30 May 2016
Recently, alert reader Thomas C. shared a trend he’s noticed on Kickstarter (he specifically referenced the Tramways project). The trend involves posting the following banner in the review section of the project page:
I’m pretty sure the intended message is to assure backers that the reviews are unbiased because they weren’t paid for. I appreciate that message. There’s nothing wrong with it.
But here’s the thing: Does anyone pay for reviews? It seems like the very definition of a review is that money didn’t change hands. I’m not aware of any industry where reviewers accept financial compensation for their reviews.
Rather, sometimes creators pay for a preview. A prominent blogger might feature a pre-production version of your Kickstarter product, giving potential backers an overview of what the product is and exposing your product to the blogger’s audience. You pay for the exposure.
These paid previews offer a fair exchange, but this “no money changed hands” icon seems to look down on them. That’s unfortunate, because those bloggers are usually very careful about framing the preview for what it is, as it would be considered unethical for them to accept money for a review.
So whenever I see this type of icon on a project, it comes across as redundant, and it potentially raises more questions than it asks. It’s like putting a disclaimer on the project video that says, “No kittens or jelly beans were harmed in the making of this video.” What? The video didn’t have any kittens or jelly beans in it. Is there something about the video-making process I don’t know about? Can jelly beans even feel pain?
Again, I appreciate the sentiment. It’s probably harmless (except maybe to paid previewers). But is it necessary? Probably not. I think most people assume that creators do not pay for reviews, but let’s test that assumption on this poll:
What do you think? Are you aware of reviewers who accept money in exchange for reviews? Not previews, but actual reviews of the product.
ADDENDUM: I thought I’d add some thoughts about how I approach reviewers/previewers for my projects. Whether it’s a preview or a review, I offer the person a copy of the final game upon release as compensation for their time. But reviews comes with an ethical caveat: On my own accord, I commit to posting the review no matter how bad it is. You can look back at our reviews–they’re definitely not all positive. I consider that my ethical responsibility as a creator.
However, I realize not all creators may do that. So I wonder if a more effective icon than “no money changed hands” would be an icon that says, “We share all reviews.” It shows the backers that you’re not filtering out the bad reviews just to make your project look good. I think that’s a far more powerful statement than stating the obvious message that you didn’t pay for a review.