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
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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

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.

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.

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?

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.”

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 »

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 »

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.

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?