Spanish Website Says Square Enix PR Cut Off Their Review Copies For Giving Out Low Scores

A Spanish gaming website says Square Enix will no longer send them review copies because they allegedly handed out lower than average review scores, including a 7.5/10 for the recently released Final Fantasy 15.

AreaJugones, a website based in Spain that says it reaches around 700,000 people per month, said in a blog post last week that they heard about this decision from the publisher Koch Media. Koch handles PR and marketing for Square Enix in several European countries, including Spain.

After posting their review of Final Fantasy 15 last week, AreaJugones editor Juan Alberto Linares got a call from a Koch representative, who reportedly told him that Koch and Square would no longer send them review copies of their games.

"The PR told me that we had scored one point less than the current average of Metacritic and that this hurt their interests as a company," Linares told me in an email this weekend.

"I could not believe what he was saying, so when he asked for more explanations, he told me that we also almost always scored his games with lower scores than the other Spanish magazines and other Metacritic media," Linares said. "We started talking about scores given to other games of his brand and they insist that we score their games lower than the other media, and this is not really true. If we score lower under their games we hurt them, so we were erased from the list of media because we were going to continue hurting them."

Is AreaJugones really a review score outlier? Well, Metacritic lists the website as grading higher than average on 57 per cent of their reviews. Their recent reviews of other Square Enix games include an 8.5/10 for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and a 7.8/10 for World of Final Fantasy. Also from Metacritic: "On average, this publication grades 0.8 points lower than other critics."

A representative for Square Enix did not respond to a request for comment. When reached by Kotaku, Koch Media's PR manager in Spain said: "We have no comment to make on that story."

Blacklisting has long been a practice used by video game publishers to punish media outlets. For decades now, we've seen publishers strong-arm gaming websites over review scores, advertisements and reporting that doesn't fit into PR teams' heavily crafted marketing plans. For smaller websites that rely upon timely reviews as their major source of traffic, losing access to review copies can be a major blow.

In recent years, the most well-known case of blacklisting came from the publisher Bethesda, which decided to cut off all contact with Kotaku in 2013 after we reported that they were developing Prey and Fallout 4. (Ubisoft had also blacklisted us, but has since decided to renew our relationship.) For a site like Kotaku that doesn't rely on access for most of our coverage, blacklisting doesn't have much of an impact — the most annoying part is that they won't let us interview brilliant designers like Todd Howard or Harvey Smith — but it nonetheless remains a weapon that publishers use to punish media outlets.


    Dodgy stuff from Square Enix and this seems to be a developing trend. It is not good news for consumers. Based on the 10 hours or so I have played of the game I would say 7.5 is a generous score for the game. It is fairly average in pretty much every area.

      Your 10 hours... Has braely scraped the tip of the game.

        10 hours should be more than enough time to get a good feeling about the game and understand what it's about. If you can't work that out in the first 10 hours then the game starts way too slowly.

          Have you actually played the game?

            Also for @whitepointer.

            10 hours is more than enough for any game.

            The excuse "It gets better after 14 hours" didn't work for Final Fantasy 13 back when it was released so I don't see how FF15 should be treated any different.

            If you personally like the game then fine. You are not doing the game nor yourself trying to defend a slow boil.

              Sure. Maybe there is a reason why people review game after they actually Play a fair bit of the game or maybe it's just me. Mind you 10 hours out of 100 hours is barely scrapping the tip.

              As bad as saying skyrim/gta is average after playing 10 hours.

              Not saying I'm defending the game. I'm saying be fair to the game and give your opinion after you tried everything the game offers.

              Last edited 06/12/16 9:36 am

                Not entirely.

                Less than 10 hours was needed for me recognise Skyrim was just another Bethesda game, another 90+ wasn't going to reveal anything.

                I'm loving FFXV so far, but I can see why many just aren't feeling it.

                Havent played FFXV yet but the argument still stands. I played GTA5 and I knew within 20 minutes of playing it that I was going to finish that game. It was seriously good. I played 5 hours of Skyrim and I knew there was no point me even trying to finish the game because it was super super boring. Every game I finish I know pretty much straight away whether it's worth my time. I currently have 278 hours on Overwatch since release. I needed all of 1 minute to know I would love that game.

                Why should I trundle through a game that promises something good, maybe, after 20 hours? I'm not a professional reviewer. I have plenty of other games I could be playing that are much more fun/less frustrating/whatever. I'm not obligated to play your game for more than 10 hours just because you say it gets better. Make it good from the start and you dont have a problem.

                  Hi man what's ur BattleTag? Add me in EU and / or PTR we can play OW together, mine is SIMOMEGA#2375.

                  @simomega - Wouldnt let me reply directly to you...

                  Not that I dont want to play with people, but I dont play EU servers (pretty much US only) and I'm rarely on the PTR, so there's probably not much point. Incidentally why do you play on EU? Do you get better ping or something?

              But if a game were 50-100 hours long narrative-driven game then wouldn't that be a massive pacing concern? How do you objectively quantify a "slow start" as you are implying? What if i understand what the game is about and use the systems correctly in a way it informs both gameplay and story within these ten hours? Does that invalidate the perspective of the other who percieves it to be "too slow"? (though, to them it appears their perspective is the objective one for some reason)

              Seems like a really arbitrary perspective in a creative landscape with so much diversity. Generally speaking, when we massively oversimplify a collection where difference between one item and another is high, it is considered to be less reliable to generalise rather than acknowledge specifics exclusive to them. Funny people just ignore the way to reach reality when it's convenient.

                But if a game were 50-100 hours long narrative-driven game then wouldn't that be a massive pacing concern?

                Then that is isolating the fault in the story; a component in the game's designer for an overall experience.

                I'm not oversimplifying. Games have a lot of elements; story, sound, graphics, etcetera. When it comes to games, in my view, there are two elements that must stand out: immersion and experience.

                The immersion and experience need to be good off the bat and at most should be two hours long. Any longer means something is wrong in the games design.

                Last edited 06/12/16 11:33 am

                  Sorry, did you mean immersion instead of emersion?

                  @gz: Yes, you are right. Sorry about that.

                  Spelling never was my strong hold. Post fixed.

              Agreed. If the game hasn't got going in 10 hours then it isn't respecting my time.

                A good game should be like a good book. You are encouraged to keep picking it up and putting more time in because those initial hours really grabbed you. You shouldn't have to slog through more than 10 hours of gameplay to get to the supposed good stuff. Uncharted 2 had me from the beginning, for example. That is how you introduce your game.

            If the first 10 hours aren't fun but it gets better why have the first 10 hours? 10 hours is longer than many games and I can get a heck of a lot of enjoyment from that. I gave FF13 2 hours and all it gave me was overly long cutscenes and a game that played itself for you.

          I gave Fallout 4 it's 10 hours to get good and then Gaben wouldn't let me return the pile of shit.

          If you can't work that out in the first 10 hours then the game starts way too slowly

          Swear people said that about FF13, but make it 20 hours instead of 10...

            The version I head was 14 but yeah a lot of people kept trying to defend the game when really it fell flat at the hurdle for it's very slow boil.

            Don't get me wrong, the opening cinematic was great but guess what was better?

            The opening to FF7, similar approach but I was a part of the opening. I wasn't sitting there watching like in FF13.

              I just remember 13 had a "20 hour tutorial section" before it "got good", but I gave up after 8 from boredom and repetition (and completely not buying the universe. The reject Jpop boy band of 15 is even worse)

                HAHAHAHA! I think that was a gag on a Web comic where FF13 was passed of as a tutorial for FF13-2, :-P

                Have you spent any time with the reject Jpop boy band? They're pretty likable.

                  From what I've seen and heard I just can't relate to them at all (and urgh the english voices D: )

                From what I've seen and heard I just can't relate to them at all (and urgh the english voices D: )

                I strongly recommend watching the anime subbed, then playing the game the same way - Japanese voice-acting and English subtitles.

                The acting may well be just as awful, but as a non-native speaker, it's more difficult to tell! Also the voice-actors for the game did the anime acting. I went back and re-watched the anime while not having access to the game for a bit, and really loved hearing the lads just... being themselves. These dudes who I've come to really enjoy listening to, as they hang out.

                I've heard some complaints about how bad some of the lines are (specifically their pun-fests), but hearing dudes just hanging out and groaning at each others' puns when they can't one-up them (or PUN-up them! :D) makes it sound exactly like hanging out with my mates. The incredibly-frequent banter just really makes them sound like regular somewhat nerdy guys. It makes them so much more 'human' as characters than most gaming characters ever get to be. I love it.

        I'm sympathetic to your view, given that I keep finding new systems and layers in FF15, 40hrs in, and can't wait to expand further to summons (yeah, I'm dawdling on main quest and just doing hunts/sidequests), but I have to agree with the haters in that you should only need a few hours of play at most to understand whether combat mechanics, story pacing, aesthetics and general themes are the kind of thing you're going to enjoy.

        The only game I've found to be an exception to this rule was Dark Souls, but in general, it only takes a couple minutes at best, a couple hours at worst, to know how a game is going to play out. FF13 was awful from start to finish, even if you trust people who claimed that the first 30hrs was 'just the tutorial' before the main 'open world'. It got incrementally better, but the overall paradigm didn't change.

      I don't really like JRPGs but the combat is fun and the open world is great once you get past the opening desert area, which I took ages to do because I feel compelled to do every stupid little quest. I feel like 7.5 is pretty rough, but that's criticism. Shouldn't stop giving out review copies because one person couldn't get into the game.

      I've completed the game and sunk about 30 hours in. I agree that 7.5 isn't hard off the mark. Game is good, but not great by any stretch of the imagination.

      I agree, I played 15 hours myself and returned it to Amazon today as I was so bored. Just can't get into it, so slow paced and the load times are atrocious. If someone gave me this game with a different title I'd never even think it was Final Fantasy at all.

      Agreed 100%. I wouldn't even rate it a 5/10. SE needs to know they completely screwed the pooch in this game. What does it say about a company that is deliberately misleading in their promotions for the game? The hype was real! Demos, trailers, Movie, and Anime and NONE of what was actually promoted was in the game! They need to be held accountable for this, not praised for such a disastrous FF game. If they keep using sales as a gauge to determine what people think, we will end up with more games like FF13. Because, even though heaps of people hate FF13, SE seems to think that FF13 and its tragic sequels were a good idea! Regardless of what fans have said! It is evident, that SE is no longer listening to their fan base. We need to make them listen!

    Is there only white people in this game? Its a bit of a turn off for me at least.

      There are black people in the game.

        See the marketing would have be believe other wise. It turned me off purchasing it to be honest.

          Uh? Main character is clearly Asian.

            Yeah, those bright blue eyes definitely scream Asian.

              He's got a mix of features. His dad is clearly a western king, but he looks Japanese/western.

              Lol Noct is totally asian, maybe get a bigger TV or something because it's pretty obvious.

      You are kidding right?

      There are folks of different racial features right from the start in Hammerhead.

      The professors protégée (I forget her name, but the day it a few times). Hammerheads Crows Nest owner.
      The countless characters with Asian features...

        I live in Brisbane, every Poster I have seen has been of the 4 main chracters. Which are all white, I have never played Final Fantasy, I dont know how diverse it is. Those posters alone turned me off purchasing the game on day one. Hence me asking the question initally.

          Why would the diversity in a game determine whether you will play it or not?? games are fantasy, they are not real. Especially not final Fantasy. The clue is in the title. Diversity has nothing to do with the game. What nonsense. SJW crap.

    Spanish Website Says Square Enix PR Cut Off Their Review Copies For Giving Out Low Scores

    This is why I rarely buy games on day one anymore. Mostly because publishers (and sometimes, even the developers themselves) try to gag reviewers for fear their unrealistic day one market predictions become compromised.

    This glass jaw mentality really needs to stop as continuing to do so will only make the sale of newer games harder and slower.

    I'm waiting for those particular commenters to come out with "It's Squeenix's right, they're a business! Games websites should just parrot publisher PR and should never leak information ever".

      It is Square Enix's right, assuming this even was their decision and not one made by Koch independently. But it should also have no effect on how publications review games. Ratings are still tallied and added to the Metacritic score whether they're from previews or release reviews, and if their writing is quality they won't lose readers by being a few days after everyone else.

      I'm not suggesting Square Enix (or Koch, whoever is responsible) are making the right choice by any means, just that it's their right to do so. I think it's a mini-tantrum personally, and it's largely a futile gesture either way since it won't hurt AreaJugones nor help Square Enix in any way by doing this.

        Sorry, I guess my emphasis should have been more on the second part of my sentence.

        Yes, it absolutely is Squeenix's right to withhold review copies, even if it does come across as very petty and tantrum-like as you say.

        But there's this weird belief among some "gaming" community members that games media should only exist to regurgitate press releases. Critical thought about their favourite series is to be frowned upon, and leaking of unapproved information is sacrilege.

          I agree completely. Freedom of the press is important no matter if it's world news or vidya games.

      Well, i have heard/read people say things like "you should be a better consumer"! Or, "you actually owe SE money if you didn't play the game after the main story"! So given that people have this mentality, i would imagine that is highly likely people may say "its SE right"! LOL

    To a degree, I can understand where Squenix is coming from. Getting an early copy of the game, or access to developers, isn't a right just because you're a media company. It's a favour the company does to the media to curry favour with them. If a media company obviously isn't cooperating with them in a way they consider conducive to their business interests, it is in their interests to cut contact with that company. I'm not saying that the poor commentary by the media company isn't justified or reasonable, I'm simply pointing out that media companies in this particular field usually rely on the business relationship with the developers and publishers, and sometimes bad or below average reviews can hurt that relationship, whether they are fair reviews or not.

      Yeah but come on, 7.5/10 it's not like they gave it 3/10 or something.

        yeah, and 3/10 is what it actually deserves LOL

    Square Enix has the right to supply or not supply whoever it feels like. Reviewers with integrity would buy their own review copies to begin with, rather than expecting what is essentially a gift.

      Critics for film and theatre don't pay for tickets.

      this is why no one should trust pre release reviews. The only reason they get these early copies is because the game company thinks it will help sell the game, as soon as that becomes not the case they have no reason to and all preview copies will only be sent out to those willing to shill for the companies they are supposed to be reviewing. The majority of the "media" in the games industry work for the manufacturer, rather than the consumer.

      I personally would like to see game reviewers just go back to waiting til release, buying their own copy and giving a fair review of the game as stands.

      Companies provide review copies in the hope that they'll get coverage- look at the number of companies that use review scores and pull quotes in ads. Removing that access over low review scores is kinda petty

      Its not about money, its about having the game a week early so your review can go up on launch day which allows people to make an informed decision.

      There are a portion of game buyers that have no self control and will not wait 3 days after launch to play a game that has received nothing but high scores from (Approved by publisher) reviews.

      Last edited 06/12/16 7:45 pm

      How exactly is 'integrity' tied to whether or not a reviewer pays for the game? they review games as a profession. Their integrity (if they have any) comes from being fair and impartial and presenting facts.
      It is entirely infantile and unprofessional for companies to blacklist reviewers for not towing the line.

        When their job relies on receiving free, early copies of highly anticipated games, it's pretty obvious that it is in their best interest to maintain a good relationship with the suppliers, by giving favourable reviews. These companies are not obligated to give early copies to ANYBODY, and the reason they do it is the same reason they do everything else, to increase sales.

        Even if you think you have integrity, there is such a thing as unconscious bias. I work at a bookstore, and it's pretty much the same deal. I sometimes receive free copies of books. Publishing reps will even make sure that I specifically recieve books from authors that I am a fan of. I got an advance copy of Goldenhand, by Garth Nix, literally months before it was due out (not from a rep, my manager picked it up at a conference and got it signed for me). I read Goldenhand, and I loved it, but I am already a fan of Garth Nix, and maybe my perspective was skewed becasue I was enjoying an advance, signed copy that had been especially procured for me? If I recommend Garth Nix to people who come into the store, how do you know that it's because I genuinely enjoy his stuff, and not because I want more advance copies in the future? Plus, as a retail assistant, my job is to sell books. I'll freely admit that my integrity comes second to getting paid. I have been told that I am allowed to tell people that I didn't like particular books, but I generally don't, because a) I want to make sales, and b) my personal opinion is meaningless. I hate LOTR and ASIOF, but what does that matter to the people who love them?

        Maybe a reviewer gives their honest opinion, maybe they don't. There's no way to be sure, and it's impossible for them to help you make an "informed" decision, because games are an experience good. By definition, the only way to know whether or not you will like it is to play it yourself. I pretty much ignore game reviews for that exact reason. I sometimes read them after I play a game, becasue I want to know what people thought.

        Anyway, game reviewers can do whatever they want, and so can the companies, but it would be naive in the extreme to think that their relationship is founded on anything other than money. You can say it's unethical, and I might even agree with you, but the entire function of a company is to make money, and every decision they make is in service of that goal.

        Well look at Amazon, they just banned the practice of allowing reviews in exchange for free products entirely because people would always give 5/5 because they felt the need to because it was free. A friend of mine's mother did this, got an item for free, she said it was about a 2/5 but said she gave them 4/5 just because she felt bad that it was free so didn't want to be too mean.

    negative opinions are just as valid as positive ones.....
    that goes for youtubers as well

    And presumably they'll also be cutting off access to publications that unfairly rate their games a point above the average?

    The question I have about the reviews process (if anyone from Special K(otaku)) can answer this.

    If on a 10 scale 5 is average, what is the point of comparison for this? I mean I hear a lot of people say a game isn't worth it if it isn't a 7+ out of 10 but what does average encompass?

    Obviously this behaviour makes it counter productive, and with the rise of the refund happy mob and the ACCC actively pursuing refund policies, surely anything but an accurate review would be detrimental. - PS this brings another question out, who gets in trouble in this case? Review sites or the developer? If the devs are trying to force a review scoring, then surely they are liable for the bad adverts?

      Well-known trope in games reviewing.

      10 is GOTY
      9 is 'really good/hivemind likes it so I do too/the publisher paid for six months of advertising on our site'
      8 is 'AAA didn't perform as expected/pretty good for an indie/everyone else likes it but we want to be edgy'
      7 is 'we have a bone to pick with this'
      6 is 'shovelware that we can safely bully for being complete crap'.

      5 and under are the 'forbidden numbers' which never appear in the wild.

        Yeah that seems about right to me too HAHA.
        That is pretty tragic though, I would find it refreshing if a game like Deus Ex Mankind Divided got a 6 or so (lets face it, despite the flashy stuff, it is pretty average, and not as big a leap as Human Revolution was).
        5 to me is like - Hey the game is not bad, with solid gameplay. It isn't anything to praise mayonaise about, and isn't really anything new. Not worth $89 AUD but if it was like $50 it would be a solid buy.

        I guess that's what makes Zero Punctuation so funny to me, cause Yahtzee just roasts everything (making it like the opposite of all other reviewers)

          I love how he even finds a way to roast games that he really likes. Like Dark Souls.
          (Although in Dark Souls' case, he spends more time roasting its fans with pin-point precision and accuracy.)

    The really depressing thing is that once they remove a low scoring "outlier" the score average will increase slightly, which will, by the very nature of maths, cause some previously average-scoring publications to now appear "lower than average", get the ban, rinse and repeat until only the most sycophantic/sell-out outlets are left.

    In case you can't tell, this is a terrible outcome for the consumer.

    We've had the whole conversation about blacklisting being understandable but also damaging to consumers and very petty, etc, etc.

    But Jesus Christ, PR dude. Don't actually explicitly SAY that's what you're doing. Just stop sending shit! Do you even know what PR fucking IS? This is like a firefighter setting fires. No! This is the opposite of your job! Stop it!

    Last edited 07/12/16 12:33 pm

      Interestingly firefighters are the subset of the population most likely to be arrested as arsonists. Humans are illogical.

    the sad thing is, this kind of manipulation will just hurt the consumers.
    We already have ten different dull AAA hype trains each year. Now we'll just have homogenised reviews to go with them.

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