There’s a tactic in the movie industry where a movie is released quietly without press previews. When this happens it’s because the movie is a stinker and they want to put as much space between the first critical line (“I’d rather wet my pants and sit in my own filth than recommend that you watch this movie.” – Myra Conklin, Cat Fancy) and the first hundred thousand suckers who wander into the dog in questions.
This also happens in the video game industry. By assessing who, specifically, will give a game a lukewarm thumbs-up, game companies can ensure that even Iron Man: Fly Around a Lot and Listen to Robert Downey Junior can get acceptable sales.
Well, the Interwebs and, sadly, piracy, are kind of screwing with that equation. A German site, 4players.de, got a preview copy of Alone in the Dark from some undetermined location, reviewed it, and it looks like they got an injunction from Atari to remove their review and pay 50,000 euro or about $5 billion.
A reader on Fidgit explains it thus:
The cief editor of 4Players wrote in his column, that they bought a copy of the game from a normal shop only days before the official release. This shop had the game already in stock. They knew the salesman and because they don’t got a copy from Atari, they took this one. As I understand, this is a common practice among several german Gaming-Sites, who don’t get Review-Copys from the publisher. Besides 4Players is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Gaming-Site in Germany. So they have an obligation to fullfill to their readers. And time is money, bring the game-review early on and you got higher click-rates. I think, there is nothing wrong in all this from 4Players point-of-view.
Atari, this is what’s probably going to happen: your injunction will be mocked and maybe you’ll get some settlement from the site. Then your German market-share will inexplicably drop as the review sites band together to pan your games wholesale. 4players will get lots of new German readers, their editor will go on TV to talk about how unfair you are to Europeans, and you’re going to have to spin a black eye into “THEY STOLEDED OUR GAMEZ! HEY! LISTEN!” A lot of folks are talking about access – the access companies give to journalists in certain situations. I personally believe the age of “access” is over in gadget and games journalism. I’ve seen more and more sites buying overseas models to review rather than relying on the whims of some PR assistant in New York. What doesn’t kill blogs makes them stronger.