Another day, another “controversy” in gaming. This one centered around review embargoes and Ubisoft supposedly being “anti-consumer.”
For those who don’t know, some games “journalists” and reviewers are trying to make a big stink about the fact that the embargo for reviews of Assassin’s Creed Unity ended at noon on Tuesday, roughly 12 hours after the game officially released.
This is supposedly anti-consumer because Ubisoft “knew” the game would review “poorly” and thus was trying to stifle those poor reviews to sucker folks into purchasing the poor game without first reading a review.
Except for all its apparent flaws, Unity hasn’t reviewed poorly. The PS4 version has a 77 Metacritic average and the Xbox One version has a 76 Metacritic average. Last time I checked, 7’s (or 70’s) were supposed to represent a “good” game. If that’s not the case, reviewers need to adjust their scales accordingly.
Now I’m not going to get into the worthlessness of Metacritic and how it should fade from any sort of relevance, but for now the average of the reviews still classifies Unity as being a “good” game.
Polygon’s Ben Kuchera wrote a self-righteous piece about the review embargo of Assassin’s Creed Unity, calling it “anti-consumer.” Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo also thinks its anti-consumer, and have said they will no longer accept post release embargoes. YouTuber TotalBiscuit agrees with this anti-consumer stance, and will also not being accepting review copies of games with a post release embargo.
It’s the new “it” thing for establish gaming media sites, long accused of being ethically wrong, to try and get back on the good side of some vocal minority of gamers.
The problem is that it’s a load of crap. There’s nothing anti-consumer about an embargo, regardless if it drops 12 hours after a game has released or not.
Those who pre-order the game, which the established media pushes every time they regurgitate a press release, obviously don’t care about reviews. Those who pre-order digitally especially don’t. Nor do those who don’t pre-order but instead line up at some store for a midnight launch. And neither did those who purchased Unity between the time it released at midnight and reviews went live at noon.
Actual anti-consumer practices would be monopolistic, where competition is ran out business and innovation is stifled leaving consumers with no choice. As far as gaming does, Ubisoft isn’t anti-consumer because Ubisoft doesn’t have the power.
This notion that a review going live 12 hours after its release is an attempt to stifle criticism so that it won’t impact launch sales is absurd. It’s an easy thing for established sites to talk about so that they seem to be “fighting the good fight” and “pro-consumer,” but it is a fraud.
Fellow gamers, YOU have the power. No one forced you to buy Assassin’s Creed Unity before you were able to read a review of it. Every single one of you had the option to not buy it. That a lot of folks chose not to do that speaks volumes. How in the world is it anti-consumer when the consumer makes the conscious decision to purchase a game without reading a review?
If you need to justify and plan out your gaming purchases based on reviews, then you wait for the reviews before you purchase the game. It’s not that hard. You’re not forced to buy a game without reading a review, and you damn sure aren’t forced to pre-order it. You do so on your own free will.
Gamers are a whiney bunch though, and the vocal minority of them aren’t happy unless they’re complaining about something and constantly trying to paint a narrative that they’re innocent victims repeatedly getting screwed over by evil, greedy corporations. I get it.
What I don’t get is the praise that gets thrown at guys like Stephen Totilo, TotalBiscuit, or Ben Kuchera for claiming it to be anti-consumer and saying they’re not going to accept it anymore.
I have more respect for what TotalBiscuit does and won’t lump him in with the rest, because he’s a YouTuber, but these others are self-righteous and heaping unwarranted importance upon themselves and the sites they run or write for.
In the case of Stephen Totilo, who is the Editor-in-Chief of Kotaku, he thinks its okay for a game to have an embargo that ends as soon as the game releases, but not after release (be it a minute or a few hours).
Now I ask, how is that protecting the consumer?
By that point, your Amazon/online order has already shipped. You’re not canceling that pre-order. The folks standing in line for a midnight release, to either pick up a pre-order or purchase the game without a pre-order, aren’t going to be looking at Kotaku or Polygon’s review that just went live to try and make a decision. They already made the decision by going to the midnight launch.
So which consumers here have been saved by these reviews that went up the second the game officially released? Those who would wait until the morning or afternoon of release, and may have read the review and then made the decision to hold off? If they were on the fence that much, does it really matter if the review is hours after release? No. If you care about a review that much, you can wait before purchasing. Likewise with online centric games where reviews go up days after release, such as Kotaku’s Advanced Warfare review. Now that makes sense, less you end up in a Sim City 4 style fiasco where Polygon gave the game a high score and then had to change it several times because the game was actually a broken mess when it was released. But still, what about the consumers who have to wait, gasp days after a release to get a review. Days is okay, but a few hours isn’t?
This is an easy case where the Kotaku’s, Polygon’s, and others of the gaming world can make an easy stand and try to come off as “pro-consumer” while painting Ubisoft as “anti-consumer,” because it is exactly the kind of thing the vocal minority of gamers on the Internet will eat up (as evident by the fact that they are).
Where is this journalistic, pro-consumer integrity at every other time? Where’s it at when they’re hyping up a game following their hands on preview they were invited to participate in? Or regurgitating a press release, and talking about every pre-order bonus trying to sway their readers into pre-ordering the game? It doesn’t exist then.
I think the biggest problem the sites have with a review embargo that ends 12 hours after the games release is that by that point, there’s already a lot of streams happening. Videos are already being uploaded to YouTube. The people who might otherwise have read their reviews are now able to watch gamers playing the game just to play it; and seeing the game being played is better than reading someone’s opinion about what they played. When you’re watching a stream, or a YouTube video, you can see what the final game is like and make a much better decision than you can reading words on a screen.
So there is, at the very least, a likely chance that these sites missed out on some clicks, and thus ad impressions, because folks were either already playing the game themselves or able to watch other people play it.
Call of Duty embargoes ended day of release, even though the game was playable 24 hours prior to any review thanks to the whole Day Zero marketing campaign. Who was protecting those consumers? People were able to walk into Wal-Mart on a Monday and buy Advanced Warfare and begin playing it, even though reviews didn’t hit until the Tuesday (or days later) of the so-called official release?
Where was the outrage then? There wasn’t any, because the general consensus is that Advanced Warfare is a great game. So spare me this whole “we’re doing it for the consumers” nonsense.
Before I end this little rant, I must point the blame where it truly belongs, and that’s with us gamers.
Now of I course I don’t mean each one of us individually, but collectively as a group. Gamers are, as represented by the vocal minority on the Net, entitled complainers. They would rather blame everyone else for pretty much every thing. The companies are out to get the consumers with all of their anti-consumer practices.
Here’s the thing we gamers need to come to understand. We are consumers of a luxury item. You do not need the latest video game. You do not need to have it the day it comes out. You do not need to pay full price for it. You do not need to buy the DLC. You do not have to spend money on microtransactions.
The job of the publisher is to sell you a video game, whether it ends up being good or not is irrelevant. They are selling a product that you don’t need and can totally live without. They have no obligation to provide any outlet with a free, advanced copy of the game for review purposes. And in many cases outside of the large sites, for sites such as this one, a review copy won’t show up until release day if at all. And that’s fine.
What gamers, as a collective group, need to realize is that in this situation it is the gamers who have the power… Not the “evil” corporation engaging in “anti-consumer” practices. YOU have the power. Stop your impulsiveness and control yourselves.
Look at all the people who whine about pre-order bonuses and exclusive DLC, paid DLC and season passes, and microtransactions. Whine and whine some more. The publishers do these things because they are a business, and as they have stockholders, their sole purpose is to make as much money as they can and make their products be as profitable as possible.
Why should they stop trying to give you an incentive to pre-order a game, months in a advance, and also pre-order all of the DLC, when it very obviously works? Why would they stop paid DLC when it sells? Why would they not want to add unnecessary microstransactions that only speed up a few things when it doesn’t affect everyone and some folks like to spend the money on it?
The answer to all of those questions is they wouldn’t and they won’t. There’s nothing anti-consumer about it. They’re giving you a choice. In fact, the consumers are all to willing to gobble it up, thus providing incentive to the publishers to do more of it and take it even further. You’re the problem. I’m the problem. We’ve all been the problem at one point or another.
You don’t have to pre-order a game. You shouldn’t pre-order a game. No one forces you to do any of these things. One could make the case that buying any game on day one, whether reviews have been out for weeks or come out later that day, is rather foolish. After all, the majority of games end up being on sale (or in some cases price drops all together) within weeks.
If you wait until the game is on sale, then you would not only save money but would have had more than enough time to read all the reviews you want to and watch all the videos that you want. But look how many of you can’t do that. Because you just have to have the latest game the day it comes out (and for some of you, the second it comes out).
Have I pre-ordered games? Yes, including digital ones. Will I do so again? Of course. But there hasn’t been one game that I’ve pre-ordered or bought on day one and haven’t been satisfied with. Without seeing a single review.
Reviews aren’t everything. A lot of times, they’re flat out misleading. For example, Grand Theft Auto IV is a stemming pile of ugly crap on PS3, and yet it has the highest Metacritic average of any PS3 game sitting at 98. One point ahead of Grand Theft Auto V, which was beautiful and amazing in every way. Skyrim was another mess on PS3, and yet reviewed well. Did any of those games need reviews to sell them? Of course not.
Assassin’s Creed Unity would have sold on name alone. It wouldn’t have mattered if the reviews hit days before release, or days after, it was still going to sell. Even though a loud minority love to hate on the Assassin’s Creed games every year (and they are always filled with humorous glitches and frame rate dips), the series still manages to have a large fanbase who likes the game for what it is and what it does. They don’t need a review.
In his piece on it, Ben Kuchera wrote:
There’s no valid reason for a review embargo such as this; it’s blatantly anti-consumer and likely designed to get the first rush of hardcore fans into the stores to buy their copies of the game before the reviews hit. We learned about the embargo last week.
The problem with this, aside from this unstated notion that if only Polygon could have reviewed it sooner fans wouldn’t have bought it (Polygon scored it a 6.5, which on a 10 point scale isn’t supposed to be bad), is that it ignores reality completely. He wants us to believe that Ubisoft had the embargo as they did because they “designed [it] to get the first rush of hardcore fans into the stores to buy their copies.” The hardcore fans didn’t need a review, and if they did then good lord they need to learn some patience (reviews still hit release day). Does anyone honestly believe that if Polygon’s review went live at midnight EST then folks waiting around at a midnight launch would be saying “oh shit, Polygon just gave Unity as 6.5, we need to go home and skip this one.” Of course not. That’s absurd.
As I’ve said before, Assassin’s Creed is my favorite franchise. You may notice we don’t have a review of Unity up. I don’t know if one is coming anytime soon or not, but if it is it won’t be by me. Ubisoft didn’t provide us with a review copy, and they never do. But I had concerns about the game based on what I’d seen of it and things Ubisoft has said, and thus I didn’t buy it. I was able to exercise some self control and not buy either of the latest entries in my favorite franchise, despite still being excited for both. Will get both when the price drops. It’s not that hard.
Those of you who bought it on release and aren’t happy with it, you have no one to blame but yourself. No one made you buy it. And I don’t see why you’re crying about a review not being up when the game released and screaming anti-consumer, because if you REALLY needed a review to sell you the game or not you would have WAITED until they came out instead of pre-ordering or rushing out to buy it the moment it released. You screwed yourselves because you’re impulsive, Ubisoft didn’t do anything anti-consumer. They made a game, they advertised it, and you made the conscious decision, without reading a review (so you obviously didn’t need one), to buy it. That’s on you, not Ubisoft and their embargo policies.
In the words of V, “if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look in the mirror.”