I’m Too Much Of A Wild Card To Receive Review Copies

Yesterday I explained why I do not yet have a Titanfall 2 review while other outlets (some with considerably smaller audiences) got theirs up no problem.

I talked about my inability to receive review copies of Electronic Arts and select Square Enix games, with the PR firm 47 Communications being the common brick wall. After multiple failed attempts to learn the reason from 47, I decided to be the squeaky wheel and write about it in an article.

The squeaky wheel didn’t get grease, but it did get answers from sources who read the article in question. The good news is, 47 Communications does not apparently have any quarrel with me. The bad news is, some publishers think I’m just too much of a wild card to be trusted.

Wait… that’s not really bad news. That makes me sound awesome!

01

From what I’ve been able to find out, publishers are indeed the ones making the final call. PR firms get requests from reviewers, PR firms forward these requests to the publishers, publishers start crossing names off the list and determining who is allowed to touch the game before launch.

Fairly standard stuff, but things have been changing this generation.

Over the last year or so, it would appear that at least Electronic Arts is not secure and confident enough to believe I’m a “safe” reviewer. From what I’ve learned, “wild cards” such as myself are no longer considered the worthy gamble they used to be, with game releases and critical receptions more tightly controlled by publishers than ever.

Electronic Arts has a documented history of attempting to manipulate the critical reception of its games. It quite famously pressured outlets over Battlefield 3 reviews, doing what it could to mitigate the possibility of any unfavorable criticism.

In a world where pre-orders are only becoming more important and launch-day microtransactions remain controversial, it’s hardly surprising EA is still attempting to dictate public perception of its games. Best to hide all the shitty business practices from customers for as long as possible, right?

This is not just limited to myself. Any critic deemed too “unpredictable” makes certain publishers nervous, and they’ve steadily grown more eager to cut out any variables that could rock the boat too much.

If you are a critic and you have been receiving code for high profile games from publishers such as EA, it may very well be because they think you’re easy to please and will give the positive coverage they expect. Frankly, I’d find that rather insulting.

Quite why I can still get western Square Enix games but not Japanese Square Enix games remains a mystery, though it may have something to do with different companies receiving different amounts of code, or perhaps Square Enix’s Eastern side just being more controlling than its Western counterpart. I’m only going off what I’ve been able to learn about the situation, which hasn’t been a huge deal.

What I do know is that things have changed over the last few years. Review codes used to be more liberally doled out, with PR firms having a ton of codes to give to outlets of every description. These days, companies have gotten stingier with the codes, and PR firms are left with a fraction of what they used to be able to provide – when they say they’ve run out of codes, even digital ones, they’re not lying.

As I stated yesterday, this is an inconvenience to me from a scheduling standpoint, but it’s not going to stop me doing my job. Thanks to my Patreon support, I have the budget to purchase and review high profile games, even if I won’t get such reviews up before a game’s launch. I remain on Metacritic, and I continue to have an audience I’ve no intention of letting down.

It’s an expensive way to do business, but unlike even many established media outlets, it’s a way of doing business I can actually afford.

02

In the past, I’ve praised Electronic Arts for having the guts to continue providing me with code despite my harsh criticism of its business practices. It’s a shame that is no longer the case, but I guess I can understand it even if I think it showcases a severe lack of confidence.

I’m glad I know the deal now, even if nobody at EA actually had the nerve to reach out and tell me. From now on, I shall make sure any EA game I care to review is purchased personally – not really different from how I’ve been doing things of late.

This is the cost of not being predictable, of not being somebody a corporation can expect praise from simply for producing another “Triple-A” game that is “expected” to get the usual 9/10 scores.

Ironic, considering how much I actually loved Battlefield 1. Wild card, bitches!

As irritating as it is to no longer be able to provide certain high profile reviews alongside the “safer” outlets, I at least feel like I must be doing something right if I’m making certain publishers “nervous.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, this wild card has work to do.

And he will for quite some time to come.

Austin_sj
Guest
Austin_sj

Get some of those sneaky advertising links, the reviewer EA tried to stop, or see the reviewer the publishers TRIED to stop or publishers don’t want you reading this guys reviews.

Mygaffer
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Mygaffer

It is to the point now where I am leery of any reviewer who does get review code, at least from the big publishers. Not that I really play many AAA games anymore.

Andy McAwesome
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Andy McAwesome

I don’t want to sound stupid – though admittedly “I don’t want to sound stupid” is something people who sound profoundly stupid tend to say – but I always thought “review code” referred to a specific build of a game, like a post-beta, pre-release sort of build, that was given out to review outlets – thus the disclaimer that said outlet was given “review code” (as opposed to retail code). Has it been referring to “code” as in a CD key for all this time?

Nuserame
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Nuserame

I’m fairly sure its just a keycode and a link to a download portal somewhere.

InfamousDS
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InfamousDS
It varies on the game, really. Some games spend the last month purely on marketing, though this is increasingly uncommon in the roughshod blunderbuss which is AAA development. Those games give away the “gold” version, the copy on retail discs. I can’t think of a game off the top of my head which has done this recently, since I tend to follow the industry instead of individual games. Other games, where it is expected that patches will be implemented, send out either “preview code” or “review code”: technically incomplete games which are functional under the vast majority of the primary… Read more »
Arseniy Shved
Guest
Arseniy Shved
You are a big developer and you are making a game. You sell hard copies of games because they still provide about 50% of your moneyz. Hard copies are hard – you can’t just dish out infinite number of copies in a second – you need to print them. On some sort of a factory. Which sucks, because it takes time. And then you have to distribute those copies all over the world (or at least USA), which also takes time. I can’t see it taking less then 4-6 weeks. So, you have to have final verison of the game… Read more »
Mygaffer
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Mygaffer

Review copies are essentially the final game minus any day one patches. 99% of the time there is no significant difference between what a reviewer plays and what the day one gamer players.

Sometimes publishers will tell reviewers that “X thing will be fixed by a day one patch.”

Forrest Kayssen
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Forrest Kayssen

It goes both ways these days now, though. Not only are things fixed in patches developers are working on while the reviewers are doing their thing, but they also have the ability to add shitty business practice garbage, like when WB altered how much experience you earned in game to make earning stuff you could unlock with microtransactions instead a grind to get at.

Mygaffer
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Mygaffer

That is why I never make the mistake of buying a Warner Bros game.

Michael Hansen
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Michael Hansen

To some degree, yeah, a pre-launch review build can be said to be in a very late “beta” because it’s likely not finalized. But in my [limited] understanding of game development, a week or less is probably not enough time to sort out any major issues anyway. For all intents and purposes, a review copy is usually fairly representative of the release build—though of course the reviewer should always note that it’s pre-release code for the audience.

ATBro
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ATBro

It’s more of a “this is roughly indicative of what customer’s experience will be like.”

Nuserame
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Nuserame

Business-wise, the base idea at least makes sense.

In terms of artistic integrity its a travesty and an insult to the people who actually make these games.

Business as usual at EA.

Wheresmymonkey
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Wheresmymonkey

Hell yeah ! My site must be a wildcard! or too small for anyone to notice.. I’d like to believe i’m the former, but i feel i may be the latter.

Andy McAwesome
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Andy McAwesome

When I was running a one-man site with next to no readers, companies seemed more than happy to give me code. I suppose it’s no skin off of their nose to give a copy to an individual with no readers – as apposed to, say, Jim, who has plenty of readers, and is influential with those readers, making a negative review more like to dig into a bottom line.

Nelu Steel
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Nelu Steel

Who are these wild card reviewers. I’d like to show them some support.

RedWolf
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RedWolf

Everything about Jim perfectly encapsulates the Chaotic Good alignment template. The fact that he revels in it only serves to reinforce it.

Neil Wheatley
Guest

Charlie is the wildcard in Sunny but he’s right at the back of your picture. You unpredictable bastard.

Rob
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Rob

I’m pretty sure that shot is just before Charlie cuts the brakes on the van, dons his cowboy hat and jumps out the back of the van, shouting “Wild card, bitches!”

Neil Wheatley
Guest

That explains it

Fyou
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Fyou

In a twist, the brake lines had already been cut before they ever left. Wild card bitches!

Kiel Meakin
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Kiel Meakin

Jim, from all the rouge cop movie comparisons, you now have the material for your next game!
Ps how is your game coming along by the way?

zarathustra2k1
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zarathustra2k1

Those rouge cops – drag queens all…

MonkeyKing1969
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MonkeyKing1969

Jim, we always knew you were the Joker in the deck.

Mandrake42
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Mandrake42

Ahhh well Jim, at least you are independent now so they can’t Jeff Gerstmann you.

Eric Schneider
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Eric Schneider

I will continue to tune in for your in depth, unbiased, honest reviews and not give into pre ordering games that I am not sure about. It is really sad to me that companies can’t have the confidence in a product to release it early and let the reviews show how great a game it is, well I guess it just proves how great they think their game is.

sillyskeleton
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sillyskeleton

I think we’re all now pretty familiar with how publishers manipulate and control the games media these days. With so many variables playing into pre-release media coverage, the only truth is in the final product that’s delivered on launch and beyond.

Trofimos Psyxiatreiou
Guest
Well, this is to be expected. You have to be an imbecile to not understand how this industry works at this point. Major gaming sites and a huge part of Youtubers (excuse me, “influencers”) are just paid PR to get sales of garbage games. There is a reason the gaming industry is going downhill, and it is because a huge chunk of money doesn’t go to programmers and artists pockets, but to “managers” and “pr people”. Seems the big companies have figured out that hype is a cheaper investment than actual good games, and 20-somethings “game journalists” are too cheap… Read more »
Lloyd
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Lloyd

Now I have a big grin on my face from imagining Jim yell “Wild card, bitches!” while wearing one of his many masks.

Tyroki
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Tyroki

Jim, if it makes you feel any better, you’re one of the main reasons why I don’t pre-order anymore (that and Xcom 2 sucking ass, and barely dodging a bullet with Sword Coast Legends).

… Well. Except for with Pokemon.
But you tend to know what you’re getting with a new Pokemon game, and Mightyape in New Zealand have this fantastic habit of sending out copies a day or two before the game is meant to be released.

About the only thing I’m willing to preorder anymore. We don’t really need a reviewer to tell us “It’s another Pokemon game.”

Huttj509
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Huttj509

My policy with preoirders is “if everyone says the game sucks, will I still buy it?” If the answer is yes, I’ll preorder.

neurogal
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neurogal
To be frank Jim, you don’t strike me as a JRPG fan. The Eastern Square Enix always listen to their Western counterpart marketing team, and with how people always said how niche JRPG is in the Western market, their only criteria for reviewers might be ‘must be an obvious JRPG fan’ which you might not make the cut in the list. The true test will be whether you will receive the review copy for Final Fantasy XV as that one they want to market to everyone. If you still don’t receive it, then I guess the eastern SE did blacklist… Read more »
astra
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astra

He gave xenoblade x a 9! Lol

Gareth
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Gareth

Why? Jim’s has many times stated he’s a fan of JRPGS. Jim’s mentioned Lost Odyssey as being one of his favourite games on the 360 and that Final Fantasy 9 is a personal favourite.

Vaughan MacDonald
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Vaughan MacDonald

If only Conrad was here, we’d get a Great And Powerful Turtle reference.

gasmaskangel
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gasmaskangel
Here’s the thing, I actually genuinely like waiting for you to review a game that you’ve had to purchase instead of one that’s been handed out ahead of time, and I’m not entirely certain that this is a rational distinction on my part. The knowledge that you, or any other reviewer for that matter, had to actually shell out the same dollars that I would in order to play the games in question lends a certain feeling of additional credibility that I am not sure is deserved at all. I know why this is the case. Its because I frankly… Read more »
Keith Ballard
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Keith Ballard

You’re right, it really doesn’t make sense. Even if they have to buy a game it’s still a business expense. The guilt of wasted money only really applies to reviewers if they buy a game for a review and then don’t actually review it.

gasmaskangel
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gasmaskangel

It’s more the feeling that they’ve got some sort of skin in the game independent of the publisher’s good graces I think, rather than feeling that they share my sense of pointless prudence and the shame I feel in indulging myself in any fashion.

It’s still irrational, only I’m also bad at explaining myself.

Nuserame
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Nuserame

‘In-group favouritism’ perhaps?

Jim having to buy his own games and gaining no recognition from (some) publishers might make us unconsciously consider him more as ‘one of us’ and thus give him a bit more credit.

Its a mental bias, completely irrational and heavily used in propaganda, marketing and other awful business. Its good that your aware of it 😉

Jeremy
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Jeremy

It’s an excellent point and applies across the board. Humans are much more critical and pragmatic about something when they had to shell out the money for it. Think of it this way, if someone buys you lunch and it’s okay you’ll still feel pretty good about the place no matter what because hey… it was free. But if you paid 12 bucks and it was just okay, you’re going to be much more inclined to point out the flaws.

Sean Nolan
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Sean Nolan

Jim, as a long time reader and viewer of your content (from the Escapist days) I truly do appreciate your honesty and dedication to being transparent I am very glad to see you are sticking to principles that I saw even back then.

Long may the Jimquisition reign and long live the King of Wild Cards JIM FUCKING STERLING SON!

ENAY
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ENAY

If only they’d bother to making their games decent and had enough confidence in their product, then they could simply release the game to everyone and bask in the good publicity.
Shit games are shit. If you’re going to start trying to hide that fact, then you’re trying to solve a problem in the wrong area.

Tnert Ji
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Tnert Ji

Tell em Jimmy boy, you so wild!

dougalicious
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dougalicious

It makes sense from a business perspective to control the narrative as much as possible, even if it seems kind of scummy. That being said, no one in games media or anybody else should feel entitled to receiving review copies. No one owes anybody anything.

Uzuki
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Uzuki

Just like food packages don’t necessarily need to have best by or sell by dates, but it’s still nice to know what’s the estimated time my milk or meat is going to go bad if I just leave it in the fridge.

Sidrat Flush
Guest

At least in the UK a use/best or sell by date is a legal requirement. What country makes it optional?

mbrandse
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mbrandse

I am going to guess the US.

Artemiy
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Artemiy

What the fuck even.

GMBigKev
Guest

Well it makes more sense not to have the use / best by date because that actually makes more unnecessary food waste. A lot of people go by that date as the hard “this stuff is bad” number, when a sniff or taste test might do a better job of it and note that something two weeks off the best by date is still fine.

Artemiy
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Artemiy

But it does have the “best before” date for the people shopping. Otherwise, a shop would just put expired products on the shelf.

GMBigKev
Guest

I think a “Packaged On” date is a better option than a “Use By” date in that case. There’s actually no guideline for when a “Use By” date is supposed to be, it’s entirely up to the packagers to decide. If they went with a “Packaged On” date, you can see if something is really old.

(Also, most grocery stores will let you return spoiled food.)

Artemiy
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Artemiy

But the “packaged on” date doesn’t really tell me anything. For some products, a week old is already too old, for some, it’s all right.
Yeah, being able to return spoiled food is a relief for a person already shitting out their intestines.

GMBigKev
Guest

Maybe don’t eat food that smells or looks weird?

Artemiy
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Artemiy

Oh, yeah, thanks for your solid advice. I’ll surely try to open a box of milk in the store trying to shop for some.

Uzuki
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Uzuki

US and I believe Canada.

Lucid Loon
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Lucid Loon

Except not allowing advance reviews is often seen as a lack of confidence in their product.

Tyroki
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Tyroki

For good reason too, what with numerous sub-par experiences and all.

Gareth
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Gareth

As Moviebob has stated before if a film doesn’t have an advance screening quite often it’s because the studio are aware it might get a mauling in the press.

gasmaskangel
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gasmaskangel

I’d argue in response that “its just business, nothing personal” makes no difference to the person on the receiving end.

A. Nachronism
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A. Nachronism

In this case it sounds like it _is_ personal though.

Mark Patten
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Mark Patten

All praise the Patreon saint of truth, Jim “Fucking” Sterling son!

Jack Trevor
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Jack Trevor

It’s cute that they think that in an age where social media exists, publishers think that word will not get out.

While at that point it’s too little too late, BUT who says they won’t lose customers?

CaitSeith
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CaitSeith

That’s what pre-orders are for: to get the money before the word gets out.

Wolfie
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Wolfie

Why do people fall for it though? I’m honestly curious.

Artemiy
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Artemiy

Bonuses I guess? And maybe pre-downloading the game, although I’m not sure how often that is.