Site Stuff: How We Handle Reviews, Developer/Publisher Relations, and Advertising

Sites cost money to run. Simple as that. News websites have professional relationships with developers, publishers, and PR companies. It’s a fickle system that ensures success for all involved – or at least that’s how it’s perceived. In reality, things are a bit more complicated than that. This site update aims to clear the air and make a few things public so that we can all move forward with a clear view of what’s to be expected in the future.

Reviews

Reviews are by their very nature subjective opinions. One writer may adore a game and score it high, but another may think it’s not worth picking up off the shelf. Sometimes, these clashes of personalities and opinions spill over to the readers. We’ve seen on more than one occasion where our writers have been accused of bias simply because the game didn’t get the score a subset of our reader base expected. At the end of the day, scores aren’t the important factor in a review. It’s how we got to that score that is much more relevant and worth looking at. It’s all too easy to skip the large body of text and go straight to the little number at the bottom, but without reading the words that the writer has presented to you, you’re missing out on the context and reasoning behind that number. Without understanding those words, the number becomes meaningless.

From time to time we may receive review codes from publishers, developers, or PR agents. We’ll always make it clear in our reviews when a code/copy has been provided by such people, but rest assured that no matter where the game comes from, we’ll review it just as we would if we paid for it ourselves. God himself could reach down from the heavens and place the latest Call of Duty into our hands, and it wouldn’t make a difference. A game is a game, and we’re in the business of critique, not pandering to publishers. If it’s great, we’ll sing it praises. If it’s crap, we’ll point out its flaws. Either way, we’ll always do so with a bit of tact. We’re not in the business of throwing mindless insults at those who are much more creative and talented than we are.

As for when we post reviews, that’s a bit of a grey area. When a publisher gives us a review code/copy, we will always abide by the embargo that they set. Embargoes are complicated and often poorly timed, but it’s the publisher’s right to set one for organizations that they provide with review copies, and we’ll always respect that. We do our utmost to make sure that we get review codes so that we may provide an honest and impartial review as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible, so we have to go out and spend our own cash on games (that are sometimes awful) just so that we can do a review for you, our readers.

And on some occasions when we’re not offered a review copy, we’ll happen across a game earlier than its release date. It’s getting more and more common for retailers to break the street date of a game. Here’s where things get a little tricky. Take Just Cause 3 as a prime example: We managed to get a copy almost a week before the game released, but not from Square Enix. We’d emailed the publisher weeks before the game was due to release to inquire about getting a review code. We never received a reply, and we never received a code.

So when the game practically fell into our laps a week before release, we did what anyone else would do: we played the hell out of it, wrote a couple of articles, and then posted a review a couple of days early. Was it a dick move by us? Not at all. If we have the game and we’ve played it and have a review written and ready to go, why should we wait for an embargo date that we not only haven’t agreed to, but haven’t been asked to agree to?

Going forward, we’ll always do our utmost to contact publishers and PR companies, but if they’re not willing or able to provide us with review copies, we’ll seek out copies for ourselves at our own expense. And if that means we pick up the latest games a couple of days early and have the opportunity to post an early review, then so be it.

Developers, Publishers, and PR Reps

There’s a lot of distrust in this industry, and rightly so. Many vocal gamers have called foul on sites who seemingly omit bad press for certain companies. With publishers throwing lavish parties, sending out invites to prestigious events, and hosting exclusive review bootcamps, it’s only right to question what’s being done in return. For the most part, ethical websites (us included) don’t accept bribes, nor do we see invitations, review codes, etc. etc. as gifts to win us over or get us to write more favorable articles. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true in the industry. We’ve been on the receiving end, some of us having written for prior sites before, where we were told not to report on bad news for one hardware giant, neglect writing about bugs and glitches in one of their major exclusive titles, find all the dirt we could on their main competitors… the list goes on. And this all comes from a site that bills itself as neutral. This type of behavior goes beyond blatant fanboy behavior into something a bit more sinister – deliberate misinformation.

Understandably, then, those types of experiences leave a putrid taste in our mouths. The only way to wash it clean is to bring The Games Cabin up to the high standards that should be employed by every website in this racket.

So to make it clear, even if we get press releases, invitations, interview schedules, I heart Company X t-shirts and mugs, or review codes, we’ll never let it influence how we operate. There is not a single outside force that dictates what goes on behind the scenes at The Games Cabin, and there never will be.

Advertising and Revenue

Websites don’t come cheap, especially when there are many visitors on a daily basis. When The Games Cabin began as a humble one-man blog all those years ago, it was pretty cheap and manageable. Hosting only cost a couple of British pounds. These days it’s a much larger operation that requires more bandwidth, more resources, and as such, much more money to keep ticking. It’s no secret that we display adverts on the site. They help bring in a bit of revenue so that we can keep the bills paid and the lights on. Simple as that. However, in the competitive advertising market, Google AdSense just doesn’t pay enough. Therefore we have to utilise as many revenue streams as possible. You’ve probably seen a few links here and there on our articles that direct you to Amazon US or Amazon UK. We’re a part of Amazon Affiliates, which allows us to generate a bit of revenue by making a small commission on every sale that is generated through one of our links.

However – as with everything – there is a catch. I, as the owner of The Games Cabin, am the only person who pays for the site’s running costs. Any money I make via Google AdSense and Amazon Affiliates is reinvested into the site. Some months I’ll make a bit more than normal, which is nice, so I put that money to one side for the future. I’ve actually got a child on the way, so the extra cash will come in handy once he starts deploying his bowel movements all over the house.

The other writers on the site have their own Amazon Affiliates accounts. Why? Because nobody likes to work for free! By having each writer signed up with Amazon it gives them the opportunity to make a little bit of pocket money without costing me a fortune in paying salaries every month. The reality is that we do this for the love of video games, and not for the love of money, but any that we can make to let us practice this hobby is welcome.

This is the best way, at least for the time being, for everyone to get some experience in working on a website as well as making a bit of money on the side. It won’t make any of us rich, but it helps feed our very large gaming appetites. Believe it or not, many websites don’t pay their staff, or even allow them to make a bit of cash like we do here. I’ve worked for a couple of different sites, one being super cool, the other being a cesspit of scum, but neither offered any sort of compensation to their writers. It’s a hard gig to make any money from, so the fact that I’m able to at least offer the chance to writers is a blessing in its own right.

What we will never do is advertise on the sly. If we receive advertising materials from a company, we’ll always make it known. If Capcom comes along and offers us £50 to host a sponsored article on our site, we’ll always make it known, though that’s very unlikely to happen. Basically, we’ll never actively deceive you. Adverts and affiliate links will never affect the content on the site. If we review a game and have an affiliate link at the bottom, that link doesn’t dictate the score we give to a game; we’ll still put a link there for a game that is a 1/10.


So there you have it, that’s how The Games Cabin operates. We understand that in these times of corruption, unethical practices, and God knows what else, it’s important that we’re as transparent and open about how we conduct business as possible. Most sites won’t bother with this sort of thing and they’ll just keep it hidden in their terms and conditions page, but we’re a little different from the norm, as you probably already know. We’re happy to do what we do, and we’re happy to let you know how we do it. Any questions? Any complaints? Any love letters? You can reach the editor at chris AT thegamescabin DOT com, or you can tweet the fool @chrishardingTGC, or you can just leave a comment below.

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