Review copies, let’s talk about them for a bit. I don’t think the concept itself is too hard to grasp, but I’ll briefly go over it so our younger or uninformed readers are brought up to speed. Traditionally, when you write for a more established and respected gaming news outlet (read: not PRC.net), you’re usually privy to early access of brand new video games, and this is primarily so you can compose your in-depth review and get the word out about the game to your audience prior to the game landing on store shelves. This in turn helps your readers make an informed purchase, generates additional traffic to your website for discussing the game during it’s highest period of relevancy, and if the game is genuinely good, almost acts as a free extension of the developer’s marketing campaign – which in some cases can lead to a relationship forming between both the author and the developer.
It’s not the most difficult concept to understand, really; it’s common practice for any sort of “big” gaming outlet to receive a game three weeks early for their writers to dig through and evaluate. Of course, during the review process other individuals on the team may be tasked with gathering gameplay footage to release on their respective YouTube channels as preview clips, but the general idea I’m trying to get across is that if you’ve somehow found yourself in the world of video game journalism – whether it be as an amateur blogger or a paid gig – you indeed get to play new games way earlier than anybody else.
The process of obtaining a review copy for your publication basically boils down to contacting the developer ahead of time, introducing yourself, talking a bit about your publication, and obviously asking if you can have an advanced key for whatever game they’ve got coming out in a few weeks. Sometimes they’ll say yes, other times they’ll say no. If you typically write positive reviews, your chances of getting a review copy increase because it’s free positive press for the developer. If you’re the cunt who runs PRC.net, you don’t get a review copy. This is unfortunately what pushes certain mammoth gaming sites to give exceptionally high scores to otherwise lackluster games; shit on a new IP from Electronic Arts because you found a bunch of embarrassing bugs, and the free copies of Battlefield, Madden, and FIFA stop showing up – meaning you can’t cover extremely popular games, therefore causing your site to lose traffic and significantly impacting the amount made off of advertisement revenue.
My feelings aren’t hurt when we don’t receive review copies. We’re very proud of the loyal group of readers we’ve gathered over the past eighteen months here at PRC.net, but we’re also not blind; we have a tendency to outright shit on things, and it’s totally understandable that developers are reluctant to work with us in any fashion. Aside from Racecraft and RaceRoom Racing Experience, every game we’ve reviewed is something we’ve had to physically go out and purchase like every other regular customer. Yes, it sucks to part with $100 CDN only to find out Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo was a horrid technical mess, but at least we’re allowed to write what we want, and aren’t given the task of maintaining fragile relationships with hostile developers in a genre that has quite frankly fallen off the map.
On the other side of the spectrum, you’ve got Inside Sim Racing – an outlet that stays well within the range of what’s considered politically correct for modern racing simulator reviews, and it’s pretty much a given they’ll have early access to virtually any driving game on the market. Usually when I bring up ISR I always sprinkle stories of Darin Gangi’s numerous message board antics, but for the topic at hand I have to give credit where credit is due; the pair of John Sabol and Billy Strange have done a fantastic job of making ISRTV relevant again, and I do find myself watching their videos of upcoming games from time to time.
The fall release season is upon us, and in most cases that would mean ISR’s general activity on YouTube would spike with a flurry of preview videos for DMR’s NASCAR Heat Evolution, Kylotonn’s WRC 6, and Milestone’s Ride 2. Now NASCAR is already out on store shelves, and admittedly there’s not much anticipation for the other two products listed, but with how little driving games we’re blessed with compared to first person shooters or dating sims, anything that hits the shelves with a race car on the cover is something for us to get excited about.
Unfortunately, Sabol was forced to upload a pair of strange commentaries mocking the situation at hand.
A few weeks ago, John Sabol mentioned during an episode of This Week in Sim Racing that DMR Games – the publisher in charge of NASCAR Heat Evolution – refused to provide the Inside Sim Racing crew with a review copy, and upon playing the game for himself, remarked it was easy to see why. Even Inside Sim Racing, a publication once notorious for plastering iRacing stickers all over the set and basically praising every racing game with basic steering wheel support, had no problem ripping on the new NASCAR console game because it simply wasn’t ready to be released.
ISR have now run into this road block two additional times, bringing the count to three games in three weeks. Both Kylotonn Games, as well as Milestone Interactive, have refused to give Inside Sim Racing an evaluation copy of Ride 2 and WRC 6. This is huge. The current lineup of primary ISR personalities are about the furthest thing away from a bunch of assholes who set out to destroy every racing game they come across; they’re actually the most-watched driving game news outlet on YouTube and are managed by a guy who’s been in this business for almost a decade. If ISR of all outlets have been shafted on review copies three straight times in under a month, something is seriously wrong with this genre. Several developers don’t even want respected racing game aficionados to evaluate their games.
We’re now at a point where racing games as a whole are such unfinished clusterfucks intended to make a quick buck and screw over their respective fanbases, multiple developers are scared to give review copies to a reputable genre-specific news outlet that only reaches a few thousand people each week. Even if Ride 2 manages to blue-screen the Xbox One and distributes malware to everyone on your friends list, Inside Sim Racing is so small in the grande scheme of things that a negative review (which is unlikely to begin with given ISR doesn’t do negative reviews) simply won’t hurt sales, so why shaft these guys? And better yet, if we’re in the Golden Age of Sim Racing as some like to say, why have these guys been ignored by developers three times in three weeks? In my opinion, the quality of their content has been getting better, and yet now they don’t have anything to review.
And this is before we talk about the Assetto Corsa console review embargo – which obviously served to intentionally delay criticism of the game and reel in additional sales before people found out Assetto Corsa on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 was an unplayable piece of shit.
Are we going to spam the email of the Kylotonn Games PR guy and beg them to give Inside Sim Racing a review copy of WRC 6? Well, no. I’m sure we all know the game isn’t going to turn out much different than their previous effort, and the same can be said for Milestone’s Ride 2. I’m more concerned with the status of the genre as a whole. Thinking back to the Nintendo GameCube days, oddball stuff like MX Superfly and Simpsons Hit & Run were just as exciting – and enjoyable – as the high profile releases by Electronic Arts and Acclaim Entertainment. When I see Ride 2, I don’t just think of “oh God, another unfinished Milestone product, that’s their third this year“, I remember back to an era where I could legitimately take a chance on a random motorbike game I wasn’t even following because it might be addicting as hell and a sleeper hit – as MX Superfly was back in the day.
Now? Developers won’t even let respected outlets try their games, and said outlets have to make these comedic videos explaining why there’s a complete lack of footage regarding upcoming releases. In our case, I understand why developers refuse to cooperate with PRC.net. We’re assholes, and we’re going to be the guys that write off a $66 CDN NASCAR game because it has a rear sway bar adjustment in the garage menu, and the real cars don’t. But Inside Sim Racing? These guys aren’t assholes yet are receiving the same treatment.
So what gives? Is this the first tangible sign our favorite genre is on life support, or are we looking at a coincidental string of three shitty developers all releasing sub-par products at around the same time?