“How to do Games Journalism: Requesting Game Review Copies”

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“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
-Benjamin Franklin

 

 

Hello, NPCs! We’ve an informative treat prepared for you today!

Recently we’ve taken some strides toward games journalism with talk of a new vision for the future, making an impact on the current status of conversation, and acquiring press copies of games for review. I recently had the pleasure of playing and critiquing a press copy of SteamWorld Dig 2 courtesy of Image & Form Games, for which I’m very thankful.

However, navigating the world of games journalism and trying to step into it from the outside can be confusing and intimidating. How does one go about requesting for games and presenting oneself in a professional manner? Well I recently had a sit down with one of my great friends here at WordPress, Cheap Boss Attack, who has been working together with publishers and developers reviewing their games for years. With other impressive credentials, CBA is a true source of wisdom and insight into the processes involved in putting yourself out there as a games writer/reviewer.

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Note that there is a cautionary here, at least in my opinion.

I’m fully aware of the possibility that publishing this interview about review copies and how to obtain them may lead to a surge of requesters inundating and overwhelming publishers with emails and PMs. On the other hand, I know that reviewers provide a valuable service in creating coverage for new releases and, in some cases, criticism which can help developers improve games. Thoughtful reviews can leave an impression on the industry. Mighty is the pen.

That carries some weight of responsibility, so I’ll say this: ensure that if you’re ready to begin requesting for press copies from publishers that you’re ready to provide quality feedback, respectable coverage, and content for their games. You need to build relationships. To my mind, this is less about how many followers somebody has and more about the kind of professionalism and quality that games journalism desperately needs today. You can provide some unique insight and some personality that the mainstream just cannot match, so you wield that distinction with all your strength and don’t forget that you’re offering your services and in a way representing a lot of us who want to change or be a part of the future of gaming journalism. Don’t throw that away.

But I know you’re a reasonable person… after all, you’re reading The Well-Red Mage! *obligatory wink to stave off rumors of egotism* Thanks for stopping in and I hope that the following proves useful, inspiring, and infectious in creating a better gaming world. The way I look at it, we can continue to raise the standard for each other and on the macrocosm raise the standard for games writing for everybody. A big thank you again to Cheap Boss Attack for coming up with the nucleus for this interview!

Let’s begin:

 

“Mister Cheap Boss Attack, Mage-Head-Black-iconsize
it is a pleasure to be able to have an organized chat with you again. I greatly enjoyed our last conversation and I know I’ll enjoy this one! You and I have been talking along the lines of game codes and keys recently, and how to go about receiving them from publishers or developers, so we thought it’d be a good opportunity to share some words on the matter. It’s not something that’s talked about too often, not that I’ve seen. Maybe you can start us off with a basic definition of terms? What are we talking about when we talk keys and codes, publishers and developers?

ac6bc3800857a0819061dca28d59e866 “Ahoy! I actually get this question a lot, since most of the reviews published on my own website come by way of these “keys and codes.”

“For starters, a game’s developer is the team that actually created the game you’re playing, while a publisher is the company that… well, publishes the game to your platform of choice. Sometimes the developer and publisher is one and same (Nintendo, for example). Keys and codes are just two different terms for the same exact thing. It’s highly unlikely that a game’s publisher (who normally handles code distribution to the press) will provide you with a physical copy of a game for the purpose of a review. Instead, they’ll send you a “code” that is then redeemed through your platform. If you’ve ever redeemed digital game keys from places like Humble Bundle then you’re already familiar with the process.”

“Right, so a code is a digital copy of the game distributed Mage-Head-Black-iconsize
at will by the publisher to members of the press. Why do publishers hand out what are essentially free copies of their cash cows?”

ac6bc3800857a0819061dca28d59e866 “Think of it as compensation. They provide an outlet with a free copy of their latest game in return for said outlet’s review coverage. This coverage will likely reach hundreds or thousands of potential consumers (depending on your site’s reach) and there’s a good chance at least one of those people will buy their game because of it. In that regard, they’ve already made their money back.

“It’s not just the review coverage, either. I record a weekly podcast where I talk about the games I’m currently playing. That includes games I receive for the purpose of reviews. There are always folks out there more interested in listening to the podcasts I appear on than reading a review for a game they may or may not be attracted to.”

“With phrasing like “press”, “coverage” and “outlet”, Mage-Head-Black-iconsize
it sounds as if there’s a level of professionalism that comes into play here and I’d like to get into that aspect, as well. First, how do you go about submitting a request for a code? Is there a kind of etiquette and process to it?”

ac6bc3800857a0819061dca28d59e866 “There is definitely a process involved and professionalism can only help your chances. There are literally thousands of independently ran video game websites (like yourself and I), so you need to think of these requests as job applications. You wouldn’t want to submit an application full of typos and grammatical errors, right? Especially when the service you provide in return is written coverage.

“We talked a little bit before setting up this interview, and I mentioned it being equal parts detective work, presenting yourself in a worthwhile manner, and pure luck.

“Outside of self-published “indie” games, you’ll likely be dealing with the game’s publisher. As I mentioned before, they’re the ones that control review code distribution. It’s rare for a developer to distribute keys over their publisher. I mentioned detective work, because you’ll want to figure out who the game’s publisher is and how to go about contacting their PR (public relations) department. Sometimes the publisher’s Twitter page will allow you to send them a direct message, but other times you’ll have to locate their official website and submit a request through an old fashioned contact form.

“You’ll want to present yourself to the publisher (or developer, in some cases) in a worthwhile manner, because you want them to see your value to them as a content creator. Publishers are only given a certain amount of review keys to hand out, which isn’t always an issue when it comes to Steam, PlayStation, and Xbox platforms, but Nintendo is notorious for handing out a small supply. Make yourself more desirable than the others.

“And luck because lots of smaller developers and publishers just don’t respond to every inquiry because they’re too busy shipping a game. It happens a lot.”

“Nintendo? Handing out a small supply of anything? Nonsense…” Mage-Head-Black-iconsize

ac6bc3800857a0819061dca28d59e866 “Surprise, right?”

“What are some of the important points you’ll want to hit in a request, Mage-Head-Black-iconsize
provided there’s no form?”

ac6bc3800857a0819061dca28d59e866 “I’d suggest an introductory message that discloses who you are, the website you write for, and your position there. It’s also a good idea to talk about your site’s reach, be it subscribers, WordPress followers, YouTube and Twitch followers, etc., so they have an idea of how much coverage they can expect. I always mention that I’ll likely discuss the game in detail on a podcast and I’m always vocal on Twitter about the games I play, which ensures additional coverage outside of the review.

“Once you’ve written a few reviews from the keys you’ve obtained from publishers, include that in your request. Tell them what publishers you’ve received keys from and provide links to a few current reviews that you’re really proud of.”

“Okay so 1) introduction: identity, place, and position, 2) your reach, Mage-Head-Black-iconsize
3) previous codes you’ve covered, 4) samples of your work.”

ac6bc3800857a0819061dca28d59e866 “I know I already pointed out the similarities between requesting review codes and applying for a job, but you’re going to start off building your “work history” by reviewing smaller games. You won’t hear back from Sony about reviewing their hot new game, but smaller indie titles are usually pretty eager to get whatever coverage they can since they’re likely to be overlooked by the bigger guys.

“That’s a great start, yeah. In your case, I would also mention how many people contribute to your website (whereas I’m just one person), how often new posts go up, and that you specialize in long-form reviews which provide more a more in-depth critique.”

“So a bit of flavor added to the mix, gotcha! As for indies vs big names, Mage-Head-Black-iconsize
I think that’s an important distinction to point out. It’s something I came across multiple times when researching this area and I think that’s where it really seems like you’re providing a service to the developers in the case of indies. It’s sort of like building a business relationship, would you say? There’s an element of trust that crops up after you’ve successfully done this a few times?”

ac6bc3800857a0819061dca28d59e866 “Absolutely. Unless you’re a Twitch streamer or a YouTube channel with thousands (or even millions) of loyal fans, you’re probably going to start off small. In the meantime, if you’re interested in covering major releases, renting via RedBox or services like GameFly is always an option.

“I’ve worked with countless developers and publishers reviewing games and conducting interviews, and since I handle all of my own PR work I’ve gotten to know more than a few PR folks by name. Whenever I submit a request to them, I always remind them that I’ve reviewed their games in the past (linking the review in the email) and let them know that I’m happy to continue covering their projects.

“A lot of publishers have what’s called “PR lists” that they’re more than willing to add you to, even if you’re not selected to receive a review key when it comes time for distribution. This assures you that you’ll receive updates on future projects and gives you a direct line of communication, should you decide to submit a review request to them in the future. It also gives you access to “press kits,” which contain all sorts of helpful goodies like trailers, contact information, interview request forms, high-resolution screenshots, and in-depth game details that you can use in news or other promotional articles outside of reviews. I feel like I’m rambling a bit, so I apologize if some of this seems off-topic!”

“It’s all great information from an insider! Mage-Head-Black-iconsize
It sounds like you’ve really put in the hard work to build these relationships. At what point in a reviewers “career” do you think that they are “ready” to start requesting these keys from publishers? Are there certain things that should be in place? And also, we talked about presentation and detective work, now how about luck… Let’s be realists: what are the odds in getting a code? How successful have you been, if you had to put a number on it?”

ac6bc3800857a0819061dca28d59e866 “I would start submitting requests immediately, regardless of your current reach (the amount of visitors your website receives). The worst that can happen is you don’t receive a code. You just have to be willing to be professional, put aside your current “personal time” game, and focus on providing a fair, unbiased review once you do receive one.

“The odds of getting a code are higher if you’re requesting a game that caters to a niche crowd — like a JRPG on the Vita, for instance. Not many websites cover the Vita extensively and it’s highly unlikely you’ll have much competition. Again, Nintendo sucks about handing out codes to publishers, so unless you have a good reach there’s a good chance you’ll be overlooked.

“If there’s an indie game on PS4, Xbox One, or Steam you’d like to cover, just submit a request. They usually have plenty of codes to hand out to willing reviewers. Don’t think of this as “free games,” though. Reviews are a lot of work and you could likely save up money and buy a game in far less time than it takes to get a “free” copy, draft, edit, and publish.”

“So providing an unbiased review… Mage-Head-Black-iconsize
that brings up an interesting aspect of this discussion that I’ve seen pop up now and then, which is the emphasis on having a level of integrity and being honest in your take on the game, even though you received it via code. What do you do if you hated the game? Do publishers care about your criticisms? How do you approach reviewing a game in this sense versus reviewing one “on a whim”, that you’ve been enjoying during your “personal time”? I think some people might be making this molehill into a mountain.”

ac6bc3800857a0819061dca28d59e866 “Believe it or not, most developers and publishers want constructive criticism because it helps out with future patches/updates, or even future projects. Don’t hold back on the criticism, but again, be as constructive as possible. It’s one thing to score a game low (if that’s your thing), but another to explain to your audience why. Go in-depth with your critique rather than trashing a game without context.”

“So in that respect, you’d vouch for taking a serious look Mage-Head-Black-iconsize
at your methodology in reviewing games and see whether it would be appropriate for game codes from publishers?”

ac6bc3800857a0819061dca28d59e866 “I try to review every game the same, whether I paid for it myself or received it for review. I’m sure you can attest that once you’ve written enough reviews you kind of become set in your style. A review is for the consumer, though, not the developer or publisher. You’re not there to sell anyone anything, you’re there to share your experience with your audience. It’s all about being honest without being a jerk, basically.”

“Hahaha! That’s a good life lesson right there, eh? Mage-Head-Black-iconsize
Be honest without being a jerk! With all that’s going on in journalism today, honesty seems like a plus.”

ac6bc3800857a0819061dca28d59e866 “I would say yes, personally, but there are definitely game critics out there who are brutally honest. If your reach is good enough, I’m sure there are publishers out there willing to have their game ripped apart because bad publicity is still publicity.

“Being kind can go a long way! Sometimes a simple tweet to an indie developer saying “Hey, your game looks rad and I’d love to cover it for my website” is all you need to get your foot in the door.”

“To clarify, requesting these game codes is meant to be for games Mage-Head-Black-iconsize
which are yet to be released or have only recently been released, correct?”

ac6bc3800857a0819061dca28d59e866 “Yes and no. There are only so many codes to distribute to members of the press, so you’re more likely to receive a code if you request one early. There isn’t an exact time line that acts as a “sweet spot,” but if you know you want to cover a game, it has a publisher and a release date, then it’s a good enough time to submit your request. If they respond to the request (which isn’t always the case) they’ll likely add you to their press list and get back with you closer to the game’s release date. I’ve received codes weeks before a game releases, and if that’s the case you’re usually given an “embargo” date. You essentially get to play the game early, but you’re forbidden from discussing it with anyone until the embargo date approaches.

“That being said, even if the game is a bit older, feel free to submit a request. If they’re out of codes, they’ll tell you — or ignore you altogether!”

“Is there any reason to keep from being too hasty about requesting codes, Mage-Head-Black-iconsize
or so many codes at once? What’s expected of you once you receive a code and what happens if you don’t follow up?”

ac6bc3800857a0819061dca28d59e866 “It’s completely unpredictable, since you have no way of knowing when or if you’ll get these codes. I’ve submitted a handful of requests in the past and received all of them within 24 hours… which sucked. Having a list of games you HAVE to play because you agreed to review them can be insanely daunting (if this happens to you, it’s probably a good idea to let the publisher know that you’re running behind schedule or just flat out decline the code before redeeming it — seriously, this sucks!). However, if you have a reliable staff that you can distribute codes to then it’s not that big of an issue. I’m just one person, though!

“Once you receive a code, it’s probably ideal to put that review at the top of your priority list. It’s basically the honor system. I like to think that if I don’t provide the review I end up on some super awful list of terrible people that gets shared between the PR reps! The horror!”

“Blacklisted! That sounds terrifying.” Mage-Head-Black-iconsize

ac6bc3800857a0819061dca28d59e866 “But you know how long it takes you to play through games and review them, and you’ll come to know what kind of workload you can handle.”

“Well you may just be one man, but you’re one man with a whole lotta class! Mage-Head-Black-iconsize
Thanks very much for sharing your insight and wisdom on a somewhat delicate subject! I know this old mage appreciates it and I hope our readers do as well. Plus, maybe this’ll stem the tide of questions you’ve been bombarded with on the topic!”

ac6bc3800857a0819061dca28d59e866 “Haha, well I’m always happy to help! This isn’t a surefire way to get review codes, of course, but it’s what has worked for me over the last four years. Hopefully it helps some of you out there.”

End Transmission.

 

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40 thoughts on ““How to do Games Journalism: Requesting Game Review Copies”

  1. Insightful stuff. Communication is, without a doubt, the most important aspect of all this. Your initial “pitch” to a developer or publisher about why they should consider sending you anything is extremely important, as that sets an initial impression about whether or not they should even bother responding to you. “gief codez plz” = straight in the trash, thoughtful, friendly and informative email = definite consideration.

    Since on my site I tend to do “late reviews” so that I can spend a full month covering an individual game (or sometimes series) in detail, I often end up working on games that I’ve decided well in advance, that have been available for a while or that I’ve bought/preordered copies of. In other cases, though, I’ve had success with requesting codes for older games that are part of an associated series that is about to get a new installment — when I covered popular visual novel series Nekopara, for example (see https://moegamer.net/all-games/nekopara/) I asked for review copies of the other installments besides the latest edition (vol. 3) and was very pleasantly surprised to be sent them without question so I could provide well-informed coverage of the whole series. That was ultimately in the developers’ and publishers’ interests.

    So initial communication is important, and the quality and rigour of your work is, too. I have a good relationship with Denpasoft in particular due to my past in-depth coverage of several of their titles (including the aforementioned Nekopara), so now they will send me review copies for their new titles without any persuasion needed — all because they know my work is good quality, and that I can be trusted. (I also get a ton of additional hits on my articles when they reshare my pieces on Twitter, so it’s win-win for everyone involved!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi there! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I appreciate it. I personally was only comfortable putting up this conversation after ensuring I emphasized the professionalism necessary for the exchange. I really consider it like devs/pubs are entrusting us with watching their newborn babies, and if we’re going to ask for that then we’d better do a stand up job. It’s not about getting the “free gamez” but about supplying an essential service.

      I find it interesting that you received some earlier installments when reviewing a series. I also think that building that relationship with the dev/pub is huge. We’ve had some great results sending out some emails over the past month, but I’ve got to take a step back from it for a bit and go slower. I quickly ended up with too much to play. Fortunately, I had a few contributors who were able and willing to help out.

      Thanks again for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s amazing how similar this process is to story publishing. Providing your credentials and starting off small (with a short story or smaller publisher) is very common, and of course making sure you proofread anything you send! This is very informative 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for checking it out! I thought of that connection too. It’s, like CBA pointed out, similar to a job app as well. You have to shove your foot in the door where there are already so many feet and prove that your foot is the stinkiest.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s 100% like a job application! I always thought of the (writing) query process the same way as well. Sometimes you’ll get a “second” interview if they ask for a partial, and sometimes you’ll get a “third” interview if they ask for a full, and sometimes you’ll be “hired” if they take you on. You obviously want to market yourself the best way possible, and make sure your foot is the, er, stinkiest :p

        Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, RR! Actually I’m not sure what you mean or what part you’re referring to? I can only express my opinion on the matter as stated above including my belief that games journalism can be less about regurgitated snippets and statements of favor about a game without reason to back them up. I recently read an article from Kotaku from a paid writer which seemed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. It sounded as if it was written by a child, which mostly seemed patronizing to a lot of people. The state of acceptable journalism today aside, I do believe wholeheartedly that if a publisher or dev gives you something for nothing then you owe them a quality piece of reporting, whatever that means to you. The above is what it means to me, and I think that qualitative and enjoyable should at least be standards we hold for ourselves if we’re going to repay publishers with coverage for their games.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The “lowest common denominator” thing really irks me, especially as a fan of Japanese games. I’ve reached a point where I will publicly call out particularly heinous examples of poor-quality and particularly insulting “professional” work — see https://moegamer.net/2017/07/08/destructoids-valkyrie-drive-review-is-more-than-just-bad-games-journalism/ for a good (well, depressing at the time) example that actually resulted in some positive (albeit small) change after it blew up.

        Liked by 1 person

        • The contributors and I were having a discussion recently about why the mainstream continues to thrive despite examples of poor quality work, research, writing, coverage, etc. I will drop into the big names now and then to read something they put out and more often then not I find something off-putting.

          Why do you think their popularity is impenetrable, if at all, and what can be done to change the landscape?

          I also wanted to thank you for the follow!

          Like

          • No prob, I’m enjoying what I’ve read of your stuff so far so more than happy to follow 🙂

            I have no idea why the mainstream remains popular and commercially viable, to be honest, aside from the fact that it’s a totally incestuous old boys’ club that doesn’t welcome in outsiders and instead panders to advertisers rather than its actual audience.

            I speak from experience as a former member of the team on USgamer.net in particular, which very pointedly changed its editorial direction following its launch at the behest of the Powers That Be. Despite being knowledgeable and a hard worker, my interest in the more niche-interest end of gaming rather than triple-A titles (that and the growing trend of shoehorning in sociopolitical commentary whenever possible), I found myself forced out of a job I loved, only to be replaced by two personal friends of my former Editor-in-Chief.

            If you’d like to read a bit more about the experiences I had that led to the creation of my current site (and my abandoning of my lifelong dream to be a professional games journo), do check out this post I wrote for my current site’s third anniversary: https://moegamer.net/2017/04/29/moegamer-the-third-birthday/

            In terms of changing the landscape… well, I think it’s already happening to a degree. More and more people are dissatisfied with what the big commercial sites offer and are either starting their own efforts or relying on other sources of information such as smaller sites and YouTubers. I think all that can really, practically be done is to “be the change to want to see in the world” and set a good example — especially by offering something unique that sets you apart from the crowd. I chose to specialise my site in the games I know the most about and feel the most passionately about, for example, and that proved to be a great decision.

            I think smaller sites supporting one another is a great thing, too, whether it’s through likes, comments, shares or whatever, or even going so far as stuff like mutual support on Patreon, collaborative projects and suchlike. Part of the problems with the commercial sector stems from the competition they have with one another to be “first”, “best” (hah) or most provocative; much better, in my book, for sites to complement rather than compete with one another.

            My 2 cents anyway. (I think there may have been a bit of extra small change in there, too; apologies for cluttering up your comment section with my lengthy ramble!) 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thank you for the kind words and never feel that you have to apologize here for clogging up comment sections. That’s what they’re for! One of the virtues we raise high is open discussion. It’s vital. The gaming world needs it. So anyway, you can always rattle away and expect a response.

              My guess would be the mainstream sites remain popular because the wide appeal to the lowest common denominator and maybe even more so because many casual consumers think that’s all there is: IGN, Polygon, Kotaku, etc.

              I appreciate you sharing your experiences and you’ve hit on several things that I find repulsive with the mainstream. Political commentary stowed away in a game review is one of them. When I began this site, I made political jokes now and then but looking back on that, it’s not something I’m proud of. I’ve been told fairly recently from a reader that they appreciate how TWRM stays away from the controversies, politics, and drama that the mainstream seems to be obsessed with. On that feedback, I now know what emphases to focus on: the games themselves. It seems so obvious!

              I am very saddened to hear about what happened with your job. That speaks to suspicions I have had about games journalism being a closed fortress. I’ll check out the link as well. Thank you! I really agree with so much of what you’re saying about creating a community. WP has been great for that.

              I can’t believe we haven’t run into each other sooner!

              Like

              • Hah, likewise, though I confess it’s probably my fault for never really taking the time to engage with the broader WordPress community despite having been doing this stuff on various sites for nearly ten years now!

                I did notice on your Authors page that I do actually know one of your contributors — The Final Fourteenth Mage. We haven’t actually spoken for a while since I ditched Twitter for socialising out of frustration with all sorts of things, but Cilla is arguably one of the people most “responsible” for my passionate interest in and desire to focus on Japanese games. She posted a pic of a copy of Hyperdimension Neptunia she picked up, I thought “ooh, that looks fun”, she said “yeah, it is”, and the rest is sort of history!

                From the quality of the discussions I’ve had here and on a few other sites recently, I’m now regretting not spreading my WordPress community wings a bit sooner. Certainly a far cry from the kneejerk reactions of Twitter, though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that bloggers, writers, whatever you want to call us enjoy articulate discussion at length 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

                • Well you reached out on your own and you’re engaging with the community now, so all’s well! I’ve learned a lot from the amazing people here. It’s one of the best online communities I’ve been able to be a part of. Very welcoming and very discussion-oriented. There have been a few trolls here and there but it’s a remarkably friendly place to talk on even some real controversial issues. I’ve been a part of a few controversies here but it seems like it always comes back to the conversation and exchange of ideas.

                  Ah the FF Mage, Cilla! She’s great and she requested to join the group a few months ago. She’s put out some really great content and I’ve been trying to secure some press keys for her in return. I like working with individuals so far away from I am; there’s something inspirational about it. And ditching Twitter sounds great to me, now and then! It’s that partaking in the experiences of others which makes it worth it. I’m trying to expand that championing of articulate discussion even to Twitter, and it’s been slow going but I think it’s something that’s important for the state of the world and certainly the internet, today. I don’t get embroiled in politics and drama and the nontroversies but I like to at least ask people questions about their perspectives as it pertains to gaming. Even if I don’t agree with them or share their views, at least we talked about it and risked learning from each other.

                  Case in point, somewhat, I did read your article about your 3 year anniversary. Congrats again! That particular flavor of Japanese games isn’t for me, but that doesn’t prevent me from reading your material and engaging with you in the comments. Certainly it’s not grounds for making judgments on someone’s character, per the … dubious article you mentioned. If I can only talk with people I agree with 100%, then who can I talk to? Community is about bringing people who disagree together and making it work. Otherwise, you’re just building a tiny gated housing project.

                  Liked by 1 person

  3. Awesome interview! Thanks CBA for all the insight. Since I started on worpdress, your blogs been quite an inspiration and something I always look to when I’m in doubt on what to do next. Even being able to break into this earlier this year, this still provides some great insight on how to keep growing in this area.

    I’ve set myself a goal earlier this year to start getting review copies. Much to my surprise, as you said, reaching out to smaller indie devs yielded great results. I ended up getting some games I actually didn’t expect to even hear back from. I did hit a period where I got too many review copies, and as you said, that can be tough. I did get through it and reviewed them all as fast as I could and put my other games on hold.

    One thing I’d like to ask and get a bit deeper into is building and maintaining relationships after you have published reviews. I always informed the person who gave me the key via email that the review is published, linked them to it, and dropped a quick line about something I really liked about the game (a bit harder to do if I wasn’t too big on the game). One thing that’s a bit disheartening is I almost didn’t get any replies to my follow up email providing the link to my review.

    I know devs and publishers are busy people, but I’m asking about this because I see the importance of building and maintaining those relationships for the future, and not seeing replies to these final emails questions whether I did something unintentionally wrong, or if I’m just getting unlucky and my email was missed. Any suggestions for what I could be doing different once I close out a review? Or maybe could you provide some insight on what you do once you’re done a review?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, Imtiaz! Thanks for the kind words! It really means a lot that whatever it is I’m doing at cheapbossattack.com is helpful and/or inspiring. Hopefully I’ll continue to provide that type of content.

      Like you, I always send a direct link to my review back to the developer, publisher, or third-party PR rep and, like you, I rarely (if ever) hear back. A few things could be the deciding factor here. My initial guess is that the person who handles PR and distribution just submits your review to the developers or publishers. Since the PR rep is your point-of-contact, the developers and publishers likely use the information in the review without replying to you directly. Another factor, as you said, these people are incredibly busy shipping games, fixing bugs, playing damage control on Steam forums, etc., and don’t always have time to respond.

      I do get a few replies here and there, mostly thanking me for covering the game, commenting that they’re happy I enjoyed it, but it’s a rarity. I get more response on social media platforms when I tag the developers and publishers, who routinely share the review on their own channels (if it’s positive, of course lol).

      You may not be having meaningful conversations with these people via email, but when you mention that you’ve worked with them in the past, providing links to those reviews, it makes all the difference in the world. They know they can provide you with a review key and actually get coverage from your outlet (good or bad).

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Very interesting post! Getting review copies is something I’ve had marked as something to try for awhile now, and this might be the push I need to finally try.

    I feel like the whole thing could be a really good learning experience, especially to understand the forces working upon professional reviewers. I feel like it would be awfully awkward to get a copy of something that ends being terrible, but I guess that’s the game of reviews.

    For either WRM or CBA – how would suggest starting out? You mention smaller publishers and indie games, would pursuing Steam for interesting upcoming releases be a good point? Finding the big releases is easy, but starting small seems a bit tougher.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey, Particlebit! I’m glad the post was helpful!

      I remember writing my first negative review of a game I received from a publisher and I was worried about their reaction, so that’s totally normal. But as I mentioned in the interview, your duty is to the consumer, not the publisher. If you don’t enjoy a game, being honest is the best course of action — it’s doing so without being an asshole that’s the primary agenda. Explaining why you didn’t enjoy something, why a story or character didn’t resonate with you, provides the development team with invaluable information. It’s been my experience that even largely negative reviews provide constructive criticism to the team on behalf of a fellow consumer.

      I wouldn’t go scraping the bottom of the barrel for Steam review keys, especially considering the lack of curation that goes on there. I would genuinely find games on Steam you’re interested in and reach out to the developer or publisher through their website, Twitter, or Facebook. The worst that’ll happen is they either won’t respond at all, or they’ll be out of review keys. Don’t settle — that’s when you just review whatever it is you’re currently playing while waiting to hear back on your requests. I reviewed cash-grab Steam games for the simple sake of reviewing *something* and it certainly felt like an absolute waste of time.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for checking out the post, Particlebit! I’m glad you found it interesting. Just to chime in with my limited experience, I just started this and I started out with games I wanted to play. I think that’s a big distinction to make if time is an issue. You could review every throw away indie game or you could play the ones you want. The Switch is a great console for that since Nintendo already weeds out a lot of the forgettable titles. I’m personally not on Steam for that among other reasons. I’d say look up the titles coming soon to your platforms and if there’s one you are interested in then pursue a review key.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the feedback. Between this advice and CBA’s points, I think I’m going to see what I can find and reach out. If nothing else it could be an interesting exercise in how the whole process works!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. As others have said, very insightful stuff. I don’t know if it’s an avenue I could jump into just yet, as I work 40-50 hours, every week at my job before I have the time to play through something. Once I have it played through, It’s a work day in of itself just to get the review up. Which is why I usually get one article up a week. Though sometimes I’ll be scheduled in a way that allows for more. That isn’t a complaint mind you, I love writing them, and I wouldn’t write them if I didn’t love writing them. Be that as it may, should I ever get to the level where I could focus on blogging for a living, this is great information to have. So I am glad you were able to get this interview up!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Having a good deal of experience with this myself, I’d also suggest a few things in regards to working with a group of people.

    1) Set up a review tracker – basically a list of games and who is working on them. With the last tracker we used, we had a listing of who was first in line for reviewing a game and if a copy had been requested or not. This helps to eliminate duplicate requests (which PR does not enjoy and can get you on their bad side) and people working on the same review (provided that isn’t something you do).

    2) Get someone to manage your outreach to PR for you. When I wrote at Hooked Gamers, we had a lovely person who didn’t actually write for the site but who did some editing for us and placed in requests to PR. This was really helpful because we had a global staff and she was able to find the local PR for each game and put in the call (e-mail) to the proper spot. When I wrote for Vagary.tv (now defunct) as the Reviews Editor, we had a communications manager that would consolidate our requests for us and he came over to do the same job when we co-founded Critcally Sane.

    The reason this is important though is because as CBA said, when you get a review copy, you are exchanging goods. PR gives you a copy in exchange for you giving them coverage. And when you work with more than a few people, it becomes hard to keep an eye on what everyone is doing. This isn’t to say they are doing anything unethical (although that can be a problem and I had to have someone “fired” from Vagary for asking for codes behind our back, not telling us, and not doing the reviews for them) but just to keep all your ducks in a row.

    3) And finally, create an ethics policy that is viewable on your site and be transparent when you review something that came from PR or a pub/dev.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I completely agree with this and something I failed to touch on in the interview (in regard to WRM being a “group” of contributors where I’m just one person) is that only one person should be handling a group’s PR requests (thanks for bringing this up!). You don’t want multiple contributors submitting their own requests, just one person you can trust wholeheartedly.

      Liked by 3 people

    • I really appreciate you sharing your experiences and advice. Thank you very much! Right now our only review tracking system is through a games-claims channel on our inner Discord chat, and I’m doing the review requests for TWRM at this point. It’s the ethics policy, your third point, which is most interesting to me. It’s something I’ll want to research and find examples for. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Review copies are something of a sticking point with enthusiasts, and I can understand why. A lot of people weigh the money they sunk into the game against the content they got for it, and that’s an entirely defensible point. I know when I reviewed The Stanley Parable, I was considering the fact that it was a little overpriced for the type of experience it was offering. Then again, I find I rarely consider how much I paid for a game when reviewing it. At the very least, I tend not to mention initial price points unless they’re relevant because they’re subject to change in the future (typically in the direction of becoming cheaper).

    I can also see a positive review after having been given a copy coming across as a conflict of interest. Despite that, it’s something the critic should be upfront about. All I know is that if someone sent me a review copy, I would maintain my tough-but-fair style regardless.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I like to think the audience can quickly discern within a few paragraphs whether or not this is a review or a sales pitch. If I feel a game I’ve been given was a bit too underwhelming to warrant it’s price point, I mention it in the text — as well as having a full disclosure that the written review was done using a code provided by the developer or publisher. Transparency is key.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Very insightful and useful. Acquiring review copies was always something I wondered about, but didn’t know much about. Now I feel like I’ve got a good idea of how to go about it. The thing I like best was when you guys talked about the responsibility of receiving these codes, its not just free games, you are obligated to post a quality review. As much as I like the idea of getting review codes, I barely have time to play personal games. That said I’m going to bookmark this post, and try out the advice once I have the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is definitely something to keep in mind, yeah. If you know that you already don’t have much time to game for yourself, you may want to second guess requesting press copies. From the outside looking in, “FREE GAMES!” are awesome, but most of us have some form of income. In the time it takes to finish a game, draft, edit, proofread, and publish a review, maybe even capture gameplay and put together a video review, we could earn double or triple the cost of the game in question — thus, buying it yourself and not feeling “required” to review it.

      Best of luck when you find the time, though!

      Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for reading and I’m glad you found the information presented of some use! The responsibility aspect is one part that’s very important to me. When I look around I see a lot of abrasiveness in the relationships between gamers and devs, and between gamers and journalists, but I think we can do a lot more to bridge divides and I write these reviews as a gamer to provide quality journalistic coverage for devs as best as I can. Once you get to a time when you want to pursue this, feel free to ask questions and such!

      Liked by 1 person

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