Public Relations

Are You Hurting Your Game with Release-Day Embargoes?

Wahid Lodin
March 20, 2024

The video game industry is in rare form. Layoffs are leaving studios dismantled, investors are being far more cautious with their money, and players are growing more critical of games that do survive strings of cancellations. As a developer, it’s becoming increasingly critical that you don’t hinder your own release and risk losing the trust of your players before your game can gain even the slightest bit of traction. 

It’s very easy to turn players off to your game prior to release. Of course, not engaging them appropriately can do it, but did you know that you can also push players away by prohibiting reviews from posting before release?

Release day embargoes aren’t a new practice, but they always paint a grim picture before a game can even hit the market. You may think you’re simply preventing spoilers or building hype. However, there are several reasons why you want to avoid preventing early reviews.

Players See It As a Bad Sign

Think about the message you send to players when you don’t let someone publicly review your title before its release. It may not be your intent, but players are going to assume it means you expect negativity and you don’t want that affecting your sales. 

Unless you’re actively releasing unfinished products or an objectively bad experience — don’t do that, by the way — there is no reason you shouldn’t let reviews drop up to a week before launch. 

Players should have a reason to look forward to your game, and while your marketing campaign is a good start, word of mouth can be a much stronger tool.

It Suggests You Don’t Have Faith in Your Game

Building on the last point, if it looks like you’re preventing reviews to hide negative critiques, then it looks like you have no faith in your own game. You should be excited about your launch, and part of that excitement is seeing what game critics have to tell their audiences. 

When you embargo reviews for release day, it tells players that you’re not excited and all you’re hoping for is day-one curiosity buys. The more you talk about your game and the more you let professionals get hands-on time with it, the more it shows that you stand behind your product.

You’re Limiting Word-of-Mouth

A review is more than just a critical breakdown of someone’s opinions on your game. It’s a fantastic way to build word-of-mouth. Part of our job is finding critics and content creators with a sizable audience so that their reviews don’t fall into the ever-growing void of unwatched or unread content. We do this so that information about your game filters out to a wide audience filled with prospective customers already curious about the title and those who may not have heard about it beforehand.

When releasing a new indie game, you’re competing with thousands of other titles. Having as many outlets as possible sharing their thoughts on your game, whether positive or negative, is a leg up on other titles that don’t have the same exposure.

You Can Alienate Review Outlets If You Withhold Codes

Reviewing a game is a lot of work. Even for shorter games, a reviewer needs time to absorb what they’ve played, organize ideas, and write the review. Granted, you can release codes early and simply embargo the release of the review, but some developers fall into the trap of holding out on review codes until the last minute. This is a surefire way to guarantee fewer reviews from more serious outlets.

When you withhold codes until release day — or even immediately before release — you’re not giving critics the opportunity to critique your game fairly. In that case, many reviewers will overlook your release, especially if you’re launching amidst AA or AAA game releases.

Pinpointing the Best Embargo Date

The question remains: When is the best timeline for a review embargo? There is such a thing as too far in advance, so it’s a matter of finding the sweet spot that maximizes your exposure, provides enough time to build hype, and gives players the chance to read reviews.



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