This Is Not A Skyrim Review

Here, have some Skryim screenies anyway!

In an ideal world, you’d be reading the first line of our Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim review.  This isn’t, however, the ideal world that we’d like it to be, or that people wrongly believe it to be.  To be fair, most people who are interested enough to read a Skyrim review as long as ours is likely to be should really take a step back and ask themselves if they’d rather comb through what would, almost certainly, be an 8000 word tome… or just play the damned game and stop wasting time reading about it.

That’s not what this is all about though.  This is about being on the outside, looking in at what appears to be a wonderful lifestyle that any gamer would give their right thumbstick for, infatuated by the thought of being part of the industry for which they have so much passion and such a strong connection to.  It is, if I’m honest, quite an easy mistake to make as the weeks leading up to a new game launch tend to invite flurries of Twitter updates from developers, publishers, community managers and even journalists, all throwing out excited exchanges of upcoming events where everyone would rub shoulders and throw assorted canapes down their throats as they congratulate each other on a job well done.

The glamour of such events, and the thought of being able to immerse themselves in their beloved games weeks in advance of any others, is enough to transform any dedicated gamer from a mere bystander in to a website owner, hell bent on getting that all-important foot in the door and a sweaty grip on the ladder to internet success… with the lure of free games being more than a passing thought, of course.

There are those who do what they do because of the passion, and nothing more, but the few who start their sites as an outlet to vent their spleen or from an inherent desire to enthuse or rant about whatever is going on in the gaming world are far outweighed by the many who are out for freebies and jollies.  They rub their hands with glee as they pull the trigger on the shotgun that sprays the myriad of publishers and PR companies with email requests for review copies, fully expecting each one to respond with a “Hey yeah, how many copies would you like?” along with some kisses and perhaps a jaunty smiley.  Instead, when their well thought out requests (read: “I am a gaming website, can I have a review copy of your game? Thanks. -=PsYch0Kill499=-”) are either met with silence or the obligatory let down, they wonder what went wrong. Surely sending a short email asking for a review copy is enough?

Yer name’s not on the list, so yer not gettin’ in. Forsooth.

Very few people realise just how much work is involved to take an idea from concept, through to launch and, with any luck, eventual success.  To do it properly means to stand on your own, take steps to ensure that you create your own content without relying on third parties and build up a reputation for quality that will stand you in good stead when it comes to taking those steps to differentiate yourself as a respected website rather than a blog.  No matter how much effort you make, or how much time and money you sink in to the site, you will forever be at the mercy of the decision maker, be they a third party or internal PR manager, or perhaps even the publisher themselves – assuming you’ve done your homework and not decided that it’d be a good idea to ask the developer instead – but there’s still a protocol which needs to be followed, and some are more strictly upheld than others.

Want to get yourselves a review copy from one particular publisher?  Make sure you get yourself an audience of 250,000 unique visitors per month, with 50,000 of them being UK residents, or you stand no chance.  Unless you hang out with them, of course.  The lines become blurred and convention goes out of the window when beers have been exchanged and mutual lols are thrown around on Twitter, and suddenly that door is now inexplicably ajar, and will undoubtedly remain so as long as you’re able to keep up the virtual towel snapping.

Even at that, the tide of industry will continue to ebb and flow with no rhyme or reason.  Those who would readily extend the offer of a leg-up one day may fall silent the next and the wedge that once held open the door kicked aside, resulting in an almighty thud as that door closes once again, leaving you scratching your head as to what you may have done to offend.  The truth is that you probably did nothing, but that someone else told better jokes on Twitter and have since become the flavour of the month.  The gaming industry is, in that respect, no different from any other.  It is not some autonomous beast that stumbles forward with every fibre of its being focused on the next big release; it is a living, breathing, entity with genuine humans at the helm and, with that, personalities and feelings come in to play more than one would first expect.

So let’s assume that you get your website up and running, manage to get a few publishers or PR companies to give you the time of day and perhaps get thrown the odd XBLA or PSN review code… the only way is up, right?  Well yes, but it depends on how much effort you put in and how far you’re willing to take it.  The best way to get decent content and give your readers something to actually come back to your site is to take the initiative and perhaps take some risks, which is exactly what we did this year by taking a team to PAX East in Boston, E3 in Los Angeles and Gamescom over in Cologne… which has the best damned gothic cathedral on the planet.  Probably.

“Wow”, I hear you say, “You’re so lucky to have done all that… I’d do anything to do those things!”.  We had those thoughts too and, while I honestly have to say that the huge expos really are a great experience, it’s not all Shadowbanish Wine and roses.  To the uninitiated, a trip to something like E3 must be akin to Kerry Katona getting a free tour of the McCain Home Fries factory with the option to fill up a trolley on the way out, but the reality is very different.  For the months running up to the event, you’ll have an invitation here and there, asking you to drop by to see the latest release from an indie developer.  Personally speaking, we love these invitations because that’s how you get to discover gems like Bastion some six months before anyone pays them any attention, but the majority of people travelling to these events will generally want to bypass the little guys and head for the big guns.  If you’re waiting on invitations from these guys, you’re in for a long wait.

This is E3 before the crowds started…

Getting meetings with the larger devs and publishers involves contacting them well in advance, and being prepared for the silent treatment because, let’s be honest, if they don’t know who you are, why would they want to dedicate their precious time to you?  It may sound harsh, but it’s true… and it’s understandable.  Imagine having 40,000 people per day visit an expo and you perhaps have twenty separate thirty minute presentations available… and even if you assume that each presentation can hold twenty people, that’s only 400 people per day that get to take part.  For all you Sheldons out there, that’s 1% of the people through the door each day getting to see these previews.  When only 1% of the population of the expo can logistically be catered for, why should they give you the time of day?  Chances are, they won’t.  As for the chances of getting in to the one-to-one meetings, well… I’ll let you work that one out on your own.

Even if you make the effort to travel to these events, it’s what you can offer them in return that determines whether you can get your foot in the door and be one of the lucky few.  If your writing is sub par, you don’t bother even hitting a simple spell-check button or your site looks like something the dog threw up after gulping down the latest issue of “What Shit Design” magazine, then you’re already fighting a losing battle.  Take into consideration your poor traffic stats because, as we’ve already established, most gaming websites are coincidentally created around the time leading up to a major game release, on the off chance of a freebie, and there’s no way you’ll get anywhere.  We were lucky.  We had 60,000 monthly visitors and almost fifteen months of content behind us when we first started making E3 appointments, as well as some solid writing, or we wouldn’t have got half of the appointments we did… and certainly wouldn’t have got the entire team in to the Microsoft, Sony and EA conferences.

The GL E3 team: Lee, Mark, Ben, Lorna and Adam R

Let’s suppose you manage to get some appointments; now you’re on your way to a great time… playing games, hanging out with devs, making snappy in-jokes with CliffyB about something only a dedicated Gears fan would know, and suddenly you’ve arrived.  The world is your oyster; the party invitations are coming thick and fast so you know that this is going to be the best damned experience of your life.  Wrong.

The first day will undoubtedly involve sleep, if you’ve just spent a good forty or more hours travelling from the UK like we did, but you have to remember to haul yourself down to the exhibition centre to pick up your passes sooner rather than later because, if you put it off until the day of the expo, you’re in for a very long wait in an equally long queue.  Just because you have a press pass, doesn’t mean you can just swan in… but I’m guessing you already knew that.

Get here early. Nuff said.

Now that you have your various passes, you can relax.  Well, relax as much as you can when you know that 40,000 people are going to be heading through the same doors as you tomorrow and, if you want to get to the big attractions before anyone else does, then you need to be at the front of that queue.  You’re up at 7am, and you take your place.  When the doors eventually open, and they’re usually delayed on the first day as someone invariably forgets to set up the inflatable dragon until the last minute and one of the booth babes keeps popping out of her top, everyone piles in and it is at that moment when it hits you… it’s huge.  It’s noisy, it’s colourful, it’s huge, it’s 40,000 people who all love the same stuff that you do, like a giant swelling mass of in-breeding.  It’s still huge. It’s awesome.

You then realise that getting from one hall to the other involves a brisk ten minute walk or a five minute sprint, but you’ve booked your appointments back to back and you’re carrying all your gear, so award yourself a -20 Stamina handicap.  There’ll be that buzz of excitement every time you walk in to a new presentation and get eyes on or, if you’re really lucky, hands on, whatever new game is due out in the next 12-24 months.  This is it… you are now the envy of your friends.  It’s official.

The day ends and, with it, the blisters and aching bones.  It’s 7pm before you manage to get back to your hotel room because of all the traffic, and you took a cab because you couldn’t face walking another hundred feet to your hotel.  You plonk your arse down, start to think about how great the day was, and then it hits you… content.  The rest of your evening is spent writing up as much as you possibly can from the day, getting it in to drafts so you can grab a slice of pizza before it’s too late to care about food, and then at 2am you’ve got the first articles published, with another few sitting in drafts if you’ve got a team with you.

Noooo!! I want SLEEEEEP!!

With the shrill annoyance of the mobile phone alarm at 7am, only five hours after your head fell limply towards the pillow, the reality once again hits that you need to get up immediately because the remaining articles need edited, imaged, and published.  Before you know it, it’s 8,30am and there’s barely enough time to grab a quick shower but you do it anyway as you don’t want to be “that guy”… and by “that guy” I mean one of the 30,000 people who ran out of time to shower and merely sprayed Lynx Chav to try and kill the stale onion smell oozing from their every pore.  Yes folks, gaming expos stink.

The next few days follow the same routine of barely sleeping, barely eating, lugging 18kg of equipment around with you, interviewing people who generally don’t want to be interviewed and are fed up of being asked the same questions, so you feel like you’ve offended them when you really haven’t.  The end result is always going to be worth it though.  You walk away with perhaps fifty or sixty previews, a dozen interviews, and you exchange business cards with enough people to fill your entire Rolodex twice over, ensuring that the next time you ask for a review copy, it’ll be met with open arms and peppered with those kisses and jaunty smiley we talked about earlier.

Sadly, this isn’t the case.  The Gamespots and IGNs of this world will never have any trouble getting content, because they are “the eyes and ears of this institution”, to quote a great movie.  In the grand scheme of things, we are the mice that scurry from the skirting boards of said institution, scavenging around for whatever scraps we can find so that we can continue to build a comfortable home for ourselves.  Now and again, we may find a morsel of Brie but, more often than not, a broken corner from a slice of Dairylea is the best we can hope for.

Running a gaming website: a mammoth tusk. Sorry, TASK.

So when you ask us why we don’t have a review of Skyrim up today, our answer is simply this: we are but a small cog in a monstrous machine.  A machine that requires a lot of round-the-clock maintenance and a great deal of effort before people will truly take notice, and not one suited to those who want nothing more than to rub shoulders with relative greatness or rip open a Jiffy to find the undersaturated cover of the latest promo release.  Yes, we did manage to get a review copy of the game, but it was on release day, and we’re not the type of site to wade in for a few hours and slap a score along with some confident speculation – these things take time to do properly, and we’re not going to sell our readers short just to get something up straight away.  If you build a gaming website with the expectancy of review code, or any sense of entitlement whatsoever, then you’re in it for the wrong reasons and you’ll continue to be bitterly disappointed.  It needs to be based on the same reasons that we do it: desire, or passion, and you need to be prepared to dedicate your life to it.

Skyrim’s fucking awesome by the way; just sayin’.

Games featured in this article
For more information on any of the games featured in this article, click on any of the links below

Last five articles by Mark R



  1. Rook says:

    Good job this wasn’t a review otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to read it, but read it I did. After reading the manual for Skyrim – so that’s two large reading tasks for me as opposed to playing the game. Which will now begin.

  2. Ste Ste says:

    8 out of 10?

  3. MrCuddleswick says:

    Love this piece Mark.

  4. Furie says:

    So, in short, gaming websites are actually hard work and not just playing games for free with al the groupies you can smoke? Nah, don’t believe a word of it. ;)

  5. Edward Edward says:

    Article of the Year Contender :)

  6. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Thanks guys. It just always baffles me the number of people I’ve met over the last two years who’ll turn up at events and not actually cover them, but will get pissy if people stop inviting them… primarily because people realise that they just want free booze and food. By the same token, the number of sites that get back-handers from the industry, based solely on the fact that they clinked some bottle necks together a few times at the aforementioned parties, is just beyond me. I’d rather toil and put in the effort for very little in return than piss about and be showered with invitations and review code, but it still grates.

    Maybe one day I’ll write the counter argument, and enthuse about how awesome this life can be sometimes.

  7. fluffy bunny says:

    Also, good luck on getting an early review copy if your metacritic average is in the lower end of the scale and you’re not called Edge.

  8. SimonJK says:

    Pfft, like anyone need to read an Elder Scrolls review longer that “If you like RPGs or long envolving games then get it and let us know have good it is when you are finished in about 6 months!”. I love the fact that in a news peice mentioning Skyrim and filled with Skyrim pictures, the guy second on the left in the photo is holding the Two Worlds 2 Limited Edition, lol.

    (sorry, I’d write more but I now own Skyrim and no longer want a life away from my console!)

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