My Current Approach to Board Game Reviewers and Content Creators

28 May 2018 | 30 Comments

Sending games to reviewers is a key part of the Stonemaier Games marketing plan. It’s far from the only part, but it remains an important marketing expense.

Last year I tested a new method to ensure that I’m sending games/expansions to the reviewers who want them, and not just the big, well-known reviewers. A reviewer with a small, passionate audience can have a powerful impact too.

So I sent out a survey to the 300 reviewers on my mailing list to inform them about current and upcoming products. I let them pick 1 or 2 products they were interested in reviewing, and if they were in the US, for the most part I sent them those products (more on the US location in a moment).

It worked out well, so I tried it again this year with a few tweaks:

  • I opened the list to content creators of all types, not just reviewers (though I’ll continue to use the term “reviewer” in this article for simplicity’s sake).
  • I made it abundantly clear that if a reviewer requests a copy of the game, they must post some form of substantial, core content about that game within 2 months of receiving it or they’ll be removed from the list. This is a time-sensitive marketing expense (a free game with free shipping), so the alternative if they’re not able to do it is to buy the game and review it whenever they want.
  • I asked a few questions about reach, consistency, and audience engagement. These are the various categories I discussed in An Open Letter to New Reviewers of Board Games from a Tiny Publishing Company, an article I still reference whenever I hear from a new reviewer.
  • I asked non-US reviewers if they would be willing to pay the postage cost for a review copy if sent from the US. Shipping from the US internationally is very expensive, which would normally relegate non-US reviewers to obtaining the game locally, but this presents a viable alternative.
  • I asked the reviewers to state a preference for 2 games and 1 expansion. They can choose from published or upcoming products, ensuring that we continue to get exposure for older products, not just brand-new stuff.

Last, I asked all reviewers if they would consent to me sharing some of their information in a blog post. For all who filled out the form and said yes, you’ll see their responses below. If you don’t see your favorite reviewer on this list, it’s likely that they simply didn’t fill out the form in time. I recommend checking out James Mathe’s blog for a much longer list.

I delineate between reviewers to whom I send advance copies and reviewers who receive “regular” copies. I only get 10 or so advance copies from my manufacturer, so they’re a precious commodity, and I need them to go to content creators with the highest reach, consistency, and audience engagement. It’s when I receive the full freight shipment of tens of thousands of games that I can send more copies (usually a few dozen) to various types of reviewers.

Please note that if you are a reviewer who missed out on newsletter, you can share your information with us here.

In case scrolling in 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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30 Comments on “My Current Approach to Board Game Reviewers and Content Creators

  1. I use reviews to close the gap caused from lack of experience and too many choices. A game may look amazing but have no substance. A game may also be amazing but be too complex for my enjoyment level.

    If I am buying a game I’ve never played, I use reviews to tell me if that game is in an enjoyable complexity range and if it is indeed enjoyable

    For Kickstarter game reviews have been especially helpful with swaying my decision to back or not. I would even say they make our break that decision since I am prone to want to buy on impulse, and it just takes the right review to make my final decision..

  2. This is amazing Jamey! As a publisher, I totally appreciate the work you do for us. It’s great to see it all in one place. I love that you see the benefit of smaller content creators as well. The passion that they put into their (p)reviews is so important.

  3. Jamey, I appreciate your consistent approach to marketing; experimental and data driven. It’s very modern and really allows you to hone in on the most effective strategies for your company. I’d love to have Meeple Mountain included on your reviewers list if it’s not too late.

  4. Very interesting read. I’ve just recently started a blog (thanks to one of your other blog posts) and Twitter account to engage more with the boardgame community and explore the goal of reviewing games in the future. I appreciate the clear way you state what you look for in a reviewer, it has given me some motivation and goals to set. For now I’m a gamer who uses reviews to learn about how a game plays, what it looks like and what kind of staying power it may have on my table. When I’m not impulse buying games reviews probably account for 75% of my decision to purchase a game.

  5. Pro-SemiPro reviews don’t impact my decisions – I don’t often read them, and I never watch videos of any kind about games (and most of the big reviewers these days seem to be video based). I read reviews from normal gamers for the most part, and more importantly I read rulebooks online.

  6. This is an interesting insight. I trust my reviews to a few frequently posting websites, like geek dad and dice tower. Occasionally I go further afield, if there are not many reviews. This is good to know

  7. We asked our manufacturer to provide us around 40 advance copies. These were made before mass production. Was a great way to have early copies to share with more than just the few elite reviewers. Our volunteers in our booth could also get a copy.

    We got them flight shipped to Gen Con. Our manufacturer also helped with shipping copies directly from the factory to reviewers we didn’t meet at Gen Con.

    This helped us a lot in having pretty strong coverage at launch.

    1. Nice! That’s a lot more advance copies than we get. I probably could ask for more, but they ship them overnight from China, which is very expensive. Plus, I like to spread out reviews over several months, so I like that we have 2 months covered by advance copies and then the next 2 months covered by regular copies.

  8. I find game reviews to be very important to me. I do not have a single favorite reviewer though. As an experience gamer (meaning theme, mechanics, depth, artwork all combine into a complex chemistry that decides whether I like a game or not) I have yet to find a single reviewer that can quite capture whether I will have a good all around experience. Hence I have to see many reviews before I decide if I’ll purchase or not. So…
    If you are asking if that investment of sending out review copies is worth it then I will just say…
    I for one truly appreciate publishers that spread the reviewer love so to speak. Thanks Stonemeier!

  9. That list is amazing. I always go back to the same reviewers and sometimes feel like I can predict what they are going to say about game before I see it. There are some I respect a lot and there are others I can leave or take. It’s great to have a more expansive list to explore.

    Two observations about your list. Firstly , it seems that Rahdo Runs Through stands out in its absence. I have to believe that his is in the top 10 of viewership. Secondly, Watch It Played seems like an odd one on the list because I’ve never seen a review on there. It generally sticks to gameplay run throughs. Maybe I haven’t watched enough.

    Only important question I have is how are the cats?

    1. Geeko: As noted in the post, this list contains all types of board game media (you’re correct that Watch It Played doesn’t do reviews), and it only contains the information of reviewers/media who filled out the form. I sent it to 300 people; 80 or so filled it out. Rahdo wasn’t one of them.

      The cats are good. Walter is getting some sun right now. :)

    2. I personally get more out of “watch it plays” (not necessarily from that channel specifically) than I do reviews. The reviewers that I watch typically also play through at least part of a game, as part of their review (like Rahdo Runs Through, as you mentioned)

  10. As always, thanks so much for sharing. You are a great example of “learn & teach”.

    I am not sure this approach would work for smaller publishers that dont have a proven track record. Which is fair given content providers need to ensure they are spending their limited time appropriately. That said, were any reviewers apprehensive about the requirement to post something within 2 months of receiving?

    1. James: I agree with that assessment. I did hear from one reviewer who said they simply couldn’t make a 2-month commitment. I told them I appreciate their honesty, and I reminded them that they could buy the game and talk about it on their schedule if they were interested in it. :)

  11. Someone’s probably already said something along these lines, but as a person who has backed over a hundred Kickstarter projects, reviewers are an important part of determining where to spend my money. The big things I look for in a Kickstarter preview are descriptions of the target audience for a game (I like heavier games so I avoid family games) and a concise but effective description of gameplay (preferably with the components as I drift in and out of lecturing). Outside of that, I wanted to send major kudos your way for opposing Kickstarter exclusives and for being so involved in the gaming community.

  12. I wonder if it is also worth surveying/scouting reviewers for the kinds of games they prefer or have the most experience with. It seems to me that finding a reviewer who is intimately familiar with the workings of a game type would be the best to comment on the execution. Sending an Amerithrash game to a reviewer who prefers Euros, for instance, might not be a productive use of your time or theirs. What do you think?

  13. Jamey, Thanks for Sharing. I had no idea you were in the habit of sending so many copies to so many reviewers. I can not even fathom that many reviewers out in the world. As a gamer I very rarely read reviews though. I watch overviews and some reviews, so video is where it is at for me. Many of my favorites are on your list. I like to make my own decisions on what I see and what I can discern from how it is played or described. My problem is I have a hard time saying no to a game. I end up collecting more than I am playing for sure. This business is a diverse bunch of people so there is need for many avenues to get your information in front of potential customers so I applaud what you are doing. You are also opening my eyes as a new game designer looking for how to best creep into this market, this is the type of thing that really opens my eyes. I am still not sure how I really want to fit in. I keep coming back to my manufacturing expertise and think I should figure out how to make games here in the states near what China pricing is. Duty and shipping is choking the board game industry that seems to want to explode. This is evident after I learned I was position 780 in the Gamecrafters Que. Now I am rambling, Keep up the great work.

  14. Jamey, that’s amazing. It’s encouraging to know that designers like you are willing to market to us small reviewers/bloggers as well. As purchasing EVERY game to review is impossible, it’s nice to know that you’re looking out for the little guys too.

  15. Hey there Jaime! Thanks for publishing the list, it’s been very helpful to me!

    I try to create material to help those who dont like videos or long videos. That way my readers will have more material about games, expansions and such that they want to know more about.

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