So, let’s start with the obvious: that cold open for my Zimby Mojo review was a joke, both about myself and a little about some community attitudes towards review copies. Let me start, though, with some transparency.
I’ve been approached by a small number of publishers and/or designers with offers of review copies. I know, I was surprised too. When I started my channel, I had no pretensions towards review copies (that’s one of the reasons why I named it what I did), but then again I didn’t expect to get the number of subscribers I did–so clearly this has been a learning experience. Also, once again, I sincerely thank all of you for your support and your viewing time (really).
I decided to tell them the following, and it’s become my policy: I can’t guarantee I’ll review your game. I only review games when I think I can try to say something interesting. Honestly, were I to ever get a review copy of, say, a mediocre auction or worker-placement game, I don’t think I’d be able to say much of value. Other reviewers would, of course, both because they’re funnier and/or are inclined to do rules explanations; but that’s not my thing, and I’m not inclined to make it my thing. It’s not only bad or derivative games, either–people have been asking for a “Top X Games” video for some time, and I’ve been trying (really!) to find a way to do that in a way I think would be worthwhile for me–but I’m having trouble. Many games I think are best in class have proven difficult for me to present interesting, substantial analysis for (I’m also having trouble presenting analysis in a succinct enough way for such a video, but that’s a different story).
At any rate, I disclose up front that I can’t promise any airtime to a publisher when they send me a game. I assume this goes as a matter of course for when a publisher sends a game to the Big Names, but disclosure is important to me, especially when someone has taken the time to reach out to a nobody such as myself. I’ve had people then decide not to send me a game, but most have gone ahead.
As for the possibility that I’ll say bad things about the game, well, I assume they know that–if they’ve seen my stuff they know that I tend to criticize even games I love. And obviously, they’ve seen the title.
I did once try to solicit a publisher for a review copy, and that was only because the game was not yet available retail and I received quite a few requests. That game was Inis, and Asmodee sent me a very polite but very hard pass. I’m rather amazed they even bothered to respond, frankly.
That’s enough policy. Let’s talk trust.
I’ve written before that I think some concerns about reviewers are misplaced. But now let me directly address a common claim: that a positive review is quid pro quo for free stuff. I would be very surprised if that’s a common danger. First of all, as I said, there’s not a guarantee that the game will garner a review; certainly not in my case, and I imagine in the case of the Big Names (though I could be wrong). Second, once you’re at a certain point in the hobby, and definitely if you’re a collector of board games, getting random games in the mail is as much an inconvenience as it is a gift. Sometimes moreso. I don’t have room or (more importantly) time for a random game. Seriously, pick a random game in the BGG database, and odds are excellent that I don’t want to play it, much less own it. Besides which, there is no correlation between negative reviews and a cessation of review copies that I know of, either historical, threatened, or implied. As I said in my review, Jim Felli sent me Zimby Mojo even though he knew I didn’t like his previous design–being the dedicated community guy that he is, he just monitors the ratings on BGG and found out before he mailed me Zimby Mojo. Third, I try to do reviews that are the least susceptible to schilling, but that’s a separate topic.
I do promise to continue to disclose whenever I’m reviewing a review copy. That seems like a reasonable expectation from a reviewer. And there are games I wouldn’t be willing to review because of a conflict of interest–a game designed or published by a personal friend, for example, is straight out. I similarly try to minimize my contact with a publisher or designer prior to reviewing their game because I’d like to minimize personal bias an try to assure that my experience with the game is as close as possible to that of any other consumer.
I do realize that I’m not like another consumer when I review a game I got for free, though. I am sensitive to that. The best tool is thus disclosure, and that’s why I keep writing stuff like this.