Are Game Review Embargoes Going Too Far?


Nick Hatsios

As we roll into the holiday season, many new games are hitting the market, but some people are buying them blindly. A video game can be a big investment, priced at anywhere between $60 new to upwards of $100 for a special edition. Going into this purchase, people often like to have a good idea of what they are buying, but in recent releases this has not been the case due to review embargoes.

A review embargo takes place when a game company distributes a pre-release copy of a game for review to various rating companies and YouTube Let’s-Players, who must sign a legal contract on what they release and when. The trouble comes into the picture when companies withhold any review information until right before, or even after a game has been released.

The most heated example was when Ubisoft Entertainment released Assassin’s Creed: Unity, embargoing the reviews until 12 hours after the game had released. This may have gone unnoticed since so many purchases came from really hyped fans, but it turns out the game was released with a ton of bugs and got some bad reviews. Fans were distraught and felt played by the company who wasn’t pressured to release a sound game without reviews to warn fans of its glitches.

Of course this is only one of many instances. It’s not just limited to Ubisoft — consider Bethesda’s newly released title: Fallout 4. Bethesda actually had an embargo on the review embargo! They went as far as to withhold the date of the embargo release. Four days before the game release they announced when the embargo would be lifted. Then two days before the game’s release they lifted the review embargo, letting some very eager fans get a look at what was (soon to be) in store for them.

That brings us to the question, are embargoes really helping? On one hand, many believe that you can’t really judge a game until you play it. Games are often a unique experience for every person and cannot be actively depicted by a critic’s review. There is also the chance for a Let’s-Player to release footage or a leak to occur, so the embargo can potentially help protect eager fans on the internet from seeing the unexpected spoiler. It may also force a company to wait and write a more detailed review of the game.

On the other hand, the embargo can prevent people from critical knowledge pertaining to the purchase of the game. It also takes pressure off of the company to release a sound game. When a new game is released, it will often have various bugs and glitches. Having more people analyze the game and give feedback, before its released, can help to clean the game up a little.

Embargoes began as a good idea but have recently gone too far. Game companies should value the opinions of their gamers and the industry when trying to collectively produce quality games for our ever-expanding community. An embargo should never be released after a game’s publishing, as this can leave gamers misinformed about what they are buying. When an embargo is in place, it can allow reviewers to put extra time and effort into their final review rather than to produce an early review to be the first on the scene. However, if an embargo lasts too long, it can defeat the purpose of a critique altogether, as players will purchase it without knowing what they are buying. These reviews place a good type of pressure on game companies to produce good games, so we aren’t just banking on the big names.

Eventually a good middle ground should be found, but it is up to you to make the final call. There will be games released in the future with embargoes, but rather than letting the company play you, you should make sure you know you’re getting your money’s worth.