Paid preview (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

According to the online Cambridge Dictionary1, a preview is “an opportunity to see something such as a film or a collection of works of art before it is shown to the public, or a description of something such as a television programme before it is shown to the public.” It’s generally something you can attend, either virtually, in the case of watching a preview of a film online, or in person, by going to an early screening of a film in the cinema. Some previews are free, some you have to pay for and sometimes previews are only offered to a limited number of people. I want to look at the term “preview” in the context of board games and also investigate what a “paid preview” means in our hobby.

My immediate reaction to reading the dictionary definition of “preview” and comparing it to what we call “previews” in the board game hobby is that there is a difference between me watching a film before it’s being released or attending an art gallery before an exhibition is open to the public and me watching a YouTube video or reading a preview for a board game.

In the former, I am actively involved. In the case of a film, I get to see the whole film. In the case of an art exhibition, I can look at the pieces for as long as I like (within reason, of course) and take each piece in myself, seeing each one with my own eyes.

The latter relies on the creator of the video or the written piece to present everything to me. I can’t touch the components. I can’t play the game myself. It’s an indirect experience.

It’s also different to a board game preview event organised by a publisher or distributor, where people can touch the games, try them out, usually in the form of a demo, speak to the designers or other representatives there to ask questions and get a direct, first-person impression of what the games are like.

It seems as if the board game previews that we’ve become used to seeing are not actually proper previews. They are filtered, through the lens of another person. That in itself isn’t a problem, but the more board game preview videos you watch, the more you get the impression that the focus is on the positives and potential issues or problems are ignored. I understand that a preview isn’t a review, so there is no need to point out the pros and the cons, but because a board game preview doesn’t give me an opportunity to discover the problems and issues myself, it is necessary for the person creating the preview to do that for me.

Of course, even during a preview event that people can attend, the organiser will put the most positive spin on everything. They might not even allow some games to be inspected more closely. Demos of games may be limited to the parts of a game that are the most exciting. Yes, a preview event is often very much like a marketing event – and in the same way, many board game preview videos or articles are actually much more like promotions.

That case is even stronger when you think about paid previews – and in this context, I mean paid for by the publisher, distributor or someone directly linked to the project. Simply the fact that they are paid for means they are promotions – or adverts. Someone is paid to present the game in the best light. Even if the person previewing a game has the best intentions of being impartial and genuine in the way they represent everything, they’re still creating promotional material. Even if they criticize the game, the gameplay, components or whatever, because they’re getting paid to make the video or write the article, it’s still a promotion. Even if the payment did not come with any strings attached and the “previewer” was asked to be completely open and honest, it’s still an advert.

Of course, in different countries, the rules and regulations differ. So in some countries, you don’t have to specify if something is paid for, if it is a promotion or an advert. In other countries, you are required to say so. What classifies as an advert also differs between countries or jurisdictions. So it can get very messy.

However, I think it is important that previews that are paid for are always shown as such, irrespective of jurisdiction. In fact, I strongly believe they shouldn’t even be called previews, but adverts or promotions, especially if these videos or articles appear to be presented by a person in their own right. If a video appears on a publisher’s website or their YouTube channel, then I will immediately assume that this is a promotional piece – even if it doesn’t actually state that anywhere. However, if the same video appears on one of my favourite board game reviewer’s channels, I will assume it’s their honest, personal opinion. So it would be disingenuous to call the video a “preview”, when in fact it’s a “promotion” or an “advert”. As I say, I don’t even think calling it a “paid preview” is right if the video appears on a reviewer’s channel – and even if that reviewer genuinely presents their personal opinion.

I also don’t understand the problem with calling something a “promotion” or an “advert”. It’s as if these terms are dirty somehow or cheapening the work that’s been put into them. I often admire well-made adverts. Epic videos showing a board game in a cinematic style are amazing and should be celebrated. There are a number of YouTubers who do great work in that area and none of them should be afraid to call their videos “adverts”. It’s great if they get paid for the work they do and get paid what they deserve. In fact, that’s another issue that the board game industry still often gets accused of: expecting people to do work for free or only offering small remuneration.

So, maybe it’s time that we remove the apparent stigma of promotions and adverts and encourage people to call their work what they are. That way we also lift up those people who write reviews without any payment, like myself, whose work is done independently and not influenced by a publisher or distributor and whose opinions are genuine and honest.

What do you think of the use of the term “preview” in the board game hobby? How do you feel about “paid previews”? Do you believe the work that’s been paid for by a publisher is genuinely independent and not influenced in any way by the payment? Do you think the words “promotion” or “advert” are bad when applied to work that’s paid by a publisher or distributor? I’d love to hear what you have to think, so please leave your comments below.


  1. Definition of “preview” from the online Cambridge Dictionary:

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Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Ethically Paid Reviews – payments and their impact (Topic Discussion)

A discussion that keeps popping up on social media ever so often is whether reviews should be paid for or not. After all, people deserve to be paid for their time. Also, if someone is sent a free copy of a game for review, then that’s surely some form of payment. I mean, some publishers even send goodies to reviewers, which shows that these people deserve some recompense. Or maybe payment creates some level of bias and threatens the integrity and honesty of the review. There are also legal implications, of course. So in this article, I want to give you my opinion on the situation.

Define “Paid”

First of all, let me define what I mean by a paid review. Generally speaking, people get paid in different ways and by different people or companies. For the context of this article, when I talk about a “paid review”, I mean when a publisher pays the reviewer directly for the review itself, especially if it’s an agreement that’s made in advance. So if a publisher contacts a reviewer and they agree that the publisher will pay the reviewer a certain amount in return for writing the article, making the video or whatever format the review takes. That payment can be in the form of currency or even payment in kind. A publisher might offer to pay a reviewer’s exhibition attendance in return for writing the review. They might send the reviewer some sort of promotional products or maybe a voucher for the publisher’s shop.

However, I specifically don’t consider the game itself as a form of payment, even though I accept that we’re entering the first slightly grey, but still very white, in my view, area. If a publisher sends a free copy of the game to the person who will review that game, it’s an expense that the publisher has, but it’s not a direct benefit to the reviewer. I will explore this in more detail later, but I always assume that review copies are either sent back to the publisher or to another reviewer, or if the reviewer is allowed to keep the game, that they don’t sell it or otherwise have a financial gain from it, other than that they didn’t have to buy the game themselves.

Define “Not Paid”

There are other situations that I don’t consider paid reviews. Someone receiving a salary or freelance fee from the publisher of a magazine, website or similar for writing a review doesn’t create a paid review. Support via a Patreon or Ko-Fi page also doesn’t count as a paid review. I also don’t mean the money someone receives for advertising that runs alongside the review. However, I do understand that the latter two can make things muddy.

For example, a publisher supports a reviewer through Patreon or Ko-Fi or advertises alongside a review that is for one of their games. Technically speaking, the reviewer didn’t get paid for the review directly. However, sponsorship from Patreon or Ko-Fi or through advertising is still quite closely linked to rewarding the reviewer for their work.

I see that in magazines. An advert for a product next to an article that talks about that product always makes you wonder how honest the article actually is or how much it was influenced by the payment for a full-page ad. Of course, in a magazine context, the editorial and advertising teams are two distinct entities that make their decisions independently, or at least they should. The editorial team decides what stories to run and only later the advertising team is told about it and only then do they contact the relevant companies about advertising. It’s very common in the publishing world and absolutely legal. If the magazine follows strict rules it’s also ethical.

However, the situation is very different when the reviewer is a one-person team who decides what to write, while also dealing with getting paid in the form of advertising. There is no way that one person can keep the two things separate.

Ethical Principles

So let’s look at some of these ethical principles. In broad terms, we’re talking about independence, integrity, fairness, accuracy and transparency. These ethical principles are quite closely linked to each other, but let’s try and define each one in turn.

As a reviewer, you should strive to be independent of the company whose product you review. You should share your own and honest opinion. There should be no outside influence or pressure on your opinion.

That independence also relates to your integrity as a reviewer and the integrity in your process of creating the review. To maintain integrity, you need to be honest and fair when you evaluate the product. You also need to avoid any conflict of interest that might affect your bias, whether that is consciously or subconsciously. Everyone is biased in some way, but there should be no external influence on that bias. Your review also needs to represent the product accurately.

Fairness and accuracy refer to considering both the positive and negative aspects of a product in a balanced way. As a reviewer, you need to evaluate a product on its merits and be open-minded and willing to consider all aspects of the product. At the same time, you should not shy away from discussing the product’s weaknesses, drawbacks or limitations, alongside its strengths and benefits. Your role is to give potential customers the information they need to make an informed decision about whether the product is right for them.

In addition, fairness specifically means avoiding derogatory or offensive language and treating the product being reviewed with respect and professionalism. Accuracy also implies that you don’t make anything up, of course.

a soap bubble (Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)
(Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)


Transparency is a key principle of ethical reviewing. People need to know your, the reviewer’s, relationship to the product you’re reviewing. I think we all agree that a reviewer, who is paid for a review, has to disclose this fact. The reason for this is that many people feel that payment will affect the reviewer’s bias in some way. If people know that you got paid for your work, they can decide how much they believe what you say or how much you may have been influenced to leave out some facts and present the product in a better light than you may have done if you hadn’t been paid for your work.

In this context, I do urge reviewers to state if they were sent a free copy of a game by the publisher. I know I said I don’t consider review copies a form of payment, but for the sake of transparency, it’s still important to declare it.

You should also declare if you’ve had previous commercial relationships with a publisher whose game you’re reviewing, whether or not you were given a free copy of the game. For example, I have done translation work for a couple of publishers and even though I won’t review any of their games going forward, if I did, I would say that I have been working with the publisher in a professional capacity in the past.

Patreon and Ko-Fi support also needs to be mentioned for the purpose of transparency, just like any other donations you may have received from a publisher in the past or at the time of creating your review.

Conflict of Interest

Ultimately, any benefit you received from a publisher will influence you, whether you think it does or does not. How big that influence is will depend on the benefit and your personal situation. Someone who earns a lot of money through Patreon support may consider a hundred bucks immaterial and therefore the money will influence them only marginally, if at all. However, if you’ve not got a large following and not a big income stream, then those same hundred bucks will be a lot more important to you and have a much bigger influence on you.

I know people don’t think that receiving payment for their work will influence them in any way, but it definitely does. Even if a publisher allows you a free hand and explicitly says that they don’t mind if you say anything negative about their game in your review, you will not be completely unbiased. Anyone saying that they are completely unaffected by money changing hands or being given a voucher or other benefit needs to sit down and have a re-think. Nobody is ever unaffected, but I accept that the scale of the effect will depend on your situation and the benefit you’re getting.

To be completely unbiased, reviewers would have to buy every game they want to talk about and many people do that. However, I think there is a balance to be struck. You can remain independent, have complete integrity and be totally honest when you receive a free copy of a game from a publisher.

Rules and Regulations

Side-stepping the discussion about whether a review can ever be paid for or if any paid work is marketing, let’s look at rules and regulations. These will differ from region to region. I’m not legally trained. I’m not a lawyer or solicitor. So please double-check the following statements yourself. I think they are accurate, but they are just my interpretation and I may have got things wrong.

In the United Kingdom, the Committee of Advertising Practice Ltd. (CAP) requires content to be marked as an advert if the author was ‘paid’ in some way (which can include freebies and doesn’t have to be money) and there has been some form of outside editorial ‘control’ over the content, even if it is just final approval.

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires reviewers to disclose any material connections they have to the product being reviewed, including any financial compensation they have received.

There are, of course, regulations in many other countries and regions that define when content is an advert and how to declare it as such.

the goddess "Justice" (Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash)
(Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash)

There Is No Such Thing As Paid Reviews

However, personally speaking, I do think that when someone is paid to write about a product, then it’s always an advert. It is marketing – pure and simple. That’s not a bad thing though. Ensuring that a game is promoted to maximum effect is so very important. Placing yourself in the marketing space is a perfectly viable strategy. If you have built a large following, have built a great community and your visitor/viewer stats are huge, then you are in a great position to offer to market products. It’s great to see professionally produced videos that show off games in their best light, sponsored playthroughs that allow me to get an impression for how a game plays and feels and how-to-play videos that teach a game to me. The same is true for podcasts and written articles. We need them to promote the games we have in our hobby.

That is quite different from creating reviews though. Reviews need to be independent and any commercial agreement will affect that. Even a free copy of the game will influence the review. That’s why I never sell the games I receive for review. I will either send them back to the publisher, on to the next reviewer or donate them to a good cause. I don’t want to get any financial benefit from a review copy, other than not having to pay for the game myself, which I appreciate is already a good chunk of money.

So saying that paying for a review is fine doesn’t work for me. If cash or some other significant benefit changes hands, it’s definitely no longer a review. It’s a piece of paid editorial or, in simple terms, an advert.

Let’s Be Honest

I really don’t understand why that’s such a big problem. You can still write a glowing article or make a gushing video and even point out any issues you see with a game.

Reviews Kant Be Paid – a look at paid “reviews” (Topic Discussion)

The discussion about whether board game reviews should be paid for comes up regularly. Arguments can centre on the moral angle, come from a legal viewpoint or be purely personal opinions. More often than not, what is being debated is not well defined and the discourse starts to drift into different, seemingly opposing, directions. In this article, I want to try and untangle the topic and focus on maybe one or two specific areas.

Pay Me My Dues

The argument in favour of payment for reviews often starts from the point of view that a lot of work goes into creating articles, podcasts or videos. Writing something, editing it, laying it out on a blog or in print, sourcing, editing and adding images aren’t quick jobs. On average, I take about two hours to get my blog posts ready. Video work, if done well, is even more involved. That work, so it is claimed, should be paid for. After all, people have to pay bills, buy food and basically make a living.

Even though I agree with the above in principle, there are quite a few nuances to consider. Payment is generally not just based on volume. Different pieces of work will be of different quality and therefore deserve different amounts of payment. A novice artist demands a smaller price than an established one whose quality of work is exceptional. However, we could probably argue for years about how to decide how much someone should get paid for a specific job. So let’s not get into this too much. Let me just say that personally, I don’t think my blog articles deserve a high reward, for example.

What I do want to focus on though, and what I think is often not discussed, is who should pay for the work. That’s especially important when it comes to reviews. I think we all agree that we want reviews to be based on a person’s experience and tastes, with as little external influence as possible. I want to trust that a review is the creator’s honest, personal opinion – and that’s where we get into the realms of bias.


We are all biased. That’s perfectly human. As a board game reviewer, there will be certain types of games that I am much more likely to enjoy than other games. That could be down to mechanisms, setting, the publisher, the designer, the illustrator or many other reasons. Biases are multi-faceted and everyone will have slightly different ones or have the same ones for different reasons. It could be as simple as me having had a nice chat with a certain designer which makes me like their games more than another designer who was rude to me. A lovely email from a publisher might sway me to review their game before another publisher’s. There are a lot of ways in which I can be swayed. Again, that’s perfectly human.

That’s why I chose to write “Kant”, rather than “can’t”, in the title of this article. Kantian Ethics basically try to eradicate bias. As a principle that society should strive for, these ethics are relatively sound, or at least as sound as any ethical principle will ever be. However, on a personal level, it is going to be unavoidable to have biases.

What is much more important when it comes to reviews is to be aware of these biases and be transparent about them. I have recently published reviews of solo games and I have made it clear that I’m not much of a solo player. That’s a bias I am aware of and that was important to declare in my review. A slightly less glowing review from me about a solo game is most likely due to my bias. So you need to know that I don’t often play solo games, in order for you to temper my review and evaluate whether a specific game is for you.

the wallet, score card and some of the river from River Wild
I am not a solo player, but I still reviewed River Wild, which is a solo game

Payment Bias

Let’s return to payments though. I wanted to cover bias first, because payment can, and often will, create bias. However, it depends on who makes the payment.

For example, I think it’s fair if a magazine pays a writer for their work or a website pays someone for creating videos, taking photos or doing other professional work. I don’t think a salary affects someone’s bias much. A board game review will be just as glowing or critical as if it wasn’t paid for.

Now let’s look at the money I get paid by my supporters. I don’t believe that monthly payment creates additional bias for me. Sure, I want to keep my supporters happy and want them to continue to support me. So the only bias might be on which games I review or what topics I write about. If my supporters don’t like role-playing games, then I might not review these types of games. Personally, I think it’s the other way around though. People support me because of what I write after I have chosen what to write about. However, you could definitely, and probably successfully, argue that I might be less likely to change what I write about given the types of supporters I have.

So far we talked about payment from independent sources, as in people or companies who have no ties to the publisher, creator or other person or company directly linked to a game. I know, it’s not actually that clear-cut. However, overall, what I have been talking about is independent payments.

Publisher Payments

Now let’s talk about payments that aren’t independent. To make it simple, let’s assume a publisher offers a certain sum of money to someone to cover their game. The publisher makes no stipulation about how the person should talk about the game. They don’t want to have any editorial control whatsoever. Now, I honestly don’t think it’s likely that a business will give someone money without any say in what is being produced, but let’s go with it for this example.

In my view, payment of this sort will most likely influence your bias. After all, you want to please the publisher so they pay you again in the future. Even when payment comes without any conditions, there will be an implicit expectation that you create a positive review. I know, some publishers genuinely are happy for reviewers to be critical. They don’t want people to buy games they’re not going to like. However, on the whole, direct payment from a publisher likely creates additional bias.

Let me temper this though. The amount being paid needs to be considered. A certain amount of money is meaningless to someone who is already rich, while the same amount allows another person to pay their bills. In the same way, how much bias payment creates will differ.

I know, the next question you will ask is whether free review copies create bias. After all, a reviewer could sell them afterwards. For me, it’s simple because I don’t sell review copies. However, it does save me from having to pay for the game to cover on my blog in the first place. So there is some bias, for sure. Ultimately, it goes back to what I just said. It depends on the value of the game and the reviewer’s circumstances.

the goddess "Justice" (Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash)
(Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash)

Laws and Regulations

Let me finish by talking about laws and regulations. These will differ in different jurisdictions, but a lot of countries have similar approaches. In the UK, a reviewer receiving payment from whoever makes the product being reviewed and at the same time, that company having control over the review, makes it an advert, which has to be clearly labelled as such. In this context, payment does include free samples, i.e. free review copies. However, a free review copy alone doesn’t make an advert. It requires an element of control, which could be as simple as telling the reviewer when a review must be published. It doesn’t even have to be explicit control. If you, as a reviewer, will change your review when asked, even if the company never explicitly asked for that level of control, then there is implicit control.

So if a reviewer is sent a free copy of a game and the company tells the reviewer when to publish their review, then it’s an advert and has to be labelled as such. Of course, that’s only one end of the spectrum. On the other end, if a publisher pays a reviewer and has the last say on whether a review can be published or needs to be changed, then it’s certainly an advert. It’s definitely not a review, legally speaking at least.

Ultimately though, I think it’s always about transparency. I owe it to you, my readers, that I share with you if I was sent a free review copy of a game or if one of my financial supporters is linked to the game I’m reviewing. You can then decide for yourself how much bias I was under. You can take from the review whatever you feel is appropriate.

What About You?

As always, I would like to know what you think about bias in reviews. Do you think payment from a publisher affects reviews? Do you think reviewers should buy their own games and not rely on review copies? Are you a publisher yourself and think it’s up to you to pay reviewers for their work? Is there anything else you think you can add to the discussion? Please use the comment section below to share your thoughts with us.

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