If only it were that simple… The truth is, there's a lot more that goes into reviewing a game than receiving it, playing it, and giving it a score. To give you a little insight into what we at GameRevolution, and likely other media outlets (except IGN), go through to get a game review published, we've come up with the 12 Step Program. I don't care if it's already taken.
(Step 0: Rumor mills go!)
Step 1: Step one begins shortly after a game is announced. From that point on, your email inbox is not your own. It's the game's. The bigger the release a game is, the more press releases you begin to receive. Some are important, like release dates, prices, or special editions of the game. Others are borderline spam.
I can't tell you how many press releases I've received giving me one screenshot of a game. One. Fucking. Screenshot. And it's not even a good screenshot. PR reps, your game is good (sometimes), so don't make it look like shit by sending out a screenshot with some drab background just because it's high resolution. We, and the general public, would rather see a gameplay screenshot or a piece of cool relevant artwork. We don't care about how early in production the game is. We don't expect it to look that great… yet.
There's not much worse than one screenshot. In fact, I can think of only one press release more annoying: It's Out Now! Seriously? We've covered your fucking game for two and a half years. You think I don't know when your game comes out? Anyway, it's our job to cover anything related to said game, so we bite down and make the best of it. And so begins the courtship with lots of news articles.
Step 2: Step two isn't so bad. At least there's some booze involved. Often as a game's release gets closer and closer, press events start sprouting up like new grass in the spring. It's always very controlled. You're given a specific area to play, and a PR rep hovers over you in case you have any questions, except they're really there to bully you into playing the game the way they want you to play it.
They may give you some info – so helpful of them, but we know they're telling us shit they want us to mention in our previews. Oh, really? You mean eight players can play this all at once? I would never have noticed the number of players waiting in the lobby for the deathmatch to start. It's not my fucking job or anything. At least they know to get me drunk before they call my attention to detail into question. If that's what they're worried about, maybe the drinks aren't the best idea. Shhh. What the fuck am I saying?
Step 3: You've spent nearly two years of your life covering their game, so the least they could do is send you a review copy. A lot of times, you're on the list. Other times, you've got to wait outside their place of business and panhandle them for your copy: "Could you please spare a review copy of Modern Warfare 3, Xbox 360 version, please?" Worst-case scenario, they tell you "yes"… but a copy never comes. A scenario not quite as bad but still sucks: the copy comes up to a week after the game releases, making our review more useless. Reviews are to inform the public what games they should be buying, not for a week after everyone's already made up their mind with their wallets. In general, a delay like this usually happens because their game sucks, and they don't want us telling you that.
Step 4: Finally, it's here. The day we've been waiting for has come. The review copy arrives via Fedex or UPS overnight delivery. If the publisher is cheap as fuck, they'll send it via the post office. At that point, they might as well have their crickedy old grandma walk it to us, tennis balls on her walker and all. You open the package, hoping for some media-only swag that regular humans who purchase their games at a retailer aren't cool enough to get. And bingo! Wait… what the fuck is this? A review guide? So, you're telling us how to review your game? Give me a fucking break. Large stapled Xeroxed packets of paper count do not count as manuals.
Step 5: Being a relatively small operation here at GR has its advantages. But it also has its drawbacks. It's not physically possible to provide all the day-to-day coverage we do, and still manage to play every single game that comes our way. A lot of times, we have to reach out to our extended staff: a stable of overqualified freelancer writers. This isn't their every day gig, so they're not always available when we need them. They try to be, but shit, they're not superhuman (except Kevin Schaller, that dude is like The Hulk and Batman rolled into one… a Bathulk?).
This is a replica of the one on our office
Step 6: If it's not me, Nick, or Daniel doing the review, then it's back into the mail the copy goes. Time dwindling down as release date draws ominously nearer like a thunderstorm on the horizon. Back into the hands of Fedex or UPS… who are we kidding, we're fucking broke, we go to the post office. Whether a regular GR staffer keeps it or if it arrives in the hands of a talented freelancer, it's time to get prepared.
Step 7: Cracking that game case for the first time is like popping a bottle of 50-year old-champagne. But why do they have to make this plastic impenetrable. It's not like it could get stolen at a retailer, it goes right to us. Maybe we need to hit the gym more often. Who knows. All we do know is that the release date is in 3 days, and we've got to play this 80+ hour game. We know it's impossible to do it within 72 hours, that's simple math for ya. We take on this Herclean task to make sure you know where to spend your money come release date.
Step 8: OK, so this game is running a little bit long. What's more important to us? Getting the review out early? Or making sure we've played it all the way through so our review is the best representation of the game possible? Being thorough wins every time. We keep on pushing, despite other responsibilities, relationships, reality. Getting this review out takes precedence over nearly everything else in our life. We don't shower. We hold our piss until it hurts. We eat though, fuck that, I'm starving. The finish line is almost near… or is it?
Step 9: Time to write up this review. We can't just put a whole bunch of text on paper. We need screenshots (hey, I guess they sent those over for a reason!). We need to do a little bit of extra research to make sure we spell character's names right, names of towns, etc. (OK, so maybe the review guide is useful.) We're not hacks here, we're professionals! A few hours and a fifth of vodka later, the review is typed out. Now it's time to send it to the editors.
Step 10: Nick does the majority of the reviews editing here. You can't find a finer tooth comb than the one Nick runs through our reviews. It's tedious, and it takes a long time to make sure everything is perfect. [Usually it takes me an hour… or an hour and a half… or two hours… any longer and I turn all their errors into throwing stars… you writers know what happens after that… ~Ed. Nick]
Step 11: OK, it's written and edited. We've avoided angering Nick and facing his wrath. But now we must figure out the best time to publish the review. More often than not, the game is under embargo and our hands are tied as to when we can publish our review. If the embargo is already up, is it best for us to wait a little closer to release date? If release date has past, do we push it ASAP? Is there really ever a "best" time to publish a review? Believe it or not, there is. We find that reviews posted in the PM do far better than ones posted in the AM. We assume more people are off work, and have more time to sit down and really dig into our reviews. We take everything into account before we push that big red button to push it live. (Wait! Not that red button! What have you done?!?!)
Step 12: Published. Now we watch and we wait. We wait to see what our readers have to say about our review. A lot of times we'll fire off links to our review to our family, friends, or even the PR reps we just spent the last two years dealing with. It's all out there now. Two years… over in the push of a button. There's a lot of stress, anxiety, and most of all, hard work that goes into reviews.
We do our best to bring you the reviews that are most important to you in a timely manner. Sometimes we slip past release date, we're only human. Sometimes we don't get to a lesser exciting game because we were so focused on that AAA game. Hey, we want to enjoy our games too. 95% of the time we're stuck playing shit. So when Fall rolls around, we want to play the big guns, the heavy hitters. So shut up and give me Batman: Arkham City already.