You know what everyone loves? Free games! And as press or a content creator, you can get them. Well, they’re sort of free. These are in exchange for making content to let people know about the game. And if you’re doing a good job, you’re probably spending quite a lot of time on it. But ‘How to Get Games That You Need to Put Work In For’ isn’t as catchy, even if more accurate.
Game Codes for Coverage
PR companies, publishers, and developers will often send out game codes in exchange for coverage. This could be reviews, articles, livestreams, discussions on a podcast, or other types of content. To keep things short, I’ll be referring to written content creators like websites as ‘press’ and video/livestreams as ‘content creators’.
What is the benefit to you? The obvious is not spending money – it’s good to support game companies and I urge you continue doing so! That said, if you’re buying several games a month to create coverage, you’ve got a bigger budget than most of us. Very big outlets can afford to do this… but they’ll rarely be asked to and if they are, they may just move onto another game. A major advantage is early access. Many companies will send you games before release so you can have coverage ready before or on release day.
Who Gets Codes?
Keep in mind that you won’t get automatically approved for anything you ask for. Numbers are a factor. Shoot your shot, but a small content creator is more likely to get a key to cover a small indie game than anything AAA. That said, surprising approvals do happen even for bigger games and some indie developers will approve really tiny creators.
There are a ton of other potential factors too. Type of outlet, past content, specialist niche, number of available keys, etc. Every game or person making a decision will have different things considered. Sidenote: If you have a choice, I recommend requesting Steam > XBox > PlayStation > Nintendo. I’ve been informed that the number of keys granted and costs involved tend to make Steam the easiest keys to get approved for and Nintendo the most difficult.
An important factor is your past behavior too. Received game keys from that company before and not posted any coverage? That doesn’t look good on you! Posted negative coverage? Well, most PR will be understanding as long as it’s fair coverage, but it is their job to try and get positive coverage. This might be a game key for a fair and balanced review from your point of view, but it’s typically marketing from their point of view, so they’re more likely to approve people who they think will like the game.
How To Request?
So how do you request these keys? If you’re press, the most common way is finding an e-mail address and asking. Content creators can do this too. Some may accept informal contact too such as via social media. Either way, make sure that you can prove you are who you say you are and that this can be verified easily. Fake key requests are a huge problem for publishers and developers.
Finding a PR e-mail address can be an absolute pain. They’re often not listed publicly. Sometimes publishers don’t even handle it themselves and farm it out to PR companies… but rarely tell anyone which one. It’s not uncommon to just not get a reply when sending e-mails too, with a lot of PR not being great at that. If you do e-mail, I recommend sending a short self introduction of your channel/outlet, mention any suitable niches such as focusing on RPGs, talk about your plans for content and include some information about your numbers such as subscribers or average viewers.
The other common way is through websites that give you access to game keys. Here are several services and my thoughts and experiences with them, as someone who has managed a website, a Youtube channel, and a Twitch channel.
Code Distribution Services
This is aimed at content creators on Youtube or Twitch only. Only run a website? Out of luck. Same if you’re a streamer or video creator on the other platforms. I tend to use it for information mostly, but sometimes use it on my other projects.
In theory to quality for this, you need 250 followers/subscribers, at least 5 published videos (for Youtube), and to have been around longer than 6 months. The requirements used to be lower and these people still have access.
Not a problem.
I used to really like one thing about Woovit – pretty much every game, if you meet some set criteria, you could click the button and have it instantly. 500 followers on Twitter and 500 on Youtube? You can get Prison Boss. Great for a last minute decision if you’re streaming or just not to wait to see if you get a reply. 4000 average views on Youtube or 40 average viewers on Twitch? You can get Total War: Three Kingdoms instantly. Admittedly some of these are a bit unrealistic, like this one requesting Twitch Partnership for a small indie game. This example is particularly odd, since it has a very low concurrent views requirement – A Twitch Partner would typically need a multitudes higher number than that to become a partner.
The other good thing about Woovit is that it often lists a contact. If you don’t meet the criteria but perhaps you feel you would be a good fit, you can e-mail them. This could be good if you specialise in a genre, so your audience is more likely to engage with that particular game. Sometimes PR will take that into consideration.
Recently a lot of games have been set to ‘Apply’ which I feel brings it down. It’s not instant for these games. If you meet the requirements, you can apply. Then a publishers/dev/PR *might* get back to you. You can’t include a note or anything though. Still, it’s better than a lot of the other options.
High (if you’re a Youtube/Twitch channel)
This one is mostly aimed at Youtube and Twitch, but also lets you link Facebook too. You can list a website or blog, but it’s not integrated like Youtube/Twitch is where it constantly updates stats and reports any coverage of the game you do.
It took quite a long time for them to approve my account. Several weeks at least.
A lot of companies use Keymailer. A lot more don’t use Keymailer. It used to be that content creators would never know which is which and you could request every game on Steam. These days it looks like games that are available via Keymailer have a ‘Request Key’ button and games that aren’t have a ‘Notify Me’ button or just aren’t listed. In theory. I previously asked a visual novel publisher whose game is available for request and they confirmed that they hadn’t set it up and that they didn’t believe anyone else involved had either. There might be some remnant of their old tactics still going on.
Keymailer lists a lot of games on Steam and lets you apply for them. On asking developers with games listed in the past, they’ve often replied with ‘What’s Keymailer?’ or ‘We’re not on there’. I’m told that Keymailer essentially take requests for these games and if they’ve not bought into their system, they go to the developer/publisher saying something along the lines of ‘we’ve got 500 people who want to play your game… why not sign up for our service?’
I’ve actually still got some pending requests for long ago. I just cancelled one and sure enough, it’s shown up as a ‘Notify Me’. Before it was listed as possible to request.
When the company is actually on Keymailer, then it’s decent for Youtubers and Twitch streamers. Click the button to request, wait for approval, rejection or a lack of any answer. Just make sure that you check the button carefully. A lot of mid-sized and bigger publishers will use it.
I’ve received quite a few keys through here as a content creator and they occasionally send offers of games unsolicited. As press, I’ve never had any approvals or offers here and there’s no way to list any coverage that I have done on there.
Low (if you’re a Youtube/Twitch channel)
This seems more popular among the press from what I’ve heard, but it includes content creators too. Requirements for content creators are quite low – essentially it’s as long as you have an active channel that you can prove is yours.
Signing up was nice and quick. I didn’t have any issues.
They’re the newest service around. Established in late 2020, they’ve already got a good selection of games to request. They’ve been making improvements to their system as time goes on too and listen to feedback. That said, I did submit some feedback and they seemed to take it seriously, acknowledged it was a problem and still months on there hasn’t been any changes made. They’re quick at responding and active on social media, but perhaps some of this is more looking good than being good.
Many of the pages on here list a contact method and a good amount of information about the game. They don’t really have a unique feature, but there are no real downsides to this one other than it relies on the PR agency to update it. It can show keys as still available when there aren’t any if the PR doesn’t.
I’ve had quite a few problems using this – but it’s always been when requesting something for one specific PR company that often uses it. This is a case of it’s not the system, but the user.
The other issue is rating, which shows PR how reliable you are depending on your submission of coverage compared to what you’ve requested. Your rating essentially ‘decays’, so you can have covered 10 out of 10 games, submitted coverage for all of them and not have a good rating because it’s been some months since some of the coverage.
It took them three months to approve my account.
This one lets you link Youtube, Twitch, and Facebook again. You can list a website or blog, but it’s not integrated like Youtube/Twitch is where it constantly updates stats and reports any coverage of the game you do. It seems more open to websites than some options though.
They have a good amount of games listed, though most are indie ones that I’ve never heard of. There are some more recognizable ones mixed in.
I’m not really a fan of their user interface. It shows tons of games at the same time and they’re categorized into genres, but games will show up multiple times, it’s not easy to navigate and when you do click onto the page, not much information is shown. I’ve also found games still being listed where there are no remaining keys.
One nice thing is that I often get invites to cover games with pre-approved keys from here.
This is aimed only at content creators.
This is fairly new. I don’t really have much experience with it, but I do know that some big companies like Square Enix use it to manage content creator keys. An odd quirk I noticed from using it once is that the approval for a key gets sent directly to the email address that is registered on your Twitch (or presumably Youtube) channel. This could be a difficulty for multi-member teams.
As well as this, there is no option to list both your Youtube and Twitch accounts, for people making content on both platforms and wish both to be considered.
Press and content creators.
Quite a lot of the games on here are bigger budget ones. It makes sense since I believe this is the most costly option for PR.
This is more of a fully managed system. Terminals staff themselves handle approvals and answer any questions. They’re usually really good at replying to messages and approving quickly if approved. I did have one experience where they just never replied for half a year, but it seems this was an exception. I will note that their method seems to be to send out keys to bigger press/content creators first for bigger titles and then wait before sending out others, so getting things at launch seems less common through this method as a medium or small creator.
I tried to register some time back. I never heard back. There was no way listed on their website to contact them. I tried contacting them via Twitter to no response. I even resorted to DMing the person behind it on Twitter, again to no response. No-one I know uses it, but I’ve heard a similar story from a couple of other people who tried to sign up.
Anyone who wants to post mini-reviews on Steam
This is an odd one to include, but there’s a reason. Websites, Youtube channels, and even Twitch streamers sometimes have a curator as an additional outlet. Ours is right here! Why not follow it while you’re here?
This is an safer way for publishers to send you games. You can redeem them directly to your Steam profile and can’t easily resell the games, which is an issue with game codes. A lot of those games for sale on marketplaces like G2A are essentially stolen keys issued for press/content creator coverage.
That said, it’s only one way. Curators can’t request games, only receive them. Curators have a bad reputation in a way too, since there are a lot of scam ones, who will e-mail asking for codes, who threaten people with negative reviews unless they send codes, and who have fake followers. There are a lot of suspicious Steam Curators about, including many of the curators with bigger numbers. There’s a great write up about some of the people who do it which can be found here.
I keep a curator though and occasionally I’ll be sent games unsolicited that are relevant to my area. A few publishers also send games to me that way because they want reviews on my website, rather than for a curator review. It’s actually really difficult to legitimately grow a curator, so I’d only recommend this as a secondary channel. From working on a few curators, it’s not surprising, but the higher the number of followers, the more unsolicited games seem to come in.
As a sidenote, quite a few developers don’t seem to realize how Steam Curator works. I’ve been sent unsolicited ‘giveaway keys’ via Steam Curator before by a number of developers. Anyone who is given permission on the Steam curator to redeem keys to their profile can redeem any game on there and will need to have higher permissions than a regular follower, so it’s not useful for giveaways unless you trust the recipient. I’ve also seen developers spreading misinformation like Steam group numbers relate to Steam Curator numbers and if they don’t it’s untrustworthy. Another one I’ve seen spread is that if the main admin has their profile hidden or hasn’t played all the games, the curator is untrustworthy – but multiple people can contribute to a curator and reviews can be from other platforms. There’s quite a lot of incorrect information floating about game dev communities.
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A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.