Should You Pay For A Game Review?

Steve Anderson : End Game
Steve Anderson
The Video Store Guy
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Should You Pay For A Game Review?

A practice that was part of the book review world for some time now seems to be making a play for the wider world and slipping into game reviews as well. Specifically, the practice of paying web sites to review a mobile game. The question here, of course, becomes should a developer pay for game reviews? The answer will prove to be as varied as developers themselves.

The practice seems to have its beginnings in the world of book review, where web sites were allowing authors to offer payment in return for what was called "expedited review". Because there were so many books coming in, some places believed, there was an opportunity to make some extra cash by promising those who paid a fee an opportunity to jump to the head of the line and get one of those valuable reviews, as well as exposure to the audience of the site or publication that ran the review.

Of course, some didn't much care for the thought of shelling out cash for what might well have ended up as a negative review--why pay to have someone tell their entire audience that the book in question was better served as kindling rather than reading material?--so then the practice of paying for positive reviews came out.

This kind of practice spread--even to this day movie reviewers are dogged by the practice called "junket whoring", in which reviewers are promised free access to celebrities, to special parties, to influential industry names and the like all in exchange for review consideration --throughout several industries, reaching the game industry as well. Now, recent reports have come out about it reaching mobile games as well.

As for the question above, well, the answer is sort of a personal one. Those interested in paying for a review will likely get a review, and access to an audience. For those who think of it as little more than a form of advertising, they have a point. But it's important to note that, should the site in question be revealed as taking pay for reviews, the value of that review will be tainted in the public eye. By how much of the public eye is, of course, unknown, but the idea that a company paid for a good review is one that can derail a lot of good press and make it suspect.

The morality of it is an equally sticky question; after all, game sites have to make a living too, at least, their writers do. And with hundreds of new games emerging every year, getting them on the editorial calendar is tough. Which games get the nod? Which are passed up? If it's a first come first served basis, a game site might well be reviewing games released years prior in a bid to get caught up. Trying to review every game that emerges would be impossible unless multiple reviews per day were published, something that smaller organizations simply can't do. So some would say that the practice of requesting a nominal fee for a review simply keeps out the truly low-rent and ensures that a game has at least some support behind it to make it worth reviewing.

Yet still, that specter of tainted review lies in wait; being a known shill--a common name for someone who takes payment for a positive review--is poisonous to the reputation. Being associated with a known shill is only slightly less poisonous.

So to answer the question: "Should you pay for a game review?", the best answer here is probably no. Some may consider it a kind of paid advertising, but the risks presented are a bit high, and some developers may well have trouble sleeping nights as a result of engaging in such a practice. There are other marketing angles to approach instead; consider these before paid review.
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