It’s been noted by IGN’s executive editor, Dan Stapleton, that Electronic Arts has a hold on review copies of The Sims 4, meaning that no one will gain early access to the game until after it releases on September 2nd. We all know what this means and we all know what EA better start doing as the release date draws near and the fan frenzy begins to swell to a fever pitch of raucous uncertainty and anxious doubt: batten down the hatch and strap on the flak jacket, because there’s likely going to be a ton of digital shrapnel spraying everywhere from the PR disaster that seems to inevitably follow these kind of executive decisions.
The Tweet caught the attention of the gaming community when Stapleton posted it this afternoon. Check it out below.
Unsurprisingly, most media industry folk – from the gamers to fellow journalists to other media publicists – chimed in with their own take on the situation. The vast majority came away with a pretty clear consensus: it’s a shady tactic that reeks of the possibility of the game not being that hot.
I mean, let’s strip away the layers to note exactly why a company would not want the media having early access to a life-simulation game: so basically The Sims 4 has no storyline other than the one you make for yourself. There’s no story or character development to spoil. Some games may be withheld to avoid being picked apart for being buggy… but if that’s the case, the game shouldn’t be releasing a week or two later if it’s so unplayable as to not be ready for the review treatment. Lastly, the game might be content-deficient and the publisher fears that the rest of the content may not be ready in time for launch to allow for fair and balanced reviews.
Out of the aforementioned scenarios, only the last scenario could be a valid one as a reason to withhold a game from early reviews. However, if a retail product is content-deficient two weeks out from release I’m left to wonder exactly how it could be a good thing for the end-user that a game without its proper features in place could be releasing in a supposedly “finished” state? Or simply put, if a game isn’t finished then why is it being released to consumers?
There is one other possibility that wasn’t mentioned, but it seems a little too far fetched, even for Electronic Arts: it could be EA’s way of mitigating some of the flaming bias that they might anticipate being levied at The Sims 4 following all the perceived anti-consumer antics leading up to the game’s release.
What’s more is that there’s a long forum post listing missing features from The Sims 4 that are detailed in an “accurate list of new and not returning features” for the upcoming sequel. For those of you who are click-bait averse, I’ll simply say that the forum details more than just missing toddlers and swimming pools in The Sims 4.
This kind of territory is not uncharted by Electronic Arts, which is why so many gamers have instantly looked at the hold on review copies as a bad omen. The company was just responsible for the release of Battlefield 4 arriving in poor form last year, and they were recently hammered for Battlefield Hardline feeling more like a mod than a new game experience, prompting them to delay the game to 2015.
Like some gamers have already mentioned across other forum threads and discussion boards, the whole thing reeks of another Aliens: Colonial Marines scenario, where the game had review embargos set for the actual release day of the game. In this case – and possibly even worse than the aforementioned incident involving Gearbox’s poorly received title – EA is preventing review copies from going out before the game releases, so there’s not even an embargo to worry about because reviewers won’t even be able to get their hands on the game until launch day. Scary.
Some gamers (like the ones on Reddit) feel this tactic will give EA a leg-up on first-week sales, as most reviews for the game won’t be made available until near the end of the week, and by that time The Sims 4 will have sold enough to look good enough to the average shareholder. It sounds like a petty corporate device for sales, but that’s the kind of sad times we live in.
EA doesn’t need to win, though. The smart thing to do is to NOT buy the game until you can read or watch reviews from sources you trust. Avoid the pre-order gimmicks and don’t buy into any digital bonus deals until you know for certain the game is worth the price of entry.
EA’s CEO Andrew Wilson can talk up about getting around to “listening” to their core audience, as mentioned in the interview with GamesIndustry.biz, but it doesn’t mean you have to keep letting them get away with their crap while they eventually learn the hard way what “listening” means.
As gamers, we don’t have to get burned every time in order to learn the lesson of not putting our hands in the fire. We should see the flames, feel the heat, and learn from the past mistakes of companies we’ve come to know to scorch us with shoddy releases and bull-crap-ridden corporate antics.
It would probably be best to keep your distance from The Sims 4 for the first week until you can know for certain it’s a safe purchase, otherwise you might have to prepare to feel the wrath of anti-consumer corporatism just like the SimCity incident from last year.
TL;DR: EA’s preemptive move to stanch the potential negative criticisms of The Sims 4 by restricting review copy access until release, could eventually become the game’s undoing.
(Updated September 1st, 2014)