Five Things to Consider Before Sending Your Game to a Reviewer (Including Me)

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Here are five important points to consider before you send your game to a reviewer, including yours truly. I’m sure there are more, but I’m a lazy guy and five is all I want to point out. If you have more, please feel free to leave a comment and add to the list. I should also note that this list is going to make me unpopular with others. But let’s keep this in perspective and understand it is just my opinion.

If you are a seasoned game designer who has had your games reviewed before, this article will do nothing for you. If you are a budding game designer, do read on.

#1: Don’t Rush It

It’s great that you are excited about your game and awesome that you want me to try it. But please don’t send it to me or any other reviewer until you think it is done. You know how parents think their child is the greatest thing on two legs? That’s because their opinion is highly biased and so is yours. Your game might be the greatest thing created since the Thriller music video, but only in your head. And to be fair, it’s exceedingly difficult to remain objective about something you are pouring your soul into.

What you can do is take your time. Play your game a lot with friends, family, and strangers. Friends and family will be supportive, but can also be somewhat soft when it comes to giving you criticism. That’s OK because that’s what you want to hear. You need people you know and respect to tell you to keep going, you’re doing a great job, and what you are making is worthwhile. Strangers will tell you what they think of the game without emotional strings. Sometimes they can be very harsh. This is good because you need people like that, too. If you can’t listen to criticism about your game without getting emotional about, then your game is simply not ready and nor are you.

I’m not suggesting you detach yourself emotionally from your game. Never do that or you’ll lose interest in it. What you do need to do, however, is prepare it for the “big scary world” that is outside of your protective influence. There is no schedule and you are not in a race. Take the time to design your game, hit it over the head with countless play testing sessions, and keep working on it until you are convinced that you can’t do anything more to it. Then and only then should you even consider giving it to someone else.

Once you do give the game to another person to play, you no longer have any control over the game play experience. The game has to fly on its own. Take the time to ensure it has strong enough wings to soar and make a good first impression.

#2: The Reviewer is NOT Your Friend

Reviewers are not bad people, but they don’t have your best interest at heart. A good reviewer will detach themselves from any emotional connection that they might have between the game and the game’s designer, and believe me when I say that is hard. People I know and I think are fantastic ask me to review their games. Before I play their game, I have to divorce myself from the emotional and personal history I have with it. I don’t want to be an ass to my friends and tell them their game isn’t a good one. I’m not interested in making them feel bad. But, as a reviewer, I must be prepared for that possibility.

It is, of course, a lot easier for a reviewer when they don’t know the person who is giving them the game, but I guarantee they still think of other people’s feelings. Despite how much you might disagree with a reviewer’s opinion, please don’t forget they are people just like you. Don’t get all angry at them if they don’t like a game you do. It’s just an opinion and nothing more. If I told you I thought a game you liked was bad, does that make your opinion incorrect? Only you can answer that and your answer is the only one that counts. Not mine.

A good reviewer will remain objective, not use slander, and tell you how it is. That can be hard to hear, especially if it is contrary to your opinion. A reviewer doesn’t have any “skin in the game”, so to speak, when it comes to the success of your creation. Don’t give a game to a reviewer thinking they will be gentle with it. They won’t, but they will hopefully be fair.

#3: Shop Around

There are a lot of game reviewers out there. Some are better than others. You need to take the time to read their work, listen to their podcasts, and watch their videos. When you give your game to a reviewer, you are essentially getting free advertising. A reviewer will talk about your game and give it its “5 Minutes of Fame”. While you have no influence on what that person says, you can be very confident in how they will say it.

If your game is meant for families, don’t give it to a game reviewer who focuses on wargames. If your game has adult themes, don’t give it to a reviewer who only focuses on family games. You can pretty much determine what they will think of your game before you give it to them. Keep in mind that there is no “science” or “standard” when it comes to reviewing games, either. While many reviewers will always attempt to be as objective as possible, everyone views a game subjectively to various degrees. For the same reason I told you to take your time when developing your game, don’t rush selecting a reviewer. Know who they are, know what they like, and know who their audience is.

Some reviewers (including me) will ask for a fee to review your game. These reviewers tend to have a very large volume of games to review and weight in the gaming community. There is even a larger number of reviewers who do not ask for payment. The difference between a “paid for” review and a “free” review is all based on your perspective of “value”. If you think it’s worth paying for the review, go for it. If not, then don’t. The point is, you need to determine what you think it’s worth to you to have your game reviewed by a specific individual. If you think they will help promote your game, then by all means do whatever you can to get the game into their hands. Just keep in mind that paying for the service of having your game reviewed should not suggest in any way that the reviewer will give your game special consideration. I certainly won’t. Nor should it suggest that the service they are providing at cost is somehow less than one that could be offered for free. The rest of the world doesn’t work that way, after all, but do expect some folks to raise their eyebrows if they understand that the review was paid for. Then again, understand that you never had any say over what other people think or say, so get over it.

#4: Bigger Games Get More Focus

As unfair as it sounds, games designed and published by big companies will always get more focus than your game. That’s because those games come with components intended to catch the eye and make Gamer Geek perspire with excitement. Don’t think for a moment that your game is going to get as much attention as a big box game. Who do you think gets looked at more when they walk onto the dance floor? The Super Model or the Busboy?

To some, “quality” is measured by the bulk of a box’s content. That’s not a fair way to determine a game’s worth, but the world isn’t a fair place. Games that comes with laser cut pieces, highly detailed miniatures, and colorful components will always upstage and overshadow your creative work. This is the way of the world.

Do not be discouraged or threatened by this. Your game deserves as much, if not more, attention as every other game. Demand it. You spent the time designing the game, you believe in the game, and you want to share it with others. That’s awesome. But know that your competition is going to glam its way into people’s hearts and blind them with glitter. This will result in smaller game companies, indie games, and independent publishers being pushed gently aside to allow for the big game publishers and large bulk games to jump to the front of the line.

But there is a reason for it. Reviewers need an audience and there is no better way to attract attention then to slap down a GIANT game that has a lot of hype behind it. I know, without a doubt, I’ll get more web traffic if I review a game from Fantasy Flight Games versus any game, no matter how good, from the Game Crafter. Is a big game publisher better than a small one? Not at all, but the game that comes from a big publisher draws more attention. Reviewers will tend to focus on those first.

Long story short, if your game looks like it was printed at home, the reviewer won’t put it to the top of their review list if there is a nicer looking game available to play. And don’t ask them to print it off, either. That’s a sure-fire way to have most reviewers say “no thank you”. Do what you can to improve your game’s looks, but never, ever skimp on the game’s depth. Great looking games will get a lot of focus, but will lose their audience when they are found to be shallow and worth nothing more than the price tag that came with it.

It has been said that “beauty is only skin deep”. This is true for games, as well. A game’s true worth is found only when it is played with others. You might have to work harder and wait longer to get your game to the reviewer’s table, but when you do, no amount of glitter or glam is needed or necessary to review it. Looks only get your game attention and any reviewer worth the weight of their game collection can identify a pig in lipstick after a single game.

#5: You Don’t Need Them, But They Do Need You

Here’s a dirty little secret that most reviewers won’t tell you in public. You don’t need them, but they do need you.

Reviewers have clout, and that is very important to them and to you. There are many people who will read one review or listen to one person’s comment and formulate a strong opinion of whatever is being discussed without even trying it themselves. I’m guilty of this and so are you. How often have you read a line in a menu and ordered it just because it “sounded good”? The same can be said for anything and everything else. People, products, services..they are all subject to review, and if the person who is talking about them has enough people listening, they can make a lot of people think the way they do.

That sounds powerful and it is. A good reviewer understands two things. First, they have an opinion. Second, they have a responsibility to make sure they state their opinion AFTER they have fully explored all the possibilities. A reviewer is not responsible for other people’s opinions, however. I always roll my eyes when someone suggests that they do. If people are going to be sheep, they might follow the lead sheep off the cliff, but they were the ones who jumped. If a reviewer says a game was a good one or a bad one, and the person who listens to them accepts that value statement blindly, blame and pity the person who isn’t thinking for themselves, not the person who is.

But as important and influential as a reviewer’s clout can be, they cannot obtain it without your help. They need you. Reviewers are, to some degree, addicts. Me included. I need people to visit my site. I need people to listen to me. I need to influence others. When I do, I gain clout. When I gain clout, I gain weight in gaming circles. Some reviewers will tell you they are “doing this for fun” or “don’t’ want to make it a business”. I’m sure that’s true, but you’ll never hear a reviewer state they don’t care if no one listens to them. Reviewers do what they do because they like the attention, have an opinion, and enjoy sharing it. They want your games so they have something to talk about. Keep this in mind when you approach them. If the reviewer isn’t giving you the time and attention you want, drop them. If you think it’ll help, rate them poorly and tell your friends. Likewise, if a reviewer does work with you, is open and communicative, rate them highly and tell your friends.

Reviewers and games are locked in a symbiotic relationship. Both need the other, to a certain degree. You can circumvent the reviewer by telling people about the game yourself. In fact, do this anyway. You are your game’s best advocate. But don’t discount the reviewers, either. They are good people with opinions and loud megaphones. They want you to listen to them and you want them to talk about your game.

Good luck to you, and never take no for an answer. Let criticism pass through you, but listen for the wisdom in it. Believe in yourself and what you are creating. Some will love it, others will hate it. You can’t control them, but you can influence them by making a game they want to play. Know your audience and take nothing for granted. But above all else, never allow another person’s opinion to reduce your self-worth or passion.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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6 Responses to Five Things to Consider Before Sending Your Game to a Reviewer (Including Me)

  1. Peter Schott says:

    I think I might disagree slightly with #3. There are times that paying for a review to get the news of the game out there is totally worth it. Seeing Tom Vasel review a game on The Dice Tower, even a paid review, gives me a really good overview of the game that I as a consumer can use to determine whether or not the game is a good fit for me. Admittedly, that would only make a lot of sense if the game is really close to production or a Kickstarter game, but it’s still helpful to get the news out and give people a feel of the game for the campaign. On the whole, though, I agree with that point. A paid review doesn’t carry much weight as a game review, but can definitely expose the mechanisms and components that make the game work. I’ll admit that seeing a game’s pre-production components and knowing a little of how it’s played has swayed me to back some games I might not otherwise have backed. (or at least give them more consideration than I would have without that preview)

    There was also a really good publication recently on the Robinson Crusoe co-op game that tracked the designer diary and some other neat things about the game. It was interesting reading through the designer’s thoughts as he got some big-name game designers to play and give feedback. They tore apart his beloved game, but he realized that they were right and kept tweaking things to make it better. Apparently the first revision basically just beat the players down so they had next to no chance of winning or surviving. That’s been tweaked so that the game still beats the players down, but not nearly as much so there’s a chance to win. 🙂

    Great thoughts and hopefully people will take them to heart when submitting games for review.

    • Cyrus says:

      Thank you very much for taking the time to read this High Five, Peter, as it was a long one.

      #3: Shop Around and Don’t Pay for It is focused on the pros and cons of what a “sponsored post” is. It is a terrifying experience for some to release their “baby” into the review Thunderdome. It is perfectly acceptable to want to do all you can to increase your odds of success and to put your game into a good position for positive comments. But it’s a trap. If you pay someone to talk about your product, it isn’t a review. That’s a paid for advertisement. If you are looking to get your game’s name know, it is important to know the difference and the pros and cons between a free review and a paid for review. All I’m saying is know what you are paying for and ask yourself if its worth the price.

      It’s interesting that you should bring up Tom’s “paid for” work. Those are not reviews. They are previews. Tom is not directly giving you his opinion on the game’s value and is only getting paid to show you, the audience, a game that you might not have heard of yet. That’s an advertisement and he is very clear up front that he is being paid for it. Tom’s, the Dice Tower’s, and the game’s integrity are not tarnished as a result. What Tom is offering is a legit service that is beneficial to the game publisher and the people who might be interested in it, such as yourself.

      There might be a thin line between the two for some, but as for me, I don’t see Tom’s paid for work on the Dice Tower as anything other than a very savvy and ethical way to make money off the hobby and the work he loves. I applaud him for this and hope to one day steal his secrets.

    • Peter Schott says:

      Good point on Tom doing a preview. I realize that they are such and he’s very careful to make sure that people know they are previews. I saw that as a form of advertising that could be very worthwhile to help get the game known a little. I know I’ve passed on projects that had absolutely no preview out there even though they looked a little interesting. I couldn’t get a feel for what would be delivered and didn’t want to go into it without that assurance that a real game was in the works and I’d likely enjoy it. There’s a good distinction between the two and you are right in cautioning people not to pay for a review. Besides, if word gets out that the review was one that was paid for, it just cheapens the review – kind of like the quotes about movies that show up on all of the posters/ads. 🙂

      I enjoyed the article, even though I’ll likely never be a game designer. It’s neat to see things from the perspective of a reviewer as we don’t hear about that too often.

      I can only imagine what you reviewers go through when you get some of these games. I know that Ryan Metzler had posted on Twitter about a situation where he was asked to review a game that he didn’t think was very good (or something like that). He didn’t give any names, but was asking for advice on how to handle it. I think he went back to the designer to chat some more about his misgivings and explain that he would not give a glowing review before he proceeded. I don’t know how that turned out, but it showed that he was concerned about how his review could affect the game and I give him kudos for that.

  2. Great article — although I’m not sure I agree with #5. Maybe it’s just me (and I may very well be the only one) but I don’t care if no one reads my site. For me, a big part of why I review games is to keep up with what’s out there and to articulate to myself what I like about a game. I think it makes me a better designer. It’s nice that people read my site but because I don’t pay close attention to the number of page views I feel like I’m free to really be myself, and I like that. I rant into the ether and someone (or many someones) may listen but I’m okay if it’s one person or a thousand people.

    I guess I should also mention that I don’t bother writing about games I don’t like — I don’t see the point in wasting my time saying “don’t buy this it stinks” — I’d rather say “buy this I LOVED it!” Which brings a different perspective on shipping a game to me for review — I may never mention it. But I donate almost all the games I receive so it will be passed along to someone else regardless. Still, I don’t enjoy it, I’m not going to trash it in cyberspace which maybe a relief to some.

    Lastly, while I don’t mind if no one reads my site — I would be sad if no one responded to me on Twitter and Facebook. 🙂

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