Embargoes and Why You Should Set Them

An Intro To Embargoes

Embargoes and Why You Should Set Them

As we enter the holiday season and Christmas slowly creeps up to our doorsteps, the Terminals team has gotten a wee bit nostalgic. Outside of discussing old favorite games and movies in the work Slack, we’ve begun to take stock of all the fun things we’ve discussed over the last few months. We started this blog to give the average gamer, up-and-coming content creator, or game developer valuable resources on relevant gaming subject matter. 

We’ve covered all the fun things in gaming like press releases, requesting keys from PR, and navigating launch windows, but one subject we’ve been holding in our back pockets is the great and powerful Embargo. Something of a boogeyman amongst developers and media professionals in gaming, spoken of in hushed emails and early access requests, Embargoes aren’t something you should be afraid of. They’re used strategically by developers and PR to secure media coverage or prevent leaks, and it’s important to be aware of why they’re important.

A Gamer’s Carol 

First of all, what the heck is an embargo? For developers, it’s a breather/stay of execution and is often set to allow for any needed last-minute fixes for bugs that may have otherwise been mentioned in early reviews before launch. For gaming press and content creators, it’s a due date, an appointment set by the developers for when they should release reviews and content for the title they’ve sent out early review keys for. 

For context, games journalism can be a very competitive place. Ebenezer Scrooge built his fortunes on the broken dreams of anyone unlucky enough to cross his miserly path, and similarly some content creators and press fight and scratch to eke an early scoop and earn their moment in the sun. Embargoes help level the playing field, giving press & creators of all sizes the time needed to make their content and have it go up at the same time. After all, consumers are always looking for any crumb of information they can find regarding their favourite games, and to combat leaks developers and PR set embargoes to help keep that in check and help give their games the best chance at success.

The Reckoning

A surefire way to end up on every PR and game dev shit-list is to make a habit of breaking embargoes. Sure you get the drop on everyone else, being the first one out there with footage for the next blockbuster AAA title, but receiving an early peek at an upcoming title is a privilege, not a right, and it’s one that can be taken away if abused.

Sounds a bit unfair, especially when you haven’t signed anything. To be clear, embargos by themselves are not legally binding. However, embargoes can include non-disclosure agreements at the discretion of the distributor. NDAs are legally binding documents that hold contractors to strict confidentiality guidelines, so the punishments for breaking them can be monetarily or legally taxing. Embargoes are a more personal “gentleman's agreement” style bond between the distributor and recipient where if you do break it, you may not face any legal consequences, but as I said before, there will be a reckoning. PR teams have long memories, I can promise you that.

An Embargo By Any Other Name

Some of the ways game developers try to avoid leaks and spoilers are by setting different kinds of embargoes.

Streaming Embargoes are set up to prevent footage and any other type of imagery from leaking to the public that might spoil the plot or content of a game. These are usually set closer to launch if not at the same time. Streaming embargoes are relevant for streamers, gameplay video creators, and guide makers primarily because a streaming embargo directly affects when they can release their content.

Review Embargoes are sent to press for similar reasons, and with similar timing. When someone agrees to an embargo, it’s very likely that they’ll provide coverage for your title, something that can be make or break for smaller companies releasing their first major title. Review embargoes are often sent out alongside early access keys in hopes of a response to let developers know that they will cover their game. It also gives reviewers time to actually play the game. You’re more likely to find more joy from reviewers who are given adequate time to experience your game, and for press during a busy holiday season where there are a lot of titles releasing at the same time, time is the most valuable thing in the world.

When Should You Set an Embargo?

This is my favorite question, and the answer is more definitive than: you’ll know in your heart when the time is right, or something sentimental like that. You’ve got to take stock of a few things about your game, about who you’re targeting, how much time it will take for players to get through your game, and what is launching around the time of when you’ll be setting the embargo.

When taking “stock” of your game, you’ll have to assess its level of playability. The confidence you have in a final public dissection of your game will hopefully guide your decision to set an embargo date. Depending on the length or amount of time it takes to achieve a full experience in a game, you’ll want to consider that time frame open for reviewers whom you provide early access to, and you’ll want to be sure to get keys into their hands early enough to accommodate that. Finally, check out a calendar to look at what might be launching or newsworthy when your reviews will launch. Setting embargoes during the holiday season would be a bad idea for example. The reason is, that press may be out of the office and on vacation. You’ll also want to avoid the launches of similar titles to avoid comparisons to your own title, though really these are things you should have already considered when deciding on your launch date.

Well, that’s it for today. Hopefully, I’ve given you enough information about embargoes that you’ll know how to navigate embargoes. Respect them and they’ll be a powerful tool in your dev cycle arsenal. Ignore them and you won’t last long in gaming media.

Published December, 16 2022
Last updated December, 16 2022
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