Memo to Gaming Companies: Don’t do Review Embargoes!

By Jordan Nelson

It’s commonly said that knowledge is power. In today’s modern world, one might add that access to certain knowledge is just as important. After all, people who hold on to certain knowledge have a bigger hand to hold than you do. They could be sitting on pocket aces, or in some cases nothing at all. The problem is when people with this knowledge don’t share it, especially when it comes time to show their hand. In some cases we are blown away, while other times we’re infuriated. Today, I’ll be talking about one of the times that a big gaming company showed their hand, only to reveal they have nothing on the board.

I am talking, of course, about Assassin’s Creed: Unity. While the series has always had a good name, the release of this latest title may ruin it. Assassin’s Creed: Unity (ACU for short) was released earlier this month, and to most everyone’s surprise was a huge flop. The games that we have come to love and adore were now tarnished thanks to this newest title, which was riddled with errors, game crashing bugs, and some rather bad glitches. What went wrong? Why didn’t this game follow through in its predecessors footsteps? Of the many reasons one could point to, I believe one of the biggest was the unnecessary review embargo on the game that Ubisoft put out.

Prior to its launch, many game companies got to play ACU and experience these glitches first hand. Most of the time when something like this happens, the subsequent reviews will speak of the glitches, the company will halt production for a short while until most of these issues are resolved, and then the game will come out a little behind schedule but still be great nonetheless. The problem that occurred with ACU is that Ubisoft wanted to keep their precious baby clean. They didn’t want anyone to soil the name of their perfect child, so they had reviewers sign non-disclosure agreements. People reviewed the game, and presumably told Ubisoft about its problems, but as Ubisoft only heard the voices of a few they continued production unabated.

While we all like to think of games as works of art and storytelling, at the end of the day they are still a way companies make money. This is both good and bad for certain reasons. On one hand, it’s good in that the companies we like get funding to create more and more amazing stories for us to play. On the other hand though, it creates problems such as this. After the release of ACU, Ubisoft stocks went down nearly 13%. I can see them wanting to keep profits and a good name for themselves, but this was obviously out of line. The review embargo lasted through the launch date, prolonging even smaller reviewers from posting about it.

Since its release there have been a few patches for ACU, fixing some of the major game-crashing bugs. Ubisoft has promised more on the way to fix some of the smaller glitches, but should that have been an issue to begin with? Ubisoft has game testers, they have whole departments dedicated to it. The testers could not have missed these glitches and huge game-crashing bugs. Why did all of this come to fruition? Ubisoft claims that it was because ACU was their first Online Assassin’s Creed title, and that the added stress of creating a multiplayer online setting was too much and they had to focus on just getting the game out on time. With titles like Resident Evil, Rainbow 6, Splinter Cell, and Prince of Persia, I find it hard to believe that they couldn’t work out these problems by pushing the release date back a month or two. These embargoes hurt the players, the companies, and the stories that we love to play. The only thing that an embargo like this does is keep a company’s pride unscathed for a few short days.

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