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Special Report
Eidos implicated in yet another 'review silencing' scandal...

It started with a message on Twitter.  Games journo Guy Cocker, reviewing Tomb Raider Underworld for Gamespot UK, posted just one sentence, sending waves of suspicion through much of the community.  The message was simply thus:

“Call from Eidos – if you’re planning on reviewing Tomb Raider Underworld at less than an 8.0, we need you to hold your review until Monday.”

Now then.  We all know about some of the shockingly manipulative behaviour that goes on in the journalism game, but it’s always disappointing to see this sort of thing.  But it gets worse.  When popular games blog Videogaming247 picked up on this message, they contacted Eidos’ UK press representative, Barrington Harvey PR, to ask what was going on.

A spokesperson of BHPR – who, we must stress, are far from being the baddies here – responded with this:

“We’re trying to manage the review scores at the request of Eidos.  We’re trying to get the Metacritic (media score aggregate website) rating to be high, and the brand manager in the US that’s handling all of Tomb Raider has asked that we just manage the scores before the game is out, really, just to ensure that we don’t put people off buying the game, basically.”

"...Eurogamer's 7/10 review had 'caused problems'..."

The spokesperson admitted that Eurogamer’s early posting of a 7/10 review had “caused problems.”

If this is the case – and we must stress that both Eidos and BHPR officially refute the claim – then it’s not on at all.  Asking for all reviews to be held back is one thing, but asking that critics only post overwhelmingly positive reviews until the week after release is ridiculous.  It’s a flagrant attempt at censorship, albeit for a limited period of time.  If publications bow down to the pressure, it renders their critical response pointless, or at least devalues the needs of a readership who are excited to read professional opinions as soon as possible.  If they don’t comply, they risk putting their essential relationships with publishers on the line.  It’s a no-win situation.

Hastily, PR Director Simon Byron released the company’s official statement on the issue.

“Barrington Harvey is not in the position of telling reviewers what they can and cannot say. We love Tomb Raider and believe it merits a score of at least 8/10, but if someone disagrees that’s entirely their prerogative. No problem at all. Seriously: no problem.

Our original NDA stated that in order to receive an advance copy of the game, reviewers agreed not to post reviews ahead of 5:00pm, Wednesday 19th November 2008. Nothing else. No further obligations whatsoever.

As you can clearly see from the scores posted so far, Barrington Harvey has no issue with scores of below eight out of 10 being posted online. The Eurogamer review in questions
[sic] caused “problems” in so much as it originally contained a couple of minor factual inaccuracies which, to its credit, the site has quickly rectified and addressed (without, quite rightly, changing the context of the review).

Any site, be it Gamespot or whoever, is entirely within their rights to post whatever score they want and no-one is under any sort of obligation to delay any review.”

But the statement goes on to confirm that…

“Barrington Harvey has been working hard to ensure the launch scores of Tomb Raider Underworld are in line with our internal review predictions over the launch weekend.”

This left us a little confused.  If Eidos and Barrington Harvey had not asked for the delay of any negative press, then how exactly had they been working together to ensure the game hit its review targets?  We posed this question to a Barrington Harvey representative, who refused to comment, instead reiterating the very statement we were querying.  Understandable – we would imagine that Eidos may have had some stern words with their PR reps about speaking out of turn.

What’s really worrying is the possibility that Eidos had a different plan all along.  Surely they know the importance to the press of publishing reviews as early as possible.  Suggestions are now rife that Eidos hoped reviewers would up their scores a mark or two, just to ensure their copy could go to press at the desired time.  It’s another claim that both companies involved deny, but it’s a scary prospect.

"...we're trying to manage the review scores at the request of Eidos..."
- unnamed Barrington Harvey PR representative

This isn’t the first time Eidos has been implicated in such a scandal.  It’s almost exactly a year since the publisher was alleged to have put pressure on Gamespot to alter their official word on Kane & Lynch, pressure which many suggested led to the dismissal of Editorial Director Jeff Gerstmann.  Gamespot confirmed that Eidos had lodged a complaint about the review, which was quickly altered to read somewhat more positively, although the score remained the same.  Both Eidos and Gamespot, however, denied that publisher pressure was behind the alterations, citing the reason as the need for more cohesion between text and score – and Gamespot continues to assure its readers that Gerstmann was dismissed as a result of an entirely unrelated matter.  A clause in Gerstmann’s contract prevented him from detailing the circumstances surrounding his departure.

As it happens, problems with availability of review code prevent us from appraising Tomb Raider Underworld at all this issue, and as such we didn’t receive any pressure from either Barrington Harvey or Eidos.  However, with it being our first issue, let’s set a precedent: any words or ratings you read in Resolution are entirely formed of our own opinions, never as a result of external pressure or manipulation.  We simply value our integrity too much.

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