Sometime in 2002, I became a "professional" video game reviewer.
More specifically, I didn't really get paid, but I did get to keep lots of free games. My reviews were published on websites more popular than my own for a wider audience and my scores influenced aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes and GameRankings. I also got occasional swag like t-shirts and, depending on how generous the editors were feeling come Christmas, maybe a $50 gift card.
Although it wasn't a real income in any way (it certainly didn't displace my minimum wage job), the goods I got to keep were handy for bartering. I reserved the poor trade-in rates of Electronics Boutique for games that absolutely nobody wanted, and was usually able to trade games "other people would want" for games I really wanted. Of course I kept the really good ones, few and far between as they came.
At first, I didn't mind that the vast majority of games were either "total crap," "woefully average," or the somewhat elusive games "other people would want," but at least I could bear through the latter and crank out a review and get rid of the thing for something more worthwhile. The "total crap" was almost fun to play because of the potential for making fun of them in a hearty review.
The "woefully average" games were really the problem. These were games so basic, so merely competent
, so uninspired and this-genre-as-usual affairs, that you would begin playing them for possibly twenty minutes, say "I get the idea," and proceed to forget about them for a week. (Expected turnaround was three days; with these, that didn't always happen.) By the time I would start to feel a little guilty about not having my review done, I might google a sampling of reviews, note their observations, play the game for perhaps another twenty minutes, and attempt to write 2,000 words on something I couldn't care less about.
Sometimes obscure games like weren't even recognized by EB, or were worth as little as $1-$3. Since nobody else wanted them - let alone had even heard of most of them - I let them go for whatever I could get.
Sometimes games weren't retail copies at all, especially the PC games. They often came on burnt CD - exactly from where I don't know; sometimes the sharpie on the discs were from my editor, sometimes they had crappy printed CD sized stickers on them. Either way, you couldn't get squat for them. I'm sure many of them I still have.
Take a look at the list of games I reviewed for Worthplaying.com
just before I had had enough: Blitzkrieg 2, Mall Tycoon 3, Marine Park Empire, Pac-Man World 3, Crash Tag Team Racing, America's Army: Rise of a Soldier, TMNT 3: Mutant Nightmare... needless to say, the catalog of games I received did NOT reflect the site's name.
I also had the pleasure of doing previews for the same kind of crap: COPS 2170: The Power of Law, Scrapland, Virtual Skipper 3... as with the PC reviews, I was expected to take an assortment of screenshots for each, often with very uncooperative software.
Terrible games. Yes, I was lucky enough to scoop up Psychonauts, F.E.A.R., Beyond Good & Evil, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Otogi, and a few other gems. Worthplaying put up a list on their FTP server of available titles, which was usually crap, and GameZone
(the other site) had a more efficient ranking system of games expected to come out that month, with the most wanted games being rotated by the reviewing crew.
That's not to say I never took advantage of the system. Sometimes I would get the same game from both websites, "return" one game still in shrink wrap to Wal-Mart for full price, and try and come up with two different reviews.
Problem was I was not patient enough to write two different reviews for each site. More often than not when this happened they both got the same exact thing. I feel kind of bad about that. And if I was being particularly late with reviews of some crap, I might keep the editors on my good side by giving them a review I wrote for the other site... "Sorry, I'm still working on Scooby Doo 2: Monster's Unleashed
-- but will this review of Mace Griffin Bounty Hunter
[i] tide you over? :)"
I do feel bad about that. And surely it was only a matter of time before they figured it out. And they did. But I was sick and tired of the crap selection of games and screenshots and deadlines by then, so it was an easy out.
Since then I've mostly relegated any 'reviewing' to forum posts, unread and soon abandoned blogs, and a shortlived (mostly retro oriented) podcast
. But upon digging my way to Destructoid more than once lately, and finding the video content quite compelling, as well as the community surrounding it, I think maybe I have found a catalyst to ... enjoy?!? writing about games again.
Granted, I'm not planning on getting any free things for doing it, but that's okay by me. I have some things to say about games. I have some thoughts on older games, observations of recent games, and hope for games of the future. More to come.