fallen order

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Shenmue III have quite a lot in common. 

Releasing a week apart, both are long-awaited, enormously hyped single-player-only games. Both also hold the promise of charting a new future for the franchises within the industry. Shenmue III is a return, while Fallen Order is a change in tact from the multiplayer-oriented Battlefront series to a story-first approach left underserved since The Force Unleashed games.

Both also raised eyebrows this week for their reported embargo practice. Apparently, registered press was not allowed to critique Fallen Order until midnight on launch day in the US (OnlySP did not get review code), while Shenmue III will be embargoed until two days after launch (if OnlySP is getting review code, it has not yet arrived). 

Withholding reviews until a game launches is not unprecedented—Bethesda once had a policy of not providing review codes until the day of release. However, the practice is usually viewed as a sign that publishers lack confidence in the product.

In the case of EA and Fallen Order, the reasoning is understandable. In recent years, the publisher has rejected the traditional linear adventure: Dead Space 3, Star Wars: Battlefront, Anthem, and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst all adopted alternative design paths, not to mention the abrupt cancellation of Project Ragtag and the closure of the once-venerated Visceral Games. EA lacks faith that games in the model of Fallen Order or the first Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge have a future in the industry.

Shenmue III is trickier. The game will almost inevitably be divisive for critics, as it appears more slow-paced than its contemporaries—perhaps even trapped within the turn-of-the-century design ethos of the first two games. Whether that surmise holds true will be unknown until the game releases publicly later this week.

However, fear is not the only motivating factor behind the delay of a review. Another is the desire for the feedback to ring true. Production cycles can go down to the wire, with fixes and updates being prepared in the last few hours before release. Despite what some might say, that is not a sign of poor planning or lazy development; it is the result of a complex, highly competitive industry.

Therein lies the problem, though. Media outlets want traffic. If a website (particularly a smaller one) is behind the curve on a review publication, that article tends to track worse. Therefore, in the name of keeping the outlet afloat, reviews are sometimes rushed. 

The balance is broken.

Developers are under extreme stress to ensure their games are as good as can be. Critics are under extreme stress to hit KPI targets. The two industries rely on each other but also cannibalise each other. 

Something needs to change. At present, a few select journalists have privileged access to development communities, but not to their productions. Journalists should not have unfettered access, yet they should have more opportunities to engage with the work of developers than through massive conventions or carefully planned and executed press events. 

Why? To raise awareness. 

Many of us who write about games as hobbyists or for a living have only an outsider’s understanding of how games are made. In turn, our reportage is often fundamentally flawed—influenced by what we think we know and what we believe rather than the facts. The situation is worse still at websites that churn out endless opinion pieces that play to an established base with a particular perspective. 

How does all this talk about the issues surrounding games commentary tie back to embargoes?

Despite the rise of social media and the democratisation of information, the traditional media still influences public opinion. Reviews continue to have a purpose in helping uncertain consumers to make purchasing decisions. However, embargoes complicate that process. If scheduled before release, they create deadlines for critics that can result in inaccurate reviews because, in many instances, review codes do not arrive until 48 hours before release or less.

Shenmue III and Fallen Order are examples of the opposite: consumers have no choice but to go in blind, which can be beneficial if excitement proves more powerful than negative opinion, but not having that safety net might also make them uncertain of the quality, which drives down sales.

To resolve this issue, we need to rethink the relationship between game makers and commentators. The relationship needs to be symbiotic, with the two industries supporting each other in a positive feedback loop. For that, we need to be informed. We need to be journalists rather than enthusiasts

Damien Lawardorn
Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

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11 Comments

  1. It’s a scary time when a bad review from IGN or Polygon can be disastrous. DeathStranding has gotten overall good reviews, but because the two big guys slammed it all I’m hearing about is how awful the reviews were. A lot of folks are ignoring the positive reviews, and are using those two outlets to justify their own opinions of a game they probably haven’t played.

    In the rush to get a review out, I feel like a lot of time, reviewers aren’t taking their time with games and just blazing through them to get that article out.

    And these days, when some games get bad reviews because they don’t fit the kind of narrative some reviewers want (Days Gone springs to mind) they’ll just slap a negative review on it.

    I don’t blame developers from wanting to hold their products back from the press when the press can make or break a game not based upon any gameplay elements, but because a particular reviewer doesn’t like what a fictional game stands for (Greedfall is another example.)

    We’re in a really, really weird time right now.

    1. I agree that the discourse tends to be dominated by a few key voices that influence the way that people think about games, and that can be really damaging. And it’s true that reviewers have to rush through games a lot of the time, which doesn’t help matters at all.

      The issue of political opinion is muddier though. A part of the journalistic duty is to hold power to account and that does mean calling out things that are problematic within contemporary society. But that should only ever be a part of the discussion when looking at the overall quality of a product, and, I feel, should typically be addressed in a separate forum except when a theme is particularly egregious or absolutely central to the product… Like the Strand system in Death Stranding, I guess.

      1. Well said!

        But look, there was not one mention of a hoverboard in the review for Death Stranding at either IGN or Polygon, you also get a truck. I went in with what I thought was going to be and was flabbergasted when I saw that I wasn’t really walking a lot at all. I haven’t walked since chapter 2.

        Which is weird right? I’m not sure what game IGN or Polygon reviewed, but it certainly doesn’t seem like it was this one.

        And hey, I agree with you! I sympathize for video game journalists, they don’t have a simple job. But look, take Days Gone for example- for some strange
        reason certain video game websites used that game for an example of
        “Trumps America”, one even complained “the whites are at it again.”

        Look, I hate Trump, I’m married to a Native American woman,my kids are mixed. I’m all for diversity and representation in media.

        But making that game the poster child for white racists or any other pulpit, was just plain wrong.

        That game has problems no doubt, but dismissing it because its main
        character is a biker, without actually giving the game a chance to
        present is characters OR actually paying attention to what the game is
        saying, is pushing a dangerous agenda.

        I saw the “ride me like you ride my Harley” line everywhere, as an example of how bad the writing in the game was, but if you actually played the game you know that one line is taken out of context and in relation to how it’s used, it’s actually a joke (it’s a good way to tell if anyone actually PLAYED the game or not, or if they’re just quoting what they read.)

        My main point is a game should just be judged on gameplay, not whether you agree with what’s going on because your morals are too good for the game and your agenda or political views don’t line up with what the game is doing. I don’t mind if a reviewer says the game made them uncomfortable, but when it comes to the actual game, I don’t really care if the game hurt your feelings, I just care about how the damn thing plays and what kind of experience I’m getting.

        Games shouldn’t be getting bad reviews because the main character isn’t what you want it to be.

        1. Yeah, we’re definitely on the same wavelength. Reviews usually can’t be comprehensive, but they certainly shouldn’t misrepresent the game, which seems to have happened a bit with Death Stranding, Days Gone, and others.

          I don’t necessarily agree that gameplay should be the only factor in deciding the quality of a game. The story should also be taken into account, but it should be the quality of the storytelling, not the underlying message that gets critiqued. Because messages are messy.
          There’s the whole Death of the Author discussion to be taken in consideration, which means that readers/players will find their own meaning in the text. Sure, some things will be blatantly racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, or discriminatory in some other way. Those things should be called out and criticised. But the criticism is often trained on incidental factors that shouldn’t factor into a review. As I said, by all means, go ham in a separate article, but don’t let an agenda colour a critique.

          1. You nailed it.

            I think my main point is, I don’t blame video game distributors for not letting reviews out until the day the game is released. When a big website gives your game a bad review because they don’t like your main character on a political standpoint, or the game isn’t political ENOUGH (Farcry 5) it’s a scary thing!

            If a journalist wants to write an opinion piece about what they disagree with or hey, even if they want to include a small bit in a review, I don’t mind. But when you trash a game because it doesn’t fit whatever political agenda you personally think it should have, I mean eesh. That’s scary.

  2. It’s a scary time when a bad review from IGN or Polygon can be disastrous. DeathStranding has gotten overall good reviews, but because the two big guys slammed it all I’m hearing about is how awful the reviews were. A lot of folks are ignoring the positive reviews, and are using those two outlets to justify their own opinions of a game they probably haven’t played.

    In the rush to get a review out, I feel like a lot of time, reviewers aren’t taking their time with games and just blazing through them to get that article out.

    And these days, when some games get bad reviews because they don’t fit the kind of narrative some reviewers want (Days Gone springs to mind) they’ll just slap a negative review on it.

    I don’t blame developers from wanting to hold their products back from the press when the press can make or break a game not based upon any gameplay elements, but because a particular reviewer doesn’t like what a fictional game stands for (Greedfall is another example.)

    We’re in a really, really weird time right now.

  3. But customers do have a choice not to go in blind. Because of what the article describes, nowadays I extremely rarely buy games on launch (or god forbid, pre-order). I will usually wait a week or two for reviews and feedback on the state of the game in regards to the bugs. I find the practice saves me from lots of disappointment.

    1. That’s a fair call. It seems that pretty much everyone who’s commented so far does the same, but we see your names pop up in our comments really often, so you all clearly try to be informed consumers. I wonder how widespread that is among the entire gaming audience when people just want to be involved in the latest zeitgeist.

      1. I don’t comment much so I’ll give you my two cents. My wife, friends, and myself are all PC gamers, and all of our buying habits have been completely changed by Steam. We all have such extensive libraries of games (from their massive sales throughout the years) that there is absolutely no incentive to buy a new game upon release. In fact, it’s just better to wait: you learn which games flop, the game gets patched, mods are created to improve gameplay, and the price always drops. I waited five years to play Skyrim.

        However, I will buy or even preorder to support certain devs. I’m a big fan of Spiders and pre-ordered three copies of Greedfall for myself and friends. I loved Dishonored and the recent Prey, so I’ll probably support Wolfeye Studios similarly. I will also throw money at anything X-Comy. I kickstarted Phoenix Point and Xenonauts 1 & 2.

        But even if I pre-order, I still won’t play it on release. This year I finally got around to these games: Dishonored (first one), Life is Strange (first one), Doom (2016), and Mass Effect 2. I’m just too busy.

  4. I just wait for the reviews (if I’m on the fence about a game, I’ll read every review from my preferred sites before I decide whether or not to buy). It’s a bit of a bonus for me – since Amazon “punishes” customers who don’t have Prime by delaying mailing out pre-orders for those of us who choose free shipping, I can order a game a couple of weeks after release & get it either earlier or the around the same time I would have had I pre-ordered!!

    1. Wait… What? Weeks? Amazon is sketchy as hell.

Comments are closed.

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