Beginners’ guide to board game reviewing, part 2: Getting games

oliver please sirIn part one of this ‘Board game reviewing guide‘ I spoke about how to get started in reviewing. But if you’re already up and running, what’s next?

One obvious answer is free stuff – and that’s what I’m going to tackle here. I’m amazed at how many game journalists still pay full price for all of their games.

If you produce regular good quality content, you deserve the perks

One lesson I’ve learnt over my years as a journalist is if you don’t ask you don’t get – and that a business card, proof of your work and a confident approach go a long way.

And you are journalists. I know many of you don’t see yourselves as professionals, but that isn’t an issue – true or not. It may be a hobby, but you’re helping publishers sell product and the smart ones will recognise that. If people are reading/listening/watching you, you’re influencing their buying decisions and the least you deserve is a discount.

But most importantly, before reading on, you need to make sure you have a track record: a body of work to support your claim and give you confidence. If you’re a gamer you should already have a shelf of games and game groups to play with, which is more than enough inspiration to get up and running.

I didn’t start to feel confident about asking for free games until this year – 50 game reviews after I first started this blog. But mine has been a slow burn: if I’d been fully focused on the blog I would’ve started earlier. I’d give it at least a year of regular game content though.

How to approach publishers for discounted or free games

In my experience, by far the best way to start a relationship is face-to-face – especially if you’re confident. This means conventions or game events are favourite, so long as the publishers themselves will be there.

You can of course try email, but they’re very easy to ignore – especially if the publisher doesn’t know you. You may have more luck today with social media; platforms such as Twitter and Facebook – even Board Game Geek – allow for direct discussion with publishers and designers, opening a more personal door that will improve your chances.

It’s also worth tapping up other journalists you know to see which publishers are more amenable to approach, or to perhaps get an email address for the right person (say a PR agency or representative). But I wouldn’t advise cold-calling your peers if you don’t know them: why would a fellow journalist risk their relationship with a company or individual if they’ve never even met you?

And then there’s Kickstarter…

I guess I have to mention Kickstarter here, as its a very different animal. I’ve never been approached by an established publisher via my site, but I am regularly approached by small Kickstarter ones. Many of them are very media savvy and wisely look to modern underground media for a cheap way to help them get funded.

Its a great feeling to get these messages, as it makes you feel like you’re on the map – and its easy to think more highly of the approaches for that reason. But what they’re normally after is free publicity with no actual return for you.

Some websites and podcasts do paid previews for Kickstarter projects, with varying degrees of ethics, but these are guys with proven clout: its unlikely you’ll be offered money to essentially run an advert.

By definition Kickstarter games aren’t ready to be released, so 99 times in 100 they won’t be willing to send you a copy – meaning you’re running a press release. They know that unless they’re very lucky they will sell far less copies post Kickstarter than during, so why send you one after? They need press now, just when they have no product.

If you’re a news site, knock yourself out – otherwise, ask yourself why would you do it? If you say nice things and it’s crap (which most are), its your reputation on the line. Remember your site, or show, will be judged by your audience, but also the industry. This example from the computer gaming world shows reputations are very easily tarnished.

What to expect when you approach game publishers

If you’re approaching in person, do your best to be professional. Get a business card made with full details of your website, contact details etc. If you can get a press pass for the event, that’s even better: instant recognition. And if someone is busy, come back later – don’t get in the way of paying customers.

Also, do your research on yourself: have you covered any of this publisher’s/designer’s games on your site? Can you give them any statistics on views, or shares, or your popularity in general? Do you have relationships with people you know they’re friendly with – names you can drop into the conversation?

Some publishers treat journalists with contempt, as scroungers, but they’re in the minority. I’ve come up against a small amount of resistance, but that’s a publisher’s right – I just smile, say no problem and move on. If their game is something I desperately want I’ll still buy and review it – but it’s now pretty rare for me to find myself in that position. More than 800 games came out at Essen, so finding things to review wasn’t a problem!

Others will ask you to pay cost price, which is between a third and half the retail price. This is a very reasonable request, especially from smaller publishers and those who don’t know you. Even fewer may ask you to sign something guaranteeing them coverage – and if you don’t provide it, you’ll pay the full price of the game. This seems a little over officious to me, but it’s your choice whether to sign and won’t be a problem if you’re being honest.

Finally, take their details – you’ve given them a card, so get one of theirs. If you want the relationship to continue you’ll want to contact them directly once you’ve put content about their game live. And there’s no better time than after doing so to get onto their PR mailing list, to ask for another title, or perhaps arrange an interview etc.

They’ve done their side – now do yours

I wish you every success – as long as you do it for the right reasons. You should go into this with every intention of reviewing every game you get hold of, and doing them justice by playing them a good few times before doing so.

If you’re not going to review a game, think seriously about returning it to the publisher or passing it onto someone else who will be able to review it – on your site or your own. At least that way you’re not destroying the faith given to you.

Before starting to try and get some free board games, think hard about why you’re doing it. If you want to make great content while helping to publicise great games, go for it. If not, take a long hard look at yourself.

Do you have any hints or tips for your fellow journos? Please feel free to post them in the comments below. And finally – any questions? I’m happy to do another follow up post if people have specific questions they want answered about writing blog posts and reviews.

2 thoughts on “Beginners’ guide to board game reviewing, part 2: Getting games

  1. Great article! I’ve found that many Kickstarters are willing to send out games, although they’re usually prototype games. Only a few times have I been promised a production copy after a successful campaign. But I do get something for my efforts though, even if it’s just a prototype (which is usually a POD quality prototype from someplace like The Game Crafter).

    • Thanks 🙂

      I’ll still turn down a Kickstarter unless it’s something that looks like I’d really like it. I’ve simply played too many sub-par KS games to take a punt, especially when I have such limited gaming opportunities right now. I’m finding it hard enough to get through my Essen releases and it’s nearly Christmas!

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