Talking Point: Pokémon X & Y's Grand Global Release Plan Has, Sadly, Been Undermined

Leaks, ruthless retailers and impatient gamers suck away intended magic

The excitement was undeniable when Satoru Iwata, in a Nintendo Direct broadcast, announced Pokémon X & Y and confirmed that it would have a global release date. That's almost upon us, 12th October, meaning that aside from time zone differences 3DS gamers around the world will get their hands on either or both of these titles at the same time, experiencing the new 'mon, evolutions and features with millions of others. The potential for excitable chatter with friends around the world, on forums and social networks, brings to mind a perfect storm of hype and wish fulfilment.

That'll still happen, to a degree, but the efforts of Nintendo and The Pokémon Company to control and manage the information revealed has been somewhat spoiled in recent days and weeks, as over-eager — perhaps even cynical — individuals with early access have either accidentally or deliberately flouted embargoes and requests in order to share anything and everything they desire. Of course absorbing this information on the web is entirely optional, but it seems a pity that some will be unable to resist the urge and, in the process, spoil surprises that the game creators perhaps hoped you'd discover after hours of questing.

Before we delve off into specifics, it's worth acknowledging that keeping games and secrets under wraps has been a problem throughout the history of the games industry. For one thing, releases are rarely perfectly aligned, meaning that gamers in one region may take to Twitter to blab about a title before it even arrives elsewhere in the world. In the pre-Twitter days of the '80s and '90s Europe was the butt of the worst release scheduling failures, often waiting months, not days, for some major releases. Oddly for Nintendo gamers, in some instances the reverse has been true in 2013, with some major releases hitting Europe weeks ahead of North America, an odd state of affairs that has led to us posting EU reviews for games over a month away from Nintendo's most lucrative market.

In the case of scattered releases across regions, websites with a global team naturally get caught up talking about games that are barely yet on the radar of other territories; an unavoidable circumstance. Our level of surprise in a game is often in the hands of publishers themselves, of course, with some opting to practically give up the whole game to build hype. In terms of the roles of websites such as Nintendo Life, as a place designed for enthusiasts we generally lap up and share what's officially released, occasionally slapping a spoiler warning in a post if we feel a particular video flirts with revealing too much. Some in our community may not always like the level of content we share on upcoming games, of course, preferring to see less before the discs nestles in their consoles, but it's a tricky balancing act in terms of sharing the information that many do want to know.

There are tricky scenarios, too. We just posted a video of the first 30 minutes of Monster Hunter 4. Some will naturally feel we're spoiling that game, yet our text gives little away and people can ultimately ignore the video. It's a title also burning up the charts in Japan, so we're not showing a game that's not yet on the market, just one that Capcom may take an age to localise. We have a Japanese 3DS that can capture footage and couldn't help ourselves, a theme we'll return to.

There's also the issue of embargoes occasionally being a source of frustration. We are often held to NDAs (non disclosure agreements) and embargoes, and on occasion we may not agree with the dates or details of these rules. It's a mutual relationship, however; if a company entrusts you with advance copies on the proviso that you exclude certain details before and even in the final review, that's what happens. If we feel strongly enough that the list of excluded details went too far and prevented us from painting a full picture (in words, not the actual score), we may wait for the restriction to drop before sharing more — that's rare, but something we did with Kid Icarus: Uprising and a follow-up article.

With that last point in mind you may feel our stance with the X & Y leaks that have flooded the web will be "that's great, share the info!". But with a franchise as sizeable as this, which also has the ability to cause huge excitement with something as simple as a new evolution, we wonder whether the desire to know more has spoiled some of the anticipation of the actual event. It's been clear, with the regular frequency of reveals, that Nintendo and The Pokémon Company has carefully structured what they've revealed, enough to emphasize new content but clearly holding a lot back.

That's something that Nintendo has been vigorously defending, too, placing various restrictions on what could and could not be discussed in reviews — chances are that if you're wondering about the absence of comment on some features in our Pokémon X & Y review, we may be observing embargo details. The company has been actively hunting down leaks or slip-ups, too, trying to keep unannounced areas of the game, 'mon and evolutions out of the public eye. With the speed of the web, however, some will share these details regardless, and stopping every leak has proven an exercise in futility. For our part we've endeavoured to stick to official reveals and, when appropriate, details from Japanese media such as CoroCoro and others.

With the releases getting closer, however, the leaks will go into overdrive and go, in truth, beyond Nintendo's hands. Excitable tweets are appearing from those confirming that their pre-orders were shipped as early as 8th October, which means retailers are breaking the street date — unless they're having the games delivered by horse and carriage for 12th October. Copies will arrive early with consumers, depending on the lucky dip of their retailer of choice, and these gamers will not be under any restrictions. This happened with Grand Theft Auto V and Amazon, leading Rockstar on a merry dance of trying to take down YouTube footage that appeared early. Capturing 3DS footage isn't quite so simple, though anyone can point a camera at the system.

In a sense we're wailing against a brick wall, as these are inescapable realities of modern video gaming culture. There are few secrets to be discovered at our own speed nowadays, with social networks screaming spoilers and the web being packed with details. Yet that seems a pity, especially as it's our human nature to drop resistance and click on that video walkthrough of a new game; once it's seen the moment is gone, however, a game's twist or surprise nothing but another so-so moment. You can only have one mind-blowing reveal with a special scene in an experience, and then it's never the same.

We can't beat it, but we will bemoan it. We live in a culture where even when game creators want us to discover some things for ourselves, perhaps by introducing a worldwide release date and chasing down leaks, something or other will ruin it. Details will leak, and we'll swivel our eyes towards them while simultaneously trying to cover them. We're aware of the contradictions at work within ourselves, too, balancing the desire to share Monster Hunter 4 footage from our Japanese 3DS while, conversely, aiming to keep the reveals as optional and easy to ignore for our readers as possible. In the case of X & Y, the difference is that there was an attempt to bring gamers into the experience at the same time with a global release, an effort that will be wasted for some. To say Capcom isn't doing the same is an understatement.

We hope you're avoiding the worst of the unofficial leaks and reveals ahead of launch day, and that you'll stay strong and discover some secrets for yourselves. In an age where we're all wannabe game creators, and an era where fans can petulantly jump up and down to demand and receive a new ending — yes, that's you, Mass Effect 3 protesters — it'd be nice if, when playing X or Y, you can trust Game Freak and find something that the developers put there to make you smile, without having read about it or seen a video a week before.