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Battlefield 3 and EA Norway

You know, I hate these stories. I really do. Thing is, does EA even need to try and inflate review scores for Battlefield 3? It’s not like it hasn’t been saturated thanks to the media already. Maybe it’s beta test damage control? Who knows? I thought EA/DICE were 100% sure Battlefield 3 was a certified smash? Why play this game with the media?

The story goes like this, according to the BF3Blog:

According to Norway’s top news outlet, NRK, EA has withheld review copies of Battlefield 3 to reviewers whom they thought would give the game a bad score. Furthermore, EA inquired potential reviewers of Battlefield 3 to see whether they were Call of Duty fans, whether they played the beta and if they were frustrated with the beta. You can see the full list of questions above.

EA’s response:

EA Norway marketing manager Oliver Sveen saying “this should not have been sent out. We have made ??a mistake and we apologize. This is not something that neither should have happened earlier or what we intend to continue.”

Sveen is right. This should NEVER happen. This may come as a surprise, but I strongly believe EA has the right to send review copies to whomever it wishes. Just because you say you’re “press” doesn’t mean you get free stuff. This is what I mean when I say that the game media is TOTALLY reliant on assistance from publishers in order to do its job. It’s the only reason we as an industry bend over backward to snuggle up to the publishers.

We need them to survive.

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Take this quote from Norway’s GameReactor.com. This site was initially mentioned in the story and then the website’s editor fired off an email to Blue’s News saying the following:

“We would like to have our name removed from the article, we have received a preview code and have not had any problems with EA. We have had nothing to do with the ‘shenanigans’. It seems to be a matter between EA Norway and a major newspaper, why dedicated gaming media are mentioned also must be a misunderstanding.”

Must be.

Think of it like this. What if tomorrow EA, Bethesda, Activision, THQ, Warner, Square Enix, Namco, Nintendo, Sony and Sega all got together and decided, “We will not work with Game Website X.” (regardless of its size and perceived influence). I can tell you point blank, regardless of how important Game Website X thinks its is — Game Website X would be bent over a barrel.

And Game Website X knows it. There would be initial outrage. There would be gnashing of teeth from fans of Game Website X…and then those fans would leave and find the info elsewhere.

We in the game media are still fighting as we try to figure out how to grow up. Seeing things like this EA Norway story tells me we still have a ways to go. As I said months ago, we need to figure out away to cut the cord in order to truly do our job. Review events with developers watching over your shoulder, embargoes on reviews that fall under a 90 Metacritic score, questionnaires for receiving review copies…

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There are days I feel like Sisyphus.

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

9 thoughts to “Battlefield 3 and EA Norway”

  1. You hit the nail on the head, Bill. This dependence on the publishers from the games media is the root of the problem. These big AAA shooters from EA and Activision seem to be the worst of the bunch. Remember the CoD Black Ops party with the press people being flown to a resort spa in the middle of the California mountains by a freaking helicopter? That shit needs to stop. I wish I knew a magic solution to this, but if it was that simple, somebody probably already would have done it.

    You know, this isn’t a problem with movies. Critics get early screenings all the time, because if the studio decides not to do so, it’s widely seen as an admission that they think the movie sucks. And film critics certainly don’t have embargoes on any review under 4.5 stars before release date. What’s the difference here? Is it that film critics don’t have nearly as much impact on what movies people see as game reviews and Metacritic scores do on the games people buy, so the movie studios don’t really care? Is it this, plus the social faux pas of not having a press screening?

    I think this is the case. The main difference to me seems to be that, if a movie sucks, you’ve wasted $10-$15. If a game sucks, you’ve wasted $60. Big difference in investment, so people probably rely on review scores and Metacritic way more with games. I’m not sure how to break this cycle, except to convince people to just do your research when buying games. Demos help a lot, obviously, but they’re not perfect. People are lazy, and a Metacritic score is a really easy way to get an instant gauge on what games are worth playing, which has lead to the industry itself coveting this score like it’s the holy grail.

    Maybe it’s just the nature of gaming as an entertainment medium. Honestly, I see this changing perhaps for the better, thanks to the rise of casual and indie games. They’re much cheaper than a $60 console title, so people are more willing to just pick one and try it out, kind of like going to the movies on the weekend.

  2. The problem is too that many game writers don’t have the balls to stand up to bullying and review influencers like this profiling shit and when they do either publishers, developers or _the fucking readers_ shoot them down for bullshit, idiotic faults like “bias” or whatever. Witness that Gamasutra review- that guy had the balls to ask hard questions and really press for responses. And apparently he got a letter from at least one AAA publisher chiding him for his hostility and letting him know that Gamasutra was off the press list.

    It is also partially that games are $60 purchases with a very, very limited window of profitability. Pubs are stumping and humping to get their games’ budgets covered in like two to four weeks after release because after that, it’s failure city. And bad early reviews can tank a game’s prospects out of the gate. This is another reason why preorders have become such a big deal. Hook ‘em BEFORE the reviews hit Metacritic.

    Films have much less to lose- people will still go out to see shit films, and if they don’t then there’s always DVDs and the overseas boxoffice. Films can weather “red” Metacritic reviews and still make bank- or even be big hits.

    As for the dependency, I say again, for my part- fuck ‘em. I can figure out other completely legal ways to play their games for free and I can _still_ give them fair and justified reviews, one way or the other. Not for sale. No helicopter ride or spa visit is buying my A, assholes.

  3. Man, that whole Gamasutra Rage interview thing last week really pissed me off. Not the interview itself, the responses to it. I couldn’t believe how many readers on the site were actually giving him a hard time because he asked tough, honest questions. I personally chalk this up to that particular site being more geared towards the industry itself, and so I suspect that many commentators are fellow developers and/or publishers, and they didn’t like seeing a collegue get cornered with tough questions. Even if I’m right on this, it still doesn’t excuse the responses. Brandon Sheffield should not have had to write a followup story explaining how he wasn’t really so hard on them and it just came off that way because of the editing and everybody just chill the fuck out. Nobody holds these assholes’s feet to the fire anymore, and Mr. Sheffield has my utmost respect for trying to do so. You’re totally right about the press needing to just grow some fucking balls most of the time.

    I think another difference with films is that, like you said, films have more chances to make money. It’s not all-or-nothing in the first weeks of release like games. Sure, they stay on the shelf for a while, but there are constantly new games coming out. Maybe that’s part of the problem; the sheer volume of releases is drowning out any chance we have to pick these games up later on. I can think of a couple games offhand that I thought about picking up, and they garnered pretty good opinions in the end, but I never got around to them and now it’s fall and I’m playing the ICO/Shadow Collection and Batman and Rocksmith and holy crap Zelda is out next month and where’s my vacation when I need it?!

    In case it wasn’t already clear, you guys are awesome for this and it’s one of the things I love about this site. I love seeing Brandon skewer the latest AAA blockbuster that everybody else is gushing over (okay, that’s usually over on GameShark, but you get the idea). I love contrary opinions, as long as they actually have a leg to stand on, and Brandon always does. I love the random musings about what you’re playing at the moment, as you’re playing it. I love that it’s not actually a review, it’s just your almost stream-of-consciousness thoughts tumbling out on the page as you’re in the middle of the game. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I love you guys!

  4. “Films can weather “red” Metacritic reviews and still make bank- or even be big hits.”

    A great, great point.

  5. “I personally chalk this up to that particular site being more geared towards the industry itself, and so I suspect that many commentators are fellow developers and/or publishers, and they didn’t like seeing a collegue get cornered with tough questions.”

    I like Gamasutra, but its comments section is composed of two groups: industry devs and wannabe industry devs. I should know, I was once a wannabe and I occasionally comment on Gamasutra.

    Point is, a lot of the wannabes over there act like total sycophants, so it really doesn’t shock me to see him get reamed. Pro-DRM because piracy is the sole reason devs are fired/can’t feed their children? Sony had no culpability in events leading up to their getting hacked? Etc. etc. They side with the industry 99% of the time over there imo, because it’s almost entirely devs and dev groupies.

  6. But I don’t think it’s as big a deal as you’re making it out to be.

    So you get blacklisted. So what? You can still buy the games, play them, and review them, no? I’d respect your opinion even more if you weren’t getting special treatment from publishers.

    Yeah, you’d lose the traffic from people looking for info on a specific game during the time span between its release to reviewers and its release to the public. Is that really that big a slice of your overall traffic?

    I visit certain gaming sites instead of others because of a number of factors, chief among them that I like the writing style and, to a lesser degree, the community. I check in periodically, regardless of whether or not I’m looking for a specific review.

    When I do want to read review for a game, the sources I consult are the ones that I trust because we tend to be on the same page. If I have to wait a couple of weeks for you to write those reviews, so be it.

    I imagine I’m not alone in this.

    It seems to me that only low quality gaming sites – you know, the review factories with zero personality – would suffer, and who cares about them? Your core audience isn’t here for the latest in gaming news, it’s here for funny, well written, interesting articles.

    In my opinion.

  7. I m the same and actually the site I follow the most is actually blacklisted by Sony and Ubisoft and that doesn’t prevent me to go there every day.

    Because of that I trust their judgment and their honesty as journalists, website like IGN and stuff, not really and I actually rarely go there if ever.

    You dont have to sell your ass to the publishers to be a good video games website quite the contrary!

    Your reviews will come a bit late and then what? I rather wait for a good review rather than get feed some PR bullshit in some “Exclusive review”

  8. Maybe site X can buy the games themselves? They might even tout it as a feature, read our reviews, we’re not corporate shills!

    Making the reviewer pay for the game might even help in the review, where he/she can honestly tell their readers whether or not it was worth the money.

    I made a similiar comment at a Kotaku article, there is no such thing as free lunch. Expecting that it’s otherwise just makes you look silly. Sure, it’s bad form of EA to try and influence reviews etc. What’s even worse is first expecting a handout, and then act surprised when they ask something in return.

    Perhaps in a perfect world you can get review copies for free for realz. How about some kind of compromise, you get them earlier so you can get an early review up, but you can choose whether or not to pay for them. If you do, no pressure from publishers, if you don’t, well, 5/5 all around.

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