Monday, April 18, 2011

The Storm

This popped into my inbox on Friday afternoon. I've known this source for years, and he is 100% solid gold, one of the most reputable people I know. His comments begin after the **.
There's an industry storm brewing that I suspect you may not be aware of yet: The two biggest videogame publishers have been unofficially-but-officially sabotaging traditional game industry press.

We heard a lot of coincidental stories from a lot of people all pointing to the same thing. So we started asking around with industry sources and what we learned was shocking. After speaking with numerous contacts at various levels in the games industry and games press, we discovered that practically everyone is being affected. And it isn't coincidental. It's a strategy on the part of the publishers to deny access to games press outlets. A third-party ad agency we work with actually went so far as to tell us that at least one publisher is intentionally excluding games press from marketing and advertising plans.

What this means is that publishers are denying or delaying review copies of games and asking for strict, timed-to-the-minute embargo agreements from game outlets. In some cases the embargoes are staggered for after the game's release. You may have heard that some publishers are granting permission to break embargo to reviewers offering higher review scores, and that is happening, but this goes beyond that. This is strategic, logistical control of all assets and access.

They are also refusing to spend ad dollars with traditional game industry publications. Any ad dollars. Their ad funds are all going to - and this is a direct quote - mainstream publications and "the top two game outlets." We can only assume this is motivated by a cynical belief that since they have control over when and how the games media outlets are covering the games, they think they don't need to buy advertising from those sites, and unfortunately they're right. They know the games press will cover the major games and they know when those stories will appear. In some cases they even know what will be in the stories, since embargoes frequently list levels and characters that are "off limits," or because instead of offering to mail review copies, they've invited reviewers to "preview events" where only certain portions of the game are shown.

The traditional games press is in the process of being starved out of business by the megalith game publishers and one can only conclude that it is in an effort on the part of the major publishers to continue to "control the message" as much and as often as possible. As the games press has become more objective and independent over the past several years, the publishers have become more iron-fisted with assets and access. I can envision a future in which games reporting is conducted by mainstream outlets like NYT and CNN, who are too big to influence, and by amateur enthusiast blogs who are too inexperienced to know when they are being manipulated. The outlets in the middle, where most of the gaming audience currently gets their news and reviews, will be gone.

I'll have more later this week about what this might mean, and who the two companies I believe are most likely to be involved. I had noticed that there were far fewer day of release reviews for products from one particular publisher, certainly, but hadn't noticed the second, and I had no idea it was as concerted as this.

Like I said, this source is unimpeachable.

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