Monday, October 13, 2014

Bayonetta 2: How Early Is Too Early For Review Embargoes?

Have you heard the news? Bayonetta 2 is great! It’s received a few perfect scores from major sites, and overall ratings have been pretty stellar, with reviews heralding the sequel as having huge improvements over its predecessor and declaring it a must-have exclusive for the Wii U. That’s enough to make you want to run out and buy it, right?

Now wait two weeks.

Despite the review embargo being lifted today, Bayonetta 2 does not actually come out in North America and Europe until October 24th, a full eleven days from now. Fans who may have expected the game to launch tomorrow, as is common with Tuesdays, are going to be puzzled to learn that the game won’t be released until one week from Friday.

If this seems like an unusual complaint, it’s because it is. The common refrain you hear from games journalists like myself is that review copies often come too late, and don’t give reviewers enough time to experience the game ahead of launch. This results in marathon play sessions before review deadlines, often consuming 12-15+ hours of a game at a time, and the review suffers for it. It’s never a great situation to try and form an effective opinion on something with a looming time crunch, and the more time with the game in question, the better.

That’s why Nintendo's trend of giving out games WAY ahead of launch is a welcome alternative, but one that comes with its own set of problems, at least from a marketing perspective. Games from Mario Kart 8 to Hyrule Warriors to Bayonetta 2 all gave reviewers ample time to play them, and set their embargoes for a long, long while ahead of launch, likely in part due to earlier Japanese release dates.

This is certainly a welcome alternative to having 36 hours to play through a game in time for a release day embargo deadline. And I think the old adage is true about how the more time a developer gives you with a game, the better it will probably be. That’s certainly been demonstrated with Nintendo’s offerings, whereas games that provide ultra-late review copies, or none at all, are generally not that great much of the time, if not downright bad.

Still, I have to wonder about the marketing implications of setting a review embargo deadline eleven full days before launch, which is the case with Bayonetta 2 this morning. Conversely, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel also had its embargo lifted today. It has perhaps more middling scores than Bayonetta, but it comes out tomorrow. People can read the reviews, and go to the store and buy it. Not so with Bayonetta.

In Bayonetta 2′s case, I would say that perhaps the eleven day window could exist so players could catch up with the first game if they missed out on it at release (as I did). But given that Bayonetta 2 comes with the original Bayonetta, it’s a waste of money to try and pick up a copy before the sequel comes out.

I think there is a “golden” spot in terms of games reviews and embargoes. I think the best “early” range for the embargo to be lifted is the Friday before launch, if the game comes out on a Tuesday. That gives all weekend to build hype and have consumers do research to make decisions, and it’s what we recently saw from the stellar Shadow of Mordor, which was used to great effect. I’m okay with day-before embargoes as well, so long as the reviewer was given ample time to play the game beforehand, and it didn’t arrive in their hands only 24 hours earlier.

In Bayonetta’s case, I think it’s absolutely great that reviewers were given copies or codes weeks ahead of launch, but it’s perplexing why an embargo this early needed to exist. Despite all these perfect scores and amazing reviews, players can’t go buy the game tomorrow. They can’t even buy it this week. They have to wait all the way until the end of the following week to even get their hands on it.

With these kinds of scores, I think Bayonetta will sell well regardless (though it hasn’t in Japan, so far), but it seems like a missed opportunity to heavily stack your best marketing angle, incredible review scores, so far ahead of the actual release of the game. Again, I’d take this system over rushed reviews and launch-day embargoes, but it does seem like a strange decision if you’re trying to generate maximum hype for the game, which Bayonetta 2 has been largely lacking, until today.

So the game is great, if you trust the games press. But go back to playing Mordor or Destiny for two weeks, and then circle back around to give it try, I guess.


Sandeep Sharma

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