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March 30, 2021

What is a Paid Preview?

O Updated
(Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash)
There Will Be Games

According to the online Cambridge Dictionary, a preview is "an opportunity to see something such as a film or a collection of works of art before it is shown to the public, or a description of something such as a television programme before it is shown to the public." It's generally something you can attend, either virtually, in the case of watching a preview of a film online, or in person, by going to an early screening of a film in the cinema. Some previews are free, some you have to pay for and sometimes previews are only offered to a limited number of people. I want to look at the term "preview" in the context of board games and also investigate what a "paid preview" means in our hobby.

My immediate reaction to reading the dictionary definition of "preview" and comparing it to what we call "previews" in the board game hobby is that there is a difference between me watching a film before it's being released or attending an art gallery before an exhibition is open to the public and me watching a YouTube video or reading a preview for a board game.

In the former, I am actively involved. In the case of a film, I get to see the whole film. In the case of an art exhibition, I can look at the pieces for as long as I like (within reason, of course) and take each piece in myself, seeing each one with my own eyes.

The latter relies on the creator of the video or the written piece to present everything to me. I can't touch the components. I can't play the game myself. It's an indirect experience.

It's also different to a board game preview event organised by a publisher or distributor, where people can touch the games, try them out, usually in the form of a demo, speak to the designers or other representatives there to ask questions and get a direct, first-person impression of what the games are like.

It seems as if the board game previews that we've become used to seeing are not actually proper previews. They are filtered, through the lens of another person. That in itself isn't a problem, but the more board game preview videos you watch, the more you get the impression that the focus is on the positives and potential issues or problems are ignored. I understand that a preview isn't a review, so there is no need to point out the pros and the cons, but because a board game preview doesn't give me an opportunity to discover the problems and issues myself, it is necessary for the person creating the preview to do that for me.

Of course, even during a preview event that people can attend, the organiser will put the most positive spin on everything. They might not even allow some games to be inspected more closely. Demos of games may be limited to the parts of a game that are the most exciting. Yes, a preview event is often very much like a marketing event - and in the same way, many board game preview videos or articles are actually much more like promotions.

That case is even stronger when you think about paid previews - and in this context, I mean paid for by the publisher, distributor or someone directly linked to the project. Simply the fact that they are paid for means they are promotions - or adverts. Someone is paid to present the game in the best light. Even if the person previewing a game has the best intentions of being impartial and genuine in the way they represent everything, they're still creating promotional material. Even if they criticize the game, the gameplay, components or whatever, because they're getting paid to make the video or write the article, it's still a promotion. Even if the payment did not come with any strings attached and the "previewer" was asked to be completely open and honest, it's still an advert.

Of course, in different countries, the rules and regulations differ. So in some countries, you don't have to specify if something is paid for, if it is a promotion or an advert. In other countries, you are required to say so. What classifies as an advert also differs between countries or jurisdictions. So it can get very messy.

However, I think it is important that previews that are paid for are always shown as such, irrespective of jurisdiction. In fact, I strongly believe they shouldn't even be called previews, but adverts or promotions, especially if these videos or articles appear to be presented by a person in their own right. If a video appears on a publisher's website or their YouTube channel, then I will immediately assume that this is a promotional piece - even if it doesn't actually state that anywhere. However, if the same video appears on one of my favourite board game reviewer's channels, I will assume it's their honest, personal opinion. So it would be disingenuous to call the video a "preview", when in fact it's a "promotion" or an "advert". As I say, I don't even think calling it a "paid preview" is right if the video appears on a reviewer's channel - and even if that reviewer genuinely presents their personal opinion.

I also don't understand the problem with calling something a "promotion" or an "advert". It's as if these terms are dirty somehow or cheapening the work that's been put into them. I often admire well-made adverts. Epic videos showing a board game in a cinematic style are amazing and should be celebrated. There are a number of YouTubers who do great work in that area and none of them should be afraid to call their videos "adverts". It's great if they get paid for the work they do and get paid what they deserve. In fact, that's another issue that the board game industry still often gets accused of: expecting people to do work for free or only offering small remuneration.

So, maybe it's time that we remove the apparent stigma of promotions and adverts and encourage people to call their work what they are. That way we also lift up those people who write reviews without any payment, like myself, whose work is done independently and not influenced by a publisher or distributor and whose opinions are genuine and honest.

What do you think of the use of the term "preview" in the board game hobby? How do you feel about "paid previews"? Do you believe the work that's been paid for by a publisher is genuinely independent and not influenced in any way by the payment? Do you think the words "promotion" or "advert" are bad when applied to work that's paid by a publisher or distributor? I'd love to hear what you have to think, so please leave your comments below.

There Will Be Games
Oliver Kinne
Oliver Kinne (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Oliver Kinne aims to publish two new articles every week on his blog, Tabletop Games Blog, and also release both in podcast form. He reviews board games and writes about tabletop games related topics.

Oliver is also the co-host of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast, which releases a new episode every three to four weeks and tackles different issues facing board games, the people who play them and maybe their industry.

Articles by Oliver Kinne

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n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #324317 29 Jun 2021 22:36
I don’t think there is a stigma around calling these what they are - advertising created by independent consultants. I think it is purposeful obfuscation; infomercials.

If I see an advertisement from a company, I know what I am getting. Here, though, there is an attempt to create advertisements that appear as independent reviews, unaffiliated “previews” that still give opinions and attempt to sway, media entertainment with celebrities playing the game, etc.
The company-influencer relationships are not always hidden and may even be stated, but the purpose of them is not openly admitted to be commercials, but instead are “showing how it is played” or “I’m just a regular schmo who was given the chance to look at this early”.

And these marketers will usually avoid answering questions about their relationships with publishers or act insulted that you would question their journalistic integrity or state that nobody does anything for free.
They know that if enough dots are connected then nobody is going to watch their videos any longer. Look at the backlash that MvM deservedly got and still deny doing anything wrong or personally profiting from.

A couple of years ago, a bunch of these consultants got together and created their own awards, in an attempt to increase their own standing with manufacturers, expand their brand with gamers and sell labels to add to boxes. It was so transparent, it got backlash and seems to have been abandoned.

To be clear, I think there are people like Rodney who does give occasional opinions, but who sell game explanations, not reviews. He is clearly selling his rules explanations, not his opinions.

If I rant about this it’s only because I can’t stand it. Like all the rest of us, I am a consumer and I look at reviews or previews with an expectation that I am seeing genuine opinion. Marketers pretending to be something else to sell me stuff is dishonest. It’s dishonest work.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #324319 30 Jun 2021 09:00
Social media has almost completely blended personal opinion with professional duty to the point where I have zero expectations of journalistic integrity from ANYONE. I just assume every piece of content published today, be it in an actual paper, on a website, in a blog, or just a tweet, is aimed at personal gain to some extent.

So game reviews for me mostly fall into "it's entertaining but not informing my decision", "at least I trust they are showing actual game components and accurately representing the rules", and "wow, they got paid for THAT???" camps. This site at least tends to hit the former more than the latter :)

The group discussion of a game is FAR more persuasive to make me buy it. Comments and forum threads are key.

So when I find a reviewer that seems to share my tastes or at least can articulate things in my language, they get priority over others. I'm much more suss of reviews of big corporate things because I'm sure there is a "say something nice or we cut you off" implied threat whenever you are dealing with a Corp.

It would be nice for folks to be honest about the source of a review, and quite frankly so long as it is funny, thorough, or at least well lit and not full of shaky cam antics, I'm ok with blatant shilling for luxury items like board games.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #324322 30 Jun 2021 10:17
One aspect of all of this that particularly bothers me is when a media personality/outlet does both paid previews and non-paid reviews.

Even with disclaimers, it's difficult to discern what is paid and not when scrolling or when random people say, "MvM like it" or whatever.

If you do any paid promotional content it casts the same pall on the rest of your work in my eyes.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #324323 30 Jun 2021 10:42
"Testimonial" is both the least trustworthy and most trusted form of feedback on any product. It's very easy to fake and it reaches you on a more personal level than sales data, aggregate numbers, or frankly even your own gut feel. Marketers have known this for years and depend on it to sway opinion, not only from celebrities but also from strangers that will provide a good quote on short notice for as little as getting free shipping in return. "Tina from Cincinnati" has more of an impact on you than the aggregate rating of 10,000 actual purchasers.

You just need to turn it off and look to other sources for better information.

Or take it for what it is, easy-access material that fills time.

I appreciate the people that do this want to make a living in the "board gaming industry" and at times seem miffed that we don't pay them for their services. But the only real value they're providing is easy-access, short-attention-span content that you can consume on short notice. You don't need friends around, don't need an hour, don't need to go anywhere. Paid previews are fluff. Take them for what they are.
fightcitymayor's Avatar
fightcitymayor replied the topic: #324324 30 Jun 2021 10:47

n815e wrote: The company-influencer relationships are not always hidden and may even be stated, but the purpose of them is not openly admitted to be commercials, but instead are “showing how it is played” or “I’m just a regular schmo who was given the chance to look at this early”.

This has definitely become the YT "influencer" standard MO: "Hey, buddy, I'm just your buddy here, a totally regular guy/gal, who just happened to be shipped a giant box from Publisher-X and I'm just going to give you my thoughts, as your normal run-of-the-mill good buddy, of course!"

And let's not fool ourselves: a LOT of people just want their pre-existing consumerist tendencies to be validated by someone (anyone!) and thus we live in the world of... "INFLUENCERS!" who are there to tell you exactly what you want to hear: BUY! BUY! BUY!
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #324327 30 Jun 2021 11:31
I have two issues/points with this statement:
" That way we also lift up those people who write reviews without any payment, like myself, whose work is done independently and not influenced by a publisher or distributor and whose opinions are genuine and honest."

1. We only have the word of these 'independent' reviewers that they are independent and not influenced, at least with 'paid previews' you are totally aware of any possible bias.
2. You are inferring that the people who are doing paid previews (i.e. not your 'group') are not genuine or honest, i.e. you are questioning their integrity (while expecting everyone to consider yours as 100%).

NOTE: And before the the indignant start posting I am not questioning the integrity of either you or paid previewers.
n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #324334 30 Jun 2021 13:23
As the indignant I will absolutely question the integrity of any review where the reviewer takes money from the publishers.

I work for a big corporation. You won’t find me publicly critiquing the products we make, even if it was the case that I didn’t like them. Not only would that potentially effect my current employment, it could also impact future opportunities for me with other companies.

When NPI occasionally mentions that some publishers won’t send them review copies because of previous negative reviews, it isn’t a stretch to see how monetary arrangements will disappear if anything other than the most mild or neutral criticisms are used. These aren’t even employees, they are disposable marketers who want their $300 checks or banner ads or whatever compensation they receive to keep rolling in. And just like me, they know that if they make one of their client’s games look bad, nobody else will hire them.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #324337 30 Jun 2021 16:12
Maybe your reply says more about your integrity (obviously, since your post is about how you see the world) than what other people actually do with their lives.

I know I wouldn't drop standards like that.
Mr Barnes got dumped by FFG for 'a lack of agreement' between the two parties.
It's not hard and definitely not rare.
n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #324349 30 Jun 2021 23:35
I think it is naive to believe that people accepting paychecks to sell products are going to do anything other than try to make those products look good, unless they want to be out of the board game advertising business. It’s no coincidence that none of these people have negative things to say, they love every game they were paid to.

I don’t know what Barnes’ relationship with FFG was, but apparently it wasn’t working. That doesn’t appear to be the counterexample to what I am saying that you think it is.

As to my own personal integrity, I have a career focused on helping people and organizations achieve their goals. I’m not a mercenary marketer, with a branded personality, being paid to create infomercials.
Erik Twice's Avatar
Erik Twice replied the topic: #324355 01 Jul 2021 09:54
For me the most serious problem of paid promotional content is that, by masquerading as independent criticism, it damages everyone who is not paid off.

I've realize that many both in real life and the internet assume that I'm paid by publishers to write reviews. Not even in an underhanded way, they simply assume it must be so like it is for others. This includes not just readers and friends but also publishers and game designers. I've been asked for my "fees" and been asked for editorial oversight. Did you know there's people who send their reviews for publishers to check? Well, those publishers think that's normal. After all, if these big people accept it, why shouldn't they ask me as well?

These advertisers are also very willing to speak on ethical review practices. They go and tell publishers, readers and everyone that it's fine to buy coverage, to dictate terms, to engage in undercover adertising. So it's not that they just try to conflate advertisments with criticism, they try to undermine its moral background. I remember Rahdo trying to tell me on Twitter what's "ethical reviewing" when he had been paid to promote the game in question.

Even then, they just make criticism harder. They are not interested in it and constantly peddle this fake positivity where every game is awesome and just not for them and you should buy them all. They constantly talk about how you shouldn't write negative reviews or how they aren't useful. That the only reason to be harsh is because you are hateful or don't want a positive hobby. Fuck that.
sornars's Avatar
sornars replied the topic: #324363 01 Jul 2021 12:51

Erik Twice wrote: Did you know there's people who send their reviews for publishers to check?


I knew the hobby was full of shills but this has genuinely shocked me. For paid previews this actually makes a certain degree of sense, e.g. Rodney being paid to run through your rules should also require him to check he’s playing correctly but for something labelled as a review? That’s unacceptable.
n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #324366 01 Jul 2021 16:47
One of the reasons I like this site, what it offers, and the people on it is the sense that everything is genuine.
ChristopherMD's Avatar
ChristopherMD replied the topic: #324367 01 Jul 2021 17:11

n815e wrote: One of the reasons I like this site, what it offers, and the people on it is the sense that everything is genuine.


Full Disclosure: I will shill anything for anyone for the right money.
Erik Twice's Avatar
Erik Twice replied the topic: #324369 01 Jul 2021 18:05

sornars wrote: I knew the hobby was full of shills but this has genuinely shocked me.

I was shocked as well. I did not expect it at all.

In fact, the first times I heard of it I kind of dismissived it. Like you say, I thought people were talking about tutorial videos or other promotional work. If someone is paying you to make a how to play video, well, it makes sense and I don't think there's anything wrong about that as long as you are open about it. In fact, it seems perfectly reasonable to me and there are people who do this kind of work in a honest, completely ethical manner.

But they were not tutorials or promotional work. They were reviews. They were labelled as such and worked as such. Hearing people talk about how they sent their work to publishers so "they could check for mistakes" was so shocking I wrote it off as simply being the Spanish side of things, which is underdeveloped. But no, it's not just a bunch of small Spanish influencers, it's boardgame media as a whole. It didn't take long to hear reviewers elsewhere describe this as their usual process.

The worst is that they described this process as part of talks and other workshops meant to help new content creators. In fact, that's the reason I was there, I wanted to learn from them! But when I heard this, my heart sank. Really, I was flabbergasted and I felt like an idiot for dismissing previous times it happened as something minor.

I just keep thinking of how bad it must be when me, an absolute nobody, has been hit with it.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #324396 03 Jul 2021 08:25
Well as Oliver has already defined what a preview is (an early look at something) and we all know what a review is (a critical analysis of something) I'm failing to see how a paid preview can be mistaken as a review if it is called a preview and reviews are called reviews. I'm quite happy to watch (and appreciate) a paid preview to show me something new that I may like, and then once it's out to check reviews to fine tune if it will suit me.
Maybe I'm just a bit smarter than the average boardgamer and can work those things out ... or aren't into, or just don't get, internet melodrama.
n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #324402 03 Jul 2021 13:54
I’ve no doubt that you’re very intelligent.

I’m positive you have already realized that supposed previews offer opinion, which makes them reviews, or that the phrase “preview” itself was used in reaction to people questioning why reviews were being paid for in the first place.

Being as smart as you are, you will have also considered that people who are paid to promote a game and then review it later have a conflict of interest.

Your thoughtful analysis may have lead you to conclude that people that “preview” games from a company are going to ponder on how a negative review of a different game from that company may impact their monetary relationship. Most especially after stories of previously ruined relationships surface.

Your extensive grey matter will most likely have been used to read the previous posts on the practice of paying people for their opinions to sway the decisions of buyers.

I’m grateful that you aren’t the type of person that would show up to a serious topic and engage in drama; calling strangers who disagree with you or have experience that conflicts with your point of view things such as indignant, lacking integrity or musing on your intelligence compared to the average gamer… Thank goodness for that.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #324405 03 Jul 2021 16:52

n815e wrote:
Being as smart as you are . . .

Your extensive grey matter . . .



Yeah, a little too much ad hominem in the soup there. Weakens your rebuttal.

I think Southern Man mentions something in passing that indicates wisdom more than intelligence. He said “. . . and then once it's out to check reviews to fine tune if it will suit me” which is an indication he’s not purchasing before the product is on the shelf. He’s old like me, and us old men like to see it first and like to get a box when we purchase, not a promise.

With that buying habit a “preview” is just a promo, and you can take it for what it’s worth. It’s an advertisement. Advertisements can be fun. Just don’t take them at face value whether the host is paid or not.
n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #324410 03 Jul 2021 18:46
Thanks for the feedback. I was trying to have some fun with it, but got carried away.
sornars's Avatar
sornars replied the topic: #324415 04 Jul 2021 06:42
I think that knowing how to navigate the existing media ecosystem to make smart purchasing decisions sidesteps the core complaint. My understanding is that the folks who are upset about this are worried about the insidious effect this has on game criticism and not about the utility of paid previews and reviews to end consumers. This then leads us to the frequently discussed topic of the role of criticism in entertainment media so your opinion on boardgames as art with cultural relevance or as consumerist pieces of entertainment starts to determine your feelings about previews, reviews and paid promotion.
sornars's Avatar
sornars replied the topic: #324503 07 Jul 2021 17:57
I came across two videos today that seem to touch upon the edges of this conversation from broadly opposite positions:



I think BoardgameCo intentionally putting the issue of bias aside kind of defeats the purpose of the video and feels like he's fighting a strawman but it's good to hear his thoughts.

Edit:


This is a follow up conversation to the first video which discusses the state of previews explicitly.