Official Forumwarz Blog

The official blog for the web game, Forumwarz

Posts Tagged ‘reviews

An open letter to Kotaku

Subject: Publishers and Panties: An appeal to review my game, Forumwarz.

Dear Brian Crecente,

My name is Robin Ward, I go by the alias Evil Trout. (this is an open letter, also published on the Forumwarz blog.)

I’m the creator of a web-based RPG game called Forumwarz. It parodies the Internet. Instead of traditional RPG games where you might play a thief in a dungeon battling orcs, you play an Internet user, pwning message boards. We currently have about 100k accounts, and a small (yet awesome) community. It’s an indie effort. It was self-financed and made over the period of several years by a team of people working for very little money. To say it’s a labor of love is a huge understatement.

I have personally emailed you and members of your team several times about the game, hoping you’d mention us on your blog or to see if you’d want a review copy. Every single time it has fallen on deaf ears.

I’m not sure if you know this or not, but for an Indie Game, getting one mention on a mainstream blog such as your own can make a huge difference.It might not seem like it, but a single link to our game can generate thousands of dollars in revenue, which can mean we can keep working on improving the game and making it better. It costs you nothing to do this.

You’re not alone in ignoring us. We have tried to contact pretty much every major online gaming publication, including your competitors and large review sites. People just aren’t interested in what we have to say because we don’t have the backing of a major publisher.

I understand that as the editor, the content of your site is completely at your discretion. Maybe you think our game is immature or not fit for your audience. It’s your right to publish whatever you want. However, when I see articles published in the Pantsu tag featuring the panty shots of Nintendo characters, while our hard work goes ignored, it does sting a bit.

This letter is an appeal to you: please consider the small games like my own alongside the games from major publishers. Yes, Gears of War 2 and Smash Brothers Melee are awesome games, but they get dozens of mentions on your blog while most indie games get none. I’m aware Braid got coverage, but that game is the exception and not the rule. Obviously I’m biased, but I think a lot of your users would appreciate my game and would be glad you mentioned it.

Recently you posted a blog entry asking people for review ideas. Besides my own, there are tons of other indie games that could use reviews. If you’re looking for examples, check out the Indie Games Festival entries. There are literally hundreds of submissions, many of which are playable right now if you click on the game profiles.

Thank you very much,
Robin “Evil Trout” Ward

Written by eviltrout

December 6, 2008 at 10:58 PM

Posted in Home, News

Tagged with , , ,

Buying Positive Reviews: Poor Video Game Journalism

We get all sorts of interesting emails through the “Contact Us” form here on Forumwarz. Sometimes I even get hundreds of emails saying “EVIL TROUT IS A <uppercase racial slur removed>.”

Earlier this week, I got the following email (I’ve edited out the boring parts but I promise I didn’t remove anything important to their message):

From: Blog Writer
Subject: Marketing Op

Hey ForumWarz,
Apologies for the cold-calling. I’m (name removed), and I’m co-manager and advertising lead over at a media company known as ‘The Three Rs’. Our main site/blog over at Reviews, Rants and Randomness attracts around everywhere from 10,000 to 55,000 hits a day from our global audience. Many of these views consist of a loyal readerbase, whilst attracting referrals from enterprises such as The Escapist Magazine, PC Gamer (UK) and ABC as well as our continuous close work with sites in the Gawker Media network (Kokatu and Gawker Artists respectively) [update from ET - see bottom of this post]. So, you know our credentials; what do we want from you?

As with all large-scale media outlets; we are continuously searching for advertising partners to work with our writers to get their message out there. Unlike traditional, simple banner advertising (which I deem to be somewhat ineffective in the age of Adblock), we opt for the approach of giving our advertisers a post of their own; basically a press release which speaks positively about their website and/or business. For examples of this in action, take a look at our coverage of the band Status Green, the free MMO Fallen Sword and, more recently, the promotion of Gawker Artists. As you can see, these posts consist of somewhat more than the average subtle image link; where our experienced (and, for the majority of the time, sincere and able) writers (including myself!) write thoroughly about your website, project or product. So far, our advertisers have reported great success rates (I believe the forum over at ARG had an increase in sign-ups by tenfold after we featured them). Our rates are reasonable and we charge on a case-by-case basis which is totally dependent and what you want.

I’ve always heard rumors about people buying good reviews from websites. Last year, Kotaku broke the news that Jeff Gerstmann was rumored to have been fired over his poor review of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men. I never thought I would be approached so directly about it though!

Perhaps I was mistaken about their intent. I sent them back an email to be sure:


From: Evil Trout

Wait, so essentially we’d be paying for a positive blog post about us? Isn’t that somewhat dishonest?

I got a reply the next day:

Hah! A common question, mon amie.

Not necessarily, Robin. We only contact businesses which appeal to our target audience, for a start. Secondly, they actually have to be good. This isn’t indiscriminate advertising, but rather we see that several sites across the net specifically have the potential to benefit from our fanbase and writing. Its not totally dishonest, because all we’re saying how great an already good site is. We don’t make out that our advertisers have encompasses a piece of divinity in their work, but we certainly do focus on the more positive aspects (Fallen Sword and ARG make two good examples – http://www.reviewsrantsrandomness.com/2008/03/16-17-fallen-sword.html and http://www.reviewsrantsrandomness.com/2008/03/21-48-argcom.html respectively.). Advertisers get a good review, audience and circumnavigating AdBlock, whilst readers get a decent post, somewhere to go on and new experiences; essentially, its a win-win for both sides, negating any real dishonesty that sets the foundations anyway.

First off, it’s kind of weird that he called me his female friend in French. I guess that kind of creepiness comes with having a gender-neutral first name (for the record, I’m a guy.)

It seems that their justification is that it’s not dishonest, because they only review things that they like already. However they will leave out the poor bits about a title and focus on the good ones.

Personally, I think that even if a writer likes a product, approaching someone for money in exchange for a good review is not only dishonest, it violates basic journalistic principles. Blogs such as this one with modest readership are probably under a lot less scrutiny than print magazines, but that doesn’t mean they should go about their business this way. I replied again:

From: Evil Trout

I’m sorry, no matter how you state it, you are asking for money in exchange for a good write-up.

I think that this kind of poor journalistic integrity would only end up hurting consumers. I would be very upset if I bought a bad game because of a review I found out was bought.

I wonder if this kind of practice is even legal? I doubt the police would ever knock on their doors, but at the very least this surely violates some kind of basic journalistic principles. I got his final reply this morning:

However, all of the stuff we do advertise (or, at least have in the past) has basically been free. Free to access and play. Its just about getting views in, not asking consumers to needlessly spend money directly. Again, its your loss if you worry about our integrity over spending more cash on shoving large, loud banners everywhere for 30% of our average success rate.

Ah, so it’s my loss if I’m worried about things like integrity.

First of all, I’m not worried about missing the opportunity to advertise to an audience of 10,000 hits a day. Who seriously judges traffic in hits anymore? We’re currently buying ads that are shown to hundreds of thousands of unique visitors per day. Forumwarz itself is serving more “hits” in five minutes than that site is serving in an entire day. Also, even if a banner ad gives 30% of your success rate, they are still bringing in many more multiples of users daily than your reviews would.

Secondly, plenty of people are willing to write positive things about our game without asking for money in exchange: see here, here, here, here and
here.

Even if our game was poorly received, it would be our own fault for building it poorly. The better way to increase our audience size would be to improve the game, rather than purchase positive criticism.

Finally, I think our users are just smarter than that. One reason we have a loyal user base is because they know we won’t stoop to levels like that. People can smell when things are fishy, and it would reflect poorly on us (not to mention the blog that wrote us up).

So not only can I provide a solid business case for “integrity,” but it helps me sleep at night too!

Update: Sep 16

I’ve been contacted by PC Gamer UK stating what I already suspected: this person who approached me has nothing to do with their magazine, and the only time they’ve referred to him was when they printed a letter of his stating their forum was down.

I probably should have said this when I first posted this: you should not believe that any of the third parties mentioned actually condone or support or have ever referred to what was suggesting in any way.

Written by eviltrout

September 18, 2008 at 6:13 PM

Posted in Home

Tagged with , ,

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