Free vs. Paid Reviews


I was recently messaging with someone who has a rather large following in his Facebook group, and the topic of paid vs free reviews/previews came up. He asked if we (at Everything Board Games) charge for reviews. We don't, and I told him as much. I also told him we also review pre-Kickstarter games, and he asked if we charge for those. Again, I said we didn't. 

Now here's the question: What are your thoughts on reviewers charging to preview a game? I know a bunch do and a bunch don't; it has even become a topic of hot debate. I think paid reviews can become biased, or at the least, the audience simply won't know if they can trust the review. But a preview? That's more of an advanced look--like a movie trailer--for something not yet released. It's advertising for the upcoming Kickstarter. With that in mind, I am fine with folks being paid to preview games. And if companies are willing to pay, that's their right.

When we at EBG do previews, we do them just like a review--opinions and all. This is one reason we don't charge. But another question to you is, do you consider there to be a difference in a review of a game not yet launched on Kickstarter (i.e. a preview with opinions) and a review of a game already published? If so, what are those differences?

We have no intention of charging for previews at this time (and we've already discussed it thoroughly and have all agreed to keep it free of charge), but I'm curious as to all your thoughts.

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17 months ago

The responses so far have been kinds of what I thought might come. haha It's a grey area in the industry, that's for sure. Fortunately, we've already made our decision to not do paid (p)reviews, so so at least don't have to worry about that. But it sounds like calling a paid review a preview is consistent. And yes, I would expect full disclosure of (p)reviewers who are paid to do what they do. I appreciate all your feedback! It's always interesting to hear what others think on the issue.

Supporter17 months ago

To be honest a reviewer will always have some form of bias. It’s incredibly difficult to be completely unbiased. The best policy is to always be totally transparent with your reviews and financial compensation. I do not have any problems with people being paid to review a game, as long as the reviewer disclosed that information. That way the reader can make their own decision about the review and make an informed decision on the game being reviewed. 

Owner17 months ago

First of all, I think having full transparency is one of the most important things when considering these issues. I'm okay with reviewers taking either direction but would want to know what to keep in mind going in. I get why some people would want to hide this fact since having it plainly visible may create a bias toward their content and their brand. But if a reviewer is confident about not being influenced from taking payments, then (1) it shouldn't be as big of an issue to reveal this fact, or (2) it should be labeled a preview than a review.

These are some additional thoughts that I have about paid reviews being ok (again with the assumption that there's FULL DISCLOSURE of it being payed): 

  • It's up to the reviewer's decision - in the end, it's up to them, and viewers can make their decision on the legitimacy of their reviews. I would like to believe that time will tell whether their reviews hold any water. I would also be hesitant if their reviews are constantly filled with only praises/positives/and avoiding any glaring issues established by other reviewers/the community.
  • If the reviewer is constantly getting requests to do reviews because of their growing brand/influence, then payment seems to make sense for several reasons: (1) they're investing their own time and money (whether directly or indirectly), (2) payment will allow more freedom to do more reviews, (3) their reviews have a direct impact on the number of sales (hence why full disclosure is important especially when the reviewer has a big voice in the community)
  • It may be idealistic to expect a reviewer not being influenced by money. After all, having negative parts in their review will have a direct impact on whether they receive more requests. One possible idea is that if you want to do paid reviews based on request, then maybe consider having an agreement in which the video will be unlisted on your channel but allowed to be shared by the designer/publisher on their Kickstarter campaign or other places. If the designer/publisher wants it to be available to the reviewer's following, then maybe they could make a payment to make it listed on the reviewer's channel. Maybe this would eliminate the trouble of creating an unbiased review, while the designer/publisher can decide whether they want to make the video available to a larger audience even if the video has some criticisms involved.

Supporter17 months ago

Very good points.

I don t have a problem with reviewers getting paid for doing review, especially if it is a high quality review and there is a lot of effort put in it (professionally filmed with multiple camera angles, composed content of review, detailed opinion, trying to stay objective).
The more popular reviewers became like "influencers", so why not get paid to sponser them to do what they like and improve their content. These times there are people paid for taking a picture about themself drinking a coffee at a cafe and get paid for basically zero effort, so why should be gamers left out.

But obviously they should always state it clearly if a review was sponsored by the publisher (a copy of the game I don t think it counts as sponsoring, but if they get paid money). Some places have laws for that.

It is very hard to stay completely honest in a paid review, but if you are aware of that you can filter some of the information. I used to work as a salesman, and obviously every product have flaws what you are aware of, but try to sell the stuff with the cons, and try to argue the weakpoints. If you can afford the risk of the decrease in future review orders, then it is easy to stay objective. Otherwise you have to figure out (or learn tha hard way) if honest reviews gain you a higher number of viewers and then the review request start to rise again, or just the first, or none (because you re not a positive personality:) ).

I think paying for a preview not yet launched on KS it is not just advertising for a game, it is also playtesting that can bring up some weakpoints of the game, and then the audience can also form an opinion and also request some changes that might be still possible at that stage. So I think it is very fair to charge for that also. I feel the reviewer is also less pressured at that stage, because they don t have to form a strong and final opinion of tha game.

17 months ago

Paying for a preview is basically advertising for a game. As such, just say that it's sponsored or whatever.

Paying for reviews seems slimy even if you do disclose it. I don't see getting review copies of games as the same as getting money. Still, just disclose it.

17 months ago

This is kind of where I stand on it. It kind of just skews how I view the review and I will typically go elsewhere to find something that feels more genuine. 

16 months ago

Yeah, I hear ya, and I feel the same way. While I can trust some paid previewer, I still prefer their non-paid content. Just seems more legit. But, it's hard to turn down that money, am i right? haha And I don't blame them for doing so, either. Personally, I do it for the love of the hobby (and the occasional game is a nice bonus). For the amount of time we put into reviews, the motivation has to be either love or money (or both? haha).