Nintendo’s Crackdown on Review Copies, from a Smaller Outlet’s Perspective

In the past year, you may have noticed that I haven’t written any new opinion articles for the site, and there’s a few simple explanations for that. The biggest one is that I can usually get the same points from an opinion article across via my Youtube Channel in the form of Eternal Memories episodes or unscripted Vlog Discussions, which are easier to make than my usual long-winded written articles. But today, I’m not going the Youtube route to express my thoughts on today’s subject, simply because this hits close to home for me and plenty of my peers that I follow on my Twitter, and even some of the websites I visit on very frequently.

For those who aren’t sure about the title of this article, and need explanation for the aforementioned “Review Copy Crackdown”, it all started from a well-made article that USGamer wrote up, explaining some behind-the-scenes aspects of Nintendo of America’s PR changes in the past month. Basically, NOA PR is now limiting and being really careful with review copies after an utter asshole (I mean this considering how I rarely use swears in reviews or opinion articles) leaked Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga & Bowser’s Minions two weeks before launch using a review copy, which at first glance, makes total sense for NOA to do with their review copies, considering how leaks are something that they should certainly be careful and worried about, especially with the company releasing two massive games in the next month, Super Mario Odyssey and Pokemon Ultra Sun/Moon. Strict embargoes are a good first step that they’ve enforced for years now, doing the same thing that literally every other company that gives out pre-launch games for review has done since the dawn of time, but some people don’t always follow them, as proven with the M&L leak. Since the serial number of the person with the review copy was attached to the leaked ROM file, NOA has likely cracked down ultra hard on him already, and I hope to god they blacklist him from getting anything from the company in the future.

But there’s a few major problems that NOA PR is doing as a result of this action, despite their good intentions behind it and the fact that their upcoming releases need to be guarded from as many leaks as humanly possible. For this opinion article, I’ll be listing both my thoughts on both the good and the bad that will come out of being super strict with review copies, before giving my final thoughts on what I think they should do as a small, slowly developing content creator who has reviewed several of their games in the past.

The Good:

Limiting the review copies can finally stop those who don’t really do anything with the product from receiving them. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly understandable for any company to send a game of theirs to a youtuber or smaller review outlet like myself, even if it’s only post-launch. After all, being able to provide feedback to a company who’s games you enjoy while also saving some money is a good thing, especially considering how not every reviewer on the planet can get every game out there. However, one thing I have seen in the past few years that has irked me and several of my reviewer friends are certain types of people who constantly nag gaming companies to get early review copies of a game, only to get said copy, do nothing with it for months or years and never ever get the review done or even play it at all. It’s one thing to be swamped with a busy review queue where you have to take time to play each game long enough to understand the mechanics and write a fair review, (like I do) as long as you let the company’s PR contact know about the delay ahead of time and give them updates as you slowly work towards it, and most companies will be happy and understanding about it.

Unfortunately, some people tend to only want early review copies for a free game and not to give feedback to the developers, and there have been plenty of small, new youtube channels and websites created in the past few years with the sole purpose of trying to get free games that the site owners will never review, as they’ll simply hoard it for themselves or even worse, sell the review keys on the black market. This is an absolutely shameful act, and unfortunately some companies that really do need as much feedback and reviews as they can get end up falling victim to these exploiters. That being said, while Nintendo has always been careful to not give pre-release review copies to outlets/channels that aren’t medium size in their reach, they have given post-release review copies to smaller outlets who are interested in covering them, including myself. For those who simply enjoy giving feedback, getting a game past the launch date isn’t really a big deal, since a review will be done when it’s done, and most small sites don’t have to worry about rushing for a deadline to get a lot of views.

Sadly, there are also a few of these “looters” as I like to call them that’ll just take the game for free and run regardless. While they certainly won’t get any more review copies from the same company ever again, such behavior can indirectly hurt other reviewers who would like to review the game, since the codes given to these hit-and-runners will take away from those who would actually write a review of it. A certain review site I used to work with when Seafoam Gaming was just a free forum and I was trying to improve my writing had one of these hit-and-runners, where one of the fellow writers got a review copy for one of Nintendo’s 2013 titles that the PR company had left over, only to never ever review it, even to this day. Mind you, it was 2014 when said reviewer got the code, and three years is an absurd amount of time to take to review a game, unless you’re doing a youtube retrospective series or a project of a grand scale. Therefore, Nintendo’s crackdown and stricter policies will actually do a good job at stopping the hit-and-runners before they can even get a single review copy.

Limiting review copies can stop leaks for major games. Obviously the biggest benefit of a crackdown, and why Nintendo is doing this to begin with is to stop the potential for leaks of the two biggest retail games on the year: Pokemon Ultra Sun/Moon and Super Mario Odyssey. While Mario & Luigi was a really minor release of the year, that still doesn’t excuse the fact that it was leaked, nor does it make the behavior acceptable in any way, shape or form. While there’s not even much to leak from a remake of a fourteen year old GBA title to begin with, imagine if this happened to something on the scale of Super Mario Odyssey or Pokemon Ultra Sun/Moon: It would be a far, FAR scarier and damaging situation for all parties involved, and considering how both games are titles that thrive on not having spoilers leak out before launch, it makes absolutely perfect sense to be very, very selective with giving out review copies of those two titles, and making it so that the only leaks that could possibly happen would come from a naughty store breaking a street date.

And now, we get to the bad, since to be brutally honest, this situation leads to more bad outcomes than good.

The Bad:

Limiting review copies from smaller outlets can stop them from growing. Again, while post-launch review copies aren’t a bad thing for smaller outlets like Seafoam Gaming, (or even situations where I actually buy the games myself and write my thoughts on them without even asking for a review copy, like I’ve done with the Nintendo games I’ve covered this year) the USGamer article has noted that even the smaller releases like Fire Emblem Warriors, a game which has already launched in Japan are being held back from small outlets entirely, meaning they won’t be getting a review copy period, even days or weeks after launch. For some who get review copies of games from other companies and thus have to focus on them, the ability to write free-time reviews of those bigger games are very limited, and it’s unlikely that small outlets will give them as high of a priority for coverage, especially if they’re one-man operations like Seafoam Gaming. Of course, this also comes with the effect of these small outlets not getting as well known as they would be if they continued to cover these games, since not everyone can buy every single game on the planet, so the people who would still write reviews for said games in their free time will have to be very careful with their money as to which one they decide to cover.

Limiting review copies until post-launch for medium-large outlets can severely damage their traffic. While a smaller site doesn’t really have to worry about reviewing a game before launch to maintain traffic, (especially if traffic is mostly dependent on word of mouth to begin with) medium to larger outlets certainly do, especially if they’re being given a game later than the bigger outlets. As noted in the USGamer article, NintendoWorldReport, an awesome site I’ve been visiting frequently since 2011 hasn’t gotten a North American review copy for Fire Emblem Warriors, despite the fact that their site is part of Metacritic and has been one of the biggest Nintendo fan sites around since the GBA era. This isn’t because they didn’t ask in time, but rather as a side effect of this crackdown.

Of course, it’s not the end of the world for the site’s relationship with the company, as they can still get a review copy post-launch and cover it a bit after launch to provide feedback to the company regardless, which is good for publishers, but not good for site owners or their fans. Especially when you also take into account the fact that pre-release reviews are key for consumers to know if a game is even good before the official launch or not, and limiting it to the biggest of the biggest before a game’s launch would lead to a very small amount of opinions on the game. For those medium-large outlets who do get a review copy the day of or just shortly before launch, however, there’s a bad case of competition that’ll pop up as another side effect of this crackdown, especially since the longer these websites wait to get a review made, the more people will have made up their mind about the game in question because of it being a post-release review, and thus will lead to less traffic even from avid followers of the site. Therefore, this can also lead to rushed reviews that would be low in quality, solely shoved out the door on the same day a game is released for the sole purpose of being able to bring it to the attention of people who will be looking for reviews of a game on the day of its launch. Even Youtube Channels that were just about to get into the medium-large range to qualify for these review copies will suffer from this, such as Nintendo Prime, which is a really big shame for those who’ve been working ultra hard to even expand their outlet to the point of qualifying for them in the first place.

Limiting review copies for those who were following the rules the entire time isn’t even fair to begin with. This should be a given, but for the biggest reviewers who have been covering Nintendo games and following embargo rules for years, from Brand Ambassadors like Gamexplain, The Completionist, and ProJared along with review sites like the aforementioned NWR, GoNintendo, NintendoEverything, USGamer, Cubed3, Gameinformer and many others, it doesn’t make much sense at all for big sites with a good audience to get excluded from the same treatment as websites that get millions of views like IGN or Gamespot, especially with neither side has done anything wrong. Considering how the leaker was more than likely one of the small youtubers that just barely passed Nintendo PR’s target goal for subscribers/views to join the ambassador program. it seems that the more logical course of action would be to become ultra strict on the Brand Ambassador program, perhaps by being even more strict on getting pre-release review copies until you’ve reviewed a certain amount of games post-release without breaking any of the embargo rules, or by showing Nintendo PR reviews made for other clients, all while continuing to give the biggest review sites on the net the same treatment they’ve always gotten so that way their readers don’t miss out on reviews from their favorite authors. But from what it seems right now, some of these websites won’t be getting any early review copies of upcoming Nintendo games anytime soon, which is a big shame considering how great the track record of most of these sites have been, and how passionate their writers are for giving honest feedback to the company.

So in conclusion, where do I personally stand on this matter? Well, if you couldn’t guess from the way I worded things just now, I don’t really agree that this is the right move for Nintendo of America to do, but only for their bigger/closest partners. For their smaller partners such as myself and those in the Brand Ambassador program, it does makes perfect sense for them to be much stricter with their review copies for the fall season, especially due to all the exciting titles coming out in the near future that could get leaked if an irresponsible reviewer decided to cave to the demands of whiny piracy communities. But for the sites that are good, reliable partners for Nintendo like the Brand Ambassadors and websites I mentioned in my last point, I don’t think they need to be punished for this, especially considering how some of those websites have been reviewing games for the company for over a decade with no issues whatsoever.

I just hope that this whole crackdown will only last until the end of 2017, so that way smaller outlets will have a chance to grow again and especially so that the long-term partners NOA has always worked with can continue to provide reviews for their readers without having to rush them. It’s understandable why Nintendo is acting this way in the first place, but it’s also upsetting that they’re punishing some of their biggest partners as a result.

5 thoughts on “Nintendo’s Crackdown on Review Copies, from a Smaller Outlet’s Perspective

  1. You summed up my opinion on the matter quite nicely. Well written article about what’s been going on with the crackdown. I hope they manage to change how they send out review copies in the near future, but for now, we’ll see how this goes. Either way, it’s yet another example of “This is why we can’t have nice things”.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Rather upsetting, but it does sound like some NA press are getting SMO now, but with an ultra strict embargo, so it doesn’t seem to be as bad of a situation as FE Warriors, which not even IGN could get ahold of in the end.

      Liked by 1 person

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