NDA: Mostly For Bad Reviews

Posted by Daeity On Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Anyone getting the impression that the SWTOR Beta NDA isn't going to be lifted until just a couple weeks before retail or maybe even not at all? (ie, once retail hits, then everyone is free to post their reviews.)

I always figured that NDA's were probably lifted late, on purpose, if the developer/publisher knew that the reviews might do poorly. And companies like Blizzard that make great games would typically lift their NDAs much longer before the actual release date.

So, I looked back at some of the major releases over the past few years for comparison:

Age of Conan - NDA lifted May 1 2008, Released May 20 2008 (PVP specific NDA was lifted on Apr 19, but the General/Technical beta remained intact.)
RIFT - NDA lifted Dec 22 2010, Released Mar 1 2011
Earthrise - NDA lifted Jan 25, Released Feb 4 2011
Warhammer Online - NDA lifted Aug 19 2008, Released Sep 18 2008
Hellgate London - NDA lifted Oct 19 2007, Released Oct 31 2007
Matrix Online - NDA lifted Feb 14 2005, Released Mar 22 2005
Tabula Rasa - NDA lifted Sep 7 2007, Released Nov 2 2007 (Early Rls: Oct 30 2007)
Darkfall Online - NDA lifted Feb 18, 2009, Released Feb 25, 2009
DC Universe Online - NDA lifted Dec 6 2010, Released Jan 11 2011
Fallen Earth - NDA lifted Aug 18 2009, Released Sep 22 2009
Champions Online - NDA lifted Aug 17, 2009, Released Sep 1 2009
COD Elite - NDA lifted Aug 16 2011, Released Nov 8 2011
Cataclysm - NDA lifted Jun 30 2010, Released Dec 7 2010
Wrath of the Lich King - NDA lifted Jul 18 2008, Released Nov 13 2008
Starcraft 2 - NDA lifted Aug 17 2009, Released Jul 27 2010
DOTA 2 - NDA lifted Sep 22 2011, TBA 2012 Release Date
Diablo 3 - NDA lifted Aug 1 2011, TBA 2012 Release Date

(I would have liked to include Aion Online, but that game had multiple release dates, name changes, and NDAs for different geographies and it was just too weird.)

Are you beginning to see a pattern? Games that have done poorly (bad reviews) typically had very short periods of time between NDA lift and release (1 month or less). Average games would be about 2 months. And games that the publisher knew would do very well have their NDAs lifted 6+ months in advance.

NDA vs Release Date timing is a very good indicator of how much trust a company has in their game and a good determining factor of success.

It's sort of like preview trailers. If they show more pre-rendered videos and bullet point features than actual gameplay, it's not a very good sign.

If you can think of any other online or MMO games to add to the list, let me know.