Frank O'Connor doesn't like people breaking embargoes, and after notorious industry tipster CBOAT's (crazy buttocks on a train) playful little Guardians of the Galaxy-assisted nod to the reveal of Halo 5: Guardians, O'Connor has been fuming. On NeoGAF, CBOAT (also responsible for swathes of rumoured leaked info in the run up to the Xbox One and PS4 reveals last year -- some of it accurate, some of it not so accurate) has been amusingly venerated as something of a prophet for some time. This is NeoGAF, mind, their ordination ceremonies are fairly unofficial.
O'Connor, however, is less keen for such leaking swine to be hero worshipped in such a manner, and took to NeoGAF under his forum ID "Stinkles" to deliver a polemic outlining the damage leakers do:
Breaking embargos is not prophesy. Nor does it require any particular skill or insight. Ultimately he is taking or being given information and leaking it, illegally and often erroneously. And he isn't doing it for some noble or worthy reason. He's doing it for attention.
People, including nice people with kids and families and stuff, work super hard on this stuff and wake up in the morning to find some of their effort blown up. It's not fun, and for what? So you can have a mildly interesting surprise 8 hours early and lacking context? Or get hyped or disappointed disproportionately? Or get someone fired or someone innocent yelled at?
Ok. But it isn't prophecy, nor ultimately even important. It's annoying.
It's not hard to sympathise with O'Connor's sentiments to a certain degree. When you're beavering away on something, any kind of project that has you excited, large or small, you want to be the first one to tell people about it. After the blood, sweat, and tears of getting a project off of the ground, surely as a creator you want to be the first one to relay the message and start getting the word out. To have such an opportunity taken away from you is galling, particularly in the run-up to the world's biggest games expo.
Embargoes serve a purpose in the games industry -- information embargoes allow companies to ready themselves for the public eye. First impressions are absolutely key, and the fact is that the internet can be a home to a hysterical audience. Any information, if it isn't successfully presented (and sometimes even when it is) is always twisted and moulded and torn apart and frequently bastardised as soon as it is released. Once out in the open, there's no real way of controlling it, and so strict NDAs reign supreme, ensuring that everything is just so.
As a gamer, leaks are a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, they stand to ruin the sort of big surprises and jaw-dropping reveals that you get at shows such as E3 and Gamescom and, alas, the VGAs. Stealing the thunder out from under the noses of the folks who've actually been working on these projects is something of a low blow. However, outside of convention season, the year is frequently just a swathe of press releases and archaic methods of information distribution. Video bulletins such as Nintendo Direct, and attempts to create viral shorts that grab the attention and the imagination are perhaps pointing a road ahead, but we like to talk and debate and pick sides and argue and chronicle and critique. We always have. Leaks at least give us something to talk about and ruminate upon. Rumours can be infuriating, but they allows us to at least get stuck into debates around what might be possible. And though there will always be weary comments protesting such speculation, you'll notice that the people who leave those still find the time to put their opinion across.
As a critic/journalist/blogger/media entity, embargoes are only really useful as a means of parity. They are designed by publishers, particularly for reviews, to concentrate as much information and reaction and keywords into a precise window of release, or perhaps in the case of games that aren't guaranteed nines and tens to hold back the tide. You'll see sites rushing to hit early ones and scuppering the quality of their reviews, and you'll see late drops held back to avoid negative press ahead of launch. The unfortunate balance of power means that most sites are held in check out of fear -- break the embargo and you'll find yourself out of the succour-stuffed PR loop, and cut from event mailing lists.
Embargoes are a means of control. The question is, has it gone too far?
The rumour mill can be a destructive thing, certainly. Whispers and gossip and conjecture and, sometimes, bare-faced lies frequently reign supreme. Sometimes "leaks" are completely, usefully deliberate. sometimes they're catastrophically unfortunate. Unsubstantiated information breeds an uncomfortable ambivalence of anxiety and caution and excitement and paranoia. Of course, hit-oriented media sites, large and small and us included, don't really help matters. We check with our sources, stick"RUMOUR" or "REPORT" on the front of a news story, use words like "allegedly" and "mabes" and that makes everything okay.
But this isn't secret information really, not insofar as Halo 5: Guardians is a thing. The press release that followed the game's "reveal" was astonishingly devoid of anything meaningful. This wasn't a hack, or corporate espionage, or stolen information. Most of the time, the information just flobbles out of the company responsible for the game/hardware in question. The fact is that developers are more in touch with their consumer base than ever before. You look at initiatives like Kickstarter and Early Access and even things like dev spots on the PlayStation Blog, Reddit AMAs, the importance of social media streams for studios huge and tiny, and it's clear to see that once again big business is lagging behind.
There's something to be said for being open and honest and accessible with/to your community, and actually some of the biggest games are already doing that too. WildStar. Star Citizen. Destiny. Bungie has, for years, been a shining example of a top-tier developer, a triple-A developer for years and years, that talks to its community. We're moving away from secrets that only get shared once or twice a year in L.A. or Cologne to a more open future for this industry. The impatience of the gaming audience is perhaps lamentable. We want to know things straight away, and that's not necessarily a good thing. But that's not going to change. As gamers, we have greater access to the processes behind development than ever before, and direct lines via community sites, social media, podcasts, blogs, vlogs, dev diaries, and much more to the creators of the experiences that we love.
And that's the thing, as much as I can sympathise with O'Connor and his team, the old-school approach lends itself to leaks, and there's clearly an audience for this information. This goes for all of the big companies and platform holders, but perhaps Microsoft especially, if you attempt to cultivate an atmosphere of secrecy, people will naturally try to bust those secrets wide open. The fact is that times are changing, and this is a difficult thing to balance. Development periods are fraught with twists and turns -- circumstances arise, games change, and so being inconsistent in your openness can be a disaster (*cough* Watch Dogs). But something has to change -- the distance and the barrier between developers and consumers grows thinner by the day, and the fact is that enormous reveals preceded by silence don't exist any more.
You can choose to comment on rumour and speculation, Mr. O'Connor, or you can stop whining about it. Because it's not going away unless you shake things up.