Sony’s embargo conundrum: Did rushed reviewers lead to lower scores?

Sony’s embargo conundrum: Did rushed reviewers lead to lower scores?

It’s great to have a PlayStation 4, complete with working firmware, right here in my office. There is every indication that tomorrow’s launch will go smoothly. Hell, you can always download the firmware update now and put it on a USB stick if you’re worried about clogged servers, be proactive!

The reviews for the system’s launch software have certainly been uneven, however, and Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida spoke candidly about the situation.

“Yeah, it's disappointing to see some of the low scores. I haven't spent enough time reading reviews, but I would characterize them as mixed,” he told GamesIndustry.

“And with this launch there are lots of games coming out, so the media must be very busy going through the games quickly, and especially since the online functionality wasn't ready until in the last couple days. So we have to look at how much time they spend on what aspect of the games and how that may be contributing to some of the lower scores,” Yoshida continued. “It's disappointing but I don't think it's worrisome for the launch of the system.”

This is a pretty interesting statement for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that he suggests review scores may be affected by the mood of reviewers. The majority of outlets received their PlayStation 4, along with a selection of games, on Monday. The embargo for coverage was Wednesday.

That’s a brutal time frame, even if you have a talented team working on software and hardware reviews. This is especially true when there are so many other high-profile games that are landing on our doorstep on a daily basis. This is a stressful time to be a game reviewer, just because there are so many games to get through, and the rush to hit the embargo and get your review high on the Google rankings may make or break your business.

These things are rarely fair, either. Different outlets received review code and systems ahead of the Monday event, and it would be interesting to see if being able to take more time with the games had any impact on a review's score or tone. That would require editors being transparent about when they received hardware and code, and then running the numbers on all the reviews, and somehow I just don't think that's going to happen.

I bet PR looks at it though.

I absolutely hate to second-guess anyone’s review score, especially when I know how hard people in this business work and how rigorous the scoring system can be at many outlets. On the other hand, would Sony have been in a better position for scores if it had managed to get more outlets earlier access to games? If not earlier access, would we have seen better scores if the embargo was held back a few days until launch?

It’s an interesting question, but Yoshida certainly seems to be suggesting that putting so many reviewers into such a high pressure situation during the busiest rush in years may not have done them any favors when it comes to scores or reviews.

As I sit at my own desk, covered in games I need to get through or at least sample, I have to think that he may be onto something.