Even the hardware we've reviewed came out of that fund, so you don't have to do a lot of maths to realise that - with big games costing £50 - we don't make much of a profit from Digi (and we've not yet broken even from the current batch of t-shirts, incidentally...).
But that's ok. Because, you see, something I've avoided doing since starting this site is contacting PR people for review copies - chiefly because I don't want to be beholden to those difficult conversations when I don't like one of their games. Well... so much for that.
Also, it has slightly been down to not knowing whether Digitiser2000 is even big enough yet to be on their radar; currently we get around 15,000+ unique readers a month (though that might be closer to 30,000 this month - and thanks to a few viral posts, it spiked sharply in the last couple of months of 2015 to about a quarter of a million...).
On average, however, we can't touch the big sites. I mean, I'd love to beg somebody to supply us with a proper gaming PC so that I can finally review PC games, but... well... I dunno where to start asking for it.
Anyway. This week, I reviewed Digitiser2000's first ever proper freebie review copy. And - hey - now I feel really awful about it!
BREAK THE DUCK
It has been years since I reviewed a game that had been supplied to me by a PR rep, and the game that broke my duck was RPG Tycoon. If you read the review, you'll know I thought the concept had potential, but I didn't love the end product.
The review also happened to be incredibly hard for me to write.
Looking at the background before going into the piece, I saw that RPG Tycoon was the work of one guy - Matt Gamble. He's 22 - the same age as my middle daughter, incidentally - doing what he wants to do, and I didn't really want to lay a big, brown cable on a game that he'd been working on for years. He's one young person - he can't hide behind a big team, or corporate infrastructure. He doesn't have the benefit of that buffer.
The decisions made on Matt's game were his alone, and he can't pass the buck. There would be no barrier between me saying less-than-flattering things about RPG Tycoon... and Matt himself. I wasn't about to upset a company: I wrote that review knowing I'd potentially upset a person.
And I don't much like upsetting people, unless they're idiots.
Ironically, I probably wouldn't have even reviewed RPG Tycoon had I not been contacted by the PR company that was representing it. I wasn't even aware of it.
I've talked before about how a reviewer has a duty to be honest about the games they're reviewing. It's all too easy for critics to get cheap laughs, or play to the crowd. And I know the power of a bad review: I was the guy who wrote what became Pudsey The Dog; The Movie, a film that was universally loathed even before it came out.
I'm thick-skinned enough to have been able to take the volley of phlegm that came my way over that, but I didn't know about Matt. Life is hard enough as it is, and we're all just one shitty turning point away from having our day ruined. I suspect Matt is too young to have yet built up that wall of scar tissue we all grow over time.
However, to his absolute credit, he dropped me a line on Twitter, and handled it with spectacular good grace:
Suffice to say, Matt's mature attitude and generosity of spirit made me feel even more guilty about the review, but I appreciate it nevertheless. I do hope he's as fine about it as he seems, but he displays a textbook way to handle criticism (or - as he calls it correctly - feedback): learn from it, and not take it personally.
Critics are like everyone: we're all different, we all have different tastes, and we all encounter the world through our own filter of prejudices and references. Some critics are honest, some are working to a different agenda (whether they're aware of that or not). But regardless, reacting against a bad review by telling a critic that they're mistaken is completely the wrong way to go about it. It changes nothing.
Creating stuff for public consumption is hard: if you're true to yourself, your creation is symbiotically linked to you - and it can hurt when someone gives it a kicking. Ideally, nobody should ever be discouraged from doing what they want to do (unless, y'know... they're Harold Shipman, or someone).
RPG Tycoon wasn't for me, but there are people on Steam who clearly like it - and good for them. And better still: good for Matt Gamble. May he continue to create games for as long as it fulfils him.
Here's hoping that whenever I review his next game, we'll both come out of the experience feeling better about ourselves.