2 January 2020 | 20 Comments
UPDATE: We’re in the process of reviewing these policies (which were originally posted in January 2020), particularly the previous policy about asking reviewers not to accept review copies unless they could commit to posting a review (good or bad) within 2 months of receiving the product.
Sending games to reviewers and content creators continues to be a key part of the Stonemaier Games marketing plan. It’s far from the only part, but it remains an important marketing expense.
Since my original post on this topic 18 months ago (and this older–but still important–post), I’ve refined my methods for selecting reviewers, so today I thought I would share my current process with you in sequential order:
- Advance Review Copies: I typically receive 8-12 copies of new products via airmail from my manufacturer, Panda, a few months before we open preorders. I select reviewers for each of them–reviewers who are willing to share their perspectives on the game within a certain period of time (ideally the week before preorders go live), as I want our potential preorder customers to be equipped with an array of unrushed, unbiased opinions. These reviewers have the opportunity to tell me before we ship anything to them if they’re not available to review the product in a timely manner–I always appreciate when they’re transparent about that, as it means they’re not taking away a limited review copy that could go to another reviewer who is available. While I choose a few well-established reviewers for advance review copies, I also try to select some with much smaller audiences to provide them the exponentially higher exposure they receive for these copies.
- First-Run Review Copies: When my fulfillment centers receive the full ocean-freight shipments, I look at the list of 200+ reviewers and content creators who have entered their information on this form and I select a few dozen of them to receive a free review copy at the same time as preorder customers. At this time I also contact other reviewers who requested that specific game to gently let them know that they won’t be receiving a first-run review copy from us (but they might get one in the future). That way they’re not left waiting in the dark and they can simply preorder the product if they want to post their thoughts during the initial media rush.
- Damaged Games: Sometimes our customers report that they receive a damaged copy of one of our games (purchased from our webstore). In those cases, I often send them a mailing label to send the ding-and-dent game to a reviewer, and we send the customer a new game. The reviewers don’t need a perfect box, just a playable game.
- Reprints: I don’t want all of the buzz and visibility of our products to happen at the beginning of their lifespans, so I regularly dispatch review copies of reprints. My new method for doing so is that instead of handpicking reviewers from my list, I simply contact all reviewers who requested the product (info that I track on the list) and offer them a promo code to get the product for free or almost free. That saves me a significant amount of time, and it opens the door for smaller reviewers to get a copy.
A few other quick notes about my methods:
- I Don’t Read/Watch/Listen to Reviews of Stonemaier Products: I highly value constructive criticism, of which I get plenty from playtesters and gamers. But for reviewers, I want to remain entirely unbiased and impartial to their tastes so consumers can get honest opinions from a wide variety of reviewers. I’m human, and I know that if I would hear a reviewer blasting one of our games, as much as I respect their openness, it impacts my willingness to send them review copies in the future. So rather than risking that impartiality, I simply don’t read, watch, or listen to reviews of our products. For that reason, I’ve started to ask advance-copy reviewers to (optionally) send us a one-sentence quote from their review that features a key takeaway for us to use when linking to the review.
- A Distaste for References to “Hype”: Despite what I just said, I do see headlines of reviews when they’re posted on Twitter. I don’t know anything about the content of the review, but I still typically retweet them (it’s very helpful when a reviewer tags @stonemaiergames on Twitter, as it makes sharing the review very easy for me). However, every now and then a reviewer will reference “the hype,” as in “Does it live up to the hype?” I have a huge distaste for references to the nebulous concept of external hype, especially when a reviewer decides to use that word–how are other peoples’ perceptions and expectations at all relevant to what you like or dislike about a product? If you want to say, “I was really excited about this game, but it wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be,” that’s different–that’s internal hype. I really appreciate the perspective on this topic shared by Rodney Smith of Watch It Played on this video.
Overall, I’m really grateful for the wide variety of content creators who take the time to share their perspectives with the gaming community. If you’re curious about my favorite content creators, I’ve most likely featured them on one of our annual charity auctions (like this one in 2019, this one in 2018, this one in 2017, this one in 2016, this one in 2015, this one in 2014, or this one in 2013).
Below is a list of all reviewers who have given me permission on the form to share their information with you. If you don’t see your favorite reviewer on this list, it’s likely that they simply didn’t fill out the form. In case scrolling within the list below is annoying, a full-page version is here.
If you’re a publisher, what’s your approach to reviewers and other content creators? If you’re a gamer, how do reviewers impact your decision to buy games, expansions, and other products?
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