Earlier this week I sent out a round of emails to various indie game sites about an update to my game (Twisty's Asylum Escapades). One of the responses that I got was from indiegamemag.com. I must admit that I was a bit surprised by what the e-mail had to say.
It began by going out of its way to explain how "unbiased" IGM is, and explains that they "will never offer or accept payment or other forms of compensation for a favorable review".
Then the next paragraph went on to solicit money for their unbiased reviews. They explained that because they are independently owned and not funded by another company, they need support from their community (and evidently their ad revenue that they get from the site is not enough). As a result they are forced to ask for a "small review fee" from the developers.
"The $50.00 will purchase a completely unbiased, in-depth review of your game"
It's important to note that they did specify that the 50 bucks was for an in-depth review and that they would be willing to provide a briefer preview of the game for no charge.
So apparently, paying them will not get you a better review of your game, just a longer and more detailed one (they also mentioned that another $50 could buy a 15 minute YouTube video review/walkthrough of your game).
While they do seem committed to unbiased reviews, this business model still presents the problem of the quality of the actual games themselves that will be receiving these in-depth reviews and whether the right games will be given the kind of attention that they deserve.
Now I'm relatively new to indie game marketing, but something seemed a little off about this to me. This isn't a practice that I'm familiar with and, after doing some searching around the Internet, I can't seem to find anything about this going on as a regular thing (if this is something that happens often, or is a normal practice, feel free to correct me).
One other thing that I'd like to point out is that this e-mail was sent "On Behalf Of Chris Newton". According to this post (http://www.indiegamemag.com/under-new-management-sort-of/) dated November 1st, 2013 on IGM, Mr. Newton only recently gained ownership of the business. Perhaps this move towards paid reviews is part of his "re-focusing" efforts?
I can understand why something like this would raise some red flags for many gamers out there. Personally, as a developer and businessman myself, I can understand why IGM would want to monetize in this way. On the surface it seems like a good symbiotic relationship between this online magazine and game developers who want their games to be covered. The thing that I was a bit offended by is the "unbiased" element of this. This sort of bizarre compromise between minor corruption and journalistic integrity is a bit inefficient. It would be best just to go one way or the other. If I'm going to pay money for a review of my game, I expect it to be horribly biased!