Ubisoft and Assassin’s Creed: do post-release review embargoes always mean the game is bad?

Ubisoft and Assassin’s Creed: do post-release review embargoes always mean the game is bad?

There’s been a heated debate raging on the internet in the past 24 hours as the launch of Assassin’s Creed Unity in America took place. Many fans are reporting issues with the game, including technical troubles, under-performances with frame rates, and issues with micro-transactions. Overall the game is underwhelming many fans, which just highlights a further problem – the post-release review embargo.

Assassin’s Creed Unity launched at midnight on Monday evening in North America, however, websites who were given early review copies were not allowed to publish their reviews until Tuesday afternoon. Most fans would have already played a considerable amount of hours into the game by the time the reviews started hitting the internet, so why the delay to the embargo?

In light of some of the bad reviews Unity is getting, many feel that the embargo was put in place to prevent consumers from hearing the bad criticism. If the Unity reviews had been allowed to publish ahead of release, I imagine fewer people would have bought the game after reading some of them.

It’s worth mentioning that Unity has still received some positive reviews, however, other notable websites have given it scores that were far lower than expected. Polygon gave the game 6.5 out of 10, additionally Joystiq gave it only 2.5 out of 5.

It’s not just fans that have been riled up by the post-release review embargo of Unity, well-known websites have also expressed their displeasure about the whole thing. Kotaku has actually posted an article about the situation, declaring that it will no longer accept post-release review embargoes.

Kotaku will not accept post-release review embargoes tied to early review copies. That doesn’t mean we’re guaranteeing day-one reviews. We may still decide to wait to review a game if we feel we haven’t been able to have a fair go at the game’s online multiplayer or if, say, a game creator has advised us that there’s a last-minute pre-release patch we should test out… but if the only thing holding us back from running a review is an arbitrary amount of hours on the clock, we won’t wait and will publish our review the minute the game is released.

It’s what our readers deserve and it seems like a reasonable standard that all publishers, Ubisoft included, have largely honored for years. It’s a line that need not be crossed again.Kotaku

Fair play to them, I think by keeping fans blinkered by not allowing reviews to be released in a timely fashion, it makes it feel as though we’re being deceived into buying the game. Kotaku continued to state: “It’s rare and it’s not ok on the face of it—it potentially means that an outlet that knows that a game isn’t very good can’t tell their readers this for some period of time after the game is out.

There may be bigger implications to this whole fiasco. More and more highly popular websites are expressing their disapproval of the situation, encouraging their readers to wait for the reviews or flat-out refusing post-review embargoes in the future. What does this mean for the publishers behind the games?

If the majority of the media are united against this issue, will game companies want to risk incurring their wrath in the future? Will this situation convince publishers to implement future launches differently? I think if many big name websites continue to criticise review embargoes it may potentially have a big impact on the gaming news industry by urging publishers to stop embargoes such as this. Polygon‘s statement on the Unity embargo sums up why review embargoes can be unethical and underhanded:

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.Polygon

So Unity has definitely underwhelmed its fans, but does that mean every game that has post-release embargoes in place, or that don’t allow review copies at all, are all bad? Although Ubisoft distributed review copies of Unity early, websites weren’t given copies of Assassin’s Creed Rogue until much later. IGN UK felt the need to post an article, firstly explaining why its Unity review wasn’t released, as well as explaining why there wasn’t a Rogue review either: “Ubisoft has declined to provide advance review copies at all. As of this writing, we still don’t have it.“.

If Ubisoft was anticipating less than desired reviews for Rogue as well, why didn’t it just implement a post-release review embargo for that title too? From the scattering of in-progress reviews and impressions on the internet, Rogue is actually pleasing the fans.

Although the gameplay is apparently much of the same, the plot is fresh and adding new depth to the overall Assassin’s Creed lore with its unique Templar perspective. If Rogue appears to be going down rather well, why didn’t Ubisoft release review copies earlier?

If Ubisoft was anticipating less than desired reviews for Rogue as well, why didn’t it just implement a post-release review embargo for that title too? From the scattering of in-progress reviews and impressions on the internet, Rogue is actually pleasing the fans.

Although the gameplay is apparently much of the same, the plot is fresh and adding new depth to the overall Assassin’s Creed lore with its unique Templar perspective. If Rogue appears to be going down rather well, why didn’t Ubisoft release review copies earlier?

I only have one theory, which is of course pure speculation, but perhaps Ubisoft didn’t want the good Rogue reviews out there because they would make the Unity reviews look even worse in comparison. Not only that, but what does it say about the future of gaming when Ubisoft has failed to deliver on its promise of its first “true next-gen” Assassin’s Creed title while the old-gen title is still managing to win fans over?

With Rogue‘s apparent success, it would seem that companies withholding review copies doesn’t foretell doom and gloom. However, does it mean that reviews are never withheld without a motive?

Ultimately, buying a game is always a risk and it’s always a choice that we as gamers have to make ourselves. You can never truly guarantee that you will like a game, however, reading reviews can give you a good indication of whether you might. By withholding reviews publishers are leaving consumers ill-informed.

Not only that, but regardless of the actual quality of the game, review embargoes are just going to make fans assume the worst from now on. In the past, hearing that a game wasn’t releasing review copies always started grumbling from fans as to whether it was a bad sign, after Unity I imagine players will be even less trusting. If publishers continue to embargo reviews I believe they will be causing damage to themselves because it will discourage fans from purchasing the game.

I understand that some embargoes are in place to stop key plot spoilers from emerging on the internet and ruining the game for others. However, after this week I would rather risk reading a plot spoiler than waste £50 on a game that fell short of what fans expected.

What do you think of this whole situation? Did you buy Unity or Rogue and what are your impressions of it? Should publishers continue to embargo reviews?

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About the Author: Alex Montgomery

I'm 23 year old guy from Incendia. I've been prying my way into freelance graphic design as well as side projects like a band and a small company. I enjoy programming and wrestling around with video game concepts and design. I play bass guitar for a progressive rock band and we're touring the world... tomorrow. I like chocolate milk and unfinished jokes.

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