When promoting a table top game, there is this expected check list of actions. One of these actions is paid review: sending the game to board game blogs and paying to have the games discussed in special columns or channels, dedicated to paid review of new games. I chose not to tic this particular box in the checklist.

I am proud of my game. Rotem and I worked hard to design the mechanics, to create the visuals, to test the playability over and over and over again.

We have spent a lot of time and a lot of money to try and promote it. One thing that we chose not to do, is to pay for positive reviews in board game blogs and Youtube channels.

I posted an article about the game on this blog, and a guest post in an Israeli game-design blog.

Apart from the regular PR effort, which yielded no result, we were offered the chance to buy some positive reviews on leading boardgame blogs and Youtube channels. We chose not to pay for reviews.

What’s Right about Paid Review?

Let’s start with why it may be good to pay for reviews on board game blogs.

We follow many board game bloggers and vloggers, some more than others. We have nothing but respect and admiration to the great people who spend their days reviewing and analyzing games. They provide us quick access to games which are not always available to us. They help us expand our understanding of how game mechanics and dynamics can evolve with time. We learn from case studies they present.

We also understand how these publications generate their revenue. It is hard to maintain a sustainable publication and to focus a career on it. These publications depend on a steady revenue stream and they deserve their income. As game designers, we consume the content featured in these publications, including what we know to be paid review.

Why? Because we believe that the reviews are not dishonest: Reviewers will not want to pollute their reputation for small change. Their audience will not tolerate this, and they know this.

What’s Wrong

But we do see reviews for games, which, without being paid reviews, would not have made it to the post. Let’s face it: there is a lot of noise in the board game market. If the threshold to the big league is just money, we are probably missing out on many talented creators. This situation is placing struggling new and independent game designers at a vulnerable position. It seems that the only way for them to effectively market their game is through bribe. This situation is similar, to a certain extent, to the practice of Payola in the music industry. This sort of influence, directed at consumers, is advertising masquerading as informing.

“But”, you will argue: “this is completely legal. It is consensual in nature. There is no harm in paying for being reviewed”.

That’s right. Except that it does put game designers in the position of the poker player at the tournament: we have to pay the participation fee and to bring our own bankroll. When we are in this position, the wager may be too high for us and the odds are too low.

Why there’s no paid review for the Sock Monsters card game

Our goal was to fund our first edition through crowdfunding. After running our project on Indiegogo, we realized that the  entrance fee was very steep. There is an entire industry dedicated to ripping off creators on crowdfunding. Just fending off the people soliciting useless services is tiring in itself.

We came into our first crowdfunding project with our eyes open. We knew it is a gamble and we paid the price. It takes thousands of American dollars to plan and execute a crowdfunding campaign. You hope to exceed your expectations: if you’re not optimistic to begin with, why would you venture out in the first place? But you also know that the worst case scenario is the one expectation which will never dissapoint.

Our main reason not to opt for paid review, was this gamble.

There is a huge gap between investment and expected return. We knew that paying for coverage will have to be reflected in the funding goal. Increasing our funding goal would have put us in a bigger problem with our project, because we would need more backers.

A second reason was the target audience: our demographic was not the same demographic as the blogs we were in contact with. This might have been a mistake on our part, as the prosumers who subscribe to these blogs may be influencers for our target audience. But we decided to focus on marketing directly to our target audience.


Last note: I am not categorically dismissing the idea of paid review. Maybe, when we have gained some recognition, when we can better finance our campaign, we will budget product placement. 

Posted by Samuel Miller

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