Last night I read an opinion piece by a journalist for MCV UK complaining about stupid embargo tactics used by big game publishers. The gist of it is: Activision told a bunch of press about new Call of Duty information. As they usually do, they made the journalists sign NDAs saying “You don’t get to publish this until time X.” But (also as they usually do) they gave an exclusive to one outlet that got to publish early. The journalist complains about this a little, but it seems like they’re most upset that the exclusive was given to the Wall Street Journal and not to an enthusiast press outlet — such MCV UK, one presumes.
In particular, I want to respond to this paragraph:
“This [mistreatment] is despite the fact that we will slavishly report any and all information drip fed to us about the new Call of Duty. Despite the fact that, in the consumer sector at least, we will rave and rant about the game’s brilliance, securing it millions of sales in the process.”
The first sentence is obviously stupid; the second sentence is not stupid so much as subtly missing the point regarding some key business realities. To break it down:
1) Your slavish devotion is exactly why they give you nothing. They say “Jump,” you ask “How high?” There’s no incentive to give you anything more than exactly what is required to ensure your continued devotion. And as the author put it, that’s tiny drips of “any” information.
2) Yes, when the enthusiast press raves about how awesome a game is, on the whole that helps sales. But the WSJ is a different beast. You know who reads the WSJ? People on Wall Street. You know who is a publicly traded company? Activision (ATVI). Wall Street buzz is as important, if not more important, than their quarterly sales.
Why? As a publicly traded company, ATVI has one goal: to increase shareholder value. Yes, good sales numbers will generally cause stock value to increase, but so will Wall Street buzz. And Wall Street buzz can be bought at the low, low price of temporarily pissing off the enthusiast press! Remember that next week the same press will be back to slavishly reporting that you’ll be able to dual wield modified Mauser pistols for five minutes during a minigame in Call of Duty: Superfluous Ops. (“G-golly that’s awesome Bobby, what ELSE can you feed us poor saps?”) ATVI owes the enthusiast press nothing.
The thing is, the problem discussed in (2) can be solved by ceasing the slavish devotion outlined in (1). ATVI uses and abuses you and you keep coming back for more. I’m not without sympathy: I know it’s hard. You have to make ends meet, and CoD headlines rake in the ad revenue or the subscribers or the freemium iPad app dollars or whatever doomed monetization fix you’re jonesing for these days. But maybe you should stop reporting exactly what their marketers ask you to report. Maybe you should tell them to fuck off until they give you something worth reporting. You might lose a “friend” in ATVI’s marketing department. You might gain a little dignity as a press outlet.