I recently received the following email from a PR representative asking me to write a "mock review" of their client's upcoming game. I've redacted the names of the representative, developer, and game to retain his/her anonymity.
This email should never have been sent to me.
Journalists, bloggers, and the enthusiast press are often accused of taking money for coverage. I can't speak for everybody, but bribing is a myth as far as any publication I've ever worked for or, to the best of my knowledge, any colleagues who I associate myself with. Because the enjoyment I get out of my job is providing readers with a service they can wholeheartedly rely on, I have never been tempted by such offers. This doesn't mean that PR representatives haven't attempted to sway me towards pimping their client in exchange for a check.
(Edit: Sorry for the confusion on my use of the term "bribes." I'm using it to describe any time a writer is approached by somebody in the field they are covering with an opportunity to make money. By taking that money, my opinion may be skewed in the future when covering that person or what they represent, whether I'd want it to be or not. This same effect can occur by having a direct influence on the game, which is another problem that stems from this dilemma but does not fall into the category of a bribe.)
Paying for coverage isn't the only thing I won't do. Other no-nos include (but are not limited to): beta testing in regards to offering direct feedback to developers, sharing content before publication, forgoing criticism to get exclusives, and anything else that could cause a conflict of interest. I've been asked to do all of these things multiple times. But you want to hear something unprecedented?
Since January 1st, 2013, I can recall being asked by eight different companies to provide a mock review (or equivalent service) for a game they're developing.
First, no. I will not violate the unspoken contract I've made with my readers by compromising objectivity. You could make me a billionaire and I wouldn't care. Who wants a billion dollars if that money is a constant reminder of the dignity you traded in? Certainly not me, and it's frankly insulting that anyone would think to make such an offer to members of the press in the first place.
And why waste your time? There are QA testers that will do an infinitely better job than me because they specialize in giving product feedback. You're literally wasting time at best and damaging a working relationship at worst by approaching a writer with bribes. It's an incredibly short-sighted move in that I'll be wary about working with you in the future. How am I to know what you're going to try and pull?
As a writer, I'm forced to make many difficult decisions regarding ethics. Often times, there is no "right" and "wrong" solution. Considering whether I should take a bribe is not one of those times as the only right answer is that it's the wrong thing to do.
To all PR people who I have had conflicts with, including the one who sent the email I included in this article, I extend the olive branch to put it all behind us. I'm not one for grudges. After all, mistakes are made. This was all written with the best of intentions as I'd like to see bad practices go away and make PR-Press relations better for everyone.
Thanks for reading. As always, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments and/or hit me up on Twitter (@timrattray). I'd love to start a dialogue on this topic with anyone interested.