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Short Cut to Remote Gaming Forum (29 Aug 2020)
Since remote gaming has now become a significant part of how we play board games, we have added a short cut to this forum in the menu on the left.
Games criticism, reviews, and SEO
I've gotten a game or two through a distributor as opposed to the publisher before, so I don't think this was a mistake.
I think it's more likely they choose not to review a future Steamforged game as opposed to be denied one.
With that said, I played my first game of HZD last night and it wasn't terrible, faring better than Resident Evil 2. Certainly wasn't amazing but it was mostly competent. Some bits are very neat but it did struggle to hang together completely. Will see with more plays.
They also bagged on Rising Sun, This War of Mine, and Heroes of Land, Air, and Sea in the past- all games which I really dig.
I like Efka and Elaine quite a bit though and appreciate their thoughtful critique.
I think that the reviewers I’ve grown to trust over the years provide honest reviews. And it seems simple as a statement, but there are people that I don’t trust at all.
Promoters who claim to only provide previews, but then you read or watch what they produce and it is opinionated.
Creators that hid their relationships with publishers until law required it or never owned up to it.
Marketers that present themselves as bloggers or independent media, or even celebrity game sessions, that are charging for their content. It crosses a line for me into infomercial territory.
That American Game Award or whatever they called in where a bunch of marketers got together last year to create awards for games they were paid to market so they could sell a graphic publishers can put on their boxes... that shady stuff goes beyond what I’m willing to accept.
I understand that there isn’t much of an independent media out there that is willing to hire writers or pay for reviews, but I don’t want to be sold a game, I want your unbiased opinions on your experiences with it.
Consumers develop relationships with reviewers. Whether you know it or not, Charlie, I have a multi-year connection with you and when you present your opinion on something, I pay attention and judge it based on my own tastes and past experience with yours. You’ve earned my trust, because my perception of you is that you are honest. You aren’t trying to sell the games you review.
Others, not so much.
My expectations are also different for different people. With Inside the Box, I expect to be entertained before informed. With Rodney, I get thorough instructions from someone who is as passionate about games as I am, but also a lot more personable. When I want some actual analysis, I turn to the likes of Dan or NPI. When I want to get a sense of the experience of playing, SUSD.
Not all of you can do everything alone. But individually, you help me get a good picture of a game and allow me to waste my time enjoying a good read or quick video.
I really only look for people that have something to actually say.
The "pivot to video" was done largely on false information provided by Facebook. Readers don't actually have a preference for video nor does video get significantly more hits.
Jackwraith wrote: The argument when we started the overhaul was that this place would be focused on the written word. I'm fine with that, since it's what I do, but also mentioned that we could be seen to be falling behind the times, since so many other creators had turned to video (Vasel, et al.) (...) it feels like TWBG is either changing focus and leaving things behind or has never quite developed a focus, which is part of why the place is still so unnoticed among the "giants" of the community.
For example, some of my articles are more popular than entire Youtube channels. I often see content creators with hundreds of videos with only 50 views in each. Even The Dice Tower does not have a huge number of hits on most of their videos. For example, Marvel Splendor review 3000 views, Illusion Review 1700, Root App review 5675.
The main advantage of video is that you can do skits and Youtube provides a search function. You can discover videos more easily on the platform than articles through Google. That said, I think people should work more on their search-engine optimization. I write blurbs by hand and keep links google-friendly. Most creators seem to let them autogenerate.
Regarding TWBG, I think it has grown significantly over the last months. Either way, I think adding pictures would make reviews more appealing. I know it's a lot of work but people do like seeing the game. I do and I'm far less picky in production values than the average reader.
Regarding "payment". If you are paid by publishers, you are either a marketing agent or a shill. The first is honest about their work and deserves as much respect as any other salesman. The second is dishonest, peddles misinformation and takes advantage of the reputation and integrity of journalism to further publisher's goals.
I know people make a distinction between different types of content and claim working with publishers for some is fine but not the others. But it's not. The issue is not the type of content. You simply are not unbiased when you cover the work of someone who pays you. It's a basic conflict of interest. You are the same person, often under the same brand. Look, I understand, but I think it's wrong.
It should also be noted that not disclosing payment is a form of undercover advertising which is illegal in both the US and Europe.
Also, I come across as paid shills all the time on Twitter. I've been asked to participate in podcasts, events and all sorts of things by people who take money from publishers to do reviews. I had one guy I talked with all the time get very upset when I posted my own code of conduct because I was making others "look like grifters". And a ton of game designers feel entitled to good reviews because they think it's your job. So no, thank you.
Regarding publisher backlash, it sucks. However I don't think it has as large of an impact as commonly thought. People often say that it makes critics play it softer to avoid being blacklisted but I think game critics are soft for reaosns that have nothing to do with publisher pressure.
I also don't think there's anything wrong in covering mostly good games though the whole "i don't do negative reviews" thing is awful and sinks all your credibility a a critic.
I also recognize both the conflict of interest and the distaste for it. My interpretation on the part of ethical producers is more of an exercise in austerity: "Here is my flat fee, regardless of output." It's strange, of course, since almost no other medium in existence requires that kind of relationship but in the current world, publishers have all the money and the audience has repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to regard critical work as worthy of compensation.
I'm not particularly worried about publisher backlash. In my "flat fee" model above, it would almost invite it in many circumstances and the producer would have to go into it with the idea that the fee is the fee. If they lose access for being negative, them's the breaks. That, of course, may be too idealized or ascetic a mindset to be realistic. It's something that I feel like I could maintain, but perhaps because I'm not reliant on this gig for survival. If I were, things certainly could be different. Plus, there's a difference between being "negative" and being caustic. The latter is what will make people feel like they've being attacked, rather than being assessed.
There are a lot of people who take plenty of publisher cash (arguably less than they should for the amount of work) but they almost exclusively work on the KS preview video side.
Ethics will continue to be a dirty word in this scene and I've made my peace with that. Better to just do the right thing ourselves and make the kind of content we want to see made. If a publisher doesn't want to risk honesty because they lack faith in their game, so be it. The indie folks I prefer are more likely to go for it anyway. It works out.
In the current web era the presumption is that "user-generated content" fills the niche and doesn't require remuneration from the web page owner, i.e., the review publisher. So if you're going to get paid for reviews, it has to come from somewhere else, and there's only one other interested party.
The heart of the problem is that web sites get their content at no charge from talented amateurs. Given the margins on most web pages this is the only real path for them to proceed.
The original "disruption".
It's not about the reviewer's time or talent, it's about the result's value. To a large extent it's valueless to the end-user because there is so much alternative material out there. I think video sells because there is value perceived in its slickiness. Value can be embedded in written-word reviews, but I think that comes through good story telling, not good explanation of rules or descriptions of pieces. TWBG would do well to publish articles about gaming instead of articles about games.
A late addition -- I think TWBG has several reviewers that DO focus on gaming instead of games, both in podcast and in written word. We have the best in the business for that kind of exposition as far as I'm concerned. I'm almost afraid to write these days because the competition is pretty doggone stiff.
ChristopherMD wrote: Is this the quarterly TWBG "video reviewers are just paid shills" discussion?
This is the thing that gets me. I know you're being at least slightly facetious here, but the mindset that ANY money is automatically a violation of the purity of one's outlook just strikes me as ridiculous. And we have been over this before. I remember citing the example of movie studios inviting critics to catered, private screenings and how said critics were never accused of favoring films because of that. They WERE often accused of favoring stuff that particular studios produced because it suited their personal tastes, but that's an inevitability of the critic's role. You either try to rise above that or people just accept that these are the kinds of films/games you like and you're probably going to take a shine to them as a consequence. I'm going to look favorably on most things that emerge from Portal Games and/or Michal Oracz because my experience with them has been almost universally positive. Does that mean I'm biased such that my opinion can't be considered on those things? Would it be different if I was paid a standard fee for doing a review of a direct competitor to 51st State?
The point that Erik and others have made is a salient one: Being paid by the publisher introduces a potential conflict of interest in terms of fair appraisal of the subject game. I'm not debating that. But is the fact that people largely aren't being paid a question of the size of the industry in general (i.e. there are no advertiser-supported outlets any longer that will regularly employ critics) or that the bulk of the audience has come to expect everything for free and a segment of that audience has unintentionally used a valid question of ethics to maintain that situation (i.e. you can't be a real critic if you're taking money for the art)?
I'd differentiate between a review and a criticism as well. Barring a game being rules broken or being just complete shyte components wise there isn't really much need to dog a game in a review. If it is tepid, lacking actions with consequences, and full of vague rules that will just naturally be evident in the review. The charisma of the reviewer is probably the most appealing part of the experience.
A critique certianly can and should drill down on negative aspects of the game design or presentation. I can't imagine many publishers would invite such scrutiny so it would have to be a labor of love, audience funded, or a side gig at best. Trust in the critic is essential. If I agree with their past work then I must trust that what they like it don't like will be reflected in future work as well.
I kinda see this site as a collective blog of sorts, hopefully some of you guys writing stuff are caching it for future job resumes as writers or journalists. While I find it highly unlikely that I will ever buy one of the rpgs Andi reviews, I certainly enjoy the writing style and see it evolving through time. That stuff appeals more to me than just an unboxing video with a thumbs up/down rating at the end.
Absolutely, the film industry term used to be "press junket" and the only folks that did them were small-potatoes wannabes who were fine prostituting themselves for exposure. It wasn't really that long ago that movie commercials never would have included actual reviewer by-lines because none wanted to be seen as whoring their opinion out for money. Then shitty producers of shittier movies found shitty people willing to put their name on a studio-written "review" declaring "Nutty Professor 7: Electric Klumpaloo" to be the finest American cinema since Citizen Kane. But it was certainly frowned upon & looked down upon by those established in the industry.
Jackwraith wrote: I remember citing the example of movie studios inviting critics to catered, private screenings and how said critics were never accused of favoring films because of that.
Sure they were.
But someone has already said it: That was then, but how do we approach non-prostituted criticism in a de-centralized digital world now?
Gary Sax wrote: Ubarose might have a good perspective on this, she sees all our site numbers and is very familiar with SEO.
I'm splitting this out into its own thread, as it's a good discussion.
COVID has had a big impact on all of this. Our numbers are down, but so are everyone else's. People aren't so much in the mood for game reviews or content, whatever the media.
It is also difficult for people to actually review games, due to not being able to play then in person. Most do not have 3 other adult board gamers in their "pod." Reviewers, both here and elsewhere, tend not to feel comfortable reviewing a game if they have only been able to play it with their kids or spouse, unless it is a family game or a two player game. Reviewing it after playing it remotely, using something like TTS, doesn't quite seem fair either. However, what people can do is overviews and interviews, which lend themselves more to video and podcasts.
As far as TWBG expanding our content, our goal was to have at least one written piece a day (that isn't just a game announcement or press release), and a max of one non-written piece per day, Mon-Fri, and slowly expanded into the weekend. If I had my druthers we'd have two written piece a day, with one of them being about gaming rather than about a game, as Sag puts it. But, as has been pointed out, no one gets paid for any of this, so we get whatever our peeps feel like doing, when they feel like doing it, for as long as they feel like doing it.
Overall, I feel like we are super fortunate to have attracted the many talented contributors that we have. They all have really different perspectives and styles. We have a dozen people contributing regularly, and a few more contributing less regularly, and none of them are doing it for money. Just WOW! I think it is awesome.