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What is a review worth?

There’s a bit of a new effect happening with Kickstarter campaigns. Given the nature of how Kickstarter works, backers of upcoming games either look at Kickstarter as simply a pre-order system or view themselves as investors in a game, indeed even taking a role as a monetary producer of the game.

Along with that, backers start to feel a bit of ownership and involvement with the game. This is great from a marketing perspective and helps designers make connections with gamers. However, once a game gets released, backers and early adopters are now taking on the mantle of defenders of a game against negative reviews. Nowhere is this more present than with the recently release board game Scythe.

Scythe and the Dangerous Landscape of Reviewing

If you take a look at the current crop of reviews of Scythe on BoardGameGeek, you’ll find either glowing reviews or others picking on it for some very specific design choices. Those criticisms are garnering vociferous feedback from many people who feel a relationship with the game, whether because they are backers or early purchasers who love the concept, gameplay, and art.

This is a dangerous trend. I don’t say this lightly, but this is a trend that is occurring more and more in popular culture as individuals align themselves with the products they love. Whether it’s a review of a movie, book, TV show, or game, consumers take the criticism as a criticism of their emotional choices. This invites argument and extreme disagreement. With consumers like this, scrutinizing reviews for their product does nothing but end with hurt feelings.

The real value of a review is not for the person who already owns the product. The purpose of a review is to allow consumers to make informed decisions. The purpose is not to tear down a cultural icon or lay judgement on others enjoyment. The purpose of a review is to see beyond the hype or marketing around what a product MIGHT be and to reveal what the product ACTUALLY IS.

That role of reviewers means that they MUST be transparent about their evaluation process and state up front any biases they might have. If you’re reading a game review, how many times has the reviewer played? How many players have they played with? What external information may have affected the review? And even after all that, it’s just a person’s opinion.

Stop and take that for what it’s worth. The value of reviews in the era of the unshielded mass of Internet published reviews makes them much more meaningless. The informed, objective critic is lumped in with a flood of ratings and comments from the masses.

So the next time you read a negative review of a game you love, don’t take it personally. If the reviewer has made some factual errors, feel free to point those out, but don’t begrudge them their opinion. Let others decide for themselves if the reviewer is worth listening to.