There was a bit of a snafu last week revolving around embargoes. Again. It wasn’t a big thing, but it again showed the strange rules we agree to abide by.

To elaborate, there were two instances – one, regarding the announcement of the Titanfall Xbox One bundle, and one regarding Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 reviews.

Let’s deal with the easier one first – Castlevania.

We were told by our PR representatives of the specific time and date that the embargo on review content would lift. In my case, it was 8pm Tuesday the 25th. As far as I know the embargo time was global. Our reviewer (who did a spectacular job, I might add) had it completed and we had it edited before embargo lifted. We scheduled it correctly for an 8pm (my time) posting, and it went perfectly.

A few other sites posted the review an hour before we did. Now, I’m not sure if they received a separate embargo time to us. Firstly, there were only a very small handful of sites posting one hour before us – so it couldn’t have been a time zone thing. Another site explicitly tweeted that they had the same embargo time as we did. And while it’s not a very common practice to have separate embargoes, they do very occasionally happen. The practice is generally reserved for one site and an “exclusive” agreement, though, and I don’t think that’s plausible for this game. So that leaves two options – those sites either had accidentally mistimed the embargo (either through their own conversions or – less likely but still possible – through a PR rep’s mistake) or they ignored it.

To me, it looks like a mistake. It sucks that they got theirs up before other sites, and it sucks that there probably won’t be any repercussions for them, but it doesn’t look deliberate. Besides, never ascribe to malice what can just as easily be explained by stupidity.

But what is interesting is what happened afterwards.

Some sites saw the embargo break and decided to publish their reviews too. There’s a generally accepted agreement that if someone else breaks embargo then it’s fair game to publish your own content too. And so that happened. Other sites, like us, decided to honour the original embargo time – it was only a single hour, after all.

The point is, this shows that there are no clear rules here on what is fine and what is not, and in which situations. And there should be, and they should be understood by everyone involved.

Which brings us to the second situation.

Microsoft’s public relations team down in Australia sent out an email detailing a package deal for the Xbox One and Titanfall. It had the usual guff – speeches, statements, information, links. It had no details on when the information was to be posted – which is standard industry practice for non-embargoed material.

So, one site went ahead and published it. As you do.

(Just to be clear here, the reason only one significant site published it straight away is because it was rather dull news – it’s sheer luck that more sites didn’t get caught up in the mistake)

Ten minutes later, we all received a second email, informing us that the previous email’s contents were under embargo for another seven-or-so hours.

That put one specific site in a bit of a bind. Technically, they had not broken embargo, since there was no embargo communicated with the initial information. But, after a few conversations and emails and phone calls to PR, the owner of the site that had posted the info made the decision to remove the post from said site, while leaving a comment regarding the disappearance of the info. They acknowledged that, while they made no mistake, they decided that they would respect the retroactive embargo.

Which brings us to a sticky situation.

Firstly, the mistake lies with the PR department – the outlet posting the information holds no blame. Secondly, the outlet had zero obligation to take down the information – embargoes can’t fairly be applied retroactively.

I think that the site did the safe – and very brave – thing, respecting the request of the publisher, while being respectful of their readership by publishing a timeline and explanation.

To further complicate the issue, though, NeoGAF and some other gaming websites picked up the information. While the original article was pulled, nothing on the internet is ever gone. Cached versions still existed, and the information got out. Within a few hours, sites that did not receive the original information through email – and therefore were under no embargo – began posting the details. Some sites were respectful, stating that the original mistake was on Microsoft (and their PR). Others wrongly claimed the Australian site misread the embargo, despite clear information to the contrary. That other sites who were under no embargo could capitalise on the Australian site’s post is unfortunate, since that news traffic should have been going to the original site, rather than to those who didn’t have their hands legally tied.

In this instance, it’s not “wrong” for those later sites to pick up the story and run with it. They have a “journalistic” obligation to tell the story. But they also have an obligation to link back to the source, and to get the story right. Some did well, some did not, and some did their best to make up for any mistakes they might have made.

So where does this leave everyone? With a ruddy mess, that’s where.

Embargoes can be a great equaliser. But they can also be an unfair constraint. All we can hope is that, for the most part, people get it right.

Lachlan Williams
Former Editor in Chief of OnlySP. A guy who writes things about stuff, apparently. Recovering linguist, blue pencil surgeon, and professional bishie sparkler. In between finding the latest news, reviewing PC games, and generally being a grumpy bossyboots, he likes to watch way too much Judge Judy. He perhaps has too much spare time on his hands. Based in Sydney, Australia. Follow him on twitter @lawksland.

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1 Comment

  1. The fact that the video game industry treats video game information like it’s a government secret is absolutely ridiculous. Who cares if you put out review early. If they don’t want to lose money because they got a shitty review on their game(s), stop making shitty games and just trying to cash in on a series. The best example of this is when Joel McHale was asking questions that any ACTUAL gamers would like to ask developers and people thought he was awful for it, even though they were perfectly valid questions, but everybody acted like he was out there beating a kitten on live TV when he asked them. This is the kind of journalist the industry needs, not the ones who are afraid of asking the questions gamers want to hear.

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