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Site Policies & Ethics

If you are viewing this page, I assume you are interested in learning more about the HonestGamers site (either that, or you're extremely disappointed because someone sent you here as a joke). You are likely interested in one or more of the following: the site's history, our plans for the future, our ethical agenda, our views on your privacy while browsing the site, and the site's finances.

As the site's founder and acting editor-in-chief, I will attempt to address all of those points succinctly and in the order outlined above. Consider yourself forewarned, though, that brevity is not a strong suit of mine. Keep in mind also that while I am in charge of operations and editorial oversight, not every contributor sees everything in precisely the same way.

Disagreement is a part of life, and the text on this page is simply a reflection of my own views, which I keep in mind as I act on behalf of the site, its contributors and its readers.

Site History

HonestGamers was originally founded in late 1998, around October or November. I was a college freshman at the time, and I'd barely ever used the Internet. My dad bought me a computer when I graduated high school, though, and I was anxious to bring my writing and love of video games to a wider audience.

The site was initially hosted on Geocities, and was called "Honest Gamer." I built the first edition of the site in Microsoft Publisher, and it sucked. So did most subsequent attempts for a number of years (some would argue that all subsequent attempts sucked, but those people are just plain mean).

From around 2004 through January of 2015, HonestGamers was hosted on GoDaddy servers. They offered generally reliable uptime and reasonable pricing, but their server response speed was not optimal. On February 2, 2015, the site was moved to a new host, A Small Orange, which offers faster servers and (hopefully) the same or better reliability, at around the same monthly rate. Assuming nothing substantial changes, HonestGamers will not be moving to a new host again, since moving a large site around too often can cause any number of unforeseen issues.

The site is coded by hand, using Notepad and HomeSite and Dreamweaver's text editor. I have learned enough HTML/PHP/etc. to build the features I want to build, but not much else. It was cheaper than paying someone else to do it, but I'd still rather spend my time playing and writing about games. With PHP/MySQL, you really can do a bunch of cool stuff, even if you're not some sort of genius. If I were just now thinking about getting into building web sites, I would probably try to use Wordpress or something instead. As far as I know, though, a lot of that stuff didn't even exist in 1998.

Plans For the Future

HonestGamers has gone through a number of changes over the years. When I first built the site, the goal was to create my own little empire, much like IGN. At the time, IGN itself was a fairly new site, and so was GameFAQs. There weren't actually a lot of game sites around, and half of those that were at the time have since folded. This means that HonestGamers is actually one of the oldest game sites still available online. And since most other sites have since been purchased by corporations, HonestGamers is one of the very oldest independent game sites still in operation. It's just a shame that so few people have heard of it.

Over the years, I've been forced to adjust my expectations for the site's success. There's simply too much competition and I didn't do a good job of capitalizing on the site's strengths during the years when those efforts could have made the most difference. Without a time machine to go back and fix those mistakes, all I can do is look to the future.

Eventually, I learned that a site should focus on what it does best. A more limited focus allows a site to reach a more responsive audience. To that end, the site now focuses almost exclusively on video game reviews--which have been its primary content since almost the very first day the site went live--and guides.

In the future, then, you should look forward to the site hosting reviews and guides... but not much else beyond a few community features. I'm not especially interested in seeing it expand into other areas, unless they complement that core content. The real goal is to produce a much higher volume of the same great stuff it already does. Considering the site already hosts over 8000 reviews and numerous guides, that's no small feat!

Ethical Agenda

Ethics aren't something I thought a lot about when I was first building HonestGamers. They're something a lot of people are thinking about today, though, and those folks aren't wrong to do so. Although the site hadn't had a formal ethics policy in place, I have managed it with some basic notions in mind, which now have congealed as our current ethics policy.

Since HonestGamers is primarily a game reviews site, my goal has always been to provide helpful reviews that will allow consumers to make choices about the games they purchase or play, while simultaneously providing gamers from a variety of backgrounds with the opportunity to have their opinions heard (hence the site's enormous selection of quality reader reviews). I've noticed that a lot of sites now feel a moral imperative to spend much of their time discussing themes in place of mechanics, most particularly in regards to gender and minority issues. While I believe that such discussion is beneficial in the right venues, I also feel that it can get in the way of the sort of consumer-facing review that is this site's millieu.

As editor-in-chief, my goal is to match critics with the sort of games they would typically choose to purchase and play, not the ones that make them angry. My theory is that if someone is about to buy a game and he or she heads online for a review, the review that will prove most helpful is a review written from the perspective of someone else who might also have bought that game. If a critic finds a game's subject matter, themes, or design elements inherently offensive ahead of time, I don't want that person writing an official review (that is, a staff or freelance contribution) for the game on the site. That sort of content might be good at driving traffic when stunned people see a low score on a meta site and wonder what we were smoking, but it's not the sort of content that I believe best serves the site's particular audience.

Note that this ethical agenda is in no way meant to be taken as the "one true way" to review games, but it is the policy that I keep in mind as I determine which critics will receive which assignments at this site.

It's important also to note that sometimes, someone will review a game and will wind up disliking it for reasons that sound an awful lot like total garbage... to some readers. However, I also am not in the practice of censoring contributors, most especially those who are ready to back up their opinions with logic. I want readers to know that they can count on honest impressions from writers who went into a game expecting to have a decent time with it. What happened after that isn't up to me, and it could well end up happening to a lot of other consumers if they buy the game in question. That suddenly makes it relevant to the site's overall audience.

No review at HonestGamers is intended to cover more than one game at a time (with the obvious exception of compilations, because duh!). A review should address not the game a critic might wish existed, but the game that was actually created and placed on store shelves or on a digital storefront. It should ask not what a game might have done differently to reach a larger and more diverse audience, but what it does well--or not--as it seeks to reach the particular audience the developers had in mind. Reviews should cover some fairly conventional stuff, including graphics and audio, play control, replay value, difficulty, and so forth (as applicable).

If writers want to tackle game reviews from other angles, my hope is that they will feel welcome to submit those reviews as readers. Reader reviews aren't subjected quite so rigorously to the site's editorial agenda. They will likely still be rejected, however, if they don't adhere to reasonable grammatical standards or if they don't spend enough time critiquing the individual game being reviewed. After all, there are plenty of other sites where editorials and features are gladly accepted, and there are a number of sites that still accept reader reviews that are unsupported or horribly written.

Privacy Policy

I know that people hate spam, so HonestGamers doesn't sell (or give, because that would be doubly stupid) your information to marketers. When you sign up for an account, you should receive an automated email message confirming your registration. That's the last time you'll likely ever hear from us unless you solicit email contacts from site staff or an especially unusual circumstance arises.

HonestGamers places a cookie on your computer, which allows you to log into and use your account. This is standard practice on sites around the Internet, whether they disclose the fact or not, and is not cause for alarm.

We also run ads with various networks, including Google. The DoubleClick DART cookie will be used by Google in ads served on publisher websites like HonestGamers that display AdSense for content ads. When users visit an AdSense publisher's website and either view or click on an ad, a cookie may be dropped on that end user's browser. The data gathered from these cookies will be used to help AdSense publishers better serve and manage the ads on their site(s) and across the web.

Finally, it's worth noting that we don't tend to work counter to any law enforcement agencies in the unlikely event that they contact the site during the course of an authorized investigation. No one should be doing anything here that is especially likely to interest law enforcement agencies, so this has always been a non-issue.

Site Finances

HonestGamers is financed almost exclusively out of my own pocket, and I am not a wealthy man. The site loses me money virtually every month I keep it online, but I persist because I love what the site is doing and I appreciate the support people have shown.

In some cases, I have been able to pay contributors in the past, and I would love to be able to do so in the future. Currently, I can typically only pay for some limited guide assignments. The only other compensation contributors receive is a verbal pat on the back and the satisfaction of a job well done. Experience is its own reward, the saying goes, and there's probably a bit of that happening, as well.

In the more than 15 years the site has been in operation, we have directly accepted advertisements from a total of two game publishers. Because we are a niche site, most of the ads we run are handled by ad networks such as Google and we do not talk to scary people in suits who will threaten to pull their ad money if they don't like our editorial content.

As noted in the disclaimer at the bottom of most pages on the site, we often review games that have been provided by publishers and developers. This is standard practice, and we have never knowingly let that access modify our coverage. Sometimes, we'll have a game ahead of its release, and we follow all embargoes for a simple reason: without early access to the game, it's not like we could have reviewed it ahead of an embargo lifting, anyway. Our reviews are based on time we spend with games in our own residences, not at preview or review events or on noisy show floors.

Since I can't typically pay contributors, the choice about what gets reviewed largely falls to my assembled team of volunteers and freelancers. If we are offered a game (or we request one that a publisher provides), we'll review it if we can find someone up to the task. Otherwise, we won't. We don't accept payment from publishers, developers, or PR people to "make it easier" to review certain titles or anything like that. We're going to review the stuff that interests us, and that's it. We can't afford to do it any other way, and I can't imagine that you'd even want us to.

Conclusion

HonestGamers has been around for a long while. With your support, it can remain online for a long time to come.

We won't always publish reviews that appeal to you specifically, because (no matter what you may have heard) reviews are subjective. What we will attempt to do is treat each and every game fairly, regardless of the size and/or notoriety of the development team. Like many of our peers, we will attempt to identify and eliminate any unfair bias or conflict of interest that might prevent us from covering a game with our audience's interests kept at the forefront.

We owe our continued existence to the gamers, writers, and readers who have been a part of the site since its inception, and I am grateful to all who have chosen to support this ongoing effort to educate and entertain the men, women and other life forces who share our abiding passion for games.

Thanks for reading!

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