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What Death Stranding’s Unusual Review Embargo Really Means

Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:11 PM
Thomas Bardwell
Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:11 PM

With the unusual news that the Death Stranding review embargo will lift on Nov. 1, a full week before launch, there’s a sense that Sony is bullish about the prospects of Hideo Kojima’s next game.

An Unusual Embargo for a AAA Title

A week is a long time in the world of AAA video game embargoes.

Embargoes are a strange beast. They safeguard the hype and momentum going up to release, while simultaneously leaving consumers in the dark, sometimes until the last possible moment.

There’s also a perception that embargoes are innately anti-consumer. They allow publishers to control the flow of information, curate a narrative, and frame the game in an appealing light, although it might, in reality, be a dud. More often than not, the later the embargo, the more likely a developer has qualms about the overall quality of the title.

Most games bank the most cash at launch, with a steady decline in sales as time wears on, so there’s a real incentive to push back reviews as close as possible to release to mitigate the effects of bad press.

Death Stranding Rollout Defies Convention

Take one of this year’s biggest releases, Borderlands 3. Gearbox and 2K stymied reviews until four days before release , which most consider early. The perception was that Gearbox was confident enough in the game to allow potential players to read reviews despite enough time to smother pre-orders and day-one sales.

With a much shorter embargo, we have From Software’s latest effort, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. The embargo lifted a mere day before release . The same was seen with Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption 2  when it launched on console last October.

Publishers even lift embargoes after a game’s release, as was the case with Ubisoft’s disastrous Assassin’s Creed Unity. The embargo dropped five hours after the game’s launch.

In comparison to Death Stranding, the usual embargo-to-release gap feels almost overly cautious. It appears Sony and Kojima are confident enough in the game to defy convention and go against the grain. Whether this rests on verifiable in-game quality or brazen overconfidence, we won’t know until Nov. 1.

Death Stranding - Is Sony's Early Embargo Lift Bullish?
Sony and Kojima don’t seem worried about Death Stranding reviews. | Source: Death Stranding/Kojima Productions

Bound for Success, Whatever Happens

A loyal horde of almost sycophantic fans – rightly or wrongly – buying into the auteur mystic that revolves around Hideo Kojima near enough guarantee sales are unlikely to be catastrophically bad even if reviews are of the scathing variety.

The fact that Death Stranding basks in intrigue, even this close to launch, will serve well in terms of sales too. The well-oiled hype machine and claims of innovation through the establishment of a brand new gaming “strand” genre should attract curious gamers in droves.

The position is a unique one in that the game will be divisive, whether it’s perceived as good or bad by consensus, jeopardizing the very idea of an objective review.

Regardless of where the gavel lands on Nov. 1, Death Stranding might be too big to fail, and Sony knows it.