Pete Davison: Not To Be Read Until 4pm

Posted on May 31, 2011 by

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This won’t be news to any of you, but sometimes in the games industry, you find out things and you’re not allowed to talk about them. The technical terminology for this is an “NDA” or non-disclosure agreement, or an embargo preventing publication of something until a particular time.

It’s obvious why publishers insist on this sort of behaviour: it allows them to control how and when information gets released. This means that they can effectively control the press to release the information that the company wants talked about at a specific time, ensuring that it doesn’t “clash” with anything else and get upstaged by something cooler.

Still, when something gets embargoed until a particular time, you’d expect the information that was being held back to be complete, wouldn’t you? Not so in the case of today’s Call of Duty Elite announcement, which explained what the service would be but failed to mention anything useful like how much the premium option would cost and indeed what the premium service actually offered, compared to what free members would get.

The practice of embargoes seems to be a relatively recent one. I don’t remember them being mentioned all that often before a couple of years back — but then, I wasn’t involved in the games press full-time at that point, so this sort of nonsense may well have been going on for years.

The thing is, though, it ultimately hurts everyone. People tease embargo reveals all day, then EVERY FUCKING SITE UNDER THE SUN releases the same information at the same time when the embargo expires, and then I don’t read any of it. If you follow games sites on Twitter and you do happen to be interested in the coverage, you’ll probably only click on the first link you see. This means it becomes a race for whichever outlet can get the content live and tweet it first. Sensible outlets will have prepared the material well in advance, of course, but sometimes that doesn’t happen and you end up with sloppy, rushed reporting.

Then sometimes you wonder why on Earth certain pieces of information are embargoed. I had a press release from NVidia earlier today talking about their new pair of wired 3D glasses for 3D Vision-equipped PCs. It was embargoed until 5pm Pacific on the Sunday just gone. It’s a pair of 3D glasses — not the most exciting thing in the world, even if they are under $100 for once. Why did that need to have a timed reveal?

As with most things in the industry, if one person does it, everyone has to do it. Gone are the days* when a developer could just go “Yeah, I’m experimenting with a thing. It’s pretty cool. Might not go anywhere though.” No, now it has to be a countdown to an announcement of a teaser trailer which leads to a countdown to an announcement of an exclusive reveal of the first gameplay footage which will coincide with an exclusive reveal of one little piece of information that no-one gives a shit about. (OMG! The main character’s eyes are directly scanned from an actor/rapper no-one’s heard of! Fuck off.)

I’ve never worked in the music, film or “general” journalism industries so I can’t say for certain whether this sort of thing goes on in them. But somehow I doubt it’s quite so tightly controlled as the ever-peculiar games industry.

* The exception to this is, of course, the indie development industry, who rarely, if ever, use embargoes and are usually pretty candid and open about the projects they’re working on. And all credit to them — honesty gets them far more respect from me than an intricately-planned campaign which drives journalists and consumers alike utterly crazy.
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Posted in: Pete Davison