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Microsoft: Embargumentative

Hello.  What was here is no longer here.

This is because a blog I wrote on my personal site, intended as a discussion-started between a small number of my friends and peers, has been picked up, spun and twisted by a variety of sources around the web.  I’m not going to put my own professional reputation on the line by having claims of Microsoft being bullies, or any other such nonsense, associated with myself.

The story was one of a small games website being blacklisted by Microsoft after posting an early review of Halo 3: ODST, after a local retailer had stocked the game before street date.  I outlined the incident in which Microsoft demanded the review was removed, and continued to send regular and increasingly demanding emails to the website until it was, despite the site’s editor claiming to be away from his computer at the time.  The review was eventually removed, and following the incident Microsoft were alleged to have told the site in question that they were no longer welcome at their press events.

It was my feeling that Microsoft were a little heavy-handed in the apparent content of their emails, considering the website was a small, enthusiast run outlet and had agreed to remove the review at the first available opportunity.  However, I did state that the website should have had the common sense not to post a review before general embargo, regardless of how they obtained a copy of the game.

Hopefully, this will be the end of it.

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36 responses »

  1. It does sound a bit naive of Matt, as Editor of GGG he should ensure that embargo’s are followed by his writers. However that is a moot point in my eyes, if the game was being sold at retail then what would there be to stop any random person setting up a blog just to put a review up of ODST?

    The actions of the PR do seem heavy handed, if the site Editor is busy and unable to deal with the situation, and is explaining everything properly then the PR should (in my eyes) accept that a mistake has occured and keep contact open to ensure that both parties come to an amicable conclusion to the issue.

    Hope this doesn’t affect Matt too much!

    Reply
    • Giving Matt until the end of the business day would have been reasonable, but I don’t think he did anything wrong by posting the review before the embargo lifted. GGG never agreed to an embargo, because MS never sent a review copy. Stories often get broken before publishers would like due to leaks and foul-ups, and this is no different. MS only resorted to bullying because of the situation’s magnitude, and because GGG isn’t a major that could use its clout to drum up support (Google: Kotaku Playstation Home Blacklist).

      Of course, MS is within its right to bar GGG from events, even if it is heavy-handed, as Chris says. Hindsight’s 20/20, but GGG should never have taken the review down in the first place. It’s obvious MS wasn’t interested in building a working relationship with this publication anyway.

      The veiled legal threats are just ridiculous. The burden of proof would fall to Microsoft, and there’s just no evidence.

      Reply
    • I agree. Also, I was the one who reviewed ODST on the site. I honestly did purchase a copy at my local store, and Matt asked me to review it. I did, and I did not think we would get in this much trouble.

      I hope Microsoft would understand but honestly, we put the review out when we were able to.

      I have lost a little respect for Microsoft, but honestly I see our mistakes. I think we should have emailed Microsoft asking for the emabrgo date, but then again, that was in the past and that can not be changed. I also realize that the person emailing Matt was doing his job.

      Reply
      • GGG should never have taken the review down. GGG were under no obligation to obey an embargo which they had not signed and they certainly should not have contacted MS about the embargo end date as they weren’t party to it. I appreciate that GGG is a relatively unknown site, but at the same time, you have to keep some integrity and not submit to bullies

  2. I call BS on Microsoft. There have no legal standing to request the review be taken down in this instance. The site did not agree to an embargo, and therefore has no obligation to abide by it. If they can obtain a game legally, they have no legal or ethical compulsion to not write a review. Microsoft should take issue with whoever they purchased the game from, not with the site itself. Their punitive measures against the site just paint them in a negative light.

    Reply
  3. If, as claimed, GGG purchased Halo 3 at retail, then posting the review early is fine. They’re not a party to any embargo agreement that Microsoft have made with other publications and the retailers, so there’s no reason they should be under its terms—

    —unless they want to stay on Microsoft’s good side. And in that case I think the editor took the right approach, in agreeing to take the review down. Now we only have one side of the story, but assuming that GGG’s not embelleshing it, Microsoft’s reaction doesn’t paint them in a good light. Especially declining the previous invitation is just wrongheaded: a great way for Microsoft to get some negative press about Halo 3.

    Reply
    • (Worth quickly mentioning: GGG is definitely not embelishing, as it’s not GGG’s version of the story. It’s me doing my own digging.)

      Reply
  4. I think the issue is that if all gaming sites started breaking embargo by saying they got the game at retail or wherever (ebay?) early, then they have an issue at hand. Perhaps they reviewed the game using the MS sent copy, obtained a copy later and claimed it was obtained through other sources.

    As part of the press you have a relationship with developers. If you intentionally circumvent what they put in place, then you risk ruining that relationship and in this case the site got what it deserved regardless of where they got the copy. It is an issue of trust that is broken.

    Reply
  5. That is pretty lame on Microsoft’s end if you ask me. The embargo should technically only apply if a review copy is provided and being properly explained to the website. It is even worse that they are basically accusing him of owning a pirated copy by insisting the proof of purchase so many times when he promised to do it as soon as he had the chance.

    Hopefully someone else at MS will see the wrong in this and remedy the situation. I do understand the need for that embargo and even MS asking him to take it down until it was lifted, but what I don’t understand is the “that is not acceptable” attitude of the MS rep when the guy was doing his best to do as they asked.

    Reply
  6. What is most interesting about this situation which was touched upon above, is why they removed the review in the first place. The website is perfectly entitled to post a review of a game which they had purchased. They did not sign and embargo agreement, so MS have no right to demand that they take it down. Also, show Microsoft the receipt?! Go to hell. I don’t have to prove anything to you. Who do you think you are.

    Reply
  7. If people’s comments are taking a while to show up, it’s because if you’ve never commented on this blog before, I have to tell the backend that you’re not a spambot. Sorry!

    Reply
  8. After reading a bit more about the story on the GamesPress forums I find myself in two minds on what the correct course of action for Matt should have been. He didn’t do anything wrong, the game was obtained through retail and as such GGG! wasn’t subjected to an embargo from Microsoft for getting a review copy. However I still think that Matt should have found out if there was an embargo.

    After the e-mail from Microsoft I think it is fair to say that Matt was in a lose-lose situation, if the review was kept live then he would likely lose all association with the company, but if he took it down people think he was bending to the will of Microsoft.

    It must have been very tough for Matt, but the situation could’ve been avoided if he had checked for an embargo.

    Reply
    • This is the exact reason why most people don’t consider Bloggers to be Journalists.

      Having been in the industry (the real one, not the bloggy one) for a long time I’ll tell you this for a fact, if you don’t AGREE to an embargo, you’re not bound by one! IF you get a copy of something early by legitimate non-illegal means, it’s all yours! It happens all the time and for the most part real news outlets only agree to hold themselves to an embargo because they know that kissing ass of someone who spends money with their publication and/or provides review materials at their expense is someone worth doing it for.

      The rest of the world doesn’t really need to follow the silly embargo rules and at some point companies in this world will understand that the more you try to restrict the flow of information, the more it ends up being pushed into the eyes of people who previously didn’t give a crap.

      The real problem here is that Microsoft promised someone the “exclusive” first review, most likely a print publication, and here comes a blogger that usurps the thing and makes the company (perhaps IGN if it’s not a print publication) that struck a backdoor deal with Microsoft a little angry. The other company leans on Microsoft and they have to get all lawyer happy because that’s really the only thing they can do. After all, you don’t get good reviews on your crappy games unless you promise an Exclusive to a publication for your big game that’s going to be a success no matter what happens. The real world of journalism is full of shady deals like this.

      Should he have taken it down? Absolutely not!

      Should Microsoft penalize the store that sold the game? Perhaps. If the store is small enough, they’d get away with it. If it’s Wal-Mart or a Gamestop or another huge store, would Microsoft really want to run the risk of “penalizing” the store which would in return probably just say “okay, we just won’t sell your next terrible game”? Of course not! The Blogger is the easy target that won’t stand up for themselves because they don’t know their own rights and don’t have any legal representation so they can’t really afford to defend their own rights against large corporations.

      Legally, there’s no such thing as an embargo in the terms of which it’s being used. A store has the legal right to sell a product they’ve paid for at any time. Period. Simultaneously, Microsoft can withhold advertising and/or product and financially penalize a store that doesn’t do what they ask, but legally there isn’t a shred of ground they can stand on for the store selling a copy of a game early. 7-11 has been doing this for years ever since they started selling video games. A box comes in at 7-11, and the guy who recieves the box opens it and puts the contents on shelves because 7-11 is in the business of making money not warehousing video games for a week where they don’t make money. You want a game early? Chances are if you have a few 7-11’s in your area one of them is going to be selling something early.

      And if you’ve paid for it, legally you’ve got the right to write about it. That’s the way these laws work.

      Reply
  9. The store was breaking the street date. You can’t seriously tell us you weren’t aware of the street date, and that therefore you had a copy you weren’t supposed to have yet.
    Did you not realise that there were very few reviews on the internet? At that point did you think “great, we’ll get a really early review in” or did it perhaps occur to you that there might have been a reason there were no reviews up yet? An embargo, perhaps?
    Instead of emailing from his phone, did it occur to Matt to use his phone to actually phone one of his staff and tell him to get the review down right away?

    Getting games sites and magazines to agree to an embargo is like herding cats. Embargos getting broken will lead to emails and phone calls from higher up the food chain asking what went wrong and how you are fixing it, RIGHT NOW, not to mention considerable whining from sites and magazines that have stuck to the embargo. I suspect that rep will have been taking flak from all sides on this, and that the un-invitation will have been a bone thrown to whichever higher-up sounded most annoyed about this.

    Reply
  10. Why I’m not surprised ? ;) Oh I know ! It’s because MS is a big US company. And big US company don’t need to obey laws and can shit on your head while you’re not allowed to say fuck off – if u say so u will abuse rules !! Btw EA is doing exactly the same thing – like forcing Sony to give them programmers from Sony or EA will not release any game on PS3 because it’s too complicated for their own programmers.
    Regards

    Reply
    • Careful with your uncorroborated citations, there.

      This has nothing to do with law. I think it should be pretty clear that no actual NDA was entered into by either party in this case, as Microsoft didn’t know anything about the review until it was posted. It’s about the nature of embargos – basically a trust issue, rather than a hard-and-fast-rules one. Moreso, it’s about the way in which a fansite was dealt with by a major publisher. But not in any way to do with the nationality, integrity or scale of that company, and certainly absolutely nothing to do with any rumours regarding a Sony situation.

      Reply
  11. I just saw this on a popular news aggregation service. Lewis in opening can of worms shocker?

    I think you’ve got to consider Microsoft’s position. With a property as big as Halo you’re going to have people who are determined to try and drag it down. They’ve got to try and protect their property.

    But I do think it was unrealistic of MS to expect Matt to take the review down when he was driving. It’s not like a website on the scale of what he’s running could possibly be able to perform to such a task.

    Part of the job of games journo, in whatever capacity, is to understand embargoes. I’m lucky enough in my situation to not have to deal directly with them: that’s what editors are for. While they’re not legally enforceable, they exist as a gesture between the journalists and the publishers. That might disgruntle some, but that’s just how the industry works. If you think you’re putting out a world-exclusive review of a major title, your best course of action is to give the publisher a buzz and double check.

    I definitely don’t think anyone involved should try and spin the situation, though. I think the best course of action is probably for Matt to get MS on the phone and talk the situation through with them.

    Reply
    • I assume he has some kind of CMS for his site, and I doubt it’s locked to one specific IP address. Unless I am wrong about that, all he would need in order to take anything off the site while driving would be:
      1) hands-free or a layby
      2) a friend he trusts, with internet access and basic computer literacy.
      3) A couple of phone calls over maybe ten minutes explaining what you needed and then taking them through the “what do you see now” steps once they were in front of the PC.

      If you don’t have a friend you can trust like that I feel very sad for you.

      Friends help you move. Real friends help you take down content that the 3rd biggest publisher is really pissed off by.

      Reply
      • But the question is, should this site have even known about the embargo? And if they had, why should they abide by it? They weren’t even sent a copy of the game, for goodness sake. The New York Times caused a small furor when they published a review of harry Potter 7 before it was released because they had managed to buy a copy legally from a retailer who broke the street date. Scholastic and J.K. Rowling were pissed, but it’s difficult to find fault with the New York Times. They’re in the business of selling papers, and this site is in the business of getting clicks. Microsoft’s reaction was, yes, predicatable, but also infantile. Does one day really make that much of a difference? Doesn’t calling attention to it just exacerbate the problem?

  12. I’m leaning towards MS on this one, even if GGG did nothing wrong by them. Although it didn’t sign anything, amateur or otherwise, it should be well aware of the embargo system that’s effective on the internet as a whole. MS is running a business it needs to protect, and it’s up to the rep in particular to get any mess cleaned up, so jumping on them down the phone is perhaps harsh but fair.

    And regardless of how seemingly co-operative a site has been, you won’t want to risk further embargo breaks or leaks, so stopping turning them away from an event is entirely understandable. I just hope this does nothing negative for GGG’s reputation and standing with publishers in the long term.

    Reply
  13. When a game is up for purchase early, and you have heard rumors about the very same practices going down in France (as well as the threat of a ban for those who obtained it via dishonest means), you absolutely cannot disprove Matt as someone ignorant of the ODST situation. I’ve seen some of the dishonest ways that he uses to network GGG, including the billions of threads on GP, where fellow journos are just about tired of his antics. This reeks to me of something he would make a big deal out of on purpose in order to draw attention to his site (as he has said before on GP about people hating him/giving him attention). Regardless if he was aware of an embargo (which I highly doubt), the embargo was in place. When you start to review video games via working relations with PR and big-name companies, you surely must realize that you will need to surrender your “layman gamer” status and step up to the plate — abide by the same rules and regulations that the rest of us do, hobby site or not. If I entered a foreign country and broke one of their laws though I was unaware of it, would I not still be arrested?

    Reply
  14. They may not have known about the embargo but they could easily have deduced it from the absence of reviews. They had to have known about the street date and that they had a copy earlier than they should – if entirely legally, above board and through someone else breaking an agreement that had nothing to do with them.
    Once the embargo, which they should have already suspected, was brought to their attention then they had the free choice to follow microsoft’s wishes or go against them. They have signed no review agreement or NDA, after all. However the third choice “sorry we are trying to take this down but we can’t right now” is rather suspect; it suggests they are not trying as hard as they probably could.
    And should they choose not to take the content down, or try to take it down but do so in a way that, to an organisation used to dealing with professional bloggers and online publications, looks like dragging their feet, can we be surprised if microsoft get annoyed?

    Does one day really make that much of a difference? To everyone who has signed up to and followed the embargo it absolutely does.

    Reply
    • hear hear. this just seems like a way for ggg (which i have never heard of before today) to stir up some publicity related to their “blog” or whatever the site is.

      Reply
  15. So where is this proof of purchase? I think GGG should post it, to prove that they didn’t pirate the game. “Didn’t do it for the traffic” is quiet a stretch…

    Reply
  16. I don’t think anyone looks good in this argument.

    But it is a great example of why you should never buy a game on release date unless you just don’t care about the quality of the game.

    All you get up to that point are carefully manipulated press events with “independent” review sites.

    Reply
  17. I used to write for magazines and once was approached with an opportunity to do a preview of a Microsoft game but I had to sign an embargo form.
    I refused. I said I was a journalist and didn’t want to be hindered by when I could report the news.
    News was news. when it broke, when I found out about it, then it was news.

    Well turns out another magazine had gotten some kind of paid exclusive I believe to cover the game. (At least that’s what I think their big cover said). So anyone who had signed the embargo was virtually enforcing the other magazine’s exclusive.

    I was under no such limitations so I wrote away.

    There is a race mentality in trying to cover new games. However signing an embargo prevents you from getting the early scoop as a news person should be trying to do.

    Many reviewers like embargo first looks becuase they PERSONALLY get to see the game before the public.

    However that is not doing their job. Their job is not to enhance their own ability to get inside first looks they can’t talk about. Their job as news people is to get the story THAT CAN BE REPORTED.

    Reply
    • I think you’re getting mixed up with proper journalism and the enthusiast press. It’s nothing to do with boasting about a first hands on with a game – that wears off prettty quickly – it’s the publisher’s way of showing off a product in an environment and way suited to them, and then writing about that for readers. It’s win win for both parties, and that’s the way the enthusiast press works.

      If you want to break news and report on stories within games media, then these events aren’t it. Of course, they do grant you to interviews, and although they are usually under embargo, can grant you news you otherwise wouldn’t get. But press events are controlled environments not for journalism, and it’s perfectly fine to go both sides of the line.

      Reply
  18. Just because you happen upon a copy of hot new title doesn’t mean you should post a review of it ahead of embargo time, whether you were heading one or not, and especially if you’re a fairly meaty site that’s trying to have any kind of reputability with the publisher. Were it a “ilovegames.com”- type site, who would care.

    The Editor of a site that has a rank the size of GGG! should go out of their way to check for embargoes on any game they are reviewing, period.

    Reply
  19. I fully don’t buy this bullshit excuse of “we didn’t know about the embargo.”

    Frankly, the type and size of site that GGG! is debunks that right off the bat. There’s no way in hell that they (or Matt, as their front man) were the only site (and a fairly high ranked one, too) to curiously be uninformed that one the biggest 2009 releases didn’t have a strict review embargo, especially since they present themselves as “media”.

    Not noticing that zero reviews from anyone else were out there? Bollocks. This was about getting hits first, and now whining about what happened, and wanting to stretch out their 15 minutes of fame as long as possible by trying to get their “problem” picked up by larger outlets and forums. Please.

    Reply
  20. Yeah, as other commentators have noted, this isn’t obviously a case of ‘big corporation = bad, small games site = good’.

    Embargoes are a solution to a coordination problem. Magazines/websites don’t want to release a review late. Publishers want maximum visibility. Readers/Consumers want good information, and perhaps multiple opinions. If someone comes out with a review early, they benefit, but everyone else loses. It’s selfish and unsustainable behaviour. Embargoes ensure that no magazine/website is late with their review, so all can commit to running it, and the reader can get the maximum amount of information.

    So they seem like a good thing.

    Now, Go! Gaming Giant *may* have made an honest mistake here, rather than a wilful attempt to break embargo. But such a mistake shows a lack of professionalism. I can see why Microsoft would not want to co-operate with them in the future.

    Reply
  21. It seems to me that when companies freak out about game reviews coming out too early, they are simply covering up for a shitty game. If the game was good, there would be no fear of early reviews. Microsoft is a scandalous company indeed, but Go! Gaming would have been wise to straight ignore Microsoft’s pleas for censorship. If a game gets out early, it gets out early and there is no way Go! Gaming is at fault here other than playing a game and sharing an experience prior to it being at Microsoft’s leisure.

    Reply
  22. The way these things USUALLY work is that the developer or publisher will give you a review copy (or an Xbox Live code to download a review copy) and tell you “BTW – you can’t publish anything about this until 12:00 on xx date”.)

    Since they didn’t get the game from the publisher or developer I don’t see how they could be bound by any embargo. In the end though it doesn’t really matter since the review is back up and other sites have released their reviews.

    Reply
  23. The simple thing that this all comes down to is respect.

    I completely understand where Matt and G3 are coming from in that supposedly the game was acquired by legitimate means, and they should not be bound by the embargo since it was NOT a review copy. However, if a Microsoft representative asks you to take it down, then out of respect, you take it down. He might have wanted to keep getting those hits, but if the review was _that_ good, then the hits would have come regardless. Or did the hits come because it was essentially the only ODST review at the time? I would be inclined to think it was the latter.

    Now, let’s get onto these facts of emails, driving and such. FIRST and FOREMOST of all Matt should have NEVER been emailing while driving as it has been proven to be MORE DANGEROUS than driving while LEGALLY INTOXICATED. If it was that important, he could have pulled over to read and especially to reply to the email.

    I would pick apart the rest, but I can see how the rep would have seen through the lie of not being able to take the story when in the car, and only getting to be able to get to it a couple hours later.

    I’ve got way more to say, but I’ll keep it to myself for the sake of all parties involved.

    Reply

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