Today, IGN posted a video showing off the impressive press kit sent to them by WB Games. It contained a large, seemingly heavy Batarang in a a very shiny box, with an LED screen built in that played the Arkham Origins trailer when turned on.
It is common practice in this industry for publishers to send reviewers extravagant gifts as a token of goodwill and fellowship, and also to buy delicious 10s out of 10.
Let me start by saying I'm not against the practice. I don't think it taints the integrity of a journalist to accept such a gift, if they are iron-willed enough to not let it sway their opinion. These doodads and whatchamacallits are just novelties that at least build hype not just among the press but the general public as well. It's nowhere near as venomous a tactic as posting mocked-up bullshots or blacklisting journalists who don't play ball, and receiving a nifty desk trophy is nowhere near as exciting as rubbing elbows with the talented people who make the games journalists report on.
So why am I vibrating with rage at the sight of this elaborate prop, if it's not a thinly disguised attempt to get the reviewer to sell their soul? Because the money spent on this could have been spent on making the game better.
Specifically, the Wii U version.
Doubly specifically, the online multiplayer cut from the Wii U version.
How much did each of these cost? With R&D, labor, materials, and shipping all packaged in, $100 seems like a conservative number. And they made a thousand of them. I realize that marketing is a huge part of why the triple AAA gaming industry is successful, and $100k probably wasn't even a tenth of their total marketing budget.
What irks me is that whoever is signing checks over at Warner Bros believes that marketing and review scores are so much more important than making games good. They see nothing wrong with intentionally gimping one version of the game in order to make one last marketing push.
Could $100k have paid for adding multiplayer into the Wii U version? Doubtful, but not impossible. Here's a better question: Could adding multiplayer into the Wii U version have done more for the game than trying to fiscally jerk off impressionable game reviewers? Absolutely.
Warner Bros may be scared by the Wii U's abysmal sales, and I don't blame them. They don't have to support the system but they have chosen to do so. They may think that Nintendo made a bad product and they don't feel responsible for saving it.
So who is to blame if and when the Wii U version of Arkahm Origins fails? Nintendo? Or the publisher who cut corners and have already sent their game out to die? When the sales reports come in, they'll point to their outrageous marketing, and their predictions and charts, and their magic 8-Ball and horoscope, saying they did everything right... so it couldn't possibly be their fault that a bad game didn't sell. Look at the Batarangs we made!