Monday, June 10, 2013

Reviewapalooza!

By Erik A. Dewey

It should come as no surprise I love game reviews, both doing them and reading/watching/listening to them. I wrote my first paid review back in 1997 and have been doing a steady stream of it ever since. There are few things more satisfying than discovering a really great game and telling others about it. Occasionally, I get an email from someone who bought a game based on one of my reviews and they thank me for bringing it to their attention. That is a fun email to read.

                When it comes to submitting a game for review, there are definitely some things to be aware of. Each copy of your game costs you money to produce and then shipping it out to someone for review probably will cost more than the game itself. If you are a smaller company, these costs add up quickly, so you want to make sure that first, the reviews happen, and second that they drive customers to purchase your game.

                Here are some recommendations I would make to companies sending out copies of their game for review.

Know the reviewer

                Every reviewer has their preferences, especially about what kind of games they enjoy. This is typically easy to discover, you just need to listen to some of their reviews to get a feel for what they like. Donald Dennis isn’t a huge fan of deck building games. Tom Vasel doesn’t play a lot of wargames. Cyrus from Father Geek isn’t going to review Cards Against Humanity on his website. It costs money to send out review copies, so make sure they go to the people that would enjoy them the most, not just the people with the broadest reach.

                Donald and I can always tell when we are part of a mass mailing looking for interest in reviewing a game. The email reads like they entered in “Board Game Reviewers” in Google and our name came up fourth or fifth on the list. The company has never listened to our show and there is no personalization in their communication with us at all. When we receive those emails, we often decline, after all, if the manufacturer doesn’t want to take the time to know us, should we do the same?

If you have a deadline, let the reviewer know

                When I’m asked to review a game, I always point out that it is neither a guarantee that I will review the game nor a promise as to when it will be reviewed. The main reason for this is there are times when I’m swamped and a to-be reviewed game will sit on the pile for a while as others got there first. That being said, if a company has a timeline for when they would like a review to come out, I can usually accommodate that.

                This is especially true for reviews of games that are about to be Kickstarted. If I know ahead of time that you’d like the episode with the game review to drop while your Kickstarter is running, be sure to let me know.

Make sure your game is ready

                Once you mail that game off for review, you open yourself up to an internet full of criticism. Therefore, you want to make as certain as possible that your game is ready for it. If your rulebook is terrible, the component quality is off, the art is poor, or the game box is lackluster, you better have a great game in there, because these things will all be brought out in the review.

                It will require being honest with yourself and your game. If there is a nagging in the back of your head that your rulebook layout could use some work, think twice about shipping it out without at least a revised PDF version ready.

Don’t argue with a review, but do correct

                Sometimes the reviews don’t go your way. For whatever reason, the reviewer didn’t like the game. When that happens it is painful, but you have to take it as a learning experience. The last thing you want to do is get into an argument, especially a public one, with them about how they’ve missed the merits of the game. All this does is upset everyone.

                That being said, sometimes reviewers miss something or get something wrong. If that is the case, a polite email or comment about what was missed can easily change a bad review into a good one. Truthfully, this isn’t too big of a problem in the board game industry, but it does happen on occasion.

Sometimes no review is kinder than a bad one

                I’ve gotten some games in the mail that were truly awful. They had little to offer, were not fun, or just plain badly done. When this happens, I find I have a choice to make. I could review it on the podcast and have a rare Red Light review to give, or I can just ignore it and say nothing. Many times if the game comes from a small company I just don’t do the review. Instead, I email the company and let them know the issues I had with the game and why I won’t be reviewing it. I do this firstly to make sure I didn’t miss something in the game, but also to give them a chance to fix the game and try again before it becomes branded as a bad game.

                It takes multiple impressions (typically 6 to 7) for something to attract a consumer’s attention. Reviews are one of the best ways to make an impression to a wide audience and should be integral to your game’s marketing plan. Just make sure to give yourself the best chance you can when you send your box of fun out into the wilds.

Erik Dewey is an author, game reviewer, and co-presenter on the popular podcast On Board Games. One of Erik's driving goals is to see families strengthened and have a sense of identity. He is a big proponent of game play to help in these goals. You can visit his piece of the internet at erikdewey.com.

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