Assassins’ Creed III, the biggest video game ever produced in Canada, is officially out and the reviews are generally positive. What you probably won’t see for a few days, however, are any Canadian reviews of the game.
According to a spokesperson for Ubisoft, “production issues in Canada” prevented the company from sending out advance review copies to journalists here. Journalists in the United States and Europe didn’t have such problems, with many outlets having reviews ready to go once the embargo lifted on Tuesday afternoon.
U.S. site Polygon even went so far as to disclose that its reviewers got several copies, as well as special sessions with other journalists that allowed for testing of the game’s multiplayer modes:
Assassin’s Creed 3′s campaign was reviewed on Xbox 360 debug and retail copies of the game provided by Ubisoft. Multiplayer was reviewed during scheduled sessions with developers and other press organized by Ubisoft.
Debug copies, for those who don’t know, are pre-release versions of the game that require specially modified consoles to play. They’re often sent to trusted journalists weeks ahead of a game’s wide release. To the best of my knowledge, no Canadian journalists got debug copies of Assassin’s Creed III. I requested one several times while working on my feature for Report on Business magazine, which delved into the making of the game, and each time was told, “We’ll see closer to launch.”
Having early copies of games is essential to covering them, since the majority of reader traffic comes in the first few days of release, if not launch day itself. With games such as those in the Assassin’s Creed series, which can take 40 or more hours to play and complete, having copies as far in advance as possible is the only way for outlets to cash in on that traffic. Posting a review days or even a week later, as Canadian outlets are likely to do now (if at all), misses out on that, which has advertising repercussions.
I’ve written before about how games coverage in Canada is suffering from a holistic problem. Part of the issue is this sort of oversight and preferential treatment from publishers. Some are better than others, but many go out of their way to favour U.S. publications while giving Canadians short shrift. To be fair, Ubisoft has – in my experience – generally done a good job in the past of sending games out in a relatively timely fashion. But with a game the scale of Assassin’s Creed III and the demand from reviewers for it, it clearly looks like Canadians ended up on the wrong end of some selectiveness.
This sort of thing is common in the larger technology world and understandable to some extent, given our smaller market, but it’s not as excusable with video games since many of the publishers employ hundreds or thousands of people here to actually make those products. If we’re good enough to make them, publishers should be good enough to shell out the pennies per disc it costs them to ensure that we can review them too.
UPDATE: Ubisoft spokesman Jeyson Acevedo got in touch with the following comments:
“The U.S and Canada have their own PR/marketing teams and strategies can differ. Also, U.S. media have debugs which isn’t always the case for Canadian media. Various logistic/unpredictable issues prevented us to supply early debug codes for the few Canadian folks with debugs. I was in discussions with our different teams in order to find an adequate solution but nothing was enough. I always make sure Canadian media get what they need. I made it my mantra since I took over PR for Ubi. And we sincerely apologize.”