I don’t often get the chance to start a piece with a quote from Episode IV so I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity.
So. Call of Duty: Elite. Activision’s premium or not-so-premium online service addition to its powerhouse brand. You’re desperate to read about it, right? Well, sadly you’re on the wrong website.
Where you want to be is the website of The Wall Street Journal. That’s a biiiiiiig site. A proper site. What? You want to read it all on MCVuk.com? Don’t be daft.
I mean, I have all the information. It’s right in front of me. In fact, if I’m going to be brutally honest it’s already uploaded to the website. It was viewable this morning. For about a minute. Until my learned superiors demanded I take it down. Why would they do that? Because of the NDA, silly.
If you’re not familiar with the term ‘NDA’, it means ‘non disclosure agreement’. It means we’ve been given some information, or in this case attended an event, and agreed not to report on any of it until the time that Activision has determined. Which in our case is 16:00 today. [UPDATE – Activision has now moved this to 14:00]
This is of course inherently irritating in its own right. I have the information. I want to share it with you. And I know that once I do so we’ll get loads of visitors, the boss will be happy and my end of month numbers will that bit sweeter and my chances of a pay rise increase by about 0.023%.
And if everyone else sticks to their NDAs it actually makes it all the more tempting, as I would be the only one reporting the information. Guaranteed web traffic. And therein lies the reason why people break embargoes.
But what makes today’s Call of Duty embargo all the more annoying is that I sat down at my desk this morning to discover that The Wall Street Journal – a ‘proper’ paper by all accounts – posted a story about Elite late last night.
Now, it’s possible that WSJ chose to ignore their embargo. What’s significantly more possible, however, is that Activision gave them the nod to go live earlier than anyone else as that guarantees Activision prominent coverage on a prominent site.
Striking deals for coverage is fine, of course. Though it starts to feel less fine when you consider that the dedicated games press has not been extended such privileges.
Because, in all honesty, we’re not as important.
This, of course, is despite the fact that we will slavishly report any and all information drip fed to us about the new Call of Duty. Despite the fact that, in the consumer sector at least, we will rave and rant about the game’s brilliance, securing it millions of sales in the process.
Despite all of that we’re now expected to sit here patiently waiting for the clock to reach 16:00 so we can all make our content live in an ugly and bitter rat race to try and grab as many of the limited pool of clicks available form our competitors.
Activision is of course not the only culprit here. This sort of practice is followed by many publishers. And yes, sometimes MCV is the beneficiary, I admit that.
I remember once when a now defunct UK publisher was keen for MCV to cover the appointment of a new marketing manager. I sat down for what I thought was the telephone interview, that had taken a painful amount of negotiation to organise, only to discover that the chat was actually a pre-interview chat to nail down exactly what we would be talking about in the interview.
The interview was eventually organised. And was as tedious as expected. Then at the end I was told that I wouldn’t be able to go live with it for another two weeks.
"We want you guys to get the first bite of the cherry, to get the news out there and to get people excited. Then the day after you go live we’ll send the press release to other trade sites to build momentum and the following week we’ll send it to the rest of the specialist press."
Predictably, we were the only site that ran it. Presumably as a result both of the ludicrous way it was handled and the fact that no-one really cared.
In today’s modern media age the NDA is becoming increasingly outdated. The rush of information that accompanies 100 sites going live with information the moment an NDA breaks is beneficial to no-one.
Of course, if the press really wanted rid of this practice we’d refuse to cover any games or information protected by an NDAs. Perhaps if Activision had told us all that WSJ was getting special treatment a few of us might have torn up the agreement and left the Elite event right there and then.
But who’s going to do that? Gotta get dem clickety-clicks, innit.
So, the lesson to be learnt here. If you want to learn all sorts of exciting things about Call of Duty: Elite check out WSJ RIGHT NOW! The likes of Eurogamer and Kotaku have cleverly covered the WSJ story, meaning they’ve got some info up about it too without breaking the embargo. Smart.
And if by 14:00 you manage to maintain even the slightest lingering interest in the subject you can read about it here. But I’m not going to report anything until then even though it will cost me clicks. Why? Because it’s all bullshit.