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A Review Code is Not a Free Game

Being a very active games website, a lot of PR emails pass through our inbox every day. Whether it be press releases or games requests, we send and receive hundreds upon hundreds of emails every week. None, however, have struck a chord quite so sour as one we received today; a response to a polite request to review a particular game that’s due to come out in a couple of weeks.

Press Request

Thank you, developer, for your rather patronising reply to our press request for your game. Yes, we understand that you are a small indie developer that has pooled your life savings to make the game a reality, and yes, we understand that at just £15 it possibly provides excellent value for money (we obviously wouldn’t know until we’ve reviewed it), but given your response I doubt we’ll cover the title any further. Now that is a real damn shame, because as long-term fans of the previous titles your team have worked on, it looks fantastic. As you say however, you can’t give your work away for free, and unfortunately, whilst we do sometimes do so, in this case we shall not either.

In case you weren’t aware, GameSpew.com is also an independent venture created by myself and my partner, but unlike yourselves we aren’t in a position to flippantly pack in our day jobs to concentrate on doing something we love. For the past 17 months we’ve done our 9-5 jobs before getting home and dedicating the majority of our time to developing and growing our humble website, creating content about and giving visibility to all types of games, from AAA to tiny indie releases. And we’ve done well, all things considered.

In just over a year we’ve grown GameSpew.com from just 20 views a day to around 8,000, reaching 80,000 unique visitors every month. We didn’t start with any background in the industry or with any contacts to help us; just a passion for games since our youth and the urge to do something creative with it. We never dreamed that GameSpew would ever get as big as it has become, even though we’re still relatively small, but the success we found made us push ourselves and our voluntary writers to produce quality content, including honest and fair reviews, proudly securing ourselves a place amongst Metacritic’s recognised reviewers. We’ve even had quotes used by large publishers, and features referred and linked to by much larger websites. Oh, and let’s not forget our Alexa ranking puts us ahead of many similar gaming websites that have been around for 5+ years, and our growth continues at a steady rate.

Creating quality content to build a website isn’t easy though. To review a game you’ve got to put some serious time in, even if it’s truly awful, and then you’ve got to actually write the review which can take a few hours. Before the review is posted, it’s also got to be edited and formatted to make sure it looks nice and is free of any errors. The time it takes to write and edit content, as well as manage the site with regards to requesting review codes, liaising on other matters with PR and dealing with technical issues is considerable, and whilst I’d like to say that our efforts are rewarded with significant remuneration, I can’t. Every month we make very little in terms of actual money from the website when you consider hosting costs etc.; it’s barely even pocket money in fact, when you consider the hours we put in.

In the last year, we’ve reviewed around 400 games, putting each and every one of them on the front page of our site for at least a day. I’d like to think we’ve driven many sales, or at least generated awareness, for the kind developers and publishers that have provided us review copies to allow us to do so. Assuming the average cost of the games we’ve received to be £15, the same as your game that we’d politely requested to review, it would have costs us £6,000 to buy those games. To put it bluntly, I’d love it if GameSpew.com made us that much per year to spend on games but it makes nowhere near.

Don’t get me wrong here; I’m not saying that your job as a games developer is a walk in the park in comparison. I can’t even begin to imagine the hard work you put into creating a game, especially with such a small team; it’s a remarkable feat, it truly is. I appreciate you’re a “small start-up company having a go”. As you now know, so are we, and a lot of games we review are from small indie developers too – a number of them have been passion projects that a single person has worked on in their spare time for several years. I’m sure they couldn’t afford to “give their work away for free” either, but fortunately they appreciated that we weren’t attempting to steal the fruit of their labour; believe it or not, we actually like helping smaller, independent developers by getting the word out there.

Some people may wonder why we bother, and it’s something I ask myself at times. We put so much effort in, trying to reach out to developers and PR in a polite and friendly manner in order to cover their games, and many are truly helpful and fantastic, but a select few truly dishearten our endeavours by not even bothering to reply with a simple no. However, never before have we been made to feel like complete and utter bastards for ever having the audacity to dare request a review code.

If you think even for one minute that we’re trying to undermine your hard work and freeload by asking for a “free game”, you are sorely misguided. We’ve never once asked anybody for a free game in the 17 months that we’ve been doing this, and never will do; no game we’ve ever been sent, whether we’ve requested it or otherwise, has been “free”. For every code or copy of game we’ve received, we’ve been indebted to the developer, publisher or PR rep (or all three) to diligently spend time with that game and give it a just and fair analysis. We may not be the biggest gaming outlet on the planet, but that doesn’t mean we take our duty to you, the developers, and to the general public any less serious.

The fact of the matter is, we do what we do because we love games, and we want to give something back to the industry. I’m proud that we try to cover all titles that come our way, many of which remain without a Metascore on Metacritic such as Lastfight and Gear Gauntlet because hardly anyone else reviews them. I’m also proud that we review AAA releases such as Uncharted 4 (which our writer bought with their own money, might I add) and Doom 4, giving them scores that I feel are just and true.

We may not ever make enough money to pack in our jobs with GameSpew.com, but to be honest, I’m not sure that I care. Sure, it’s sometimes a pain to have nearly zero free time to pursue undertakings that are non-website related, or to drag yourself from a game you’re absorbed in to play something for review, but GameSpew is our creation, our little mark on the games industry, and it’s here to stay. Whether or not you want to be a part of our journey, supporting our endeavours and gaining some healthy coverage in the process is up to you, but I’d rather you not assume that our time is free and that we have enough money to buy every game that we wish to cover. Just a simple and polite “No” is all we need if you don’t have review copies available or don’t feel we are a suitable outlet. We ask for review copies because we want to help games get recognised, to potentially share our feelings and thoughts with the 80,000 people that graciously visit our site every month, not because we just want a free game. And think about it, even if just 1% of those visitors saw our coverage and bought your game that’d be 800 sales. Not a bad return on just one code, don’t you think?

Editor in Chief // An avid gamer since discovering the wonders of the Acorn Electron in the '80s, Rich has nearly played more games than he's had hot dinners. Not one to put all his eggs in one basket, Rich is happy to play games of all genres, but he particularly enjoys racing games and anything that's full of non-stop action, especially if it includes a good dose of humour, horror or crudeness!