We’re now only a couple of weeks away from the May 27th global launch of Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs on PS4, Xbox One, PS3 and Xbox 360. In the meantime, Ubisoft is warning of “fake reviews”. But what on earth does that mean?
With such a short time to go, physical copies of the game are starting to appear around the world. It’s very hard to keep a game that will be pressed on to discs millions of time secret until a particular time. We’ve already seen copies of Watch Dogs for sale in Brazil, for instance.
Here’s the tweet the game’s official account sent out:
Hackers have attempted to infiltrate our system and post false reviews of Watch Dogs. All valid reviews will emerge at release on May 27_
— Watch Dogs (@watchdogsgame) May 18, 2014
Now, call us cynical… but what exactly do they mean by “fake reviews”?
As far as we can tell, the “hackers” are a fiction. The game itself features ‘hacking’ as one of its major themes – so this is just a creative way of telling gamers to wait until May 27th to read reviews of the game. In any case, where would they post “fake reviews”?
What this tweet actually means is the review embargo ends on May 27th. The embargo is an agreement between the software producers and games journalists (the likes of us) not to publish a review before a certain time.
Embargoes are beneficial to publishers because it means they can be confident that reviews will all be published at the best possible time for the game to receive promotion (ie: when it is in shops), and also that they can safely let a journalist play the game early without risk of an early bad review souring the hype ahead of time.
For the games journalist, embargoes are a part of life – and not respecting embargoes can lead to journalists being blacklisted by the companies. This could mean, for example, they’re not given early copies of future games, or are cut off from receiving information early – and in a culture where being “first” with the latest news is important, this could be damaging to their publication.
So why is Ubisoft keen to point out the review embargo, and dissuade gamers from listening to “false reviews”? Here’s a couple of possible reasons.
First off it could be the game that would be played if you were to take a disc and put it into your PS4 now is not actually the final game. The discs have to be prepared weeks or months in advance, so the code that is put on the discs is often bug-riddled or incomplete – it relies on gamers downloading a “Day 1 patch” to fix stuff, and this patch often isn’t released until the actual day of release, as controlling digital releases is much easier.
The upshot of this is that if you were to play Watch Dogs off of a disc today, you could end up going onto the internet and posting about how the game is terrible – why is it so horribly flawed? Of course – it might not actually be, but you won’t know that as you technically weren’t playing the final version of the game.
The second possible reason is a little more cynical. Even if the game is complete and the version on disc is representative of what Ubisoft want people to be playing, they are still going to be interested in controlling the message. As I mentioned before – it is optimal for Ubi if all of the reviews hit at the same time on May 27th.
Aside from players actually being able to buy the game, there’s one other advantage: If the game is bad, there’s nothing much they can do – but if all of the reviews arrive at the same time, it will hide the impact of one bad review.
I’m hoping that the reason for the warning is the first reason – that the code is not representative. It would be incredibly depressing if “fake reviews” is being used as the label for this second category (I’ve no idea if it is or not). If gamers are lucky enough to get a copy of Watch Dogs early, and the game they play is the same as what everyone will be playing on May 27th, it is not a “fake review”, and they shouldn’t be punished for voicing their opinions before a self-appointed clique of games journalists who have obeyed the embargo. Because that would be insane.
Here’s hoping it was the first reason.