Free review copies? At what price?

Once upon a time, when I was knee-deep in the hoopla of 5K word count reviews, a certain publisher, the name of which I shall not list here, offered me a review copy of a major competitor to an EA Sports offering. I really don’t remember the specific name of the title, but that’s not important. Let’s just leave it at this; the publisher was going toe-to-toe with EA Sports in basketball and football (and maybe baseball). Just recall the competing products to EA Sports around 2000-2002, and you can land pretty close to the mark.

At the time Calvert Games probably had close to 50 reviews, all of which were cataloged at Game Rankings. Calvert Games was relevant, receiving plenty of traffic, daily updates, and had earned a loyal following of sports gamers.

I think it is worth pointing out that in the early days of Calvert Games, I swore off review copies, so as not to “sell out” – the intent was to be unbiased. Rightly or wrongly, over time that stance was softened. It was ‘cool’ to receive free games. Besides, I felt that I could remove personal bias and the readership would be OK with this approach as long as we were open, honest, and upfront during the review process.

Of the 50 reviews, a handful (call it less than 10) were provided as ‘free’ games, by marketing and PR folks that were responsible for sending out review copies. No strings attached; usually the games came with a simple “please play the game and be honest with your opinion … and let us know when the review is published” type of note. These ‘free’ games were from second tier publishers, most of which were text based simulation games. For the first time, I was faced with interacting with a major publisher.

The PR person and I exchanged a couple of emails, in which I was told that I would receive a ‘free’ review copy of an upcoming sports title; however I was to provide assurances that I would post a favorable rating. Seriously. In no uncertain terms, provide a good rating in exchange for the ‘free’ game. If I did not agree, no free game, and I would no longer be a candidate to receive review copies of this publisher’s games.

I was stunned. Shouldn’t have been after my jaded days in the mid to late 90’s as a crusader against the various mega sites and their shit they often shoveled for reviews. However, it was the first time I was openly propositioned (so to speak); call it a loss of innocence.

Sure, it was hinted at, and joked about, but I never expected to actually be asked to provide a good result. Being self-righteous, and full of myself, I did not accept the game, and I probably ripped the company in this very site. Funny how times have changed. Back then my wife was still practicing law, so I had a staff lawyer. These days my wife is inactive with the Georgia Bar, homeschooling our three boys, and I do not have the nuts to openly rip this publisher.

Kind of a shame really to see that not much has changed in the review business over the last 10 or so years.

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One thought on “Free review copies? At what price?”

  1. I heard about that. Of course EA flies “community leaders” to events.

    Even if they aren’t explicit in their demands can you really expect these guys to be harsh on any EA game? They obviously put a lot of importance on these reviews. Apparently people’s bonuses are based on Metacritic scores.

    Just have to be a little wary of reviews and consider the views of other gamers who post their opinions as well.

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