EA Caught Pressuring Publications Over Battlefield 3 Reviews

It's an ugly thing, and one that sadly rears its head from time to time when big games are released: the practice of a publisher exerting a little too much pressure on gaming press.

Of course, pressure is applied all the time! That's the people in marketing and PR's job, to try and make sure their game is well-received. But there's a point where that pressure stops being a mild annoyance, one easily shrugged off, becoming something obstructive and distasteful, and some EA reps in Europe seem to have crossed that line when it comes to Battlefield 3.

Scandinavian outlets requesting review copies of the game were asked for their mailing addresses. Standard question! They were then, however, asked a bunch of other questions, like:

Did the reviewer personally review BFBC2 or Black Ops?

What score did he give it?

What is his past experience with Battlefield?

Is he a fan of Battlefield?

Is he a fan of Call of Duty?

Has he been playing BF Franchise? BFBC2? 1943? BF2?

Has he expressed enthusiasm or concern for BF3? What are they?

Did he play the beta? Did he enjoy it / get frustrated with it?

What is his present view on the game?

Each question may seem harmless on its own, but together they make it clear the publisher was trying to filter the reviews so they'd be handled by people that would be pre-determined to give the game a positive score and/or slag off Modern Warfare 3 in the process.

So clear, in fact, that rather than deny the fact, or soften it, EA Norway marketing manager Oliver Sveen came out and said "It is a human error that was sent out. We have made a mistake and we apologise. It is not something that should have happened earlier or [that]we intend to continue."

It's nice he apologised, I guess, but calling it "human error" is a bit rich. Human error is sending out a press release with typos in it. This kind of business is more like "institutional error". It's also sad, as rather than enhance a game's reception, it can lead to doubts that the game is good enough to earn great scores on its own merits.

For the record, my request for a copy was met with two questions: if my mailing address is still my mailing address, and which platform I want it on.

EA Norway caught attempting to manipulate BF3 review scores, calls it "a mistake" [PC Gamer]


Comments

    Just go to IGN. You can buy your review scores there.

      lol they've already got their 10/10 ready for MW3.

      Nah IGN are COD fanboys, BF3 will get 8.5 and MW3 will get 411 out of 10.

    One of my mates working at Gamecritics tells me this happens all the time. And sometimes reviewers bend over backwards because they are afraid of publishers getting the shits.

      There was a tweet from one of the gamespot guys (I think):
      People aren't reviewing Rage and Brink, so much as they're reviewing whether or not they want to review Skyrim.

        Are game reviewers really that desperate for a game a week before release? They could just buy Skyrim from the shop like the rest of us and write the review they want.

          Yeah, but if you're a monthly publication... you've got a fixed deadline to have it in by, or you miss a months worth of relevency.

          Also, early reviews generate advertising dollars, which can keep a struggling little publication online...

          The first reviews out get the most pageviews and thus earn the most ad revenue.

          It's not about getting the game early, it's about getting the review out early.

          How many readers are going to stick around if you're consistently dropping reviews two-three weeks after a game launches? People use reviews to make decisions - no good getting to your audience when the game is already 100%'d and gathering dust.

            People still stick around for Yahtzee. Sometimes he reviews games months after the release date. On special occasions he reviews games that were released a decade ago!

              Yeah, but no one is actually watching Yahtzee to hear his opinion on a game.

                I do - whilst he sounds like he hates everything, his criticisms are usually valid, and I can get a feel as to whether annoyances are something I can get past.

            So print media has to maintain their relationship with a publisher or risk going out of business. Doesn't seem fair, does it?

            I'm not suggesting print media actually do this, but what would happen if tomorrow every publisher put the squeeze on print for their reviews to be good. What would they do?

          You have to understand that ultimately there's a financial risk at hand here - having a review as soon as it's viable to have it up has far too many benefits attached to it to wait that long after it's released.

          Major publishers can often find themselves in a position of power - they know that people are chomping at the bit waiting for new information regarding an upcoming title and so they try to leverage what they want from this advantage.

          It's ugly, but unless your publication's business model can handle the loss of views that come from a later review, you're going to be tempted to cave in.

          With all of that said, there's nothing stopping someone from simply talking the talk and then going about their business as a critic regardless - as long as you're not making promises you can't keep (which is an ethical cardinal sin), then all you're doing is playing the same game they are while still keeping your readers/viewers informed :)

            That's because he's an entertainer and people come to Yahtzee for reasons beyond that of an authoritative voice for critiquing a game. Also, there's more humor to be had when his reviews come out after everyone has had a chance to play the game - the shared humor that comes from in-jokes makes it all the more amusing to watch :)

              Yeah exactly. Nobody watches Yahtzee to help them decide whether to buy a game or not.

              What you mean I shouldn't be taking him literally, and there are more than 4 good games out there worth playing? Why didn't someone tell me sooner?

    Clearly they don't have confidence with their own product. It should stand on it's own two feet.

      Not that I condone their actions, but I can understand that when you've invested tens- or hundreds of millions of dollars into a product, confidence isn't reliable enough.

        Understanding it doesn't make it any less disgusting, just saying.

    It's really disappointing. Sometimes it seems like EA is doing their utmost to trip up what will be their highest selling game this year.

    I would like to hear of other studios and publishers using the same tactic though. Just adds more creedance to how retarded games reviewing is these days.

      I can't think of any times where a publisher has screened reviewers before sending them a copy, not that means that it hasn't happened before.

      But there has been times where publishers have actively harassed and threatened reviewers that gave their product a bad score. There was the Kane & Lynch/Gamespot fiasco, the Hydrophobia devs telliing everyone they were playing it wrong and then the time the PR company Gearbox had hired threatening everyone that had given Duke Nukem Forever bad scores that they wouldn't receive any future Gearbox review copies.

      What's really weird is that the gaming public have gotten used to the effects of this relationship between the Press and Publishers. Where all reviews and interviews read almost like marketing because the press is scared of having its privileges revoked even if they haven't been threatened. Look at the backlash from the Gamesutra Rage interview. Brandon Sheffield actually had the guts to ask the developers to justify their game instead of just saying it was great and everyone freaked out because they thought it was unfair. id were surprised but quite ok with it, but the readers just didn't want to hear it.

    EA/[insert major publisher here] filtering reviews? never! /sarcasm

    I'm not surprised to have seen this at all, just that they are making it that obvious...

    Giving a game to a fan or someone who knows the franchise makes more sense. You wouldn't want someone who reviews RPGs to review Battlefield. But asking him about their opinion about Call of Duty? A completely different game regardless of the so-called "war" going on between them? That's just stupid.

      That's exactly why they'd ask, so they can get a biased reviewer.

        Up until they're caught. Which damages their reputation but also the reviewers and reviewing in general.

    I wouldn't mind if I thought they were doing that as an internal thing; so that they could take the industry reviews and scale how they took them based on past factors. (A reviewer who's given the whole series 10/10 and gives this one 5 probably has some concerns, and if someone's given all the past ones 2 and gives this one an 8 you should look at what you did to make them so happy.)

    The fact that they're doing it /before/ they send out review copies, though? Ugh. I've been hearing good things about the game, and it'll sell millions of copies no matter what. What are they worried about?

    Oh what a pity poor reviewers who get the game for free have to answer less than 10 questions to secure their copy.

    What's wrong with the publisher getting feedback on who/what the review background is?

    You want overboard how about a Karcher pressure hose purchase that the warranty asks for my income, my wifes, likes/dislikes, magazine subscriptions, foods and more...

    This is nothing and standard big business operation. Sound like the reviewers need some thicker skins!

      The problem is that it means EA would only be sending the early review copy to selected publications, ie the ones who are likely to give them a high score, or a least feel pressured to do so. This means those publications get all the credit for the early reviews, over people who had to wait until it released, possibly earning them extra advertising revenue and that guff. Good for them, but it lacks integrity. The publications who are doing honest reviews are then put at a disadvantage and the overall quality of games reviewing suffers as a result. Why be honest when you'll just be outscooped and lose advertising to the publications currying to the game publisher's favour?

        I think it may have something to do with what metacritic score it has on release too.

        If only the positive reviews are in at release the score is skewed up for the release window giving it more sales.

          Yeah that's the viewpoint of the publisher, and fair enough, they're a business. From the publication's point of view, they may cave into to publisher's demands because it could lead to increased revenue and continue the existing good relationship they have with each other.

    My guess is an overzealous or frightened executive decided to screen reviewers without consulting PR, advertisers, or anyone with any knowledge of the community.

    Its worth noting that this may not be an "EA" tactic accross the board, just one PR managers bad practise in trying to secure the best results for his company.

    It's still a bit shitty that pressure like this is put on reviewers just trying to give an honest opinion, but it's too easy to brand it as evil corporate bullshit when it could have easily been just the misguided discression of one person.

    Just sayin...

    The amount of "he's" in the questions are a can of worms unto themselves, too.

      Agreed, im a guy and found that offensive, my partner could kill most guys in BF or COD anyway.
      NO, female's cannot review BF3 apparently.

        Yeah - all 5 female gamer journo's

    Depends from what point of view, or context you put those questions in to. If the guys at EA or DICE think the article didn't have a lot of research put in behind it (for example, they compare BF3 to COD somehow), they would want to know it's a fair review. Especially when they might then go and include those reviews in any of their own internal processes or marketing campaigns.

    I wonder if BF3 will score higher than PC Gamer's "RPG of the decade" Dragon Age 2...

    Along with all the mudslinging that has gone on this year EA and Dice have certainly gone out of their way to make themselves look bad.

    I wonder if the "human error" comment actually means that this was a document that was meant to be used internally to filter out undesirable outlets/reviewers when sending out review copies. This would seem more logical - EA rep does his homework on the reviewer, then could blacklist them quietly, and avoid a commotion like this. Just as dodgy, though.

    Anyone who wonders if game reviewing is corrupt should take the time to watch how consistently games average review score drops about a week after release when all the publications who won't sell their soul get their review up.

    For the statistically minded, I don't think it's regression to the mean because the drop is usually quite consistent suggesting that the pool of late reviewers is different to those who get the game early. I even tried to Metacritic to analyse it for me, because I think a case could be made that pre-release reviews shouldn't be counted, but they said they didn't have sufficient resources.

    Gaming Publication Requests FREE game from Publisher for reviewing -> Publisher ask Reviewer Questions to ensure they get best Possible outcome -> Reviewer cries foul.

      -> single person fails to grasp issue at stake

        Sigh. This is full of people who know nothing. Maybe they should not release review games, they can all wait like the rest of us. The main point is human error put in the sense that it was one human in PR who will not be named. THE END. Go troll somewhere else fan bois and haters

    In the end there are only two categories of gamers, either fanboi or haters

    There is no middle ground here fellas

    Maybe time fogs my memory, But I remember a time when print media received review copies before release so you know ahead of time whether a game might be decent.

    Even them, some publishers refused to send copies for certain games (confidence much?). Sometimes said magazine bought game and reviewed later (and slammed it too is required).

    These days, I feel online review sites are little more than paid ads back up by embargoes. Lame.

    I'm particularly peeved when 'PC version' reviews don't mention platform related short comings. At all.

    Just throwing it out there, but was there any evidence to say that copies were being with held from people answering that they didn't favour the battlefield series? I think before everybody jumps on the hate EA bandwagon you should think about if maybe they were just collecting data so they could match reviewers current opinions on games to their past opinions and work out if it's an improvement or not? eg. im sure they would be very interested to know if a reviewer who did favour the cod series, and rated the older battlefield games poorly, suddenly gave bf3 a great score. Conversion rates etc are handy figures for businesses that measure success so closely.

    Just sayin'

      I agree. Looks to me like a simple "will they judge it fairly, or will it be slammed for not being MW" filtering.
      It might be a method to filter on likely positive reviewers, but you know what they say about assumption.

    This isn't good for their image.

      As if EA or Activison or even Ubisoft care about their image amongst us gamers. Fuck even most of gaming sites dont care about their image, just look at gamespot, joystick, ign, destructiod and the whole US gawker network.

    That questionnaire would have especially offended the review if they were a woman

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