Episode 4 – Leveling Up Your Game: Proven Tactics for Capturing Reviewer Attention

The Games PR Podcast helps you level up your PR skills to get your game noticed by media and influencers. With years of experience working with innovative indies and gaming giants alike, join the Games PR Podcast team and special guests for a wealth of tips and honest advice. From writing pitches and getting Metacritic reviews to avoiding common mistakes and working with influencers, The Games PR Podcast is your personal PR cheat code.

In this episode, we cover all you need to know about securing those all-important reviews. When to send codes, how to manage bad reviews and what makes a solid review strategy. We also give some insight into the mysterious inner workings of Metacritic as well as discuss the advantages and disadvantages of embargoes.

Subscribe and listen to the podcast on all your favourite services including Spotify, Podchaser, Amazon Music and more by searching for it or simply find your service of choice right now on Buzzsprout.

Here’s the things we will cover in this episode:

  1. How to get reviews
  2. Strategy for outreach
  3. Schedules
  4. Reasons why a review might not happen

If you would prefer to read – here is the full transcript below


Host: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Games PR podcast, your regular dose of video game PR goodness. Sit down, relax as our team of experts and special guests shared tips and tricks to help you level up your PR game with media and influencers. Hello, welcome to the latest episode of the games. PR podcast brought to you by Big Games Machine. I am here as usual [00:00:30] with Tom and Alex. Hello guys. How are you?

Alex: Very well we’re going to ignore your promotion where you are now running the podcast.

Host: It’s a team effort, we’re still planning to have guests come on down the line soon as well. We are the original team, the avengers as it were, of the podcast.

Alex: That’s right. I was Alex, which you mentioned but then I just spoke and steamrolled Tom.

Tom: Shouting-out in front of me. Hello I’m back again [00:01:00] to assist with any such areas where I can provide my expertise so excited for today’s episode.

Alex: Which is becoming more expert with every passing week?

Tom: My weeks of experience have turned into months and it’ll soon turn into years.

Host: We can pass that experience and knowledge onto you the listener as the point of this podcast is, although we started the last episode talking about digital versus physical media but just made me think about today’s topic going to be reviews [00:01:30] Before we start. Have there been games that you’ve bought because they’ve had really good reviews or similarly have you avoided buying a game purely because it reviewed really badly and you didn’t even think it was worth going there?

Alex: I’m going to do the opposite which is, I ran out. I wasn’t going to buy Cyberpunk and then I heard it was on fire and I went out and I bought it that day and downloaded it, much like I like my movies.

Tom: To experience it for yourself.

Alex: Exactly sometimes I just like to see what’s [00:02:00] gone wrong as much as I like to see what’s gone well like I think I did that with Death Loop because I bought that. That was getting really good reviews but occasionally I find if the score is not quite what I was expecting, I’m more inclined to buy it than if it just meets expectations.

Tom: I agree but I feel like sometimes even if something like– I tend to like not let reviews sway me that much or I tend to go to quite a lot of places to read stuff just because I feel like people forget that they’re like subjective [00:02:30] at the end of the day. Sometimes it’s just a case that the person who reviews it, isn’t quite as in tune with that, as you might be

Host: It’s a fair point. There have been some games where I’ll wait for a certain journalist to cover it because I know they’re like the experts in that genre. There’s a couple of the recent IGN reviews for a number of strategy games that have like, the strategy guy who does them. He’s well regarded as being a good one for that versus somebody [00:03:00] who might not quite know the game and then gives their opinion and it can rub people the wrong way. There’s been a few examples of that.

Tom: That’s every review ever of every game.It rubs people the wrong way.

Alex: I guess no one’s ever happy with them.

How to get reviews

Host: I guess we’ll start with just possibly the main question. How do you get reviews in the first place? How do you go from your game existing to suddenly seeing it pop up somewhere on someone’s Metacritic page something like that. How do we even begin?

Alex: [00:03:30] First you really need to get it. The truth is nobody has access to your game until you launch it unless you are the gatekeeper in that win though. Ultimately you want to be getting that code out to enable those reviews to come out when the game comes out because that’s when you’re going to see that natural peak and certainly on Steam pages it’s that initial time that you can be up in the recently released top recent categories. I’m going to say that’s the dream [00:04:00] but that’s ultimately the goal if you can in that opening salvo which really just involves getting your game out there, a lot of emails well in advance.

Host: We’ve talked about timelines before in previous episodes so we can refer back to those for more detail but generally it’s two to three of weeks. As you mentioned Alex getting it to the hands of people, Tom you’ve worked for a while in the media so you know more than most just how many people on staff [00:04:30] there can be versus how many people are expected to review that game. The editor is only really going to pick one person to give it to and it can all depend on schedule.

Strategy for outreach

Tom: On the topic of working with an editor there has to be the understanding that you have that point of contact with someone and then from there they’re going to have back and forth with people that they’re working with and then there’s going to be back and forth back review. It just reinforces that giving as much time as possible is important but also making sure you do talk to the right people, review editors or [00:05:00] if your game’s from a certain genre if the site’s big enough to have editors for a specific genre go into them as well.

It’s just ways to make the process smoother just to make sure that the right people are seeing what you want them to see. If you get someone who’s perhaps not really, you might get a features editor or a previews editor. If you want a review even if they do get back to you that’s something where you might then have to go to someone else which is taking more time up. Getting your titles, finding the right titles, and the right people is important.

Alex: This might be different if you are [00:05:30] doing your own games PR for yourself and not going out to a PR agency. There’s this constant back and forth for us so do we just give keys out or do we request interest? Then you end up in this weird push and pull of we like to have feedback when we do outreach to see if people are interested in covering it, you then know that not only do they have a code but they’re likely to redeem a code and likely to cover it so you can chase them down and [00:06:00] see what’s happening.

At the same time, as you were saying Tom these big sites they’ve got to go through editors, they’ve got to find out who might be interested, they’ve got to find out who might have time then give the key out. Then if you put another wrinkle in of then asking them to come back to you to request a key, that can slow down what is already getting to be a long progress that’s pushing up on a deadline that you’ve set.

Sometimes with the larger sites you might just want to think like, “Okay, I’m going to put a key in, when I do the initial outreach to be like here I’d love you to try it.” Whereas [00:06:30] maybe with a smaller site or on each site just let me know if you want a code and we’ll get one out to you. We’d love to get one out to you. There’s still that little tight rope you want to walk because you want to make this process as smooth as possible but also at every stage be trying to learn as much as you can about the outlet’s interest so you are not just constantly bugging them with something that they might not be interested in. That’s the worst thing you can do at any point in this process.

Tom: I think bugging people you have to make sure that [00:07:00] before you go out of anything and before you get in touch with people, you have a really clear idea of how are you going to go about things. More like the really good ways to do that. Having a good example a good list of what your unique selling points are and even if it does come down to as being a list that you put maybe at the bottom of a pitch or that’s really clear for people to see.

That way someone can go in who a lot of these people don’t have a lot of time and if you have something there where they can clearly see what makes your game [00:07:30] unique or what makes it appealing the gameplay loops and so on. Another thing to make their job easier and they can know straight away and you can know because they’ll get back to you if they’re interested or not.

Host: It does help frame reviews as well if you have certain features you’re really proud of and you really want to highlight it, if you don’t make that clear then it might go under the radar for someone even if in your mind it’s one of the big parts of your game. I agree Tom USP is really important, especially because [00:08:00] also you’ll be competing against tons of other games that day that week that end up in that journalist’s inbox

Alex: Do be aware of exactly what your USP is. I know that sounds really obvious but imagine if Shadow of Mordor had been like, “YEs, we’ve got Batman’s combat,” didn’t mention the relationship-building mechanic between the enemies and people just didn’t realize what was going on there. Especially in the early reviews that maybe the person hadn’t played enough of the game to pick up on what was going on. [00:08:30]Would’ve been very different reviews. I suspect off the back of that.

Tom: What you’re bringing up there about like the Nemesis system is a really good example because there’s nothing wrong with being proud and wanting to show off. If you think you’ve got something which is cool make that a focus of the pitch and it’s not about neglecting other parts of your game but if you’ve got one feature or I’m trying to think like a feature or just a little gameplay mechanic even like the visual style, if you’ve got one thing which you think really does make your game amazing [00:09:00] make that the focus and the other stuff can come after but it’s about grabbing people’s attention. Sometimes focusing on one thing in particular can do that. Especially if it’s something like the Nemesis system is a great example because it was something so unique and interesting.

Host: It doesn’t hurt just to name one or two games that you maybe have been inspired by or use as a point of reference again just to help frame it for that reviewer so you can make clear what game it is or what they can expect. [00:09:30] Obviously, don’t say we’re completely copied the systems from this blah blah blah. It just helps frame what the project you’ve got. It’s a balance of yes, showing your game is unique but also showing what it’s been inspired by to help them getting understanding of what is exactly you’ve made.

Tom: In terms of helping people understand stuff making sure that something like every store page or the website for the game making sure they’re [00:10:00] up to date, making sure that you know everything on those pages, the assets and so on and all the feature lists and stuff like that. Make sure that’s up to date as possible because you want to be presenting the game that you are giving them now, not the one from six months ago. You don’t want to be using screenshots from a beta or something from a long time ago because this your one chance to really show off what you’ve got. Go into the media and making sure that star page is looking great, gives you the best chance of them seeing your product and your game for [00:10:30] what you believe it’s.


Host: If there are unavoidable bugs or your timeline is crunched and you can’t squash those bugs in the review period but obviously you’re planning to by launch then let the media know. It’s better to be transparent and warn them about possible bugs and how you plan to fix them than to ignore them. I think you’ve just given them a buggy mess or to do the opposite which is focus too much on the bugs and say that [00:11:00]this game is going to be completely different by the time it launches which then will make their review out of date and therefore pointless.

Alex: I think that all comes under being as prepared as possible. Just making sure website store pages the build as Polish as they can be because ultimately you actually run into two problems there. One, if you’re in completely different version, media might not review the game. They don’t want to review something that’s unfinished but equally you want them to get there early. [00:11:30] You’ve seen it so many times with day one patches. I think the real thing is to make sure you don’t misrepresent or don’t overstretch what you think that day one patch is going to be. If you make those promises and then they end up not being there that’s going to ultimately negatively impact more. Be aware, be realistic and make those preparations nice and early.

Tom: I can say from my experience I reviewed a couple games where got them really early which was amazing about three to four weeks before it even came out. [00:12:00] As a journalist that’s amazing, you’ve got all this time to get into it. The fact that developers would communicate with me and be like okay so we know about these issues, so if you encounter them like that’s fine, we know about them. By day one or by week one we’re going to have a patch that will sort out a lot of this stuff.

For me, I’m happy to know that and it also means that in the review people will probably still acknowledge those issues but if you can get out there and be like this is coming [00:12:30] as long as you can deliver on that promise a lot of journalists won’t have an issue with making a note of that in the review which can only help. If you don’t tell them or you leave it too late to tell them, it can definitely sour that. It could lead to you thinking the review is not a great representation of your actual product but that’s not the person who’s reviewed its fault because you haven’t made that clear to them.

Host: Just a thought as well when you talked about giving them enough time obviously we referenced timelines at the start. You’ve got to work out [00:13:00] other launches in that same window that might be taking up media’s attention. Although it is not easily avoidable you want to make sure your game is in a window where there’s nothing similar being announced or launched so your review will stand out a bit more. It can be incredibly difficult to plan ahead but just something you have to be aware of. You might be the fourth [unintelligible 00:13:21] that the media has had in their inbox that week and then they might have to choose just one of them to review.

Alex: I like that you went as long as a week. [laughs] [00:13:30] Talking of inboxes you’ve also got to keep in mind that people are people. There are busier times for people so there are times that that inbox is going to be just that much more full. If you haven’t got anything that you can hook people on and keeping in mind that journalists can get hundreds of emails a day and you haven’t got something in that subject line or nothing familiar and I think recognizable no IP attached.

Getting to open it is the first challenge. Getting to open it when they’ve got 200 other mails it just becomes an ever [00:14:00] increasing challenge. Be those emails because of an industry event or because they’re probably been on holiday and they’re coming back to a block of emails. You just want to try and avoid those times and of course, other game releases if they’re busy with other things. Planning when you are going to do all that outreach is vital.

Host: Timings can also affect when a review might be published because you might have given them everything they need early and they are aware of the launch date but they just might not get around to publishing [00:14:30] it until weeks. We’ve seen months afterwards due to just various timings so reviews can’t be expected to launch straight away. I’m sure you’ve experienced.

Alex: Yes, there are a lot of sites that are actively like giving things time now especially like to give that day one patch time to come out or to give them time to try the multiplayer. A realistic expectation of when the reviews and things come out is obviously useful but I’m sure like you say Tom’s been a reviewer or been involved [00:15:00] with this far more recently than I have. I don’t know how that’s changed since my daytime.

Tom: I know you spoke about this before but it’s like with handling codes for stuff. Sometimes in my experience I had codes for weeks or months and sometimes it takes someone new coming on board to express an interest in a game and then within a week that review’s done and it’s out but that could be a long time since the game itself has come out. I think that obviously [00:15:30] with embargos I think from our experience it’s really important to have that day one embargo because it gives you a really good chance to get a good blast of coverage but sometimes that coverage might come out over an amount of time and that’s just the case with the delegation and whatnot.

Alex: It is a question we get asked a lot actually is when should we set the embargo? When should we start moving on all of those elements? I think there’s [00:16:00] a really interesting element to that which is we tend to recommend launch day for reviews. The reason for that is really it’s hard to maintain a block of coverage over time. Like really you got the announcement. You might have a release date announcement or a demo then the launcher really when you can grab attention unless you’ve got a strong IP or a large marketing budget.

We tend to recommend on a day off because [00:16:30] your game’s up and people can go– I know wishlisting and things that can be incredibly important on day one going back to that idea of, if you sell a lot of titles day one you can stay in the most popular and trending sections. You want people also to buy it and if they can arrive on the site and buy it right on steam or whatever console storefront you’re on and purchase there and end then that’s a sale rather than a wishlist which when you’re coming right upon [00:17:00] that date that you’re going to be launching anyway it makes sense.

The flip side of that and I know you hear the argument and I think Bethesda was the first studio to do this. They didn’t send out code and embargos the day of launch and not before. They weren’t going to send out code and people have to go and buy it and do their reviews off the back of that. I think that makes a lot of sense for large titles that do have marketing behind it and have the IP and the name to stay in the limelight but I think ultimately for a smaller game, it’s more advantageous to have the big bang [00:17:30] when people can go and actually spend the money on the game.

Host: I think it’s also a consideration media have is for SEO that’s so important to them. If they know the game is launching that day there’s going to be more people searching for it versus if it’s an unknown quantity there’s not going to be as many people searching for these reviews before hand.

Tom: As you were saying then Alex before wishlisting’s great but it’s a question of. How many wishlists convert into sales [00:18:00] If a review comes out maybe like three or four days before the game’s actually available you might get people wishlisting it, but from my experience of being a consumer, if I really get caught up in the hype of a game and it’s out after I’ve read this review, I will go click on that link and I will buy it. It will never get played. It’ll be in the backlog for a long time. I’ll get to it eventually but if it’s there to buy a lot of people, if they’re interested they won’t be able to resist.

Alex: Also you play a lot on Switch and that’s a whole different thing. If you wishlist on Switch [00:18:30]that thing’s lost, you might throw a stick in a river and then try try to find it. [laughs]

Tom: You’ll never find it.

Alex: Yes, that’s a whole other thing. I think a lot of the advice we are leaning towards is Steam just because we deal with more smaller games on steam.

Host: I think we should mention Metacritic just because that could be a really big goal for people. With Metacritic, you have actually a year after launch for reviews to count towards the score. It goes back to our point about [00:19:00] even if reviews aren’t coming in straight away, if you can still get them within that year you’re okay. You will get to score.

Tom: I also think as well that some people maybe don’t realize like how many websites have the ability to actually post scores onto Metacritic. It’s not just like the major websites for each system and the PC stuff. There’s a lot of smaller outlets who have the ability to get their scores registered onto Metacritic [00:19:30]and obviously they might not be as valuable in terms of the traffic going towards them. If you want to get that Metacritic number which can be really important, there’s a lot of smaller sites who can help you do that. Don’t avoid people just because they might not be the size that you’re looking for.

Alex: A lot of people go to Metacritic. It’s a huge place if you’re just searching through games or recent games having that score there makes a difference. I’ve seen a lot of games now just, especially on Switch, I’ve noticed this adding their Metacritic [00:20:00] score just to show that look we got 74% which there are actually a lot of. This was something I was going to say before when I was talking about Steam. There are a lot of articles out there that lay out how wishlists convert to sales and over time and what wishlists like or when getting a wishlist is more valuable to your eventual conversion.

Won’t go into that now, there’s great data out there. What we might do is have a look and put it in the podcast description if we can find those. If we haven’t then come and find us on [00:20:30] our Twitter and ask and we’ll post there because they really lay out not only how wishlists convert but also ways to increase wishlists in terms of like thumbnails and tags and things like that. Very valuable if you’re thinking of putting something on Steam, not something that we’re going to go into now.

Host: There is also Opencritic as an alternative to Metacritic as well. Explore options, take some time to read through Metacritic of some releases and see who’s writing what and you can then check [00:21:00] if that matches up with the journalists you’ve picked out, who you want to get the game into the hands of. Another point just before we leave the Metacritic sphere is, I know you guys just talked about putting it up on Switch. Metacritic reviews require a different score or different badge for each platform. The Steam will be a set of four reviews. To get one, you’ll need another set to get Switch and vice versa. If you’re on multiple platforms, you won’t get [00:21:30] one overall score.

Alex: This isn’t why companies do it, larger companies do this although it might be part of it but you always hear the lead platform, that idea that every PS4, you’re in that generation and 360 you’re in that generation. Partly, that was obviously because that was the one where people had the machines. In terms of how that looks like for us, we will try to lead with a single one where it makes sense just to try and get one foot over the line in a Metacritic push. Then obviously, use common [00:22:00] sense beyond that. If it’s a Nintendo site, don’t go trying to send them a Steam code but common sense, obviously always ask it for a request. If you want a different code, then send it to us but if you are proactively sending codes, send a base one and also keep in mind that Steam has a huge advantage of being a global code worldwide generally, whereas Switch and PS4 tend to be region restricted. Whereas Xbox can go either way depending on what code they get. [00:22:30]

Tom: This is going back to what we were talking about at the beginning now but you just made me think of this. It’s always worth keeping in mind as well if you’ve got a multi-platform game where you allocate codes to, if that makes sense in terms of if you’ve got codes for a load of different platforms for a general site, if they don’t focus on a particular platform, it might make sense to hold onto PlayStation codes or Xbox codes or switch codes for those specific places [00:23:00] just to make sure if you can get lots of places onto the PC version, then that’s something that can again help with getting those ratings. It’s just something to bear in mind. You don’t necessarily want to be sending maybe the Switch version of a game to someone who doesn’t necessarily focus on Switch stuff because they might not have the platform.

Alex: The greatest way to troll somebody is to send them a code for a different platform and then to be trying to work out how to put it in helps no one.

Tom: Just causes [00:23:30] headaches.

Alex: There seem to be too many numbers in this code. I’ve had that once or twice when I’ve just no brain sent out the wrong code.

Tom: On that note, another really easy mistake to make well, I experienced it so many times is being sent codes for the wrong region. If someone asks for a specific region, there’s no harm in it if you get it wrong because obviously it’s an easy mistake to rectify but I had so many times of switched stuff where I’d be sent codes for a region I didn’t ask for.

Luckily on something [00:24:00] like the switch, it’s quite easy to make regional accounts. A lot of the time it was okay but it’s something to double-check and it’s easy to make that mistake but it’s easy to make sure you don’t make it as well. It’s another headache that you don’t have to cause.

Alex: Not to get stuck in a recursive loop but yes, don’t assume where a website’s based especially the larger sites. IGN has people all over the world writing their reviews at this point. I’m pretty sure. Always ask if you need a code for a different region, just let us know what your review is playing on [00:24:30]. Same point, just phrased different.

Host: Some people like getting an Australian or New Zealand region account because they’re usually the first count because they’re usually the first when games unlock. It could be a case of that. Yes, just to add on to the bit about easy mistakes, if you can just get someone who doesn’t have the game yet, like if it’s another member of the team or a friend to just install a code to test. There’s been examples of, obviously yes, not just regions being wrong but a completely different game being [00:25:00] in the code when things have been generated.

Alex: I’m just going to say, if you’re making your own game, I don’t think whichever supply you’re working for, wherever you’re publishing is going to give you a code for somebody else’s game. This is very much an agency problem that we’ve run into but I suppose if you’re producing more than one game–

Host: We’ve heard it from publishers before because they are working on so many games. It doesn’t hurt to check.

Tom: Just to check everything’s working fine on that. The process, the downloads, [00:25:30] nice and easy that the game’s available to download. I can’t speak on other platforms but I know that on the Switch, sometimes you’ll input a code. It’ll be for the right E-shop. The code will be right and it just won’t be available to download yet. Again, it’s a small headache that’s easy to avoid but it’s also quite easy to make that mistake and it’s not your fault. It’s just always good to check with stuff like that if you’re sending a code out to someone that they can actually download it and start playing it.

Reasons why a review might not happen

Host: We’ve covered their [00:26:00] reasons why they might not be able to review a game due to mistakes or errors. I think it’s also important to just summarize what we talked about as issues of being the wrong fit. For them as a writer, it might also be the wrong fit for their audience. Rock Paper Shotgun only cover PC games.

You’re not going to be able to get them to review a Switch title. You got to make sure you’re not just targeting the correct people at a publication but on a macro level, you are targeting the right [00:26:30] publications.

Alex: Certainly I’ve made that mistake a few times with IOS to Android. If something’s only coming out on one, you want to be careful about lumping all mobile in together because it’s an easy mistake to make especially if youre looking at it time and again, or you’ve built a list at some point. You’ve gone out, you’ve built your media list, and you’ve done a shorthand summation of what they cover.

Sometimes there are obvious ones, Android and things like, then it’s right there in the name One or [00:27:00] Eight apps. I always forget it’s just IOS-focused. Approaching them with something that’s purely Android, it doesn’t benefit anybody really in that equation.

Tom: I also think as important as identifying platforms specific places it’s also, there are a lot of websites that will go even further. I know we haven’t really touched on influences but it’s very prominent in that sphere in terms of, the platform might be right but if it’s not from the genre they cover say this places that only do [00:27:30] strategy stuff. It doesn’t matter that it’s the platform of your game. The fact is if it’s not a strategy game, it’s not for them. It’s not going to be for their audience so even if by some miracle, they did decide to take it on, the audience there aren’t looking for that. You are not going to gain a lot from that. It’s just good really just to check with stuff like that and make sure that you are looking for the right people and that the right people are reading that as well.

Host: It can also help with the quality of reviews as well because [00:28:00] if they aren’t a site who usually covers that, you might be more open to a bad review that might not necessarily be your fault but I think it’s important to just quickly talk about what if the review you get is bad? What can you do about it? Should you do anything about it because there can be a lot of pitfalls here about going on the offensive, emailing them to say why you thought it was wrong and that could be a bad thing to do. Let’s talk about what if your review is bad? What do you do?

Tom: I think [00:28:30] from my perspective and I had a couple of cases of taking a game on and it not really being what I thought it was going to be and it ends up not being great but if as like a developer or the publisher or the person sending this stuff out, there’s nothing wrong with asking constructively what a reviewer’s issues were. In a lot of cases, if the people who were asking me that were doing it in the right way, I was always happy to share [00:29:00] that. Obviously, you can do with that information what you want but you shouldn’t always take a bad review as it’s obviously not great, but there are ways to learn from that and take stuff on.

If you’re dealing with people who love the genre and really know what they’re doing in that, it can actually help you in the long run because it could help you make a better game. There’s always the chance that they come back to it if you treat them in the right way. I did have a couple of games where I just wasn’t really [00:29:30] into them but because of the communication with the people who were talking to me and they were like, “So what’s wrong with it” and I gave them all the stuff. I had quite a good dialogue with them. There was somewhere they did make some changes and it makes the game better. Don’t be afraid to ask what’s wrong. Just don’t be rude really that’s an obvious thing to say but just go about it the right way.

Alex: Yes, it comes out to being respectful and being honest with yourself about your game of course, which is super hard. I completely understand if you’re close to it, you’ve been putting all your work and effort [00:30:00] into it, but if you’re a small publisher, you can be too close to something to see where some issues may lie and to see that difference in opinion. As Tom says, take a step back, really think about what was said, see if you can take anything from it, see if you can elicit more information about it, and accept as Tom also said, previously, reviews are subjective. Some people aren’t going to dig it. I know for a fact, we’ve used bad reviews before so we’ve used them.

We’ve had bad and good reviews for a game. It’s like, “Oh, how can these two sites be saying these two completely [00:30:30] different things? Why don’t you play it and find out?” Granted you’re then rolling the dice on which one people will agree with, I suppose, [chuckles] but it does mean you’ll get more eyes, more coverage, and it’s in trusting angle. Like I say, games can be polarizing but they’re entertainment. People like some things, other people don’t see it all the time for all sorts of different things.

Ultimately, if people are seeing that and having the conversation and that conversation’s respectful and informative and not just really learning something [00:31:00] then take what’s their feedback in. We don’t develop games though, so I don’t know how hard that will be to implement from the feedback so take that with a grain of salt to a point but yes, ultimately, take it as an opinion and try and get what help you can from that feedback.

Tom: I do think as well, this doesn’t necessarily go into the bad review place, but I think it is worth mentioning. That there’s a really heavy skewing now of what a website that uses review scores of what constitutes a good game. Nowadays, [00:31:30] I feel like in a lot of places, in a lot of people’s heads, if a game doesn’t get an 8 out of 10 or 80% or 82.5% or whatever metric they use, it’s instantly a bad game or it’s instantly a bad review. Most sites that do it properly, a 5 out of 10, isn’t inherently a bad thing unless it’s really scoring low. I feel like sometimes it’s about reading the actual review itself and not just taking a score for what it’s worth because sometimes there might be a lot of good in a [00:32:00] game and there might be a lot of bad but if the score is below a certain point, people are very quick to dismiss it.

Tom: The one thing that you’ve got to keep in mind when you see a score, if you get a 7 out of 10, you think, “My game isn’t wherever it lies on that thing.” You’ve got to keep in mind that a lot of games don’t get reviewed. The reason a lot of them don’t get reviewed is because they’re worse than 7. Ultimately, there’s no time, people make the decision really quickly in that reviewing process. It was a thing when I was playing games or reviewing games and I had this weird discussion [00:32:30] with editors, be like, “Why don’t we use the full scale?” It’s because a one-point review or a one-star, one out of five review, as the scale we were working to, that one needs to be actually broken and unplayable. That was the baseline.

That only gives you four to work in and you want five to be amazing so suddenly you’re working in a scale of three points. Basically, you’re good, bad, and indifferent. There are so many games, so many games on the store that really the issue is that it’s an [00:33:00] iceberg. It’s a review iceberg and to get in that top 30%, that is 70 and up. Why so many things come in at 30 and so few are below is because those people don’t cover those games because they’re just never going to make it. There’s no SEO value. There’s no value to the site to be covering them. That’s that kind of weird place that we end up in. Why it feels like so many games are like 7s and 8s is because the 6 is 5s and 4s, 3, 2, 1s just aren’t getting picked up. [00:33:30]Then there’s the other problem on top of that, that a lot of games aren’t getting picked up because there are so many now being released daily.

Tom: Hourly.

Alex: Hourly. That’s why those numbers rest at that point, at least when I was reviewing games.

Host: Yes, decisions had to be made about which ones get reviewed. Keep in mind that Metacritic’s even more difficult than just getting reviews in general because it’s a select number of people who are Metacritic reviewed so you have to take that as a win in the first place. If your game got a review, no matter the score that they felt it was worth reviewing [00:34:00] because of how you pitched it to them, the thought of it.

I would take solace in that, that even if you get not the grades you were expecting that it was deemed important enough for publications at least to talk about it. There’s something in there, it’s a legal and quite a murky loophole with ethics and what you can and do but there is a perception that you can chuck money at a publication and they will give you a great score, which for most and especially Metacritic sites, isn’t really[00:34:30] a thing you can do. You shouldn’t really be doing that.

Alex: There are sites that even if you do any sponsored content with them, won’t do a review, or at least there the two sides of the company are completely separate. Yes, putting money in on paid content, sponsored content is completely a legitimate thing. We work with companies that use it very often. Generally, in fact, there won’t be review coverage alongside that to avoid the view of impropriety. If it’s a big enough game so I feel it’s important, [00:35:00] the two departments completely unconnected. It’s just not something that happens. I know how much people like to act like it is and how much should people pay for that review but really I wish it was, it would take a lot of the risk out of this job.

Tom: I wish I had got paid loads for every good review I did.

Alex: Tom, the corrupt. [laughs]

Tom: They would’ve all been 10s. 10s across the board. It just isn’t a thing. You just have to take the leap of faith. If you have confidence in what you’ve made, then there’s no shame in what comes back. Like we said, [00:35:30] it’s not always going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s still nothing wrong with a–

Alex: Oh, man. I’m just realizing you’d have been like nine years old during Gerstmann Gate maybe younger. One of the things that started all this off was when a GameSpot editor got fired over a Kane & Lynch review that wasn’t good enough when there was a huge spread over GameSpot for Kane & Lynch. Yes, essentially, Ubisoft put in a call and Jeff Gerstmann who now is Giant Bomb’s, the editor in chief for [00:36:00] Giant Bomb was let go because of it, or at least that was the supposition.

Tom: No, I’ve never heard of that.

Alex: If it’s understood from what’s been released. He went and made Giant Bomb, which is doing incredibly well and was eventually bought back into the same publishing group. What was CBS Interactive in these now Red Ventures Media through that.

Tom: I feel like if on an industry-wide level, journalists were getting paid off to make reviews of games, there might be a bit of evidence of it.

Alex: They wouldn’t all be living off ramen. [00:36:30]

Tom: Exactly. Every journalist I’ve ever interacted with or met at events or I’ve spoken to in DMs, none of them are living in skyscraper flats in New York and that’s beside the point, but it’s not going to happen.

Alex: It’s true. It’s not a thing, it’s not how that works. We’ve really got on some soapboxes on that one. Didn’t we?

Host: Yes, I was trying end it before a Tom dived even more down the corrupt rabbit hole that– [chuckles]

Alex: If anybody wants high scores, we’re going to get Tom out there onto a website [00:37:00] and you can just funnel the money for him. [laughter]

Host: It’s important I think just to quickly just add one more last little bit to that, that money point is, I guess a lot of people like reviews because they trust the publication. There’s some element of knowledge, trust. They’re going to get a good score and paying for reviews gives off the sense that the review isn’t trustworthy. It’s just what the developer wants to hear. That’s the [00:37:30] beauty of reviews, even though it might not be what you want to hear, it’s your game in its truest form most of the time, give or take some. The legendary too much water with IGN and Pokemon is one of my biggest– [crosstalk]

Tom: It is still eyes. It’s the people that you want thinking about it. I think it’s what I did say before about that people fixate on a score but a lot of people, most people that I know still read. [00:38:00] They’ll go through that review and read it. If there is some good, I personally, if it’s a genre that I like, or I like the idea of it, or the art style’s interesting, it doesn’t have to be perfect or amazing for me to still want to try it and I think that that is important. There’s going to be, it won’t be perfect. If you’re disappointed in that then that take solace in the fact that it’s still got reviewed means that there are still people who will go and try it if it’s got something interesting going on. [00:38:30]

Alex: That’s why a lot of sites don’t give review scores anymore, which doesn’t help out Metacritic attempts ever. They’re also quite often the sites that people put a lot more faith and trust in.

Host: There we go. Hopefully, we will see your review pop up for your game somewhere. That makes us feel good. That maybe our little bit of knowledge imparted here helped with that.

Tom: Years of experience.

Host: Years of experience, yes. We’ll wrap it up there and we’ll catch you on the next one.

Alex: We’ll be back soon with some more.

Host: The Twitter is [00:39:00] active. We’re always available there.

Tom: It’s 2022. You’ve got to shower all the social channels, the TikTok’s coming too.

Alex: Where’s our TikTok channel. [chuckles]

Host: Yes, we will do a TikTok one day. We’re trying to avoid it.

Alex: I look forward to that.


[00:39:24] [END OF AUDIO]


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