Stonemaier Games: Is It Unethical to Pay the Media to Form and Broadcast Their Opinion?

This article from Stonemaier Games dives deep into the topic of compensation for board game content creators and reviewers:

What do you think? Do you think content creators should be compensated for their time from the publishers that they are doing work for or is that unethical?

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Premium User8 days ago

I would be hard pressed to consider it unethical to compensate someone to make and share an opinion of your product. 

It is obviously unethical to compensate someone to make and share a biased opinion of your product.

But there certainly is going to be some form of bias regardless of what you do. It is possible through practice and strict self regulation to reduce it to a minimum but it is always there.  I think the standard of declaring any compensation you have been given up front is a good one and should be continued.  

Partner6 days ago

Thanks for sharing.  The is a discussion that comes up each year and there are always fresh takes and opinions, and I'm glad we continue to explore this issue as a hobby. 

My personal take: 

There are two types of content. 

a. Kickstarter previews

b. Opinions of published games

Previews are basically commercials. / infomercials.  So much can change in the project, time sensitivity is rampant, and the work can be challenging and arduous. Of course, content creators should be compensated for creating that kind of content. It just makes sense for the work they do.  Just disclose it and try your best not to let "opinion" filter in -- just present the game and let it do the talking.  We've never done it yet, but we have been approached by two KS companies for paid content and will probably do it eventually so that we can buy a better overhead camera and mic system for our live plays.  But, any paid content we do (which will probably be very limited) will plainly state "PAID KS CONTENT" on the video. 

On the other hand, reviews / opinions of a published game should not carry remuneration, in my opinion. (I don't consider a free game remuneration -- heck, I essentially pay to give some of the games I get away, and free copies make it easier for new voices to join the critical review space).  Disclose that you got a free copy, say "no" if a newbie publisher innocently asks you if they should "pay for your review."  Life is tough enough and reviewing games is a hard enough endeavor without complicating it with money. 

I know a lot of content creators.  None get paid for their opinions. Some very few get paid for their photography or videography skills, and even fewer still, get paid to be the front person in a paid KS preview. I'm not saying it *can't* happen (i.e. a publisher paying a cotent creator for an opinion) because we saw it happen in radio in the 80s. I'm just saying I have not seen it yet. 

6 days ago

This sort of thing used to worry me. But the more I see, the more obvious it is who is in this for the money.

The dead-eyed chimpanzee grimace of a paid hack will give themselves away better than any disclaimer.

7 days ago

if they are being PAID money to promote something, then yes, that should be acknowledged.  But if they are being paid, then the publisher should have control over the release of the content... therefore it only makes sense that only the positive reviews would be released -- it's not in the publisher's interest to release the negative ones.  One way you used to be able to tell if a movie was bad was if the top review cited in the advertisting was from some small town newspaper (vs. a nationally known critic) then no matter how flowery the comment, they had to dig deep to find something positive to share.

Now, it's obvious that providing a copy of the game IS NOT COMPENSATION and never needs to be acknowledged by the content creator.  The norm in reviews across all sectors is that reviewers are provided copies of the product to review.  Some to keep, some on loan.  But viewers should always start from the position that the copy of a game was provided.  That provision is 100% irrelevant to the content of the review.

There is no advantage for a reviewer to risk their integrity to say a bad game is good (or vice versa).  The work that goes into learning a game and playing it for a review far exceeds to relative paltry manufacturing costs of even the biggest box A-list title.  Even a basic unboxing video takes more time and effort than the cost of most games.

That people get hung up on revealing (or imagining they have a right to know) that a copy was provided to the reviewer is absurd.  If the game is bad, then the reviewer got nothing of value... except maybe some trade or gift or giveaway fodder.  if the game is good, then yes, they received a copy of a good game, for which they were still uncompensated for all their efforts.

So assume all reviews come from provided games.  Ones that don't aren't inherently "more pure" or "more honest" than those that aren't.

But if the content creators is actually PAID for their work, then that should be revealed without a doubt.

Premium User8 days ago

I feel is is perfectly acceptable to pay a content producer to "form" an opinion and "broadcast" that same opinion.  The key here is that the funding is not assumed to be "influencing" the opinion or "controlling/editing" the broadcast.  

What becomes challenging in transactions like this are many of the inherent biases that people struggle to avoid.  I enjoy rating beer and as much as I attempt to check all my biases, I am, as stated above, as bias in ways I cannot fully mitigate.  The best I can hope to do is make every effort to mitigate my biases and be as transparent as possible in the areas that I am able to do so.  

Stonemaier has a great policy in place to try and prevent bias and this is more or less approaching the ideal of how everyone should approach this issue.  Sadly, for both reviewers, and producers, there is generally less ethical behavior among the masses.  Living in Texas where the 'good ol' boy' attitude prevails.  It's one of the many assumed attitudes among many industries down here that frustrate me.  

That being said, I think the best we can do is make wise choices to the best of our ability regarding who we trust to review our games and our integrity when reviewing games.  Currently, I only review my own personal games (save one exception) but I would love, one day to make a living playing and reviewing games.  Obviously, no compensation outside of ads could make this more challenging.  If I set myself up as an "honest" reviewer or an an "influenceable" reviewer, either way, will push and pull business away.  

Thankfully, it feels like the industry has quite a few quality producers with guys like Rodney Anderson, Rahdo, SUSD, Actualol, Heavy Cardboard, and No Pun Included.  

Excellent topic and certainly one with widely varying opinions :) 

8 days ago

I am against any form of payment for creators and reviewers from designers and publishers. I am probably alone in this boat, but that is what I think. Creators and reviewers should  be compensated or paid by their public, not by the creators of the products they are reviewing.

Premium User8 days ago

I guess in the form of Patreon subscriptions, etc? This is a model that seems to be becoming more popular, and I like it. If the creator can feel more honest about their content while still providing a high quality and useful service to their viewers, it's great.

8 days ago

As long as it is the public who pays, I am fine. But I would not like Asmodee or Antoine Bauza paying a monthly subscription to a reviewer.

If Publishers and Game Designers feel it is important to support the reviewer business, they can create a collective fund and distribute it proportionally among all reviewers that comply with certain conditions (have a minimum number of subscribers on their channels, review a minimum quantity of games per month, etc.)

Premium User8 days ago

Hm, it's an interesting idea, but it doesn't seem like a good solution to me. Who decides which games get covered? If I'm a publisher, what if my games never get covered? And if there's some sort of guarantee that X number of games (or every game) will be covered, then how is it different than paying directly for coverage? IMO this seems like it creates more problems than it solves.

8 days ago

Reviewers decide. Publishers and Designers have no say at all. They only put money to strenghten the reviewers industry because it helps them.

Premium User8 days ago

Right but if I'm a publisher and my games don't get covered to my liking, I'm not paying into that, and it falls apart. Strengthening the review industry does me no benefit if no one is actually reviewing my games.

8 days ago

That is fine. Like I said, reviewers need to get their funds from their public. But, if the game industry believes that reviewers help their cause and thus want to somehow contribute, I would limit it to the fund I described before. I do not want publishers and designers contributing directly to any reviewer.

8 days ago

If someone is taking the time to setup their own media operation (Site, Youtube) then absolutely yes they should be paid for their time.

Even if they are passionate about it, people are supposed to just reach out to people and expect them to do work for no compensation? No one is arguing what they do doesn't have value, so since they are the ones doing all the work, why do they not the one in a position to reap those rewards?

If someone says "I will pay you this to say this even though it is not true" that is wrong, but it is not like that is happening. That would be stupid for the publisher and the content creator.


Premium User8 days ago

This is where I stand, for the most part. I don't necessarily believe that someone is entitled to payment simply because they have a Youtube channel (or other media), but if the content they are making is providing value to a publisher via bringing attention to their game, then they should be compensated for it. If their content is of high integrity and quality, then that should be attractive to publishers, and should be rewarded accordingly.

The ethics of it don't really bother me. Paying for positive reviews is one thing, but if the reviewer does their best to acknowledge the bias somewhere in their video/post, that's enough in my opinion.