Earlier this week, I wrote about how I no longer apply for press passes when I’m going to video game expos. It’s an experience every gaming blogger should have at least once and there are certain benefits that come with having such a wristband; but there are hidden advantages to going for a normal ticket too. I don’t feel that not being officially recognised as a ‘journalist’ at events hinders my ability to report on them, and I’ve enjoyed myself and had way more interesting conversations when I’ve been just-a-regular-attendee.
Another dilemma that presents itself for video game bloggers is that of free game copies. When you’re added to a press distribution list either by applying for a press pass or requesting access yourself from the developer, you’ll soon start receiving emails containing offers of preview and review keys. As with press passes, there’s a buzz that comes from getting your first and the feeling is pretty special; but there are some associated pitfalls and obligations which, during my time blogging, I’ve learnt I’d rather avoid.
‘But free games,’ I hear you cry, ‘Why on earth wouldn’t you want to accept them?’ There are several reasons for my thinking. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t enjoy writing reviews and if I’m completely honest, I don’t particularly enjoy reading them either. While accepting a key from a developer or publisher doesn’t mean you’re legally required to publish one, it does mean that you’re somewhat obliged to do so: taking a game could be seen as an ‘agreement’ and I’d feel guilty if I didn’t follow through on my side of the bargain.
There’s also the fact that I simply don’t have enough spare time to be able to play a title quickly or thoroughly enough to be able to do a review of it justice. I could possibly get through a few hours to enable a ‘first impressions’ post but there’d still be that feeling I wasn’t entirely sticking to my part of the transaction. And if I did aim for a full review, it would be published too long after the game’s release to be of any real worth to the developer. There would be thousands of others already available on the internet and I’m not in the habit of fooling myself that a reader would wait to specifically read mine.
In addition to this, more of our lives are taken up by adult responsibilities as we get older so there are fewer hours available for gaming. I’ve written before that I don’t want to spend that precious time playing something I’m not enjoying and it’s my choice if I decide to put a game I’ve purchased myself to one side; but if it’s been given to me by a developer, I can’t do that as the end goal is the review. We’re meant to look forward to our hobbies – that’s what makes them ‘hobbies’ rather than work – so the obligation I’d feel under in accepting a free key seems a bit self-defeating.
The primary reason for my thinking though is something unrelated to reviews: although not in all cases, these games are usually the means of the developers’ livelihoods. It could be seen that free keys are a way of ‘paying’ for marketing but each one given out to a blogger is potentially a cut into the money they’re earning for their hard work. If a title catches my eye and I’m interested in playing it, I’m happy to purchase it for myself and support independent and smaller developers in this way.
And who knows, if playing their project inspires me it may just end up being the subject of a post anyway. But that’s my decision to make, rather than it being a choice arrived at as a result of any kind of accountability – and it’s one that adds to my confidence that the words contained within this blog are completely independent.