For anyone with a passion for games getting them for free sounds like a dream, and for myself getting to write about them as well was doubly so.
With my previous article on how to the these fabled free games proving so popular it made sense to write a new and better version compared to the hastily written previous one. So here we go.
This may sound obvious but a passion for games is a must. I’m not just talking about playing games for a few hours a day. No, I’m talking about searching through every level of a game for every hidden secret. I mean reading about every new game and having a vast knowledge of the old as well. For a reviewer games are a fundamental part of life, it’s that simple.
The next is to have the right mentality. Don’t go into the game reviewing business with the single-minded goal of scoring free games, because then you’re writing for the wrong reasons and your work will suffer for it. Far to many gamers get into reviewing because they wan’t free games, instead of wanting to simply write about games. And don’t get into it simply becuse you want to become a famous games journalist; get writing because you love games and you want to write about them
With the rise of the internet came an easy way for people to write and be read by thousands of people. It’s the internet that will be your first stop thanks to the magic of blogs. These handy little things are free, simple and let you get writing with minimal fuss. It’s a blog that you’re reading this very article on and they’re a great platform to build your ambitions from. And did I mention they’re free? Free is good.
I recommend WordPress which is what I use as it’s easy to get started with and down the line has plenty of options for expansion as you grow.
So now you’ve a blog, it’s time to get writing about those games. But first and foremost you need to have a basic understanding of the English (or whichever language you will be writing in) language and its proper use. This means know your punctuation, grammar and spelling. In modern times these skills are becoming rarer and “txt” speak just won’t cut it. Nothing will put off a publisher more than a sentence which reads: “Teh grafics aint tht gud ether”. But don’t panic, a few slip-ups are fine as long as they don’t make the whole unreadable. There are plenty of places on the world-wide web that can help with the fundamentals so go ahead and get learning. It’s like going back to school! Don’t forget your lunchbox.
Punctuation, grammar and spelling may account for the technical side of writing, but now is the time to get reading as well. Why you ask? Because this will give you a look into the numerous different writing styles that exist. Don’t just read game reviews either, go read a variety of books as well. Start looking at how they word things and structure their writing and use this to help develop your own unique style. Give it time, the more you write the quicker it will come to you but do remember to take a break every now and then. Get some fresh air, take a walk. Hell, go terrorize a cow if it helps you feel better.
So now you’re writing reviews and posting them for the world to see. Now it all comes down to a single thing: patience. Don’t go into this expecting mass amounts of people reading your material in a month or even a year. Patience is key, it takes time to become world-famous and all good things come to those who wait.
Ok, so you’re getting a fair number of people reading your work now, so it’s time to work on getting those free games. Mmmmm, free games.
At this point I recommend applying to a site such as Gamespress which collects all the companies press-releases into one area which lets you keep track of all the games and their news. It also supplies you with contact details for publishers which you’ll be needing.
Many people get confused when it comes to which people they need to contact in order to get the games. To explain it’s the developers who create the game, and it’s the publishers who actually advertise the game and deal with the press asking for review copies. Within these publishers it’s the Public Relations representatives (PR Reps) who you’ll be dealing with on a regular basis and it’s these people who decide whether you get the game or not. As such it’s these people who you need to build a solid foundation with. Among the world of publishers there are two main types of which you will encounter: stat based and quality based. Stat based publishers can be the worst to deal with as they will only surrender their review copies to sites that obtain large amounts of visits per month, a good example being Capcom or Sega who ask for nothing less than 250,000 hits to your site per month. Ouch.
Quality based publishers are your friends, these will judge whether you get the game by the quality of your work and, to a degree, you personally.
Remember when you’re writing an email to these people asking for a game that they are human, so while being professional is a good thing don’t be too mechanical and don’t be afraid to talk to them or even make a joke or two. Chances are you’ll be refused the first few times, but don’t let that put you down, just keep trying.
Getting your first review copy of a game is a great feeling, but now you’ve got to hold up your end of the deal by providing them with a review in a timely fashion. Publishers will expect a review to be done fairly quickly so once you get the game, get playing. If you’re lucky and get a game well ahead of release the review may be embargoed until a certain date and time, which essentially means you cannot publish your review before that time. Breaking this can lead to a breakdown in your relationship with the publisher and the possibility of legal action. So resist the temptation. Be careful never to get too many games at once otherwise you’ll have trouble getting them all done. It’s tempting to take ever game that comes but sometimes you need to be picky.
Once your review is written and up for the world to see it’s time to send a link to the review to the publisher who supplied you with the game. This is a crucial point as they like to keep track of all reviews so be quick about it once the review is done. It can be scary to send a link to a review that is negative about the game, but don’t be afraid to send it and don’t worry, this is just business to them.
Once that’s all done don’t go thinking that you won’t speak to these PR Reps again until you need another game. No, keeping a good relationship with them is possibly the single most important thing you can do and if you only pay attention to one thing in this article, let it be this. This is done via a few main ways, the simplest being keeping them updated with any coverage you provide for their games whether it’s the review, preview or just a trailer. Let them know that you’ve put it up on your site. Once a game arrives let them know it has done or if a review is running late tell them. This helps keep a solid rapport with these people who are vital to your reviewing. Another very important factor if you’re serious about all this is if you get turned down for a game, go out and buy it. Get the review done and then send them the link, this shows that you’re dedicated.
So now you’ve hopefully got a steady stream of games coming in and plenty of readers to wow.
That’s pretty much it, hopefully this article/special/feature has given you a little more insight into how to get those fabled free games and become a games reviewer. This is all very much based on my own personal experiences when I began and I have no doubt that your experiences will vary, but all the basics and fundamentals are here. Don’t forget that this is many people’s dream job which means that it’s a hard profession to break into on a big scale, but for those that do manage to do it, it’s something special.
Below you’ll find a few frequently asked questions.
Now, off you run. I’ve got games to play.
Do I get to keep the games?
Yes, they’re yours to keep and horde away.
So what are review copies actually like?
They’re essentially retail copies but with a clear “Promotional copy. Not for resale” along the front with washed out color on the box art. They usually have white discs and don’t come with a manual.
How about earning cash from all this?
Well if free games worth £40 aren’t enough for you then there are a few ways to earn cash. Becoming a free-lance writer is the most common which essentially means hiring out your skills to sites or even magazines for a review or article. You’ll often get paid per word or a set amount for a single review/article. If your interested you need to contact sites or use a site like constantcontent which is a large selection of work for sale.
You can also sell advertising space on your website, but this is only really effective when you have a large audience. Blogs like WordPress don’t allow this unless you use the advanced wordpress. And finally you can try to get hired by a big site or magazine who can afford to pay wages, but this is a tough one to get into.
How much time does all this entail?
That really depends on you and how much work you’re willing to do. The more games you get the more work you have to do. It also depends on whether you cover news as well and write articles and previews. If you do it all and try to review most games then it can take a lot of time.
The deeper into it you get, the more time you’ll spend. For someone like me with a lot of games to cover it takes around 5 or 6 hours per day plus playing the games.
Get reading and experience the multitude of styles out there. The likes of Edge magazine have a more formal and elegant style compared to the likes of IGN who are more informal. Learning the in’s and out’s of these is a good place to start.
Deciding whether to have a scoring system or not is also important. If you don’t have one then you really need to convey your feelings about a game in the text. Make sure if you have one that it’s a system you like, it took me a while to decide on the system I use now. Finally be fair and honest about the games, keep your reviews balanced by talking about both the good points and bad points. Many people complain that reviewers are biased, and that’s true – a review is a personal opinion so it’s going to be biased. The key is not to be blinded your feelings toward a game and being willing to see the faults as well as the good.
Oh, and spell-checkers are the greatest thing ever.