About Review Keys and Embargoes!

Today I wanted to talk about a topic that is somewhat related to blogging but also streaming and all of that stuff: Embargoes. I first stumbled across this term when I received a request for coverage for a game quite a while ago. I was handed a review key or build to play a bit earlier and in the e-mail, the publisher mentioned an embargo. I haven’t heard of the term before that and hence didn’t know about it, so I naturally asked and was told that I basically can’t write about it until a specific time and date. So, an embargo is basically an agreement like that: You get early access to this game or product and get to use it, play it, prepare content for it… but you can’t write about it until the embargo date. If you break it… there aren’t any legal consequences for it, usually, since you don’t have an actual contract or anything… but since it’s on a trust basis, developers and publishers won’t trust you. Breaking an embargo means that these devs, publishers, and other people in the video game industry won’t hand you (or potentially even other streamers, bloggers, and other content creators) copies beforehand, which sucks for various reasons.

The main thing here is that it’s all about trust but there are also times where money is involved and due to that, embargo breakers can get sued as well.

As for the question of why embargoes exist, it’s a bit tricky. Generally, journalists want to get the first scoop on information about new releases, gameplay, gameplay footage, release dates, etc. When you get to it first, you end up with lots of traffic because there aren’t many other sites out there that cover the news that you found (yet). The first person to write about it generally gets the most traffic which on bigger sites translates into revenue due to ads and all of that. Now, when a publisher hands out a review copy with no embargo on it, a lot of people may end up not even playing it to get the news, articles, blog posts, etc. out there as soon as possible. This may result in the game’s coverage being misleading and it may lead to misinformation being spread. When people then pre-order the game and notice that the game isn’t an Open-World game or that it isn’t this or that, they get angry and feel scammed. Publishers and Developers don’t want to hand out refunds and a lot of the devs want to actually make people happy (at least in my head), journalists want to get the first scoop. This is where embargoes come in! Because of embargoes the publisher or developer can level out the playing field and effectively give out lots of review copies for streamers, YouTubers, journalists, etc. so that they can cover it. Usually, people get these copies two weeks before release – sometimes even sooner. Because of that, they have more time to play the game and don’t have to rush articles full of mistakes, misinformation, lies, etc. out to the public. Because everyone gets the same chance, they can then publish the post exactly on that specific date at that specific time. This leads to everyone involved in getting potentially the first scoop on things or potentially gaining a lot of traffic. It also generates a lot of publicity for the publishers and developers because a lot of news outlets end up writing about it. I guess it’s less about misinformation and more about traffic anyway… but still, embargoes are important. They’re not there to scam the player base or something like that.

Now, as far as embargoes go, there are a lot of different ones. For example, some publishers allow specific types of content to be published before a specific date. You may, for example, stream or record footage and upload it somewhere but you can’t write a graded review. Other times, I’ve seen people say that I can publish written and graded content before the release date, but I can’t stream or record it until afterwards (probably because of spoilers). Either way, it’s important that you take a good look or two at what exactly the publisher, developer, or PR person there wants from you. When are you allowed to publish what kind of content? What date exactly? What time exactly? What counts as a graded review? Read through your content before that! If something’s not clear, ask them about it and they’ll answer it. For my Lamentum Review, I got early access to the game in the form of a review key but the game was embargoed for August 23rd. There was no time specified and since I’m in CEST, I wasn’t exactly sure if 9 AM my time was too early or perfectly fine so I asked and… the publisher pretty quickly confirmed that I had to wait until 10 am PST or rather 7 PM CEST. I could have very easily broken the embargo (even if it’s just by a few hours) if I hadn’t asked about the time.

Last but not least, it’s somewhat important that you specify that it’s a review key sent by the publisher, developer, or someone like that when you publish content. Many streamers don’t actually know that you have to put “Review Key” in the title of the stream or visible somewhere on the screen as the game key counts as a Sponsorship, in a way. Even if you didn’t get money for streaming it, you need to mention it. Twitch’s Terms of Service (that you have to abide by) state that you need to follow the FTC guidelines. They specified in 2017 that influencers, streamers, content creators, etc. need to specify that with #ad #reviewkey or stuff like that in the stream title or by mentioning it. It needs to be clear that you didn’t pay for this game. Sure, my opinion may not change on a game, whether I received it for free or not, but that doesn’t matter as my readers and viewers need to know that I got the key for free. That may change their opinion on my written, recorded or streamed content, after all! 

I know that that last point doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with embargoes but I find it still rather important to know especially within the content. Many streamers do have a business e-mail and may receive keys, goodies, etc. for free. That stuff needs to get disclosed.

I hope that this post on embargoes and that sorta stuff was helpful in clearing up what the term means and why it’s a thing. Personally, I think it’s a good thing because of how it benefits everyone a little bit: Journalists get traffic, Games get promoted, and Readers get good info. WIN-WIN-WIN! I hate it when people break embargoes. It’s just a scummy move. If you have any other questions, feel free to let me know below in the comments. I did quite a bit of research on the topic and even asked some publishers about it because I figured it’s an important subject… and in the end, not everything made it into the post either but I think I covered most of the broader stuff. Even if this post is more informational, I hope you enjoyed this one. 


This post was first published on Indiecator by Dan Indiecator aka MagiWasTaken. If you like what you see here and want to see more, you can check me out on Twitch and YouTube as well. If you find this post on a website other than Indiecator.org, please write an e-mail to me. Thank you!

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