Atari on the brink: DRIV3R review scandal hits as massive shipment announced

Pivotal title dragged through the dirt: Must win for Atari

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Atari on the brink: DRIV3R review scandal hits as massive shipment announced
As DRIV3R is engulfed in a scandal that threatens two key sectors operating within the games industry, the French giant has reacted by announcing a massive retail shipping figure – claiming to have moved 2.5 million copies of the game to stores around the globe.

DRIV3R is the first game to have been accused with any strength, of having its review scores fixed by its publishers’ PR staff – a damaging blow to say the least.

The uproar even reached Future Publishing’s own games forum, prompting responses from the editors of two of its magazines. In a thread entitled, “DRIV3R Reviews. Were PSM2 and XBW Honest?” Nick Ellis, deputy Editor of Xbox World, stated, “I'd like to totally refute the suggestion that magazines, and specifically XBW, take bribes - monetary or otherwise - to inflate review scores. Sure we might get the odd T-shirt sent to us or a pint bought by a PR but never, in 4 years of working at Future, have I ever given a game an inflated score because a/ I've been ordered to or b/ I've been thrown a bung. Sure I've over marked games - 9/10 for MOH: Rising Sun in OPS2 I will freely admit was a grave error of judgement but an honest mistake.”

Fanning the flames of the row has been the matter of a small on-box sticker adorning the Xbox version advertising the magazine’s unusually high score. Ellis writes, “…the allegation that there is some grand conspiracy between ourselves and Atari - 'you give it a nine, we'll lob a sticker on the box and a page in the manual' - is again wrong. The sticker was agreed on only after the review had been written and sent to press.”

Ellis then moves on to claim that although the game may have been buggy upon release, the editorial team had no way of knowing this, as the review was written off the back of pre-release, non-final, code. “Because of the long lead times for magazines and the fact that it was an exclusive review, the code we reviewed from was not final. We were made aware of some bugs in the game and were promised that these would be sorted by the time of release. I cannot comment on whether these were fixed or not..." he states. As to whether magazines should be advising readers to buy products that cost £45 without ever seeing what those consumers will end up owning, is another matter entirely.

Indeed, in Future’s earlier days, the company used to make a major selling point of never reviewing unfinished games. Clearly, as the stakes have risen, the need to beat opponents to the press has taken precedence over these high ideals.

However, according to Ellis, over-inflated review scores are a wider problem than may have been thought, to the extent of naming another magazine, a review and its writer. “Can I point you in the direction of OXM's Shadow Ops review in their current issue? This is in no way a personal attack on Gavin Ogden but 8/10 is, in our opinion, a very, very high score for the game.”

As regular readers may be aware, the row erupted in May when a posting on SPOnG’s forums read, “The culprit right now is Atari with DRIV3R, with reports coming in today of demands for at least 9/10 score in exchange for early review code. Although the build with magazines at the moment is described as being “…two or three weeks away from being final,” it has not lived up to expectations with certain press contacts. However, in order to obtain the code, a score of nine has been demanded by Atari’s PR team.”

Given the date of this post, its detail and the resulting reviews in both Xbox World and PSM2, something of a scandal was always going to erupt. We contacted various staff at Future today for comment. With a discernible note of despair in his voice, Tim Weaver, XBW editor, declined to explain the situation.

However, if Future fails to extinguish the early flames of the scandal, the implications for the games magazine sector could be dire…

Atari declined to comment on the issue when contacted today.

In other news, Atari CEO Bruno Bonnell has claimed that the publisher has shipped 2.5 million copies of DRIV3R to retail. “The global Driver fan base is as robust and passionate as ever, as indicated by retail reaction in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, and other key territories,” he said. However, should the game fail to make the impact predicted by Atari in the medium term, the firm could well find itself in deep water.

DRIV3R has seen a massive marketing spend and huge development budget with the game taking far longer to come to market than anticipated. To then print up 2.5 million discs, whilst paying royalties to both Microsoft and Sony, with the great majority of stock shipped to retail on a sale-or-return basis is a massive cash risk – estimated to be well in excess of £30 million.

Complaints about the game being both formulaic and buggy, while not being as visually impressive as many people hoped, are now widespread. If DRIV3R fails to make good at retail the future for Atari, as it exists today, is may be bleak.

We’ll bring you updates in the coming days…
Companies:
Games: Driv3r

Comments

schnide 25 Jun 2004 15:52
1/10
"9/10 for MOH: Rising Sun in OPS2 I will freely admit was a grave error of judgement but an honest mistake"

An honest mistake? How did that happen then? "Hey this game is great and doesn't just fall apart after the first level where they blew all the development budget, let's give it 9/10! Oh hang on we've just gone to press and either a) played PAST the first level or b) realised we were actually play one of the original MOH games which WASN'T a steaming turdburger!"

It's about time that fixed scores are exposed and especially from the behemoth of guilt that is Future Publishing.
Joji 25 Jun 2004 15:58
2/10
Well I'm not surprised neither Atari doesn't wanna comment. This sort of thing needs to be sorted out. If this sort of thing was done in the film industry the public would never read film reviews again unless they can be sure the reviewer is telling the truth.

If this means some games mags folding then so be it, because the public had been deceived in such a way. We get enough of that rubbish from the MPs who supposedly run this country. Using unfinished code to base a review upon is misleading to say the least. If you can't get that exclusive, sell that magazine on something else. If thing get too sticky higher powers will hopefully act.

I'm sure anyone would rather read an honest review knowing that the reviewer had played the final code than something that isn't. Either this or perhaps mags should just say from the start "This review is based on unfinished code."
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SillySprout 25 Jun 2004 16:19
3/10
For anyone interested, the 40 page + topic which this article refers to can be found at http://forum.gamesradar.com/viewtopic.php?t=43524 . The guy who started the thread is a great fan of Spong, so I'm sure he'll be pleased to see it mentioned over here!
DoctorDee 25 Jun 2004 16:26
4/10
SillySprout wrote:

>For anyone interested, the 40 page + topic which
>this article refers to can be found at
>http://forum.gamesradar.com/viewtopic.php?t=43524
>. The guy who started the thread is a great fan
>of Spong, so I'm sure he'll be pleased to see it
>mentioned over here!

It's nice to know that SPOnG has fans on other forums. We often tend to get savaged for daring to report what people are saying. People seem to think that because we print something we are saying that it is going to happen. But what people thinkis going to happen is often as interesting as what actually does happen.
DoctorDee 25 Jun 2004 16:38
5/10
Joji wrote:

>Well I'm not surprised neither Atari doesn't
>wanna comment. This sort of thing needs to be
>sorted out. If this sort of thing was done in the
>film industry the public would never read film
>reviews again unless they can be sure the
>reviewer is telling the truth.

Thing is, films are DEEPLY subjective. I think Freedy Got Fingered is the worst movie ever made, John here in the office thinks that it is a masterpiece.

So film reviewers can defend almost ANY score they choose to give. In fact, you see it every week, some reviewers give a film a kicking, and others praise the same film highly.

While there is an element of subjectivity in games, there is a (very large) element that is not so subjective. Graphical quality, animation, pop-up, control method are all largely objective standards by which a game can be judged. So games reviewers have a much more difficult time justifying deeply subjective review scores. The fact that the magazines with the exclusives gave fawning scores to a game which the public seems far less impressed with is just too fishy for words.

Plus, with Driv3r in particular, it is easy to hold up the yardstick of originality, and point out that the game differs little from the previous versions. Thing is, if the game was gorgeous looking, I personally wouldn't give a damn if it was just Driver 2 in new locations. But it doesn't look that good. I bought the previous versions of Driver... and I was waiting eagerly for Driv3r... but I won't be buying it.
Alan is my first name 25 Jun 2004 22:35
6/10
I've never been a fan of the modern day Atari. To be sure, anyone who is affiliated with Titus can't be all that great. And I'm going to have to believe that if they are guilty of bribing other magazines, they obviously arn't going to come out and say, "Oh, hey. Got us! Good eye!"

This is probably an issue that many a magazines globablly are guilty of, and if it inflates any bigger by getting to the media's ear, this could be the next big game headline next to "Violence in videogames causes mass suicides!"
Brown Force 26 Jun 2004 17:09
7/10
I completly agree with that. Which is why this is my no1 Games news site.

As for the this subject. I think Atari and the magazines that game it 9/10 should definatly be ashamed and something should be done to shame them. And the same should be done to anyone who tries it as well (which would put EA in a tight spot)

Though I have to disagree with the Shadow Ops part. I truely belive the game deserves a 7 or a 8 out of 10. Alot of magazines (respectable ones included (GameTM)) have given it similar scores as well. So to name and shame OXM is a little unfair. The game isn't the best game out there, granted. But it is good and its fun. It doesn't try to do anything different. The Single player is awesome (which is rare for FPS) and the offline Multiplayer is amazing with a wide selection of game modes. And online good as well, if there were more people playing it.

At the end of the day, this as been happening for ages and will continue to happen for years to come. I can understand why Atari did it, they need Driv3r to suceed. But in a way they just shot there selves in the foot really, because not only did they release a disapointing buggy game...they have given their star Franchise and their own name a very bad repuation and a reputation that is going to be hard to shake off now. And they completly deserve it.
Goth Santa 1 Jul 2004 19:18
8/10
This type of thing actually has been done in the film industry. There was a big stink about in over here in the U.S. awhile back when it was found that one of the big movie distributors (I don't remember which one) had just made up critics to give them good reviews. They'd be quoting these people on various publicity things when these people didn't actually exist.

I used to write reviews for a gaming website (which no longer exists, thankfully), but I got the axe when I refused to pad my reviews of certain companies (my boss, who ran the site, flat-out told me he wanted to get more stuff from these people); he took the review I'd uploaded and changed the overall score anyway.

So, needless to say, I wouldn't be surprised. I guess Futures is a UK only mag? I've never seen any reference to them on the X-Box copies of Driv3r over here. It does seem odd that it'd get such a high review, though, considering the average from <a href="http://www.gamerankings.com">GameRankings</a> is only about 6/10.
DoctorDee 2 Jul 2004 09:50
9/10
Goth Santa wrote:

>So, needless to say, I wouldn't be surprised. I
>guess Futures is a UK only mag?

Future isn't a mag, it's the publishing company that publishes Official Playstation, EDGE and many other computer games titles. You would know them better as Imaging Media, the company who started (but do not now own - I think) IGN.

In the US they publish: PC Gamer, PSM, and Xbox Magazine (Official - USA)
Nomber 23 Jun 2008 22:35
10/10
DRIV3R was a completely unplayable game, I bought it cause it was on the discount rack for maybe 20 bucks, thought what the heck i'll give it a try. When you drive, you can't not spin out even when I would drive 20mph, the first level is a chase and as soon as you are more than 3 or 4 car lengths from the bad guys you fail the mission.
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