Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4, 2012 - Independence Day

First, I'd like to thank every person who has ever served this country, be it a  mail carrier, soldier, sailor, policeman, teacher and senator (well, maybe not senators) as all of you have played a part in making the United States a beacon of hope for the world; one of the few places left on the planet where you do not need worry about being tortured by a dictator for dissenting,  not worry about being left to die on the street due to a lack of resources, and a place where, by and large, your children will be safe and have an unrivalled opportunity to become anything that they aspire to be.


And in the spirit of being truly independent, a servant of the public, and a champion of the consumer, Superfly Circus has changed its policies on requesting review copies from publishers.

We will no longer be requesting free copies of review games from publishers, because I have come to believe that the line between the publishers and the unpaid, unlicensed, untrained horde of amateur bloggers and pseudo-journalists has become far too thin. While the Circus has never been influenced by a publisher, and we have safeguards set up so that it is impossible for us to be influenced, it is on principle alone that I have made the decision to end the practice of seeking review copies. This may cut down on the number of my negative reviews because I'll be spending my own money on games for the most part, but that's the price I have to pay.

I have come to believe that with the consolidation of Board Game News and Board Game Geek, there is no substantial outside, neutral source of board game information on the scale and scope that Board Game Geek encompasses. They are the CNN, Fox News, BBC, SKY News, PBS, and MSNBC of board gaming. Unfortunately, they have become so powerful and so intertwined with the publishers that they serve and that serve them, that they are no longer what can be considered a neutral, free, information outlet.

With the board game marketing and review system set up so that people are being compensated to write reviews, either with "GeekGold" or with a constant stream of free product, invitations to publisher luncheons, and being given access to previews, I can no longer tolerate or be a party to the pay-for-play system.

It is my opinion that is that a culture of anti-dissent has been propagated in the gaming community, and can be evidenced by several factors:
  • There is a wide imbalance of positive and negative reviews, even on middling-rated and lower-rated games
  • Most reviews that are positive are overwhelmingly positive
  • Negative reviews are almost universally met with disdain and ridicule
  • Positive reviews are given more acclaim and search position based upon "thumbs" at BGG, which is a popularity gauge, not a gauge of the value of the content
  • Negative reviews are "tipped" less with "GeekGold" on BGG
As I have stated in recent articles, and all across the internet, this imbalance and culture of anti-dissent creates the illusion that almost all products, irrespective of their actual merit, are good purchase choices for virtually everyone. In many cases, products are being reviewed and advertised by third parties before an actual product exists in its final form, such as Kickstarter "previews".  These practices are manipulative and allow mediocrity to flourish while not holding publishers accountable for creating mediocre products. I think that we, as a culture, can do better, and this is why I am unilaterally taking this stand.

My hope is that other review sites will stand with me to attempt to widen the line in the sand between publishers and independent review sites by refusing to ask for review copies. I am fully expectant that this will not happen, though, which I will take to confirm that the agenda of most reviewers, although not all, is solely to gain popularity and get free product. Not act as a champion and protector of the consumer, and not to actually inform, but rather to act as the advertising and marketing arm of publishers. If review copies didn't result in positive reviews and, ultimately, more sales, publishers would not do it.

I'm sure the argument will be made that if there are no review copies being sent, then the information flow will grind to a halt. My response is, "What's the rush?" Why is it imperative that every game be reviewed by the same twenty "reviewers" before ever being released to the public? Is selling the public on a product not the job of the sales team at the publishers rather than the job of a swarm of independent pseudo-journalists?

I cannot remember the last time I've seen a negative or, really, even a "not glowing" preview of a board game product. How often do we see a negative review of a just-released game? If the answer is "never", or "rarely",  then one can only surmise that the deck is stacked mightily against the consumer, and in reality, the truth.

Isn't the whole concept of a free, and independent, press to investigate and report the truth to the public?

4 comments:

Ryan Walberg said...

Great article, Pete.

Chris Norwood said...

I appreciate your decision here, and affirm your right to make it, "on principle", as you say. However, I think that some of the assumptions and connections that you draw are somewhat less than accurate.

I started to write my response here as a comment, but it ballooned into something a little too large, so I turned it into a blog post instead. I invite your response/reply...

dle said...

One could take the cynical approach that fair reviews are not possible due to publisher "payola." Or one can consider that the very act of publisher vetting tends to weed out the junk (or at least send it back for further refinement).

I tend to be both harsh and fair in all the items I've reviewed on Amazon. I think that most games are probably in the positive column because it is still a niche market and scale matters. Publishers, most of which still qualify as small companies, can't afford to print a dog.

So perhaps more than the average number of games ARE worthy of a positive review. While I am certainly not the epitome of a game reviewer, I honestly don't play that many bad games. Sure, some games need some help here and there, and not everything will be a blockbuster, but I can't remember the last game I played that I thought was a half-developed waste of my time.

Of course, YMMV. And I guess it does.

GeekInsight said...

Hey Pete, enjoyed the read. Like Chris, I started my own response and then it snowballed into something bigger, found here: http://gfbrobot.com/2012/07/12/variant-free-games-and-positive-reviews/

The short version is that I disagree that review copies result in positive reviews. At least that hasn't been my experience. That said, there is certainly nothing wrong with the stance you're taking. It certainly avoids even the appearance of impropriety.