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The Exclusively Untrustworthy

Posted on Wednesday, December 3 @ 17:58:48 Eastern by Duke_Ferris
Review embargoes (ie. not publishing a review until a certain date) are quite common in both the game and movie biz. They have seldom been problematic, until now.

These are almost never contractually enforced, but they are socially enforced as we, on both sides of the gaming fence, are all professionals who have to work together. And I think it’s fair for gaming companies to want us to not trash-talk their products until they’re actually out. Think of it as a gentlemen’s agreement, and here at GR we always honor them.

However, recently I have noticed a disturbing new trend: The Exclusive Review.

This is where one publisher is given the blessing to publish their review before anyone else. Eidos has apparently gone so far (or at least their UK public relations firm has) as to try and make their embargo dates score-based, letting the good reviews publish before the bad ones.

So I talked to a must-remain-anonymous journalist and video game reviewer for a large media outlet. Let’s just say that it’s a large enough place that you can buy its stock on Wall Street. He said that not only was his publication doing this, they we’re doing it on their own. His bosses were pushing him for higher review scores, and changing around the publishing dates depending on those scores. The amazing part is that they are doing this without always being prompted by the game publishers - they’re actually frightened of them and the power of their ad dollars.

Now to be fair, Eidos here in the U.S. said nothing to GR about Tomb Raider: Underworld, but at least they were up-front in the UK about a bit of honest dishonesty, rather than the sneakier veiled threats and the subterfuge of the Exclusive Review.

Alert the lawyers, I’m about to get specific. You see, IGN had the Exclusive Review for Prince of Persia, and here’s all the ways that’s problematic.

1- Money. An exclusive review is always tied into an ad buy, and you may notice that IGN is covered in PoP ads.

2- Honesty. I polled several Product Managers for different games, and they all said they would never agree to an exclusive review unless they knew exactly what the score was going to be ahead of time (and it had better be high, damn high).

3- Fear. Especially after the firing of Jeff Gerstmann any reviewer is bound to be a bit nervous in this situation. At worst, their boss says, “We don't care about the game. Write a good review so we get this $100,000 ad buy, or else”. And at best they worry about that unspoken possibility.

4- Pressure. Having to stick your neck out there and criticize a title without any of your fellow critics around to provide distraction is hard. Especially since you've probably met a number of people who have worked hard on the title. “Look, I may have said the game sucked, but over at GR they said the game sucked balls.”

5- Sex. Ok, so sex really doesn’t play into this, but I felt it needed to be on the list.

How much collusion was there between Ubisoft and IGN? How direct was it? How much fear?

The sad (or happy) part of it is that I can’t prove anything because Prince of Persia is actually a pretty good game. I may not have praised it as much as IGN’s Hilary Goldstein, but her his comments are not out of line when compared to some other opinions out there. However, I guarantee that Eidos saw every word of that review before it was published.

And I’m not singling out Eidos, Ubisoft, or IGN here. I’m watching everyone closely and I urge you to do the same. If you ever see that Exclusive Review on GR, be suspicious.

 



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