Kickstarter Lesson #188: No Money Changed Hands for This Review

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:

no money changed hands

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.

***

Also read: An Open Letter to New Reviewers of Board Games from a Tiny Publishing Company

83 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #188: No Money Changed Hands for This Review

  1. If you look at this list of reviewers: http://www.jamesmathe.com/o-reviewer-reviewer-wherefore-art-thou/

    It doesn’t clarify between Preview/Review, Just some are marked as paid, free, or sometimes. The backers themselves don’t know what’s happened behind the scenes, they don’t assume money has changed hands or influenced the review/preview. But just going from the Jame’s Mathe’s list, it looks like money does change hands. Many times the reviewers do get to keep their copy of the game, and that’s an assumption I make.

    I think it lies in the definition of a preview rather than a review. The difference seems to be if the person is a prominent blogger with a huge audience. Something that is sometimes not readily apparent. Rahdo is a prominent reviewer that doesn’t accept money for his previews and reviews. While Father Geek is also a prominent reviewer that does accept money for their reviews/previews.

    The badge seems to be trying to move the bloggers/reviewers nearer to being legitimate journalist. I think its up to the reviewer to disclose if this was a paid review to make themselves more legitimate.

    An example of this is Geekdad, there is a disclosure at the bottom of articles that they were not paid for the review, but did receive promotional material.

    In the end I think being transparent with backers is a good thing, and this badge is an effort to be more transparent.

    1. Sean: Thanks for sharing that link. It makes sense that the reviewer/previewer would keep the prototype and get a final copy of the game, but it doesn’t make sense to me that a reviewer could ask for monetary payment.

      I see what you’re saying about transparency. Though, as I wonder in the post, is it transparent if it’s obvious (see example about kittens and jelly beans)? The poll suggests that some people assume that reviewers get paid, which perhaps means it isn’t as obvious as I thought.

      1. I think to those who are very active in the community, your active boardgamegeek, ones that have backed quite a few projects, etc, it’s known. However for those outside of the Kickstarter universe, boardgames subreddit, and boardgame geek, they may or may not know about how reviews work.

        And now part of me wants to put at the very end of the project video “no kittens were harmed making this project”. but that is just my inner Monty Python speaking.

  2. My first thought the first time I saw the banner was “but weren’t they compensated by a free copy of the product and wouldn’t that immediately invalidate the whole point of he banner?”

  3. I find that most people who show off the game emphasize that they are only previewing the kickstarter project. Those that do accept pay tend to say it at the begining. For me it doesn’t matter if its paid or not. Most reviewers/previwers want their audiance to know they are honest and have professional integrity.

    I’ve heard people say, “all paid previews are positive, so I don’t even pay any attention to them” I personally believe most previews are positive because the preview would not have been made if the product was bad to begin with. Paid or not they can still add insight into the product.

    Anyways, to get to your question, are you counting people who get the product from the publisher for free to review as payment?

    If so, I still go back to may professional integrity answer.

    1. Johnathan: That’s interesting that people associate opinions with paid previews. To me, a preview isn’t about a person’s opinion at all (reviews are for opinions). Previews are for showing people what the product is all about.

      As for reviewers/previewers getting the product, no, I don’t consider that to be monetary payment, though I can see how some might. I think a reviewer getting a product for free is standard practice (they need the product so they can make a review), while giving them money comes across a lot closer to a bribe.

      1. Maybe this simply boils down to terminology, but to me, in terms of board games a preview is very much akin to a review, and I expect the writer of the piece to have an opinion about the game in both cases.
        The primary difference (to me) is that previews deal with games that are still being worked on, don’t have final components/rules etc. – ie. most Kickstarter projects.

        @Johnathan: you wrote
        “I personally believe most previews are positive because the preview would not have been made if the product was bad to begin with”
        Maybe I misunderstand you, but I’m inclined to say: Well, that depends – I don’t know how (p)reviewers are usually approached, but I guess the designer will provide a copy with a clear expectation that a preview gets written. If the game turns out to be less than stellar (and as we know from KS, quite a few games like that are launched) the previewer can either choose to write an honest piece or he can return to the designer and say “Hey, I’m sorry – I think your game needs to go back to the drawing board” and then refrain from previewing it.

        I often read previews of KS games where I either feel that details are glossed over or the previewer is overly enthusiastic. Much more so than when people are reviewing a final version which they clearly paid for themselves. So regarding the OT: I appreciate the banner and, with every risk of being naïve, I hope it’s an indication of integrity.

  4. I don’t know how much this applies to the gaming industry, but I do have a little bit of experience in the publishing industry (fiction), and this is an important concern there, especially with the rise of self-publishing avenues. In the same vein as what Johnathan Morton wrote above: there are a number of profiteers out there who will happily write a favorable blurb or review of your book in exchange for their fee. The review is therefore not taken seriously by anyone whom the author might hope to impress, since no one would pay money for a bad review, and furthermore, the paid reviewers in this field have a reputation for not even reading the work in the first place. Thus, in that field, it is a little more important to guarantee that the reviews have not been paid for, so that prospective editors/big name publishers will regard the work as having credibility.

    1. Geoffrey: I’m surprised people consider those to be reviews at all, and that the reviewer feels like it’s ethically sound to frame them as reviews. To me, it pretty much goes against the dictionary definition of a review to be paid for it, so it’s foreign to me that someone would do it. But I guess some people do! :)

      1. @Jamey I am with you on this. Reviewing as a job is different if you are not being paid by the content creator. There is clearly a conflict of interest in that case. But then you get in that gray area where content creators pay for advertising in the space where the review is featured (i.e. video game magazine). While there isn’t a direct fee for a review, but there could be pressure from a publisher that would affect a review. I think that sort of scenario definitely can sow seeds of reviewer distrust.

        1. Shawn: That’s true, I see what you’re saying. It’s tough to separate those types of things, so a certain amount comes down to the blogger and how much integrity they have.

  5. In the game industry, it’s pretty standard to send a copy off for a review- there is no payment involved other than that copy that they typically get for ‘free’. I’ve seen some reviewers even bundle these up into contests and give them away. I think the best reviewers disclaim this- and let everyone know they received a copy of the game in order to perform an evaluation.

  6. There is usually a difference between a preview and a review. I don’t know a single reviewer that chargers for a review. Those are always free as far asI know. We are a very small niche and I can’t imagine anyone risking their reputation to be a shill.

    Previews are a bit different case. They are usually done on the publishers time table, with inferior components, and usually not final rules/gameplay. Most previews tend to be overviews of how the game is played, sometimes with thoughts on the game play.

    And let me tell you, the amount of requests that review sites get from kickstarter publishers to preview their game is incredibly high. If it seems like most previews are positive, it’s because most reviewers will weed our requests from publishers for games that don’t sound like they are any good. If your game doesn’t at least sound interesting to the reviewer, chances are that they won’t even take on your preview request, no matter the dollars involved.

    1. Tony: Thanks for sharing your insider thought. I can imagine you get many requests for Board Game Quest. I mentioned in my post how I think that icon reflects poorly on the completely normal and reasonable practice to get compensated for a preview (not a review)–do you agree? Or does it not bother you?

  7. Interesting Read as always. I thought Id weigh in as a reviewer. I’m an odd duck in just about every aspect so I suppose this topic should be no different. I’ve done roughly 150 Kickstarter Videos and for about the first 80-100 videos I didn’t charge anything. However a wave of terrible games, and terrible rule booklets made me eventually change this philosophy, and start charging NEW game designers. I found this immediately weeded out a lot of badly written rules, and broken games.

    So now for what I’m sure will irk some people, From the beginning I have done both Previews and Reviews. If I liked the game I gave it a review talking about Pros/Cons and everything I would in a published game review. If I didn’t like the game or it was in such an incomplete state I could fairly judge the game I gave it a preview going over game play and who might like the game. I don’t and have never felt the need to mention that I got paid to do the video. I dont think my integrity as a reviewer has ever come into question except for one odd occurence, which was less about the review and more about the fact the game was allegedly ripped off of a different game. Id be interested to know if anyone else does it similarly.

    1. Forrest: Similar to my note to Tony, thanks for chiming in with your thoughts as well. It sounds like you get paid to do previews, and sometimes you end up sharing a few opinions as part of that preview. Is that correct? That’s opposed to someone reaching out to you and saying, “Hey, I want to pay you to share your opinions about my game”–that would be a paid review.

  8. Some sectors of the blogging medium are rife with paid reviews, including household and childrens’ product reviews aimed largely at women, but also to a lesser degree with electronics and computer gear. There was a briefly flourishing of websites aimed at serving as the middleman for these transactions (PayPerPost was the largest) but I think they faded in favor of more sustained direct relationships between brands and bloggers, in part to vet the bloggers and ensure favorable reviews, and in part to reduce transparency for readers (a stream of free products instead of payments, unnecessary trips to major media markets to promote products or attend product demonstrations, or extravagant experiential reviews [Disney cruises, refrigerators, car leases, etc.). My intelligence may be a few years out of date, but back when I was an active blogger all of the major brands were courting and capturing bloggers in this manner. As blogs evolved into WordPress-driven “carousel” or directory-style websites, this transparency was reduced even further.

    1. Jeremiah: That’s fascinating to hear. As I mention in a previous comment, it seems like payment goes against the definition of a review. It’s just an advertisement then, not a review.

      1. Exactly.. but without transparency the audience has no way of telling the difference. That’s pretty much how I feel about previews as well. I’m an adult, I realize that there’s good reasons for lots of our popular reviewers to take payment for their time (and some bad ones)… but that information should still be made public and explicit.

    2. Yeah, it is pretty ridiculous in blogging. Many of the upstanding bloggers I know, however, will write these featured posts and not make them part of their normal news feed. They simply exist on the Internet for SEO purposes on behalf of the payor, and don’t go to the audience of that blogger. That seems to be a happy medium – it accomplishes the goal of the company, which is to increase their SEO and Google juice, and it gets the blogger paid without besmirching their reputation as a legitimate blogger.

      On topic, the fact that Kickstarter creators are using this carries with it the implication that there are paid reviews and that those reviews are somehow untrustworthy. I don’t like it. But I can see the transparency argument. I just think it adds a variable that is unnecessary, and actually calls into question the integrity of reviews as a whole (now the viewer/reader is wondering if that review was “paid for,” where maybe before they did not).

      There are also FTC guidelines that are supposed to be followed regarding sponsored/paid content, which I’m sure most reviewers are not following :)
      https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/native-advertising-guide-businesses

      1. Zachary: Thanks for sharing your perspective from the legal side of things. “the fact that Kickstarter creators are using this carries with it the implication that there are paid reviews and that those reviews are somehow untrustworthy.” Exactly! Well said. I’m concerned about that implication too.

        1. Yes, and while there surely are some scummy positive-review-for-hire reviewers out there, they are probably the vast minority. Is it really worth poisoning the public perception of the review process over that non-issue?

  9. I am fine with paid previews if they point out that it is a promotionally paid preview. Reviews should be free minus a copy of the game that is needed for the review.

    I actually do not like the banner because it helps others come to the assumption that other reviews are paid for. Also who is an independent reviewer? I understand why some do paid previews. It is just not my thing, though I need to start figuring out funding in the future. I just want to make sure there is no conflict of interests.

  10. I take “independent” to mean that the reviewer had no vested interest in the product or the review of that product (eg, a friend, partner, spouse, financial interest, etc). I think the main thing that banner is trying to do is promote a sense of trust between the creator and the backer by saying “hey, here’s a review about our product made by someone who is not receiving any incentive or benefit for doing the review”. How well that message gets across, well, for all the reasons others have mentioned above, it probably cuts both ways. It might serve the intended purpose but it can also muddy the waters about ‘other’ reviews where the banner is not present.

    Ultimately, in the current renaissance of board games (and especially in the context of Kickstarter), creators will look for any little thing that differentiates and/or gives them the edge. I think that’s why things like the banner get used. Is it wrong/misleading? Probably not in the individual instance for the product where it is used. Is it harmful? Possibly indirectly for other products that don’t post the banner. Is it necessary? Almost certainly not.

    1. Adrian: Perhaps that’s what they mean. Though it’s used in the same way that a rally cry around independent bookstores is used. In that case, it means that the bookstore stands by itself–it’s not part of a corporation. There are umbrella organizations like that in the gaming world (like The Dice Tower), but I don’t think most people look at them in the same way that they compare Barnes & Noble to a local bookstore.

      1. That’s an interesting insight – seems the use of “independent” is interpreted somewhat differently here in Australia (in this context) where it’s much more commonly used in the way I suggested (though, it does have the same meaning as you’ve mentioned when used in the “indy” context – bands, etc).

  11. One very common thing in another gaming field I’m more familiar with (mobile apps and games) is to pay to “expedite” a review. The publisher is aware that the reviewer will review for free and has a ton of other publishers asking for the same thing. Paying a fee will ensure your game is reviewed before others. (You can read more about it on gotoats.org).

    In any case, a banner like this is going too deep into how sausage is made and may give a confusing impression to the reader/viewer

    1. AppFreak: That’s really interesting–I’m not familiar with the practice of paying to expedite a review, though I can see how that could be separated from the opinion being expressed.

  12. As someone who used to write videogame reviews constantly over the last decade, in print and web formats, the amount of times I was told flat out, by intelligent people, that I’d obviously been paid to review game X or Y was… Well… Too many to count. Even today, the Internet throws around that it was a paid review if a review doesn’t measure up with their own expectations or experiences.

    This is something that a lot of people think is true, and there is nothing that I’ve tried to do that successfully changes that opinion. When I say “I don’t” they are surprised, and then curious about how I get paid in the first place (and their assumption is usually that I was swimming in cash from my work, also).

    The poll here shows exactly what I’ve experienced in real life, nearly a quarter of people who read this blog, who I would consider to be fairly intelligent folk, since they take the time to read these posts, believe it.

    1. Bane: I’m sorry to hear that people respond that way to positive reviews. I’ve been shocked so far by the poll results–29% of people think reviewers are monetarily compensated! Wow.

  13. I remember that some big German publishers had an initiative were video reviewers culd get a game and some money to make a video review. The content of the review was open to them (i.e. if its positive por negative, what they focus etc), but it was discussed quite controversial here.

  14. If it would read “reviewers paid for their copy of the game” I’d say it would be an interesting fact for the campaign :) And I’m pretty sure getting a comp copy gets the reviwers biased. I consider myself very objective, but for games I get comp copies I rather not publish the review if I feel it would be negative. Also, getting the comp copies also changes the way I see a game – if a marketing campaign convinces me to buy a copy, it will build up a picture about the game that I can compare to the final result of playing it. Getting one as a gift robs this experience from the reviewer.
    It would be interesting to see how would reviews change if they would have to pay for the comp copy if they’d publish a positive review (you liked it, you keep it!), and if they’d publish a negative one, the company would pay for returning the box.
    Btw for me getting a review copy is the same as getting paid. Those that consider it’s not the same might consider pirating movies is not stealing as they didn’t take any money from the company.

    1. @Kadmon: That’s interesting that getting a copy of the game impacts your opinion of it. That would be an interesting experiment, to tell reviewers they have to pay for the game if their review is positive! I wonder how they’d feel about that.

      You really think getting a free copy is the same as getting paid? You need the game to review it–the free copy seems more like a necessity than a bribe (which is how an exchange of cash is perceived).

      1. I think my best reviews come about products I bought myself or worked for getting a chance to try it (tried in a club, borrowed from friend). That way I’m already interested, hyped up, and when I get the chance to play the game, read the book, watch the movie, I usually sit down and write an energetic review as I’m totally in the mood. I get lots of stuff from friends, and I usually sit down to give them a chance not because I’m enthusiastic about their work but because I’d like to help them, and it’s not the same. If there would be some quota of free products I can get, and I’d need to choose from the list, I’d probably choose ones that are closer to my tastes and would be more inclined to be interested.
        As some reviewers sell their copies after writing the review, it’s close enough to money exchange. Also, after writing the review, they could just send the product back to the company. If they would need to pay for their copy, and get compensation after publishing the article, it would make the reviewers think twice if they’d really want to get that game.
        One of my problems with free reviews is that they often don’t consider the “bang for the buck” quotient of the product. It’s easy to say “it’s a good product” for anything if you don’t need to pay for it.
        The “pay if you find it good” idea came to me in a writing circle, and after reading each other’s short stories, everybody just wanted to pat the others backs instead of telling their thoughts about the stories, even though I’ve seen several errors and I was convinced it’s just a lazy way to boast confidence. My idea was that if they enjoyed it that much, they should pay a dollar for the experience. After this, they came up with several excuses why they didn’t feel it’s worth their money, and they started to be honest.

  15. I think that Bower does a great job by separating the ‘previews’ from the ‘reviews’, so he can clearly say that he does not charge for reviews (not that his payment – only for first timers – is even very much).

    But some places do charge and do call them ‘reviews’.

    To answer the poll more clearly – no I don’t ‘assume’ that the reviews ‘are’ paid for. I ‘presume’ that the reviews ‘might be’ paid for.

    1. Bez: Yeah, that was my impression too. I’m surprised that some reviewers use the “review” label if they get paid for it–hopefully they at least disclose that they got paid?

  16. First: “Can jelly beans even feel pain?” = gold.

    Second: Great post & topic, I’m glad it’s been addressed.

    Third: I agree with most everything you stated here, though I do think “a copy of the game” is effectively the same thing, though I think we all hold it in a different category anyway, so it’s again NOT the same thing. We publishers offer it after the fact as a gift & thank you, not before the fact as payment. And though it can be seen by the reviewer as “sorta my payment for doing reviews” it’s not done as a payment. Thus I again agree. : )

    What, in my experience, it boils down to is that humanity and relationships nullify the need for the badge and quickly end the discussion on the topic. Here’s what I mean.

    -Forrest charges first timers for the sole purpose of weeding out the craptastic wastes of his time.
    -UndeadViking charges for reviews (and previews) simply because his time is valuable, he doesn’t let it effect his stated opinion of the game, it’s just a business transaction for his valuable time. BUT at the same time he doesn’t post negative reviews; he’ll refund your payment and send your game back at his cost if he thinks it’s not ready.
    -Board Game Brawl charges for reviews but will still post negative ones, and you just gotta deal with it. [JAMEY UPDATE: As Nick clarifies below, he only does paid previews, not reviews.]

    I think the bottom line is that one thing holds true across all 3 of these varieties of (p)reviewers : Integrity. You simply can’t buy a positive review. (In this industry.)

    May that guy show up eventually? Yes, possibly, but I think it’ll soon come to light that he said good things about a terrible and broken game, more than once, and he’ll lose his viewership when the community pulls away.

    I hope that makes sense, and adds worthy thoughts to the discussion. A discussion that according my theory, isn’t supposed to last long. Hehe.

    Best to all!

    1. John: I like the distinction you make about a free review copy. The copy itself is not payment. It’s either a necessity (the reviewer needs it to make a review), a gift, or a thank you.

      1. I suppose I will have to chime in now (this is Nick from Board Game Brawl). I do NOT charge for “reviews”, as you say John. Ever. If the game is final and I’m giving my full opinion on it, I will not ever accept money, or barter for that matter. I have accepted free copies of games, of course, but those are far and away the minority; the vast majority of games I play and review are paid for out of pocket.

        What I DO charge for are Paid Previews of Kickstarter prototypes, which I will never give my full opinion of because these are unfinished products (though I did this a few times in the early days before swearing it off completely). I state very clearly at the front of my Paid Previews what they are.

        1. Nick, thanks for clearing that up. Must have been my misunderstanding from our recent communication about a review. My apology. Honest mistake.

  17. Johnwrot! That’sjust what I was thinking. Ultimately the integrity of the reviewer is the point. Whether they get paid or don’t is less important than are they doing their job by presenting an informative and insightful review so that I can make better purchasing decisions.

    People have to find the game review sources that they believe give the full picture and that fall in line with their gaming tastes. I want those reviewers to do more of what is bringing value to the industry and to me personally. If they can get paid to do more reviews and retain their integrity than awesome for them! It brings more value to community.

    1. Joshua: That makes sense about integrity. Though if a reviewer accepts payment to do a reviewer, shouldn’t they disclose that information? That seems like a key part of integrity.

      1. @Jamey – I mean… I guess. If that’s what the community demands. Eh? – I don’t “disclose” that I get paid to do private lessons, or to review Kickstarter pages, or to do budget assistance. I just do what I do, and often I get paid for it. Nor does BGG “disclose” before every banner ad “the following ad was paid for by the publisher…”. I don’t quite understand why the community feels that a reviewer has some weird obligation that no other job does to actively disclose that they get paid or else risk their integrity. The only reason is if we are actively questioning their integrity, but how would “I got paid to take the time out of my busy schedule to do this for someone” help reinforce integrity? — I just think we should give people the benefit of the doubt. Even P-reviewers give their opinion, just not their “full opinion”. That’s arguably more questionable than a paid R-eviewer giving their “full opinion”. Seems backwards doesn’t it? Am I missing something?

        1. John: The difference between reviews and all of those other examples is that people look to reviews for an unbiased, informed opinion. The exchange of money doesn’t guarantee bias, but it creates the potential for bias. All other things remaining equal, whom would you trust more to tell you which kind of car is safer: A reviewer who was paid $10,000 by a car company, or a reviewer who wasn’t paid at all?

  18. Jamey,

    Very timely article as I post often over at the Board Game Design Forum having worked as a developer for a few years now. One of the things that I’ve recommended to would-be designers is to have their game reviewed (I’ve never heard the parsing of terms “review” and “preview” as money changes hands with great frequency and I’ve never impugned the reviewer/previewer for being compensated for their time), especially by a “legitimate” source (defined as someone known in the gaming community.

    I can write a glowing review or provide a preview to any designer, but that’s not what I’m known for…so it has zero cache. To the point of the article, and as evidenced by the poll numbers, thus far, it’s a 70-30 split on those who feel as though money changes hands in this practice…and I’m not sure anyone cares. did the re-/pre-viewer provide enough information to make an informed decision. Zachary’s comments, along with the URL, serve as great information, although I don’t know how many folks providing reviews have ever read the FTC info.

    Anyway, great thought piece and as always, it will be interesting to see how these icons change both the landscape and the conversation surrounding future Kickstarter projects.

    Cheers,
    Joe

    1. Joe: Thanks for your thoughts. This stands out to me: “To the point of the article, and as evidenced by the poll numbers, thus far, it’s a 70-30 split on those who feel as though money changes hands in this practice…and I’m not sure anyone cares.”

  19. I really don’t do previews very often. If we do a review of the game, it has to be near the final state and mention the components aren’t final. What I like to do is a Q&A because I feel that gives people a better idea of what the game is about and what the developers are like. I just request that a link to the Q&A goes to the Kickstarter page and that we get a final review copy if the game is published, whether via Kickstarter or some other publisher later.

  20. It’s a problem of the vocal and cynical minority, that they refuse to believe some people do things without direct compensation.

    At least once every couple of months I see a Reddit thread about Rahdo being a “paid shill”, and how it’s obvious because he only has positive things to say. Even though Rahdo has repeatedly said he mostly only does positive reviews because he only does videos for games he thinks he’ll enjoy in the first place, that vocal minority still clamour on.

  21. Great topic! Seeing that my video is under that banner I thought I would add my comments. Of course, as a reviewer I have no control over the Kickstarter page itself – I just play and review.
    First and foremost let me preface everything I say with this: I started to (and continue to) review games because I love being involved in the hobby. That’s it. There is no hidden agenda for trying to get free games or rising to Dice Tower levels of stardom. :) With that being said, here is my approach:

    1. If I see a game that look really interesting to me and I have the time, I will reach out to the designer and/or publisher to do a review. When I do this I always offer to pay the cost of the game, or to build a print n play at my own expense. If you follow any of my videos you will see a lot of PnP copies of Kickstarter games. So, doing a review actually costs me money sometimes!

    Why? By doing this I get to play and experience a game before most everyone else – that is pretty cool. But more importantly, it is an active way that I can start to build a relationship with the designer and continue to grow feeling of community I get every time I log into BGG or my FB page. My favourite part of reviewing is being a part of the final blind play testing phase of a game. It allows for an opportunity to really engage in a dialogue with the designer and get personal insight into a game that you would not otherwise get.

    2. If I am asked to do a preview or review I first look at the game to see if it is a game that would be interesting to me and would suit my “on-screen” personality. My videos are typically very long because I love getting into the details. For heavy games this is generally appreciated. For lighter games it is overkill. Like anything, it is a learning process for me. By doing this I weed out a lot of games from the start. One could argue that I am judging a book by its cover – sure, but there are a lot of “books” out there! If you are a publisher or designer that I have enjoyed working with before then I will probably say “yes”!

    If it does look interesting, then I make the same offer as #1 above (provided my time commitments and the publisher’s time commitments are aligned). Generally this is refused by the designer and/or publisher because they reached out to me.

    Although I offer to PnP or to cover expenses for games that look interesting to me I often get refused. Why do publishers/designers refuse – several reasons really:
    a. Not counting the monetary commitment, they realize that making a video is a big enough task without having to make the game as well. So out of respect for me and my time they offer to send a pre-production copy. They would rather have me play than cut cards!

    b. By sending a pre-production copy the publisher can guarantee the game’s overall presentation in my video. This is what happened with you Jamey with Scythe! Although I reached out to you, you wanted the 3D miniatures presented in the video (and rightfully so).

    Many people that I have worked with do offer and send final production copies of the game. But frankly speaking, by the time I get any of these I am working on the next project. Some games that hold a special place next to my heart continue to be played in earnest, but there are not a ton of those.

    Like I mentioned – I love to talk. This post is no exception! I hope everyone has a great day!

    Cheers,
    David
    BGG user: Connect More

    1. David: Very well said–I appreciate you chiming in. Those are some great insights about why a publisher would send you a free review copy rather than expecting you to buy it or piece it together yourself.

  22. Jamey,

    It’s an interesting facet of an industry which is truly going through a renaissance.

    David,

    Great comments! Thank you for taking the time to provide them here, especially as we delve into this subject.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  23. Personally, I don’t like when I see such statement in a project.

    1. Usually it is some kind of a “small” project, probably unprofessional. When I see this statement, I start to doubt if I should back this.

    2. The next thing is a thought that “these people don’t have enough money, so they asked only those bloggers who don’t charge money; now they make a thing out of their empty wallets”.
    I’m ok with paid previews. I’m ok with unpaid previews. I’m not OK with making a thing out of it. Only this.
    Probably these creators have a lot of money. Probably not. Probably they wanted to pay for previews. Probably not. It’s OK in _ALL_ cases! However this statement looks like “we are starving, we are poor, and the game will be done without any funds”.

    3. I feel that this statement is very aggressive. It says: “those who pay for a preview are… [insert your best wording here]”. Additionally, “those who charge money for a preview are… [insert something here]”.

  24. Not sure if anyone has stated this yet (I only read maybe half of the comments), but even if they did, it warrants repeating. For the sake of discussion, let’s say that providing a review copy counts as compensation for the review in the same way that money does. For this to be true, that would rely on the reviewer valuing the game as much as he or she does with money. Now, if the reviewer truly likes the game, then one could ascertain that the reviewer likely does value the review copy. However, if the reviewer did not like said game, then the reviewer would not value the game at all; therefore, the reviewer would have no reason to give an undue positive review, since the reviewer would not feel adequately compensated. Logic dictates that the review copy of a bad game isn’t REALLY compensation. Do you know how difficult it can be to sell or trade a a mediocre game?

    1. Shawn, totally agreed. Not only that, but a game is worth what, $50? Considering the time it would take to read the rules, play the game at least once, and then write/film and edit the review, the dollar value per hour wouldn’t even amount to minimum wage.

      Also, I think the people don’t realize how much less valuable a free game feels when you’re receiving several each month. It goes from “this is awesome!” to “this had better be good” very, very quickly.

  25. As a 2 time kickstarter creator, this really hits home for me. Great topic. I have paid both UndeadViking and BoardGameBrawl to do KS previews for me. Rahdo also looked at both my games and passed. And I’ve worked with a handful of other smaller preview/reviewers. I’ve never paid for a review after the game was out.

    I am 100% certain that paid previews are biased, even when the previewer makes it clear they were paid. One YouTuber did a paid preview AND a free review of the same game. After the preview, I thought he really liked the game. Once the review came out, it was clear he hated it. I don’t mind getting a bad review – it’s all fair. Even I was mislead by the preview about my own game!

    This experience has made me re-think the paid preview. For my third KS, I’m going to try doing things different. A) I’m not going to pay. B) I’m going to ask the previewer to say at least one bad thing about my game.

    Maybe this will hurt my sales, but at least I will feel better about it.

    I appreciate the idea behind these statements. I’m not sure what the best solution is, but I like how Rahdo does it. It’s probably best for a (p)reviewer to get their money from their fan base (Patreon, KS, etc.). I have and will continue to financially support them that way.

    1. Brian: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think that’s the tricky thing about any opinions expressed during a paid preview, because the purpose of previews isn’t to express an opinion. It’s simply to show and tell people about the game and to expose them to the blogger’s audience. So I think it’s just a matter of expectation. When I watch a preview of a game, I’m not watching to get an opinion.

  26. Speaking as a game designer who researched around 100 bloggers/reviewers/previewers/twitterers/news-sites/et-cetera a couple years ago before deciding who to offer preview copies of my game to in advance of its Kickstarter, I was surprised at the naivety of this post. [NOTE FROM JAMEY: I accept opinions of all kinds in the comments, but the one rule is that you talk about the content, not the people behind the content. This snide comment about the post’s naivety–i.e., my naivety–walks a fine line, but I’m going to let it stand as an example of how not to begin a comment.] Not only to FTC guidelines (the review copy, and especially if you send/promise reviewers a finished copy of the game, definitely 100% counts as compensation the same as money according to FTC guidelines, and must be disclosed) but to the realities on the ground—I automatically ruled out any site/person which expected payment [beyond the preview copy itself] in exchange for getting the game to appear on their site (since that is clearly a paid ad masquerading as something else), and my list dropped from over 100 to around 35. Then, after seeing their back-end policies, discounted about 90% of those paid “reviewers” and anything they post, since it’s part of their policy to mix paid advertisements in with what purport to be unbiased product reviews, literally never with the “previews” (as you put it) marked clearly as “paid advertisements”. (Sometimes “paid previews”, but never admitting it’s really just an ad.) Also: Until I did this research, I had never made the mental leap you assumed that “preview” was code for “paid advertisement with no opinions” and “review” somehow meant “unpaid, unbiased opinions”; my assumption had been that “preview” meant “review of an unfinished and/or unreleased game” while “review” meant “review of a finished, usually published or about-to-hit-shelves game”; even I was naive at that point.

    Different sites/people were couching their payment requirements in different ways, which made it ever more frustrating and apparently-unscrupulous: Some were up front about it, sure, literally “you must pay me to (p)review your game, here are my prices”. Others only charged games headed to Kickstarter, which I guess might seem like a nice way to weed out awful games if the fee were anywhere close to nominal; often they were asking more than BGG would for a month of high-traffic ads. Some were resolute that they didn’t charge for reviews, but then would only consider your game if you also bought ad space on their site for the game. More than one had a “pay to not wait as long” option, but only one actually made the list of waiting games public and charged *per game* you wanted to skip—along with an estimate that put an unpaid game somewhere between a year out and never (if people kept paying to skip you). One reviewer, who’d had the game in hand for over three months and had originally offered a normal/free (p)review, when the Kickstarter launched, apologized for falling behind in the same email they asked for payment to get a review done before the campaign was over. A couple of them asked me to send several extra copies of the final game to their friends in various states/countries in exchange for their (p)review. On and on, roughly two people asking for payment for every one who wasn’t.

    I was looking for reviewers, not places to buy ads. I feel like that should be a separate search, with separate goals. Alas, in reality it is not.

    I should have known, as my background prior to independent games publishing was independent book publishing, and book reviewing is rife with this sort of behavior—with no effort to even delineate between “preview” and “review”, “paid, full-time, all-5-star review mill” and “actual human who loves to read books”. When I first looked at game reviews, it *looked* like people were giving their honest, unbiased opinions and not trying to make a living selling themselves as ad space—but when I turned the rock over, it was covered with worms.

    The banner you call out in this post would make me *less* unlikely to entirely ignore the opinions of the linked reviewers; I would be more likely to believe the explicitly unpaid reviewers over anyone who was paid or was not explicit one way or the other. The only reviewers/sites I come close to automatically trusting are those who a) do not accept any form of payment (sometimes not even free review copies) from publishers/designers, and b) have an obvious external source of funding for their time & effort, such as a Patreon or annual Kickstarter.

    I couldn’t answer your poll, because it asks the wrong question. In board game reviews, unless the reviewer states otherwise, they at least got to keep their preview copy, and are de facto a paid reviewer. There is no question there, they have definitely been compensated at least a little for their review, and you and ~70% of your respondents aren’t even aware. Add on top of that the [based on my research] 2/3 of reviewers who are paid money in addition to games for their posts, and “unbiased” becomes a joke. Additionally there are problems like the fact that once a reviewer is popular enough that they must choose which games to invest their time in, there’s almost no reason to waste their time on a mediocre game (e.g.: Rahdo is very vocal about this, while others do it quietly) so that whether or not they’re paid [beyond the free game] their feed looks overwhelmingly positive, and hardly different from a feed of paid ads. A better question for your poll might have been something like:

    “Knowing that all reviewers and previewers are compensated to a lesser or greater degree, how much stock do you put in the opinions they present?” 1) I only watch (p)reviews to see the components and get an overview of the rules, 2) I trust (p)reviewers’ ability to present unbiased opinions, even though some are highly paid by publishers.

      1. (I am about to leave town and am unlikely to be able to return to this topic again for the remainder of the week.)

        If you read the actual guidelines, http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=175a5a6b52c4e424ba2f36c7c2ddbeb3&mc=true&node=pt16.1.255&rgn=div5 it is clear that the free review copy not only counts as “material connection” but that the reviewer mentioning the game received for free counts as an “endorsement” under the rules. Compensation is compensation; in some of their examples, even a $1 coupon is considered enough of a material connection to qualify as requiring disclosure. Their FAQ on the subject goes a long way to clarify: https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking

        1. Sure, no one’s debating whether or not games or money should be disclosed. The part of your comment I’m question is that a free game = money. Here’s what you said: “the review copy, and especially if you send/promise reviewers a finished copy of the game, definitely 100% counts as compensation the same as money according to FTC guidelines, and must be disclosed.”

          So you’re saying with 100% certainty that if I send Tom Vasel a bag of cash, it’s EXACTLY the same thing as if I send him a copy of Scythe? Either way, those items must be disclosed, but there’s a huge difference between cash and game.

          1. I don’t know how to be any more clear, and neither does the FTC (assuming you read the pages I linked to), who make the rules about these things to protect consumers. It’s simple quid pro quo; I give you something of material value, you advertise my product. Whether the ‘something of material value’ is easily fungible (cash) or not (a game which could be re-sold for cash/trade), and whether the value is high (your ‘bag of cash’) or low (the FTC explicitly mentions/includes $1-off coupons!), it is an exchange of value in expectation of a public endorsement. The FTC doesn’t differentiate between the forms of various material connection, treating them all as equal in their ability to create bias.

            I literally cannot comprehend how you cannot comprehend this; it is an apparent failure of language somewhere between us. These things crop up sometimes. Usually it’s best to step away, to avoid emotional conflict over simple linguistic confusion, which is what I’m doing now. (*unsubscribes*)

  27. Let me share two stories on this topic, the first quickly. Tabletop (wil wheaton on geek&sundry) and an issue that came to a head on their third season. One of the staff had started requesting 6+ copies of a game to be CONSIDERED to be on the show. Explicitly i am saying that many publishers that never got thier game featured on the show were asked for a ridiculous number of copies. This individual was then selling the copies third party. Wil talked about this betrayal on his blog and it took him some time to get over it and revamp his selection process and the transparency that goes with it (season 4 out soon :D)

    2nd before i really followed boardgames via youtube, i was really deeply into vaping, which had/has a very active youtube presence. Vaping like board games is primarily personal preference, u might like something that i do not. However, product features, like board game mechanics are similiar enough that if i say i dont like something, or it doesnt work well bundled with these other features/mechanics, i cant very well turn around and say i like them on a different very similiar product without saying why product 2 fixed the problem i had with product 1. Vaping had a problem with the most prominent reviewer (based on watch counts) where no more than 2 weeks would pass between 2 products that were near identical with 2 completely different reviews. One instance of this made his reviewers question him, several more similiar instances (close enough together that you cant just point to evolving preferences), led many to unsubsribe in droves. Whatever his compensation, he had obviously lost his ability to be unbiased.
    I for one feel the banners this post is referring to, puts my radar up, rather than making me feel better about the product in question. My thinking is, why do u feel you need to be on the defensive?

    My point is that you the viewer have to be your own judge of bias and consume your media responsibly. At the end of the day if a reviewer gets paid $1000 to do an unbiased review with pros/cons, good explaination of mechanics and how effective they are in the game, and another reviewer does a glowing, only positive review of a pnp self created copy, which review served you better?

    1. Katherine: Thank you for sharing this! There are a lot of comments there, and I’ve only read a few of them, but I find it interesting that the original post didn’t mention what I consider a very big difference, as he says that both Undeadviking and Board Game Brawl posted “previews” of the game. Undeadviking labels his video a “review,” indicating that he’s there to share an opinion, while Board Game Brawl labels the video “preview,” indicating that he’s there to tell us what the game is.

      1. That distinction (Nick labeled his video a preview and was transparent regarding payment while UV did not disclose payment and labeled his video a review) is precisely why the linked thread is going on 40+ pages now, and it’s why Lance’s reputation as a reviewer has come into question while Nick emerged from the dilemma unscathed.

        I was really quite surprised to find out that a prominent reviewer was receiving undisclosed financial compensation from interested parties in exchange for Reviews of their respective products. That practice is clearly unethical and, unfortunately and unfairly, raises suspicion toward other reviewers, particularly those who are largely positive in their reviews. While I still think that most Reviewers are not compensated financially for their reviews, I must admit, this recent revelation has left me a little uncomfortable, so I can understand why a new KS project manager might consider the “not paid for” badge.

  28. To many coments to read them all, I hope I do not rehash to much things of what others have said. =S

    To me it looks like most people have a problem deserning between re-view and pre-view. Small distinction just by looking only a tiny “p” that is the difference. But what a difference it makes. The main reason behind this I thinkis that this is a problem is that with the video reviews rise in popularity it sort of became the norm to preview aswell as review. So the review came to include the preview aswell. And this I would argue is the main issu. People do not know that what they are watching is a preview AND a review. Not just a review. All the content creators only ever mention the review part so it is sort of a given that the viewer will get confused over time.

    And if you look at the precursor, the writen review. If you where to include a preview aswell then they would be very lengthy, this is not to say some did not include that part they may very well have. If you where to writ the reviews the way you do them with video I would guess that very few people would read them. And the oposit thing is probably tru for the video content. If you only have the review part, and leave out the preview, not very many people would watch them.

    And I do not realy see the video pre-reviews going any where so I think unfortunetly it is something we are stuck with. We can only hope that people wil make them self aware of the distinction. Becaus of the top of my head I only know of one video pre-reviewer that actualy makes a distinction between the two. And that is Rahdo. He have a seperet “Final Thoughts” video wich in essens is the actual review.

    For me I see no problem with paying for a pre-view. You could argue that it is a symbiotic relationship between the publisher and the preview creator. And that is true to some extent. But for smaller publishers that either are unknown or there game is. There is always a risk for the previewer. Will people want to watch this. Will this be what my audience wants to see. To some extent sure. But to some extent probably not and thats where the money comes in. It is both to ofsett this and to gain access to the audience. If you are a big enough company you either make your own preview or people will come to you.

    Personaly I would never consider paying for a review and if I leard that a reviewr gets or accepts pay to give a favourable review that would be sacrilege. On the verge of unforgivable.

    I saw one other person writing about paying reviewers to “jump the line” or expidiate the review. They listed this as common practis in the app field. I have 3ed hand information that a popular reviewer is doing just this. Right, wrong well that is not for me to say.

    Thank you for all the great work with the posts Jamey.

  29. @Daniel: Well said–thanks for sharing your thoughts. I completely agree with you about the huge difference between a preview and a review, and I like the Rahdo example–he does a good job of separating the preview from the review.

  30. As a “fairly” frequent backer of games (https://www.kickstarter.com/profile/344056873), I tend to ignore any reviews from people I don’t know on a kickstarter page. I automatically assume anything on the kickstarter page is paid for in some form and a banner that says money didn’t change hands doesn’t reassure me at all. a) they could be lying. b) something else could have changed hands. money is not the only thing of monetary value. I’d be more skeptical simply BECAUSE they chose to put up that banner.

    After hearing enough kickstarter horror stories I tend to go out and search for stuff on my own rather than relying on what’s just on the page. That said, a review with proper pros and cons or at least one that contains some sort of negative feedback is usually a good indicator that the creator isn’t only showing positive reviews.

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