Wednesday, April 18, 2018

What's the Impact of a Roleplaying Game Review?

I've found myself meandering about the same topic of conversation over the last couple of months. One thing is certain. Neither any indie publisher, nor RPG reviewer I've talked to, has any idea on the impact of a review. Does a glowing review lead to sales? Does a negative review have an impact that can be measured? The assumption that makes sense to most, is that a glowing review is much better than a negative one. But, is it?

On my end, I don't think what I write in a review, has much quantifiable impact. Or at least being fair, that the words I choose to write about a specific product can be measured separate from any other element of the RPG itself (usually). My opinion and review, is but one part of many elements which may or may not, earn the publisher a sale. Also, I have evidence which supports this theory; and though I think it should be considered, admittedly it's based on a very limited sample.

More important than what an RPG reviewer says about your product, is the location of the review itself.

Erik Tenkar noted here, the lack of professional RPG reviewers, and the key quandary of affiliate links. The main issue being how there are so few third party publishing companies, who pay for RPG reviews. And so a lack of professional RPG reviewers. The point being that most RPG reviewers are prone to review products which they'll already be biased to enjoy, because even folks who post reviews tend to stick to buying things they'll have a preference to like; certainly some good points in that post.

Just for the record, while indeed, my depravity knows few bounds, the amount of money it would take for me to curb my opinion with affiliate links, is more than I'll ever make writing reviews. Also, I review all sorts of RPGs. Some of these I would run or play, or in fact have. Some of them I wouldn't touch with an eleven foot pole. And that's not to say some of those games aren't good, they're just not in my wheel house.

I have zero interest in being the sort of reviewer who only has nice things to say. There is nothing wrong with being person who only reviews RPGs, which they have predisposition to enjoy (and so follows, mostly positive reviews), but I don't do that either.

So now that I've adequately meandered about...

What this article is really about is giving indie publishers a little inside info and seeing if the questions I'm asking have any answers. Occasionally, I've gotten my hand nearly bitten off, when requesting review materials... What's that you say? Who nearly bit my hand off? Click my affiliate link: here (there is no link, but click away if you must) and I'll tell you...

While I absolutely respect a company's reservation to give me free access to their game and to write a review about it; at the same time, it turns out what I say about your RPG is less important than you imagine. What is important (gets on soap box) is where this review is published. I know, not exactly rocket science... (gets off soap box).

Unlike this blog, and many RPG blogs like it, people read articles at EN World. Unlike this blog, people pay real money to read Knights of the Dinner Table (KoDT). And I'm very fortunate to write RPG reviews for both.

Here is a quick look at the top three sellers through my links, which were all RPG Reviews I published on EN World. And then let's look at what I wrote about each of these products and see if there is any correlation in regards to sales.

Top Three Sellers

Disclosure: Product images on this page below this disclosure include affiliate links. I receive a token % if you purchase something on the landing page. Thank you for your support.) 

The Indie Hack: 6 sales

Finders Keepers: 5 sales

Starship Commandoes: 5 sales

So what did I write about these products?

The Indie Hack on DriveThru
The Indie Hack certainly received a positive review (link to the full review on EN World, here). It's pretty much glowing. Mind me, while I quote myself here. Let's not make it awkward, ok?
"The Indie Hack scratches more than few of my personal RPG itches. The minimalist design is appealing. Getting a game going, including character creation, in-less than 15 minutes is very plausible, which also gives it GameCon or Convention appeal. It's a great in between game if you have a group comprised of a mix of Storyteller and typically D&D or Pathfinder players… (See convention point, above) I could go on, but I'm out of words… Buy it!"

Finders Keepers on the DM Guild
Finders Keepers received a mixed review, (link to the full review on EN World, here). Some good, some bad. I was critical of the product, but I thought it had potential. Again quoting myself:
"Overall, I think Finders Keepers requires a bit of refinement and will in order for it to be effective at the table, even beyond scoping it for 20th level characters. There is certainly enough to work with. But, whether it hits your table, I'll leave to you." 

Starship Commandos on DriveThru
Last, Starship Commandos. While I've since traded fair a number of emails back and forth with Fraser Ronald on a number of RPG related topics and have respect for his thoughts and ideas ... I was still pretty critical of his RPG. And for reference the "above question" was whether this RPG would scratch my personal itch for a survivalist kill the Xenomorphs type of RPG.
"Starship Commandos is a concisely designed storyteller RPG. What's the answer to the above question? For this reviewer, it's a no. It isn't a stretch to imagine that this RPG might have some appeal, if you're savvy with more narratively-oriented game systems. Without any emphasis on a setting elements, and only one type of (though admittedly, it's slightly modifiable) character, the game is a bit too vanilla in its approach. This RPG certainly has potential, but given the scope, I'd preferred to seen something with more grit."

First on my end, and admittedly with this very small (& skewed) sample, the difference in affiliate sales here between a positive, middling' and negative RPG review is in fact pennies from heaven. It's also why as a reviewer, I have zero issue with using affiliate links.

Second, if you're a publisher I recommend to dismiss the concern of what a reviewer might say about your product and jump at the chance to get that product reviewed and seek reviewers out. Worst case you might be able to improve your product or be made aware of actual errors and mistakes in said product. As long as the review is professional and stays on the topic of your RPG, even a negative review might get you a couple of sales. There are a lot of other reviewers on EN World other than myself. You can find them there, if you know how to navigate a forum. And if you don't. Just ask.

So... What's the Impact of an RPG review? Who knows... But if you can stand it; it's certainly more of an impact, than not getting your RPG product reviewed at all....

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