Tomb Raider’s early reviews: the science and art behind publisher confidence
The embargo for Tomb Raider reviews allowed publications to discuss the game as early as last Monday, but the game itself isn’t released until the 5th of March. This odd situation has led many to ask… what the hell is going on? We’ve talked about this subject a bit in the past, so I thought I’d go ahead and give some thoughts on why Tomb Raider enjoyed such an early embargo.
Square Enix likely knew the game would be good
“I think that early embargoes are all about convincing anyone who’s still on the fence about a title; you want those people to finally take the plunge on a pre-order. If your review embargo is a week from release, a boost in pre-orders may not actually have a noticeable impact on your initial sales,” Tom Ohle, a PR veteran, told the Report in an earlier interview. “However, if there’s enough time between the embargo and launch, a slew of positive reviews may be just what you need to get a retailer to increase their order. Either way, a bunch of positive reviews in the weeks leading up to launch will just boost hype and set the stage for a successful launch,” he continued. That’s not to say a late embargo means a game is bad; as this could simply indicate that review code wasn’t available to send out early, or the publisher wanted to save the maximum amount of buzz for when the game was actually available. I was able to see a little bit of this strategy during the first day of the Tomb Raider review’s availability; I received e-mails from gamers who thought the game was out, tried to purchase it, and found that it was actually a week away. Will they still be willing to get out the wallet by the time the game is actually available?
Send in the reviewers!
So the question is how publishers know if a game is good or not. The information could just come from playtesting or from a gut feeling, but this sort of thing is rarely left to chance. In many cases mock reviews are held, where a writer plays the game, writes their review as if it were going to a publication, and hands it into the publisher instead. In many cases these reviews are actually done by well-established freelance critics, and the rate for a mock review is usually the same, if not much higher, than what you’d get selling the review to a magazine or website. This is kind of an odd situation, because a writer is being paid by a company they may cover in the future, this is the “consulting work” that got Lauren Wainwright in so much trouble, in fact, but it’s a moderately common thing to take place. Working, honest reviewers writing up a game before it gets sent to “real” critics gives companies a strong idea of what to expect from the reviews, and if these come back overwhelmingly positive it can indicate that it’s safe to go for an early embargo. Whatever the case, there’s a lot of time, energy, and resources that go into deciding this stuff, and it’s a pretty interesting thing to look at if you’re fascinated by the hows and whys of game reviews. There’s more to it than many think.