I’ve been working on this site for five years, and in that time I’ve seen smaller sites with shorter, typo-and-inaccuracy-packed reviews leapfrog mine in search results. Paying for games out of my own pocket guaranteed to readers that I wasn’t beholden to any external forces or tempted to soften the blow of harsh criticism with such popular review nothings as “but there’s a solid base here for [developer]’s next game!” Sadly, it also meant that I got games quite a bit later than other review publications, so that pre-release period where fans link to early reviews to weigh their enthusiasm against the opinions of critics is one I’ve missed out on the benefits of almost entirely. No links = no search engine juice = very little site growth. Blame it on the realities of the industry; I gave the whole “no review codes” thing a good go over half a decade, but it doesn’t work if you want a notable number of readers and aren’t willing to delve into the even uglier waters of clickbait. Search engines aren’t like Youtube where there’s an emphasis on discovering new outlets; once you slip beyond the first page of search results, you might as well not exist in the eyes of those doing the searching.
As for accountability/openness, I plan on making a page listing every game I receive a code for [update: this is now live and can be accessed by hovering over the “about” menu item] in addition to disclosing as much at the end of any relevant reviews. Additionally, any Steam codes will go into a new Steam account that I’ll make public and link to on that page. I’ve also been working on undoing some of the privacy settings I’ve had on my PS4 and Xbox One to make it possible to see recently played games and such, but this has proven to be a losing battle thus far.
Deck13’s The Surge is the first game I’ve accepted a review code for, hence the header image. You may be asking yourself, “hey, didn’t that come out already, totally undermining your point about getting reviews out early?” Yep. I requested it before release, but didn’t get the code until a day after it released. I’m assuming that keys will come faster once I’ve built up more of a presence.