A few days ago I bought Assassin's Creed: Unity just hours before it was officially released. The series is something of a guilty pleasure of mine; I've been a loyal, day-one customer since Brotherhood. I'm not going to claim that they revolutionized anything, but I enjoy the gameplay and getting to wander around historical cities feeds my inner history-nerd. Alas, I ignored the media commenting on the review "embargo" on Unity, which as I gather eventually caused Kotaku to adopt a "no embargos" policy to their reviews. I wish I hadn't ignored them.
To be fair, there are a limited number of good reasons for a review embargo. If you're releasing an online only game that relies on having a large number of players (Planetside 2, or most MMOs, for example) for it's core gameplay to function that is perfectly legitimate, though one could argue that the reviewers could experience that during beta. Still, that is one excuse I can accept. That's about it though.
But when it comes to a mostly single-player game, there's really no solid reason. Make no mistake, despite it's touted co-op component, AC: Unity is essentially a single player game. The co-op missions are essentially side quests. This is no MMO where people are expected to drop into your experience on the fly; you decide when these happen. Unity had no need for large numbers of online players for a reviewer to get the majority of the experience.
Unity wanted an embargo for one of the bad reasons, and there are many. In Unity's case, the embargo ended 12 hours after release. 12 hours after CD keys were entered, copies registered, packages shipped. 12 hours after it became inconvenient or impossible for a buyer to seek a refund. Even if there was no sinister intent, it makes one wonder if this was a means to try and prevent reviews from disclosing the bugs, poor optimization, or other flaws prior to people being locked into their purchase. If I had known about the poor FPS ahead of time (the few snippets I saw said nothing of it) I likely wouldn't have purchased it. Now I'm stuck with a game that is playable, but poorly so. Much as I would like to give the benefit of the doubt, there is no way that Ubisoft was unaware of the game's optimization issues and bugs. Whether their choice to let it release in state and request that reviews be delayed was sinister or optimistic, it still frustrated at least this consumer.*
There are simply too many bad reasons for an embargo that it is too difficult to believe that one was implemented for one of the good. Even if you are doing it for an entirely legitimate reason, it's going to make your customer uneasy. Just like when someone won't give you a clear answer to a question about their weekend plans; it makes you wonder what they might be hiding. Even if that answer turns out to be a surprise party for you, you still went in skeptical.
Suffice to say, it's killed what trust I had in the company, and affirmed my wariness any time reviewers mention an "embargo" to the point that I think the word would immediately render a game a "don't buy" for me. At the very least I can say I won't be pre-ordering again, bonuses be damned.
*Consumer "feelings" are the basis of most marketing and even branding, and are incredibly important for your product. A good product that consumers don't feel good about will do poorly. It may sound silly, but the importance of the consumer to be able to choose based on how they feel about a brand is basically the foundation of modern trademark law.