Non-disclosure agreements hurt games reporting

Image credit: The Penny-Arcade Report (from a related post you should read!)

The press can’t tell you that Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flags is the next title in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise because they’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement with the publisher to keep quiet. They did not, however, sign a contract to avoid thoroughly reporting on the images and information that leaked out on Tuesday.

First, MCV Tweeted last Tuesday that it was invited to an Assassin’s Creed event.

Then, Kotaku got the ball rolling. Slyly titled, “Assassin’s Creed IV Is All About Pirates, According To This Poster,” the post presents an image of what looks like a promotional poster for an “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag,” provided by an anonymous tipster. The tipster says the poster will appear on store walls Monday, March 4. Kotaku cites the last Ubisoft earnings call when CEO Yves Guillemot said another Assassin’s Creed game will launch in the company’s fiscal 2014, and the Reddit post where a user caught a glimpse of a powerpoint presentation that read the game will launch holiday 2013.

Examiner, an outlet who recently made an egregious mistake in its reporting on this very topic, posted a screenshot of what it believes to be of the game, along with more information, this time with no source. It’s difficult to believe a site that couldn’t perform a simple Google search about an image from a comic book, but by then, it was becoming obvious the smoke was coming from somewhere. According to the post, Ubisoft Montreal’s Darby McDevitt is lead scriptwriter on Assassin’s Creed 4, the new protagonist is named Edward Kenway, the game is set in the Caribbean, and while it’s running on an Xbox 360 now, it will appear on the PlayStation 4 and the next Xbox as well (note: I later found that McDevitt’s LinkedIn profile lists an unannounced game under his role as lead scriptwriter for Ubisoft Montreal). That’s quite a bit of information with no source. Something’s going on here.

Then, IGN published this report on Kotaku’s poster leak. It repeats everything the Kotaku post had, except for one thing: “The poster, illustrated by Todd McFarlane, also clearly showcases a new assassin in a pirate-themed era.” The lack of a source as to where it learned McFarlane did the poster is one thing, but it never mentions McFarlane has been involved with Assassin’s Creed before. His toy company McFarlane Toys, helped create a series of Assassin’s Creed 3 figurines. It’s IGN’s job to report information readers should know. Oops?

As the news broke, I stumbled upon a Polish website (translated with Google Translate) that said the press embargo for Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag lifts Monday, March 4, the same date Kotaku’s tipster mentioned. If true, it would line up well with MCV’s earlier Tweet. Hmm.

It wasn’t clear until more than a few members of the press complained about embargoes, and vaguely commented on the leaked information on Twitter. Most of them can’t say anything until March 4. NDAs suck, but a lot of the time they are the only way to see a game early. I can’t fault the outlets for that. But what I can fault them is for writing vague reporting on the subject, doing their readers a disservice.

This is a perfect case for why embargoes hurt reporting. I don’t know if reporters are afraid of breaching the contract, or simply lazy, but I’d like to think many of them are better at their job than what today’s Assassin’s Creed posts show.