Broken Age Embargo Decree Disrespects Press, Backers
Update: A few moments ago, Double Fine sent another email to backers, noting that it had “decided to go ahead and lift the embargo on Broken Age reviews.”
“The decision to set this originally was not made with any sort of malicious or controlling intent, but rather to keep spoilers to a minimum and give press time to enjoy the game, reflect on it, and write a review without feeling rushed to get it out first,” the email states. “However, it’s clear the excitement will be difficult to contain.”
Still, the decision to attempt to place an embargo on paying customers at all, press or not, is a troubling one. As the original article states, permission to post reviews, or not, was never Double Fine’s to give to its backers, regardless of intention.
Original article begins:
Similarly, you can’t make videos of certain portions or share certain spoilers. Double Fine set down its royal decree of such rules in Update No. 31 for its Kickstarter backers, stating that press backers and “those with blogs” are officially under the embargo set for press receiving pre-release code today of the first episode of Broken Age. Double fine is “requiring” reviews be held until Jan. 21, the update says.
“We’re also preparing to send out review codes to press, who will be under review embargo until January 27,” the update states. “This embargo also applies to any of you backers who are in the press or have blogs — we are requiring all formal reviews be held until January 27 at 10am Pacific time (6pm GMT). The same time limit applies to the press as to backers; everyone is in the same boat! We’re trying to be as fair as possible given that backers will have access to the game before everyone else.”
The only thing the update fails to mention is that Double Fine lacks any authority to make any such rules, for press backers, for backers with blogs, or for anyone else.
Embargoes are a bit of a tricky thing in the gaming press world, but as I explained in my rundown of how game reviews work, they’re not some kind of binding agreement — they’re courtesies. Unless a non-disclosure agreement has been signed by the press member pledging to hold back a review or coverage of a game until a certain time, which does happen, an embargo is merely an agreement between press and developer or publisher. In the case of reviews, it goes something like, “We’ll provide you with early code of our game for you to review it, if you’re willing to wait until a certain time and date to publish.” It’s part of the working relationship between press and game companies that allows the review system to function.
The above example is an embargo to which both parties agree, and in most cases it’s perfectly fine. It makes sense — outlets are given time to work with the game and aren’t forced to race each other to finish reviews (and therefore incentivized to rush and do a bad job), while publishers and developers are allowed some control over when reviews are made available to the public, to a point.
In Double Fine’s case, the embargo in the backer update reads more like an executive order. It’s certainly no sort of agreement between anyone. I’m a backer of Broken Age; I paid for it as a pre-order of the game because I intended to cover it when it became available, and there are times when either Game Front as a publication or I as a journalist will purchase games for the purpose of writing about them. I paid for Broken Age. I backed it for early access.
And Double Fine has zero right to dictate any sort of rules on how I cover something I paid to own.
Of course, I understand that part of Double Fine’s ostensible reasoning behind the embargo is fairness for all outlets, with everyone aiming their reviews at the same time, whether they paid for their version through Kickstarter or received a review copy from Double Fine.
However, ensuring fairness and ongoing relationships with press outlets by offering them fairness is not my problem. It’s Double Fine’s.