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Full Disclosure - Publisher's Influence on Board Game Reviews

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01 Dec 2020 00:00 #316744 by oliverkinne
Let me start by looking at how review copies usually...

As a board game reviewer, you need to have access to board games. That's obvious. Some reviewers rely solely on games they bought themselves, maybe got as presents or borrowed from friends, while others will only review games sent to them by the publisher or even the designer. Many reviewers will rely on a mix of both. What I want to look at in this article is how review copies, which are (usually) free, may influence a review and what the relationship between publishers, or designers, and reviewers may look like and how it can also play a part in how a review is written. (Inspired by Richard Simpson of We're Not Wizards.)

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01 Dec 2020 11:46 #316745 by Gary Sax
I find it frustrating, and nobody's fault besides like "capitalism and technology," that this is sort of a solved problem. The editorial model, where your editor at a much larger publication handles all these arrangements, creates actual sanction if a publisher did decide to get shitty with a reviewer. Moreover, in this model every reviewer isn't a freelancer and can afford to spend more time, on more reviews, on more games and develop their own reputation without having to hustle to the bone.

I get that, basically, journalism is dead but it has so many downstream effects on the field of criticism.
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01 Dec 2020 14:42 #316762 by charlest
I could talk about this stuff for hours, thanks for the interesting article.

I will say though that you may not have encountered it, but I have seen publishers offer review copies at a cost greater than shipping.

This happened to me twice, and both times I declined.

Sorry, but I can buy your game brand new for 40% off at online discounters, I'm not paying 50% of MSRP for a review copy plus shipping. I will simply not cover your game then as the whole thing has become a hassle.

I also reviewed a game once and tore it apart. Perhaps a bit unprofessionally. It was a personal site and I had a very strong reaction to my experience with the game. It wasn't a review copy but was a friend's copy of the game.

The publisher came across my review and flipped out. They saw that Miniature Market sponsors my podcast and went to them, demanding they strongarm me into removing the review.

That didn't go how they planned.

Michael has some great stories too. After his negative review of Secrets of the Lost Temple, Everything Epic hired him as a copy editor for the second edition to help alleviate the sloppiness.
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01 Dec 2020 15:51 #316770 by Sagrilarus
"We have to protect our phoney baloney jobs!" -- Governor William J. Lepetomane

I think this article on the subject focuses more on the heart of the matter, the fact that as the reviewer becomes more recognized he or she becomes more a part of the industry. Although you focused on the relationships building over time with the people you're reviewing, I think there's equal pressure applied by the Like button. At some point reviewers of note need to either a) become the reviewer that butchers people; or b) become the reviewer that is celebrating the industry and the sales it generates. The Reality nature of Internet celebrity doesn't have much room for people that come down in the middle.

So as they're typing each reviewer is quietly thinking to himself "how is this going to go over with my audience?" Long story short, the bigger the bogey the more risk there is in speaking in a negative voice about it. That comes from within, not from the industry. The bigger you become, the bigger the risk.
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01 Dec 2020 17:29 #316775 by Gary Sax
Great post, Sag, I think you're basically right about the limited options you have as a Freelance Internet Reviewer at Large. Which is the only real model right now and it sucks.

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04 Dec 2020 10:11 #316840 by oliverkinne
Thank you all for such wonderful and constructive comments. A lot of great points here.

I do think that other industries have solved "the reviewer problem", as suggested by Gary Sax through the "editorial model". Not sure how well that is established in the board game hobby though.

Thank you also to charlest for sharing their experience with publishers. That's a rather horrible experience, I must admit.

Thank you also to Sagrilarus for the point about "the bigger you are..." There is definitely some truth in that. However, I think there are many more small reviewers out there than big ones, which I find actually really nice. Lots of people do this sort of thing for free as their hobby.

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