There are plenty of examples to draw from in other media. There is also the obvious, such as how they should refuse to accept anti-consumer policies.
In any market, journalists are supposed to be there as a watchdog to say whether a product or a company is trying to screw the consumer over, yet if the media surrounding video games had been more apt to relate information to the consumer, we would not have had the botched release and embargo problems that we had with Assassin’s Creed Unity.
Assassin’s Creed Unity, the latest in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, was released on November 11, 2014. As the game, hyped to oblivion with promises of DLC and pre-order bonuses was set to arrive on store shelves, people looked online for reviews on it to find that they were nowhere to be seen.
Only 12 hours after the game officially released in stores were reviews allowed to come to light. Some of which were not so pretty. People immediately started having performance problems, especially on PC. Many people with rather hefty and expensive rigs were still unable to run it well. Even on Xbox One and PS4 customers experienced frame rate dips and horrible glitches.
Review embargoes are the agreements between reviewing outlets and video game publishers that give reviewers early access to games in exchange for a signed agreement to only release the review at a certain date and time. Reviews for most games comes out a one to a few weeks before launch. Refusal to acknowledge embargo dates can result in blacklisting of pre-release versions of games for those media outlets.
This previous year also had Bungie’s pseudo-MMO, Destiny, embargo reviews until after release. Ubisofts other title Assassin’s Creed Rogue did not allow preview demos at all.
The publishers had many excuses, but the real reason is obvious. They do not want to miss out on the pre-order numbers that so many big name titles rely on nowadays. Ubisoft decided to avoid the controversy by simply restricting reviews from those who had already preordered the game. Sorry, no refunds.
Metacritic has already hammered Assassin’s Creed Unity and Reviews of the Steam version of the game show an overwhelming negative response.
So what are the reviewers doing? From what those reviewers decided to write about only after the fiasco that was Assassins Creed Unity, they were between the proverbial rock and Ubisofts massive groin. If a reviewer posts an opinion before the embargo, legal problems would ensue and probably guarantee no more early access from that publisher.
Yet when consumers are waiting for a review, and it still is not out, what are they supposed to do? They might not know of the embargo, just that the reviews are late. What is worse than an uninformed consumer putting down money on an expensive product?
Outlets like PCGamer did not relate their situation about late reviews for Assassin’s Creed Unity until after the game was released. Video game site Polygon has already stated they would work in the future to relate what embargo dates are set for certain games.
This probably won’t be the last case of this happening. Assassins Creed Unity got bombed by player reviews, but it does not mean companies won’t see all their pre-orders and get frightened of losing them.
That leaves it up to the gamers and the reviewers to hold the torch. The big name reviewers need to have transparency when it comes to the times and dates of review embargoes. They need to tell their readership several days or weeks before why they are not getting their reviews in until after the game is released. Gamers have to watch out for these tactics. With so many games lacking betas or demos, there’s no way to relay an experience before release. Beware pre-orders and shy away from tempting pre-order bonuses.
Consumers need to know what games the publishers already expect to do well, and which ones they expect to get hammered. When those games are bad, hammer them. Hammer them and watch them burn.