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…