Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How to Make It In Game Reviews

So you're sitting at home, reading Drake's Flames, and you notice that I get a lot of games for free. And then you start thinking, and you say to yourself, 'I am a good writer. Why are people not sending free games to my house?' And then you are saying, 'Maybe because I have no idea how to become an instant success and have free product pouring into my house in a metaphorical flood of Biblical proportions.' Well, I have some advice, and my first suggestion is that you should stop talking to yourself. Your dogs think you'll take them for a walk, and your mom is starting to worry.

Don't worry. I do have some other advice.

1. Use BoardGameGeek. If you want to be popular enough that people send you lots and lots of stuff, you have to be someplace you can get noticed. The best place on the planet to get noticed is BGG, where drooling potato-heads can review things and get free games in the mail. I've seen it. Those spit-cup halfwits write thoroughly boring, dry-as-hell reviews and people fall all over themselves to tell them how awesome they are.

Whatever you do, do not start your own blog. Every fourth person in the world right now has a board game blog, and 99% of them are pure refried ass. If you want to just talk about what happened the last time you played Agricola, write up a session report and post it at BoardGameGeek. If you absolutely must have a blog, start one that is hosted by BoardGameGeek.

If you start your own blog, you can count on a readership as high as seven, possibly eight if your mom knows how to use the Internet. And allow me to assure you that being able to count your readers on your fingers is not a good way to get people to send you free games. Toiling in obscurity may be great for Russian novelists, but it is not very useful for people who want to actually get free games before they die.

2. Do video reviews. Seriously, nobody reads any more. They just watch videos on the Internet because it is a lot less work than exercising their language skills. When you have spent eight hours hard at work in a cubicle, staring at a monitor and trying to pretend you're busy, taking the ten minutes it would take to read a game review is just too much effort. Instead, people take those ten minutes and watch a video of another person playing a game and then talking about it.

If you do decide to make video reviews, it hardly matters if you are interesting. People will just drool on their keyboards and watch your review, even if you are slightly less compelling than a fourth-grader reciting the pledge of allegiance. It is important to show all the pieces that are in the box. You don't actually even have to convey an opinion, if you do a really good job of showing off the stuff in the box. Seriously. There are very popular video reviewers who don't actually create reviews. And they get free games because they are so very popular.

3. Self-aggrandize. This is a big word that means 'be an arrogant turd.' This particular piece of advice is very important if you want to be a successful game reviewer. You absolutely must crow about your genius at every possible turn, so that mindless drones will follow you like the Pied Piper stealing children. Only you will not be stealing children, you will be telling hapless sheep that you are awesome, and then they will give you loads of golden thumbs (please note that despite sounding like a kinky sex act, the 'golden thumb' actually has nothing to do with nakedness of any kind). And publishers will see those golden thumbs and say to themselves, 'I should send this person some free games, because loads of people think he is awesome, even though he is actually an arrogant turd.'

You will also have to tell publishers how indispensable you are. You will need to describe the torrential rainfall of golden thumbs that you get on a daily basis (keeping in mind that a golden thumb has absolutely nothing do with sexual relations, perverted or otherwise). You will need to tell those publishers how your video reviews practically force people to buy the games you're reviewing. You will need to be anything but humble. Humility is for chumps, and also for masochistic attic trolls who create blogs that use written words.

4. Under absolutely no circumstance must you ever give a game a negative review. I cannot emphasize this enough - you must actively enjoy every single game you ever play. If you ignore this advice, and have the temerity to actually tell the truth when you hate a game, you can count on a very limited supply of future review copies. You can also count on some marketing guys totally hating you, and potentially leaving burning dog poop on your front porch.

This last one is not entirely true. You actually should pan some games from time to time, just to make sure people don't figure out that you're an utter whore with the integrity of cockroach who steals lunch money from small children. But you have to be careful, and only write negative reviews that come from companies you don't like. For instance, if a game company makes seven games you love and one you hate, you must lie about that eighth one. But if a company makes only two or three games, you can afford to alienate them to prove how honest you are. This is especially important because if you want to be successful, you cannot actually be honest, but you desperately need to APPEAR honest.

However, you must be gentle in your negative reviews, because it is actually possible to alienate publishers before you ever review just one of their games. Write some particularly scathing reviews, and you will find that publishers you don't even know will actively avoid sending you their games. If they see your negative reviews, many publishers will delete your emails without even reading them.

I should interrupt this list right now to say that of the four solid pieces of advice I have provided so far, I successfully accomplish none of them. I do not write for BoardGameGeek, because I like to make jokes about prostitutes and heroin. I do not do video reviews, because it is my opinion that the only thing more boring than watching people playing a game is watching a video of people playing a game. I am not a fan of bragging about myself, because for one thing, I don't find myself all that impressive. And I write negative reviews any time I don't like a game, because at this point, I would be shutting the barn door after the horses are out - too many of the big publishers already hate me, so there's not much to lose any more.

So how do I still have a review site, and ever get review copies after ignoring every single piece of my own advice? It all comes down to the last piece, the only one I actually do follow:

5. Keep doing it even if nobody is paying attention. I have been reviewing games since before the turn of the century. I got nothing for a long time, and then a little more, and then a little after that. I've reviewed for six or seven different websites, and even had a gig with a printed magazine for a while. And when you've been reviewing for a decade, you should be able to get one or two good contacts who will still send you stuff even though they know there are only twelve people on the planet who bother to read what you write. And then, if you're lucky like me, you can buy the rest of your review copies yourself. Which is what you have to do to start out anyway, so you ought to be used to it.

So there you go. Now you can run out and begin your world-changing board game website, which will almost certainly be nearly indistinguishable from every single other world-changing board game website, and will still get some traffic one way or another. Follow my advice, and you will have lots of fans and lots of free games. Ignore my advice, and you will have to make dick jokes for ten years before anyone even notices you.

Happy blogging!


Anonymous said...

The most important part of getting something is showing up.

Chris said...

Great post Matt. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I love everything about this article. Because lawdy, it's pretty much all true.

Writing talent can take you pretty far, but I think that if someone really wants to write for some gig other than their own blog, they need to get good at writing on a regular basis. It's one thing to do it well every couple months. A well-written 1200-word review once or twice a week is way more impressive.

Chris Cisne said...

"It is important to show all the pieces that are in the box. You don't actually even have to convey an opinion, if you do a really good job of showing off the stuff in the box. Seriously. There are very popular video reviewers who don't actually create reviews."

This. The fact "unboxing" is even a word, let alone a *thing*, makes me want to pull my brain out my nose with a rice spoon. Or a fondue fork. Which ever would end the madness quickest.

Unknown said...

If there is something I would appreciate from Drake's Flames' reviews it would be more pictures. I have bought several games based on these reviews but I have always done a secondary google search to see images of what is in the box.

I want a revue that gives me opinions on games and the rational behind the opinion but I NEVER buy a pig in a poke. You have to show me what I am getting. Including a photo of the set up game board or of a couple cards' artwork is not out of line. These are GAME not BOOK reviews and the nature of the media lends itself to pictures.

Sharon said...

42I come here FIRST to check if there's a review of a game instead of BGG, because I know that you'll be brutally honest and not pander to companies just to get review copies.

BTW, I hate these friggin Captcha "prove you ain't a Cylon" things

Scott Everts said...

I'm Number Seven...

Crank Crank Revolution said...

Perfect advice. Personally, I *have* been reviewing for probably over five years, but my chances of playing new games is practically zero, so the actual frequency of gaming (let along reviews) is pretty paltry.

I *will* differ in one aspect--I do enjoy video reviews. I prefer reading, but there is something that helps when you have a visual idea of how a game works while it's being reviewed. It doesn't matter for some games, but it does for others.

Wiz-War said...

#3 is especially true.

Just follow this link to this video review that has nothing to do with reviews, but everything to do with self worship and a call to the flock for everyone to follow your lead.

The only way to be this successful with video 'reviews' is to say 'tableaux' an inordinate amount of times and you suddenly have hordes brainless fans that follow every shiney image like a magpie. Be sure that other video reviewers tell everyone else how they are buddies with you. Coolness by association is sooo très nouveau chic.

Then, and only then, grasshopper, will you be a master(bater).

Michael Shea said...

All true. I have had a gaming blog for 5 years now and I have exactly 3 followers. I do try to cross post in other forums, in social media, or things like RPG Blog Alliance to get my hits up. The Reaper minis guys just linked one of my posts in the Paizo forums that gave me a good spike in page views. For the past 6 months I have been at over 1000 page views a month. My blog is less a review site and more a gaming diary. I started it to chronicle my RPG and ASL sessions. I do review the board games I play. So I am unlikely to be showered with free stuff (or golden thumbs). Fortunately friends of mine are very active in board gaming and run their own board gaming magazine. They get the free stuff and I get to play in our weekly game nights.

Pouce D'Or said...

This article perfectly encapsulates why I love reading your blog. A less talented writer would say "Salinas is a cancer on gaming, whose output does nothing for the hobby except feed his own ego." You managed to express the same message without once referring to the cockmonkey directly. Bravo Sir, Bravo!

Lee said...

Eh, you should have posted this as a video instead.

k10 said...

Wouldn't it be more sensible for a bunch of people to work together to make a review?

I see so many people starting their individual blogs, but you would have a greater chance of success if it was a group blog.

Matt Drake said...

Sure, k10, and lots of people do that. Fortress AT, Board to Death, and a whole lot of other sites are run by groups of reviewers. It's an excellent way to make it in game reviews.