About six years ago, I wrote the below article called “How To Become A Game Reviewer & Get Game Review Copies.” It was a pretty popular post, did a lot of traffic and generated more comments and emails than anything else we’ve done on this site. More importantly, the original guide helped people who wanted to get started reviewing games and that’s what I wanted to do when I originally wrote it.
Six years is a decent amount of time though, and so I’m returning to this post to give it a little bit of an update and expand slightly on some things. This is because I feel the guide needs to be updated, and also because it is the groundwork for a larger project that I’m working on.
This isn’t just changing the post date from November 2013 to October 2019; it’s a pretty extensive update to the original article. When this was originally posted, it was about 4,000 words. Now it’s almost 8,000, and still not even close to its final form.
As always, you are encouraged to leave a comment with feedback or ask any questions that you may still have after reading through the guide. I’m here to help.
How To Become A Video Game Reviewer
So you want to be a video game reviewer, huh? You want to sit back and get free video games in exchange for writing, or speaking if you’re doing a video review, your opinion about the game? Well you’re in the right place; I can tell you how to do that.
In my couple of years as a gaming blogger/reviewer, I’ve received quite a few free games for review. These games range from the full-blown $60 so-called “AAA” blockbuster titles for console or PC, to the small and cheap downloadable indie games for PC, PSN, and XBLM.
On the occasions where I’ve scored a review copy of a big release title before its release, say Madden or Saints Row IV, I ALWAYS get a ton of new PSN friend requests and messages of “how did you get the game early?” It never fails, and the amount that came after getting the platinum for Saints Row IV before its release was absurd (people found out because of sites like PSNProfiles.com and trophy syncing).
I may not accept all friend requests, but in general I always try to explain via a reply that I’m reviewing the game and it was a review copy. This always gets followed up with “what’s your site?,” “is it (getting review copies) hard?,” and “how can I go about doing that?”
Here’s the number one thing that should be your main take away from this article; you should not be writing or game blogging to simply try and score review copies! That is the absolute wrong attitude to have, and if you start out with that mentality and don’t quickly change it, you’re going to fail.
Have a passion for gaming and writing, and treat it professionally even if you aren’t making money at it. Write about gaming and the latest news or trailers; but don’t just regurgitate press releases. Buy games and review them; the more you write the better you will get, and the more reviews you write the better they will become.
Treat your reviews professionally, which means try to use proper grammar and spelling. No one is going to take you serious if you’re writing like you’re sending a text message or posting some drivel in the comments on YouTube.
“Is getting review copies hard?”
The short answer is no. Honestly, it isn’t that difficult at all.
I have had blogs in the past, and whatever its focus, I’d usually write something gaming related on it purely because I’m a gamer. I had written game reviews before, for games that I bought of course, and had never even given thought to free games and review copies.
Before this site got its start in April 2011, I was writing wrestling columns for LordsOfPain.net. If you’re a wrestling fan who visits that fairly popular site you may even have read some of my stuff (I wrote under the screenname “Stinger,” and my columns were “Deadly Venom” and “A View From the Rafters”).
When the demo for the WWE All Stars game hit PSN, I tweeted to THQ and the WWE Games community manager at the time, Marcus Stephenson, that I really liked the demo and was looking forward to the games release. Apparently they were fans of LOP and asked if I would be interested in receiving a copy of the game to review. Naturally, I said absolutely because it was a game I was going to pay $60 for and they were offering to send it to me for free in exchange for writing my thoughts about the game (something I was going to do anyway).
And so, WWE All Stars was my first review copy. And since I was getting burned out and growing tired of writing about wrestling under a deadline and with no pay, I decided to leave LOP and start my own site with a focus on gaming. Thus, here we are today.
My first retail review copy for this site came a few months after I started the site, and it was a PS3 copy of Madden NFL 12 which I had not even requested (I’ll cover this process soon) but had covered. Honestly, I had no business receiving a review copy of that game. It in no way benefited EA Sports as traffic to the site was maybe 100 visitors a day at that time. See, it isn’t hard… you don’t have to be a big site and pull in a ton of visitors.
So now the reason you’re here…
“How can I go about doing that?”
If you’re looking to do video reviews then you have to start a YouTube channel (or some other platform, but don’t handicap yourself here). I’m not a YouTuber, so I can’t really help you on that front. If that’s the route you’re going, then there’s equipment that you’re going to have to invest at least a little bit in.
You’re going to need a decent microphone, and if you’re going to show yourself in the video then you’ll need a decent camera. You’re also going to need a way to capture your gameplay. There are built in ways to do that on PS4 and Xbox One, and easy free ways to do it on a PC. If you’re serious about it though, on consoles, you’ll want to invest in a capture device like an Elgato. You’ll also need software to edit video, and a program to record audio (the free Audacity program is pretty great).
As you can see, there’s a lot involved in that on the start up front. My recommendation here would be to start small and work with what you’ve got. Unless you’re rich, don’t spend a ton of money when you’re just starting out. Use what you have (you do want a decent microphone though, and something relatively cheap like a Blue Snowball will do just fine) and see if it’s something you’re going to like doing and be able to stick with before investing a ton of money.
You don’t want to be the person who gets hyped up on the idea of becoming the next big game review YouTuber and runs out spends a bunch of money, makes videos over a three week period, and then gives up because there wasn’t immediate growth. If you do that, you’ll just end up with a ton of expensive equipment ready to be listed on eBay.
If you’re like me, video content’s not going to be your thing. You want to write, not talk (although you video folks still should write a script). For that you need an outlet. Unless you can get in with someone else who already has a site going (and I’d advise against that when just starting out) you’re going to want to create a blog or website, whatever you want to call it. I want to point out for the would be video reviewers, the rest of this chapter is geared towards those who will be going the blog route.
You could pay for a webhost and set up a site, but I personally wouldn’t recommend starting that way. Maybe I’m just cheap, but spending money on a host and then trying to build an audience, which takes time, seems counterproductive when there are viable free options out there. I say that particularly to those of you who might be more prone to giving up when you’re getting very few to no visitors three months after starting. Don’t waste money if you aren’t sure you’ll stick with it.
For that reason, if you don’t already have a blog/site, I recommend using WordPress.com. It’s free and easy, and when you eventually feel like taking the site to a paid host and running the self hosted WordPress platform, you’ll be able to easily import all of your posts, comments, and subscribers.
Of course WordPress.com has its restrictions- you can’t install plugins (unless you pay for the expensive Business plan) or run ads (outside of WordAds)- but it is the best option for starting out when you just want to focus on the content and building an audience. Plus it gives you the time to see if it is something you’re going to want to stick with without having to spend money.
You should spend some time researching the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org (the self hosted one). If you know for sure that you’re going to be doing this and not give up on it, and you want to be able to monetize it as quickly as possible, getting your own web host and using the WordPress.org platform may be the best option for you. You’ll have the most freedom there and will be able to customize to your heart’s content. But, because of how easy it is to switch from WordPress.com to a self-hosted site, I’d still recommend starting out on the freely hosted WordPress.com. It’s a personal preference, do what feels right for you; you know your situation better than I do.
Before going any further down the blog route I must point out that it’s the Internet and current year, which means less and less people care about reading. Video content is typically king these days and more and more folks would rather watch a streamer play the game than they would read someone’s opinion. Text based reviews is a bit of an uphill battle.
With that said, there’s certainly nothing stopping you from doing a hybrid of the two. The great thing about YouTube videos is that you can embed them. So even if you go with a blog or a website, you can post your written review and also include a video review. That’s probably the best route to take honestly because it covers all the basis. If you can also stream the new release game on Twitch or YouTube, all the better.
If you want a site, the first thing you have to do is determine where you want to host it. Again, I recommend a beginner to just go with WordPress.com. It’s completely free and it’s reliable. You don’t have to worry about anything. You can just focus on building your brand and writing. The platform can expand with you via paid upgrades, but if you feel you outgrow it or want more freedom then you can always take your site with you. But unless you know 100% that you’re going to be dedicated completely and a success, why waste money at the beginning on a web host that’s going to charge you by the month or year?
Right now, this site, Vortainment.com, is still on WordPress.com. I’m extremely happy here; it’s a great service. Of course I’ve put money into the site with a getting a paid plan. But the site can be freely hosted. It’s always up and has been no hassle to me. It also makes some money, thanks to the unobtrusive WordAds program (which I’ll talk more about later), so it’s a win-win for me.
Having said that, there was a time when I thought the time was right to move my site to a paid host and to the self-hosted WordPress platform. I went with DreamHost, who I had heard and read nothing but good things about. It was a fine experience for a while, but eventually the site got to where it was down more than it was up. Then I was having to be in contact with support and working on backend stuff instead of writing content. They have a pretty generous 90-day hassle free refund period, and I was a couple of days away from that when I decided to forget it and just move back to WordPress.com and got my money back.
Obviously tons of people have success with that method, but that one ultimately bad experience caused me to just be happy with WordPress.com. You might have a completely different experience, perhaps smooth sailing for you. But when you’re just starting out fresh, I personally advocate taking a smart free approach that allows you to write and build an audience without having to worry about anything else.
Now that’s not to say that you shouldn’t invest any money in your site at the beginning. I do recommend getting a domain name if nothing else, and while they can be a little costly, purchasing a good theme is also high on the priority list. WordPress offers a number of good free themes to use at the very beginning, but a quality theme is ultimately important. And the more you can customize it, the better it is because you don’t want your site looking like every site that also uses the same theme.
As for the domain, I’m not going to tell you how to name your site or pick a domain. There’s lots of advice out there about trying to get your keywords in your name but keeping it short. My site is called Vortainment, which means “a vortex of entertainment.” I would suggest that you come up with a unique and relatively short name for your site that you can get either the .com or .net domain for and also get the name on social media platforms.
Once you have your host and your name, and you have picked out a theme, you’re ready to start fixing up the site itself. I recommend you keep things simple and organized from the very beginning. Two things you’re going need to use for that organization are categories and tags. A post should only be in one category the majority of the time. In the case of reviews, the category could be “Reviews” if you’re just doing video games. I do games, movies, books, and other stuff, so I actually put it in two categories; Reviews and Gaming. You do what you think works best for your own organizational needs.
Tags are the other organizational tool that you’ll use and will have a lot of value for your audience, so it’s important to have a plan for them and get it right at the beginning. Take it from me, because I speak from personal experience, you don’t want to have to restructure your site later on and have to edit thousands of posts to have a tagging system that makes sense and is simple to readers.
So let’s say you’re posting a review of a game, and for this example we’ll use Borderlands 3, here’s how you might go about organizing it.
Title: Borderlands 3 Review
Category: Reviews, Gaming
Tags: gearbox, 2k games, borderlands, ps4, xbox one, pc, fps, looter shooter
That’s really all the tags you need. That’s all the relevant information; developer, publisher, game title, platforms, and genre. If you want, you can even list the score as a tag (that tends to work better if you use a star system) and also “game reviews” as a tag.
The point is to keep it simple. You don’t need to go overboard with tags. Think of them as an index for your site; it’s relevant information so that your readers can easily find all posts of a similar nature.
You’ll notice that the category is capitalized and the tags are all lower case. You can capitalize the first letter in your tag, but it’s best to do tags in lowercase. There’s no SEO (search engine optimization) law about it, but it just helps keep categories and tags distinct for your reader. If you look at the tags as the index, then think of the categories as the chapters of your blog.
Earlier I mentioned WordAds, and so let’s briefly go over this. I personally recommend using WordPress.com, when starting out at least. However, if you want complete freedom to monetize your content, know that WordPress.com is limited to just using their own WordAds program if you qualify. You need a custom domain name and you must also meet their minimum traffic requirement, which they don’t specify. They do point out that in order to make “meaningful revenue,” you’ll need thousands of pageviews a month. You can also use an Amazon Affiliate link, but you can’t turn your site into some affiliate marketing thing on the WordPress.com free platform; it’s against the terms of service and will just your site banned.
Building a Portfolio and an Audience
So you have your blog up and running, now you need to start writing content.
Hey congratulations, it’s finally time to start writing. By this point you’ve put in a lot thought to backend stuff and now you’ve reached the point where it’s time to put your original plan into action and make use of everything you’ve set up. It’s time to write that first review, or post, and get it published on your site.
As a rule, know that demand for a review constantly dwindles from the time the game launches. There’s less people looking for a review of a new game that’s been out a week than there is the first two days of launch. So as a beginner, you’re already fighting an uphill battle. You’re having to buy the game, and then you’re having to invest enough hours into playing it to have a legitimate opinion on the game. By the time you get around to posting that review, few people are going to care.
For that reason, the beginning of a site is a fantastic time to just write. You don’t have an audience. Take the time to enjoy just writing reviews (and other opinion pieces) about whatever games you want and honing your style. This all a practice stage for you; you should be finding your voice. At this point in your journey you can feel free to review whatever game you want. Look at your shelf and just start reviewing. If you’ve got NES games, cool you have a retro review to write. You’re just writing to get better at it, and also to have a nice portfolio of reviews to help build your site.
It’s important not to get carried away here. Don’t just start reviewing every game you’ve ever played and posting them one after the other. If you haven’t played that game in years, then perhaps your memory of it isn’t good enough to review it. So play it again, then possibly review it.
The idea of reviewing older games, and by that I mean anything that isn’t a new release, is just to have reviews be posted on the site when you’re not able to review new games. Try to get a schedule going if at all possible, that way readers will know when and how often they should expect to see a review be posted on your site.
You don’t want to flood your site with old reviews at all once because they aren’t going to be big hits. You’re not going to be getting a lot of views on those reviews, and if that’s all you’re posting because you’re trying to build a portfolio then you aren’t likely to be succeeding at also building an audience up.
I know you’re reading this because you want to be a game reviewer, but unless you can get hired on with someone else’s site as just a reviewer then you’re going to have to do more than just review games on your site. Reviews of games from three months ago, let alone three years ago, just isn’t going to bring more than one or two visitors to your site. And those visitors aren’t likely to be repeat visitors.
Because of that, you’re going to want to spend a lot of your time writing about games that haven’t come out yet. If a trailer for a game you’re interested in gets released, post that YouTube video and write about the trailer. A new piece of information for an upcoming game gets announced, write about that.
Don’t just copy and paste press releases though. That’s lazy and is content found word for word on countless sites. Don’t be like those sites. At least have the decency to rewrite the information contained in the release to put it in your own words. Put your own spin on things.
Some folks have a problem with what we’ll call opinionated news. That is news that has your opinion, or your bias, mixed in with it. To that end, you’re not a journalist just reporting news. You are a blogger, and that means sharing news largely by expressing your opinion about it. I like to try and keep a happy medium though; write the facts and things your audience needs to know, and then follow it up underneath with your thoughts on the subject. I do this with either a bolded “Patriot’s Ponderings” or “Smith’s Sentiment” heading so that readers know we’re getting into opinion territory.
Another thing you should start writing is non-review opinion pieces. Do things like lists (the five best action RPG’s) or most anticipated games releasing this fall. It’s the news posts and opinion pieces that will bring in the most visitors to your site. If all you’re doing is reviewing old games, then you’re just writing for yourself. If that’s what you want, then fine, but you’re not going to see much growth from that.
At this point, getting review copies isn’t going to happen. Any new release game that you review is going to have to be a game you buy. That means you’ll get it release day, spend a few days plaything it, and then write a review that gets posted almost a week after release when there isn’t as much interest. That’s just the nature of it. That’s why you want to be posting other content to help bring in viewers.
Covering games in the months before they release is what’s going to allow you to begin to become known to the public relations people at the publishing studios. Making contact with the publishers is the next chapter, so don’t worry about that part yet, but it is how you will ultimately go about getting review copies.
Don’t read into that last paragraph and think that you should be covering games with a slant to getting in good with publishers. That’s not the goal. Never become a mouthpiece for the publishers; it’s not your job to give them free advertising. Again, and I stress, recycling their press releases is something anyone can do; there are bot sites that automatically do that. That takes no effort and is neither satisfying to you as a hopeful writer or the readership you’re trying to establish. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone copy and paste a press release.
Ultimately though, at this stage and any other, the one thing you should be doing is just writing. That’s it, just write. You have total freedom in the beginning. No one is reading; you’re not going to get instantly flooded with comments from people telling you that you’re a terrible writer. The more you write the better you will get at it. That goes for any type of writing. If you’re in your free time and you’re not writing, you should be thinking about writing. Keep a notepad with you and write down any ideas you get for potential opinion piece topics. For whatever reason the Internet loves lists, so the more of them you do the better.
After several months of doing all of this, you should have plenty of content on your site and you should be getting visitors now. You should also know by now whether or not it’s something you’re going to stick with. If you’ve made it this far and are confident that you’ll keep going, then you’re finally ready to reach out and introduce yourself to the PR folks at the publishers. You’re still likely a ways off from considering requesting review copies, but you’re at the point where you’re ready to get put on the press mailing list to receive press releases and assets.
Once your site has been established for a while and you’ve seen that you’re going to be committed to this journey and have begun to build an audience, it’s time to reach out and introduce yourself to publishers.
You’re not trying to get review copies here, at least not from most outlets. Your goal here is to just make yourself known and try to get put on press email lists. You want to be on these lists so that you get press releases and assets (like trailers and screenshots) emailed to you. With this, you’re no longer having to scour other sites to find something to write about. The news is coming to you straight from the publisher or third party PR firm that they have working for them.
This process is routine and simple, and you should keep things short and to the point. You’re introducing yourself to a PR person, and that should only take a sentence or two. They’re busy folks and they get a ton of emails, so please don’t waste their time by writing out your life story here. That should go without saying, but I’ve had people looking to get started doing this email me copies of their introductory emails before because a publisher didn’t respond. They’ve ranged from four to seven long paragraphs.
To show how easy it is, below is an actual email I sent when I was introducing myself and requesting to be put on a press list. This email was the first one I sent, and it was to a PR manager at Square Enix:
I’m Gary Smith, I am the Editor-in-Chief of Vortainment (http://vortainment.com). I’m writing to request to be added to the Square Enix press list to help stay up-to-date on the latest news, press releases, and assets for quicker coverage of Square Enix games.
Thanks for your time.
All the best,
Now that email was sent to a general PR address at Square Enix as I didn’t have any contacts there. Had I known the name of the person I was emailing, I would’ve included their first name after “Hi.”
That was basically my go to email when I was requesting to be put on these lists. It’s pretty straightforward, and I could copy/paste and just change the publisher’s name.
Once you’ve sent off the email, that’s it. There’s nothing else you can do. Some will reply back, and I would say on average that is the case. It could be a while though; hours to days, and of course sometimes it’s just a matter of minutes. Again, these people are getting a lot of emails and are also busy doing a lot of other tasks.
In the case of Square Enix, a lady replied back around five hours later with the following email:
We can definitely add you to the press list!
That’s a pretty standard reply. Sometimes they might be longer like the one below from Bethesda, and sometimes they’ll be really short like the one below that from Deep Silver:
Hope all is well with you! I’ll make sure you’re added to our press database so you’re in the loop on all things Bethesda. You can also register for our press asset site where you’ll find assets for each of our games.
Drop me a line if there’s anything else you need in the meantime.
Yes, despite my email containing my name four times, this lady at Bethesda still managed to type “Greg” instead of “Gary.” And from Deep Silver:
Sure, I’ll add you to our news list. :)
Sometimes I followed up these responses with a simple “Thanks, I appreciate it,” but most of the time I didn’t because it really isn’t necessary. You do what feels right for you.
I sent that example email off to basically all of the big publishers. Some, like the three above, responded back fairly quickly. Others never responded, and the only thing I can say there is to not send another one.
In the case of THQ, Activision, EA, and Ubisoft I never heard anything back. With that said, all of them except Ubisoft added me to their press lists. So just because they don’t respond back doesn’t mean they didn’t add you. Now if it’s been a couple of months and you haven’t received any press releases from them when you know they’ve been sending them out, feel free to try them again.
The great thing about a response is that it will more than likely be coming from a person’s email address. So in the case of Square Enix, the introductory email was sent to a general PR email but the response came from an actual person’s account. And that gives you a named contact whose address you can use next time and a person with whom you can build a rapport.
Once you’ve been getting press releases and assets, and using them to create posts, the next time you’ll want to contact publishers is to send them your coverage links. I know some people who send links off every time they post about a game. I’ve never been one to do that. Instead, I send off bulk coverage links. That is to say I’ll cover a game several times and then send off one email that contains links to several different pieces of coverage. A lot of times these days, I don’t even bother doing it at all unless there’s a note in their email asking for coverage links if I post about whatever information they sent over.
One thing you’ll notice when contacting publishers is that you might get a reply from someone at a different company. That’s because some publishers, while having a PR or marketing group, will outsource to a dedicated PR firm. You’ll encounter the likes of FortySeven, TriplePoint, B/H Impact, and Evolve amongst others. Some of these can be difficult, others fantastic. The folks at Evolve are wonderful and have hands down the best site for press members, YouTuber’s or streamers as they make it super easy to submit coverage or request review codes and so that you always know who the correct contact for a specific game they’re representing is.
When and How to Request Review Copies
There is no real, sure fire way to answer this. It depends on the game and your relationship with the publisher or firm handling the title; i.e. have you worked with them in the past on getting a review copy, or is this the first time they’re hearing about you.
If it’s a big release title that is guaranteed to have a lot of interest, I’d say request a month out. In most cases, two weeks will suffice because the smaller sites typically aren’t going to get copies early anyway (release day copies are pretty much the norm for the non-big sites).
If you request a month out, the worst thing that is going to happen is you’ll possibly get a reply back stating they’ll make a note of your request but won’t start putting together a list until closer to launch. If that happens, simply follow up two weeks before the game is scheduled to be released.
The “how” is the easiest part (again, once you get past feeling weird about it… which may just be me, I don’t know).
You should have already been familiar with the contact for the game and been emailing your coverage to them, but of course you don’t always have to take that route. Your request may be the first time you’ve emailed anything about the game.
I like to keep it relatively short, and I do have a go-to request style. Here is an actual request email that I sent out where I did get a copy of the game:
I’m Gary Smith, I am the Editor-in-Chief of, and a reviewer at, Vortainment (http://vortainment.com). I’m writing to put in a request to be added to the review list for “REDACTED”. Specifically, I’m inquiring about receiving a PS4 copy of the game for review. If I can be added to the list, my mailing address is included below…”
And then I’d provide my mailing address since it was the first time I had ever contacted this person and I also included links to some of the Borderlands 2 coverage. That’s it. If it’s a first time contacting them, introduce yourself and then tell them why you’re writing. Short and sweet. Some folks like to try and be fancy and include their stats and link to Alexa and all sorts of things. I don’t mention that stuff (maybe once I might have), and you shouldn’t unless you are asked (and if you are asked, be honest. Plenty of publishers, including big ones, are more than willingly to work with smaller sites).
The main thing is to be professional and respectful with it. If your request is “Yo, gimme this game for review,” you’re not going to get anywhere.
There is no magic formula or email to send out. You’ll get some, and you won’t get some (most). When you do receive a game though, play it thoroughly and write a review of it in a relatively timely manner and always send the link to your review to your contact. When you do that all you have to say is, “here’s the link to my review, [provide the link], thanks for sending it out, have a great day!” And don’t expect a reply back, but usually they’ll eventually respond with a “thanks for the review.” Don’t be nervous sending the link if you score the game low either; you’re not on Metacritic and they truly aren’t going to be upset.
Be timely with your reviews, so don’t request more games than you can potentially handle. The object is not to acquire as many free games as you can. If you request four games that all come out on the same day, and you get all four of them yourself, then you aren’t doing anyone any good because you’re either not going to spend enough time with each game to write a honest review or some of the reviews are going to be way late.
Misconceptions About Reviews, Reviewers, & Publishers
If you read around gaming communities, you’ll find that a lot of people are suspicious of reviewers who receive review copies of games. A publisher gave you a game to review, so there obviously must be a catch. Your review can no longer be trusted because of this. And that’s simply not true.
Never have I encountered a PR person who wanted a game to receive a certain score or better. Could shady stuff happen between publishing companies and large sites like say IGN? Absolutely. I get suspicious myself when I see a site plastered with ads for a game, that gets an exclusive early review of the game (when everyone else has to follow an embargo), and then that game scores highly.
It doesn’t happen on the small sites; no publisher is ever going to tell you to give a game a certain score in exchange for getting a copy. They don’t care that much. And if for some reason you ever do get that email, post it and let the world know because its wrong and would need to be exposed.
Never, ever, be beholden to the publisher. Yes, as a reviewer, they control whether or not you get a review copy. The publisher-reviewer relationship, like all relationships, is very much quid-pro-quo; something for something. They are giving you a review copy, and in exchange you are writing your opinion on the game in a public sphere. This is done under the agreement that the review will be honest. If you think the game is bad, say so and describe how so. When you email the link to your contact, they will thank you for the review. And that’s that; they’re not furious and plotting revenge and blacklisting you because you gave the game a low score. And if they do, they’re doing it wrong and forget them.
Always remember that a review is simply one person’s opinion; not everyone is going to like the same thing. Your only responsibility as a reviewer is to provide an accurate and honest portrayal about your thoughts on the game. If you think you’re going to write simply to please a publisher to hope they send you more games, then you need not even start this process. Write honest reviews and remember that your readers are more important than the publishers. If a game is bad, explain to your readers how so that they can make an informed decision. You are critiquing a game for potential consumers, not writing an advertisement to please the publisher. Always remember that.
Be true to yourself, honest with your readers, and professional to the publishers.
If you do receive an early copy of a game, it will most likely come with an embargo date. What that means is that you are not allowed to post a review, impressions, or gameplay of the game until after a specific time set by the publisher.
A lot of people think that by adhering to embargoes that you are being beholden to the publisher. They don’t want you to talk about their bad game until it releases, and you’re doing gamers a disservice by not letting people know before the game releases that it is bad.
Of course there’s a couple of things wrong with that. If someone has already pre-ordered it to get it day one, they obviously didn’t need or care about reviews to begin with. That’s neither here nor there though.
Breaking embargo will get you blacklisted though, and likely an email asking you to take it down though (and though too late by that point). You have to adhere to the embargo; sorry people who think that is a problem. Just like the publishers send you a review copy under the agreement that you’ll say whatever you honestly think about the game, you accept that review copy under the agreement that you will not post your review until the embargo is up.
For you as a reviewer, embargos can actually be useful. Depending on how early you get the game and how long you have before the embargo lifts, you’ll have time to finish the game or at least invest more than enough hours into it to be able to write a legitimate review of the experience AND get the review written. Why is this important? Well just like you’re competing with other reviewers for review copies, you’re also competing with them for hits. The sooner you can get your review out, the better for you in that department. If there were no embargos, some folks would either be able to get through the game a lot faster than you, or simply not play through all of it in order to try and be the first person to get a review out there, and thus bring in all the traffic. Some may even try to do this anyway by giving a good game a low score, just for the controversy.
Embargos tend to make it a level playing field, even if the intention is basically to control hype or do damage control. And of course, sometimes an outlet like IGN is going to get an exclusive and be able to post their review days ahead of everyone else like they need help getting hits. There’s nothing you can do about that though, and it doesn’t happen often, so there really is no sense in being concerned with it.
As said earlier, reviewing to simply try and get free games is not the approach to take. If that’s what you’re doing, your blog isn’t going to be around long and I hope you didn’t go the paid web host route. It takes time to start getting review copies, and work for which you aren’t going to be making money.
Start small. Request indie games for Steam, or PSN or XBLM. You’re much more likely to get those codes, and it’s a great place to start (my actual first review for this site that was a free copy was a PSN version of LIMBO, which is a great game by the way). Work your way up to retail releases.
Understand also that you aren’t going to get many of the games you request, and you aren’t likely to know why. Don’t let your failure to get anything from a specific company result in some misplaced grudge or blacklisting their stuff. The absolute worse mentality you can have is “well they won’t give me review copies, so I just won’t cover their stuff.” Cover everything you’re interested in, and that which you aren’t (you do have readers who have different interests ya know), and don’t worry about review copies.
For example, I can’t get anything from Ubisoft (outside of a PSN copy of From Dust), I couldn’t even get Wii U versions of games that I knew a lot of folks weren’t requesting. I haven’t the slightest clue why I can’t receive any Ubisoft games; it can’t be stats related because I know gaming sites that do get games from Ubisoft that this site is bigger than. But who cares? Assassin’s Creed is still my favorite franchise and I’m still going to write about it, along with all the other great releases that Ubisoft puts out. They don’t owe me review copies, and I don’t expect them. Every one I’ve had contact with at Ubisoft has been friendly; it’s just one of those things that happen. The point is, don’t take not getting review copies personally. Just continue doing what you’re doing and don’t worry about it.
Again, I can’t stress it enough though… DON’T REVIEW GAMES TO TRY AND GET FREE GAMES. Just don’t do it. It will not work out and no one will care because it will be obvious. And if that is your goal then you’re probably going to compromise your thoughts hoping to get in good with a publisher (as if they care).
If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend not even using review scores. Be the change in the system. Don’t let people focus on that meaningless number and never even think about trying to get on Metacritic (and you’ll probably be asked at some point if you are on Metacritic by a PR person, and if that happens and you’re not then you can pretty much expect to not being receiving a copy of that game). Don’t be a “me too” reviewer. Be honest, and be thorough. Scores don’t matter, so don’t feel you have to use them simply because most others do. And if you think there is some power in slapping a meaningless number on a game (“I give this a 4 out of 10!”), like it is anything more than your opinion, then don’t even bother to jump in the game of reviewing.
All told, writing game reviews should be something that is fun for you, and it can be rewarding. Read the reviews written by other bloggers, and I mean actually READ the reviews, and leave them comments. Become part of the games blogging community, because I guarantee you connecting with other bloggers who are interested in the same things you are and getting to know them by reading their content and discussing it with them is far more rewarding than getting some free video game.
Finally, if you do receive a review copy, be honest and upfront with your readers and treat them with respect. Put a disclosure notice at the beginning or the end of the review and let your readers know that you reviewed a product that was given to you by the publisher for the purposes of review. Understand that when you do this, and the review is positive, there will be those folks who are going to assume you were positive because you received the game and hope to receive more. There’s nothing you do about that. The most important thing you can do is simply be honest with your readers because they’re the most important thing you’ve got. Write to make the best possible recommendation to your readers, and don’t worry about the publishers and what they think.
If you need help in the beginning finding out press contacts and keeping up with the latest press releases, then register at Games Press. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on their site, then hit up their forums where there is a nice community of reviewers/press who are, usually, willing to help you find the information you’re after.