Some backstory: when I published my first game in 2016, nobody wanted to take a look at it; I was getting no replies from anyone. With time, I got a review on two websites (and it felt good, even though one was pretty critical). In retrospective, I can understand them now: the game was not polished enough and I had to remake it 4 times in order to make it look like something that I’m not ashamed of. I’ve recently published another game and it has been better received (and I got a few reviews on the websites too). However, at that time I’ve been quite upset about this. If no one else was there: I wanted to give anyone a chance.
I’ve started my own project in December 2016, a simple site where I started to post short game reviews, http://shortgamereviews.com. So far I have 26 reviews, different games (all on Steam) of different grades of success. After doing this for more than 2 months, I feel like I have enough I can share.
Send a personalized letter (from my domain email), offer to review the game (either by key or by review copy), if it is received – do three steps:
- make video and post it on my channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC24lTUyNllNN1DHV0_5YGUA)
- write an article
- send a personal game feedback / bug report (at least how I feel it can be improved) – here’s a part of feedback that I’ve sent (http://pastebin.com/DRrktyWf)
- Bigger developers / publishers give out the review versions much easier than smaller ones. (When in fact it’s the smaller one who needs it most). That surprised me greatly.
- To expand on that: I know how many scam emails you get asking for the keys (hey, I get them too). There are ways to identify the fake ones ( https://www.reddit.com/r/gamedev/comments/2efovt/warning_fake_game_key_requests_and_tips_to_avoid/ ). TL;DR: If someone asks you for more than 1 key – he’s probably trying to scam you.
- Overall: Saying „No” is fine, but you need to say it. In fact, you get more respect if you answer „No” than if you keep ignoring the letter, as that helps the review planning and actually shows you are considerate of someone’s time.
Advice for developers:
- Make your email easily available. If someone has to click multiple links to finally get an email – you are risking losing a review. If someone has to google your name to get your email – you are in for the trouble unless you’re making the next “Half-Life”.
- If you have a separate project email – make sure to check it regularly. (Had some “two weeks later” replies).
- You get extra points if you have some sort of preview version. I personally never did it (because well, if you the only programmer on the team – you don’t have time for everything), but I was seriously impressed by the dedication of the games that did. They also normally turned out pretty great.
- That’s perfectly fine not to give a review key; you don’t owe it to anyone
- When you are approached by a review website, you can request the metrics. Personally, I had no trouble sharing them (and if someone said it’s too low – that’s OK too).
- If you get a negative review supported by arguments – it’s not assault on you personally. Replying to a review is a good chance to give your opinion, as long as you stay objective.
Some personal realizations, which I keep in mind when talking to fellow game developers:
- Don’t be afraid of honesty. If you write that the game is good, but in truth is not – that helps no one. Developers see their sales, so the best thing you can do to your fellow devs is to tell what you think (even if their game sucks). If I dislike something about my friends’ games – I tell it. That’s the best help you can give.
- Even bad reviews add publicity to your game. Maybe it sounds stupid, but there’s a game for everyone. If your game keeps featured somewhere – that’s a higher chance to get noticed. Either by your fans who will give counter-arguments or by people who like trashy stuff (if your game is actually bad).
I’ve kept the promise. I obviously don’t get as many request as big game journals do, but so far I’ve been able to look into everything that has been sent in and give a personal feedback to everyone who asked (even if it was a unity game on itch.io).