Feature

How to become a reviewer and get those fabled review copies. (Version 2: new and improved)

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.

Writing tips?
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.

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37 replies »

  1. So you are encouraging people to start blogging about game and writing reviews for them so they can get free games:/

    A. That will not do publishers any good! Once people start doing this, how will publisher make money? who will buy their games whereas the publishers would have to send free games to reviewers!?

    B. In the end you are still working hard to get something therefore these free games are not free because you worked hard to get it. Why bother writing reviews for years by getting free games? wtf would it do for you? I’d rather become a journalist and let my reviews be heard by millions and publishers recommending it rather than letting small readers read my review and hoping for free games next time.

    C. Being critical does affect your review and chances of getting free games. Publishers want high lvl scores, if you are rating your game 6/10 what publisher would wanna send you a review copy? Publisher only do so to make sure you give the game good score that would allow readers/gamers to go out and buy the game because of the review.

    • Hey Xino,

      A: Publishers only get a small supply of games to send out, thus only sending them to select people. The amount of people that get these is very very small so no, tha’s not going to be a problem.

      B: Each to their own mate.

      c: Actually no. The occasional publisher is like that, but most aren’t. I just gave a game 3/10 of ten but the publisher still deals with me on a regular basis and supplies me with games.

  2. Thanks very much for the article! I’ve been religiously blogging for about a year now, and I’ve started receiving unsolicited emails from a “social media marketing” company with information and graphic assets for their games to pimp on my blog. I’m likely a ways from getting review copies, but this article is definitely getting bookmarked.

    Thanks!

  3. Thank you for writing this very detailed article.

    Video game reviewing has been a passion of mine for years and I just recently started my own blog. I’ve been updating it with lengthy and detailed reviews almost daily and have a decent amount of traffic due to heavy advertising on forums and social networking sites (with class, of course. No spam whatsoever.)

    I’m somewhat wary of approaching publishers, but I plan to do that soon. I will use your tips to my advantage.

    Thanks again.

  4. When would you suggest to contact PRs? How many hits, views, comments, etc would you consider minimum for a publisher to be interested?

    How long did it take you before you got a review copy?

    Sorry for all of the questions, but I’m a freelance writer and have my own blog (on WordPress oddly enough) and am wondering when I can start receiving discs for my own site.

    Thanks for your time :)

    • Hey Scott,

      Contacting PR’s is simple: just be honest and talk to them like normal people. Most publishers will take quality of site content into consideration instead of hits, though a few will deny you anything unless you have big numbers.

      Don’t just send an email asking for free games though. The first email to any company should be introducing yourself, your site etc.

      • Thanks,

        I started writing for a bigger publication and am contacting PR through them and have the stats to not be afraid. Hopefully they will get to know my name and allow my own blog to receive a boost in interest.

        Thanks anyway though, I’ll take what you said into consideration.

  5. hey Wolfie old chap,

    I’ve been running the site in my link for a couple of months now and would like to thank this article for our current success. However, I’m having trouble finding a “sign up” or sme such button on gamepress.com, is there something I’m missing here?

  6. Hey Ronie! So I realize this is a pretty old article on your blog and you may not be replying to it but I have some questions. Look, I understand that this is a long process one must undertake in order to get going, but I work at a local game store where we do reviews and the like on our website so getting free games is not why I want to do this. Our boss wants the reviews done within a week of release. Not too terrible right? Well, he wants the games beat BEFORE we write the review. As you can imagine, it can be pretty difficult beating a game within a week if the game is challenging or is as long as something like Skyrim. The extra time for my fellow employees and me would be awesome! So I was wondering, as a business, if there was a way we can hope in the wagon now. Is this possible? Any help would be appreciated.

    Robbie

  7. Hello, My name is Hunter and I am 15 years old. My father is in the US Army and I am living in South Korea right now. Ever since I was three I have had a passion for video games. I want to start a blog but also a youtube channel. I was wondering if you could give me some advice on where to begin. Since I am 15 I can’t afford every game, so should I just review what I have on my shelf. Any advice would be much appreciated.

    Hunter

    • I have the same financial trouble as you, so what I do is if I’m short on any games to review, I review a free iOS game. If you have an iPod, iPad, or iPhone, you can do this, or you can also revew fairly recent games. For example, I reviewed Magicka, but that game is a year old. You do not need every recent review until you are popular because the people that come on your site will be here now, so what does it matter that it was a 2 year old game or whatever. If you do become popular, then they will have to be fairly current, but by then, you can contact publishers and ask for a review copy from them.

      I have only just started, so if you could look at my site and give feedback, that would be great. The link is: http://killercowreviews.wordpress.com/

  8. Great article! I’ve been in Media Studies for a few years now and finally decided that I wanted to pursue the route of the videogames journalist, so I’ve been looking all over the internet for information from other writers like myself. Games Press is a fantastic resource I didn’t know about!

  9. Huh, people are still checking this out. Cool, it was helpful for me when I wrote for another site. I’m not sure if this is a rule maintained by every publisher, but keep in mind that omitting scores from your reviews means that you won’t get review copies. Although some reviewers argue that a score shouldn’t be the reason you read a review, it’s what publishers will look for.

  10. I have decided to start writing reviews for video games on my blog (mostly Nintendo games). I would like to be able to receive review copies from PR’s once I gain a large enough audience. I went to http://www.gamespress.com to register for an account, but they denied my registration due to the fact that I am not 18 years of age. Is there any way I am able to receive free review copies of video games without having to be a certain age? I don’t want to start writing reviews for video games just for free games, I really do love them. I have grown up with an N64, PS1, Super Nintendo, Gamecube, etc. and I really do have a passion for video gaming. Thank you.

    • Hi Samiam,

      GamesPress isn’t where you get review copies of games, it’s simply a site that gathers together press releases and provides an index of the various companies and contacts so that you can get in touch with them. Therefore being denied by Gamespress doesn’t mean you can’t get review copies.

      Review copies come directly from the publishers themselves, so to get them you must write to the publishers and request the title

  11. I have already reviewed one game for the Nintendo Wii. It’s, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. If you don’t mind, why don’t you check it out and give me some feedback. Any constructive criticism is welcomed, I am also open to improving. Thank you again.

    My blog: http://www.samiam10100.blogspot.com

  12. Wow the article was very informative, thanks
    I have a degree in Communication, focus on digital film, and I want to start reviewing video games, however I want to focus more on video reviews
    I have the necessary equipment, editing computer/software, HD PVR (To capture game footage) I figured I’d put the reviews on YouTube and advertise using forums from various gaming sites
    Any advice for an aspiring filmmaker/game enthusiast who wants to try to garner a following on YouTube?

    • Glad you found the article helpful, Jeff.

      Advice on getting on to Youtube isn’t something I can really give you as I’ve never really gotten into it. Nobody wants to see my ugly mug on video :D and I’m terrible in front of cameras, which is a shame as I’d like to get in to it.

      I wish you the best with with it!

  13. Thanks for this article, it was extremely helpful and full of the information I required.

    I do have two quick questions, if that’s okay?

    1 – When contacting publishers, when should I contact them? For instance a week before release? A fortnight? etc

    2 – Are there any “low-brow” publishers and what’s the lowest views they expect before they even take you seriously? I run a site but it’s still quite small, with most videos getting 500 views.

    Thanks

  14. Nice review. I’ve had my own review blog since 2010 and have been thinking a lot about wanting to get review copies. Just applied at Gamepress for an account and waiting on that… what else should I be doing?

    • While you’re waiting it’d be a good idea to just starting sending out Emails to the various companies detailing your site and introducing yourself, as well as asking to be put on the mailing list for press releases.

  15. I’m reading this post “only” two years. I want to build a site with reviews and news and this helped me with the reviews part. Thank you.
    Can i ask you where i can take news to put on the site?

  16. Thank you, this was all really helpful! Just became a writer for a gaming site looking for more writers and help increasing traffic! This was really useful! Very new to blogging, but finding a generally warm community on all blogging sites!!

    http://twinstickgaming.com if anyone looking for impatial rants and reviews on gaming, you might find something interesting! Anyway, thanks again for the advice!

  17. I just applied for Gamespress, but it says that it only accepts sites of high quality etc and it doesn’t like my gmail email…Does anyone know whether I’ll get in or not? If not, doesn anyone know where I can get the publisher’s PR details?
    Thanks!

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