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Rodney Smith discussing Paid/Unpaid reviews

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22 May 2019 10:42 - 22 May 2019 10:44 #297472 by Dr. Mabuse
Last edit: 22 May 2019 10:44 by Dr. Mabuse.
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22 May 2019 10:45 - 22 May 2019 10:45 #297474 by Dr. Mabuse
He makes some interesting comments about unpaid reviewers.
Last edit: 22 May 2019 10:45 by Dr. Mabuse.

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22 May 2019 11:21 #297476 by Vysetron
This is a topic I care a lot about. From my response on the video:

Hey Rodney! I'm not sure this is a problem that can be solved per se, but it's very much worth discussing. Thanks for putting your thoughts out there.

I haven't seen anyone take issue with reviewers getting paid from non-publisher sources whether that's different sponsors, crowdfunding, donations, patreon, or something I can't think of right now. What is a conflict of interest is critical content sponsored by the creators of the subject of the review. This doesn't fly in other forms of media, studies, etc. and it doesn't work with board games either.

The thing with biases is that we're generally unaware of them. If someone's getting paid by a publisher they're going to be inclined to be kinder to the game even if they don't intend to be. Review copies are not so compromising as they aren't compensation, but money is a different situation.

I'd like reviewers to get paid fairly for their work. After all, I like money! But there's an ethical aspect here that needs to be addressed. Publishers funding critique of their work is just going to lead to more desire for critical reviews that are independent.

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22 May 2019 11:50 - 22 May 2019 11:51 #297478 by Gary Sax
Boy, I dunno. I am with Vysetron on this so I won't go deep on it, but I think it is an extremely huge silly red herring at the end to talk about the difference between paid and unpaid reviews but not make the crucial distinction of the publishing/designer paid reviews being the actual issue everyone talks about. I really don't see anyone have this problem---most people would love to have, say, the movie review system where people are paid for their time and expertise---come back.

The issue of unpaid editorial labor in the digital age now that advertising has mostly collapsed is I guess the issue he wants to talk about in this video. Which I think is a big problem!
Last edit: 22 May 2019 11:51 by Gary Sax.
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22 May 2019 13:24 - 22 May 2019 13:31 #297480 by Sagrilarus
Rodney tries to immunize himself by saying that he's not a reviewer, but he's clearly looking at this from a "content creator" perspective and states that there's no path for unpaid reviewers to get paid. So instead of speaking to the issue of publishers putting pressure on reviewers (and yep, that's what it is, the revenue a broadcaster takes for a Preview or a Sneak Peak is a hostage to future reviews that they undertake) he comes at the problem from the perspective of "the real problem is that you're all deadbeats. We need to get paid, and you guys aren't ponying up for this content you didn't ask for."

Although he has identified a second problem, it doesn't alleviate the first, and the first is more aggregious, particularly in the modern era where production values are going sky-high and bringing costs with them. Whereas 15 years ago you could publish reviews in text and images, or set up a cheap camera and shoot a static shot as you talked through the game, modern reviews require cash. It's a business, people are doing it as a primary source of income, they have significant expenses in time and equipment. Their goal is to get paid, the games are the medium to do that. It's a business, businesses generate revenue.

So although I still have a Patreon account pumping a couple of dollars each month to reviewers I value, it can't keep up with the current state of the art, which requires significant financial outlays. Rodney's production isn't as slick as most, but it ain't getting done on a GoPro with a built in microphone. He needs to get paid real dollars, and it's easier to get that money from publishers.

He's in a line of work that is not highly valued by its consumers, so he (and all his competitors) need to use his consumers as a product instead of a client. That's the nature of the business, all the talk in the world isn't going to change that fundamental problem.
Last edit: 22 May 2019 13:31 by Sagrilarus.
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22 May 2019 13:55 #297481 by fightcitymayor

Sagrilarus wrote: He's in a line of work that is not highly valued by its consumers, so he (and all his competitors) need to use his consumers as a product instead of a client.

Good point.

And as an aside: I have always wondered what was so magical about calling something a "paid preview" rather than a "paid review" because there's still an obvious halo effect going on there. If I get Warren Buffett to attend my annual investor picnic, he may hate my company and own zero shares of my stock, but hot damn, I GOT WARREN BUFFETT UP IN THIS BITCH! And that's worth something to potential investors, regardless of whether or not he thinks I'm a groovy dude or not. So if you can get Rodney, or Rahdo, or Vasel, or the right honorable Charles W. Theel to "preview" your game then you are already ahead in the win column regardless of their actual views of your product. And publishers are quite aware of this goofy disclaimer.
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22 May 2019 14:33 #297484 by Erik Twice
I'm currently being downvoted on Reddit for saying selling games through "paid previews" is not compatible with being a reviewer.
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22 May 2019 14:53 - 22 May 2019 14:55 #297485 by Sagrilarus

Erik Twice wrote: I'm currently being downvoted on Reddit for saying selling games through "paid previews" is not compatible with being a reviewer.


“If they’re shooting at you, you know you’re doing something right.”
Last edit: 22 May 2019 14:55 by Sagrilarus.
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22 May 2019 15:40 #297486 by Michael Barnes
Real talk. If you are a content creator - like Rodney - and you are accepting payment from publishers and designers, effectively as a contractor, to create "objective" content like how to play or unboxing videos...YOU ARE FUCKING ENDORSING THE PRODUCT. PERIOD.

The reason game makers pay Rodney is because he has a strong brand - he's affable, well-connected, and has a legion of followers. They pay for his reach, they pay for his smiling face explaining how to play the game, they pay for the quality of his productions. They pay to have their title associated with Watch it Played and with Rodney himself.

THIS IS ALL TOTALLY OK! But he needs to admit, as do all other content creators working in similar contexts, that they are PAID SPOKESPEOPLE. It _does not matter_ if we never know what Rodney's critical opinion is of a game...the fact that he featured it is a stronger endorsement than just about any game writer's review. People will buy a game they saw on Watch it Played before they'll buy one that a writer declares innovative, progressive, and singular. Because Rodney has implicitly endorsed it, and everybody loves that dude.

The truth of it is too that "content creators" are selling more games than good reviews ever did. I'd bet that more copies of games are sold based on unboxing videos than just about any five star review that me or Matt or Charlie have ever issued. It's like the whole "let the customer hold it" thing- you show them what's hidden in that box and they're gonna want it.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, especially after the pile-up here over Tom Vasel a few weeks ago...and the sad fact is that bullshit objective content is more powerful marketing than critical reviews are, and this is why we struggle to get review copies of anything anymore. Why would a publisher comp us a game and risk negative publicity when they can pay somebody to just open a god damned box on camera?

SOME publishers respect and support what we do here- Gale Force 9 (now Monster Fight Club) for example was ALWAYS extremely supportive and appreciated the critical feedback. But others, especially the crowdfunders, have virtually no use for _critical_ reviews and analysis. They'd rather pay BeBo to wear a costume and paraphrase the rulebook. That's what sells papers, so to speak. Because her endorsement is an investment that pays back without friction or the risk of negative criticism.
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22 May 2019 15:42 #297487 by ChristopherMD
A paid preview is when you pay someone else to view something early. Like getting to see a movie the day before its official release. So unless these people are paying the publishers so they can show the games before anyone else than they are in fact third-party marketers creating paid advertisements.
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22 May 2019 16:22 - 22 May 2019 16:23 #297489 by Gary Sax
I dunno, I can't take the hard line that Barnes is taking here. I see a difference between what Rodney does and an editorial review, personally... though I do agree it is also driving sales so it has a commercial impact.

And I *definitely* understand the conceptual difficulty in extending that non-editorial benefit of the doubt to "paid previews"---as Mad Dog says, advertisements---which are right up to that line in terms of editorial voice/content just because you didn't render a final verdict, even though those people almost always put their disclaimer up about how they were paid.
Last edit: 22 May 2019 16:23 by Gary Sax.
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22 May 2019 16:36 #297490 by Michael Barnes
It is a hard line position, but it's just _true_ whether it is the intention of Rodney and his contemporaries or not. He may honestly not think that he is a paid marketer, but I can assure you that the companies paying him for Watch it Played videos do, and are almost certainly paying him out of an advertising and marketing budget. They know that having Rodney do a video is an endorsement in the eyes of his followers and fans.

I just posted a blog preview of Monster Fight Club's Monster Terrain...I am telling you up front and explicitly in it that I am endorsing the product because I have personally used it, like it, and will buy more of it myself. And I am OK with MFC using that endorsement to promote the range. I'm not pretending like that preview doesn't carry some marketing weight.
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22 May 2019 16:40 - 22 May 2019 16:41 #297491 by Gary Sax
I don't get it, Barnes (sincere post). So you're telling me you did a paid preview for a kickstarter for terrain and endorsed it, they can use it on their site, etc.

What's the difference between you and Rodney here? That he's still hedging about being called a paid marketer vis a vis the difference between his work and something like your preview/endorsement?
Last edit: 22 May 2019 16:41 by Gary Sax.

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22 May 2019 16:57 #297495 by Space Ghost

Gary Sax wrote: I don't get it, Barnes (sincere post). So you're telling me you did a paid preview for a kickstarter for terrain and endorsed it, they can use it on their site, etc.

What's the difference between you and Rodney here? That he's still hedging about being called a paid marketer vis a vis the difference between his work and something like your preview/endorsement?



Yes, I think that is the difference. When cigarettes were endorsed by doctors, it probably sounded reasonable to some people. When you find out the doctors are paid by Big Tobacco, it sounds reasonable to nobody.

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22 May 2019 17:00 #297498 by Michael Barnes
No. I was not paid a cent for it. Peter Przekop, one of the MFC folks, has been in contact with me for years- going back to Spartacus. He offered to send some samples and since it is a product that I am most definitely interested in, I offered to write up my thoughts on them. There is no financial relationship or expectation whatsoever. The pieces I was sent aren't for sale anywhere, I can't sell them, and it's not complete product. But yes, I will totally put my endorsement for them out there. When they come out, if they don't meet expectations based on these samples, then that will be communicated publically as well.
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