Recently I have seen a larger-than-usual number of tweets and blog posts about ethics in board game reviews. (And it's not like this topic doesn't come up all the time anyway.) Meeple Like Us published a particularly good post on the ethical problems with paid reviews in October, and that post also links to a Thoughtful Gamer podcast that I thought covered the topic very well.
I have started to think about ethics a lot as I begin to publish more board game reviews on this site and to add videos to my YouTube channel. I do this as a hobby, and for now I review games that I have either bought or borrowed. But if I could do it full time, I would—and that would mean somehow getting paid for the work.
I already know that all I will ever accept from a publisher is a free review copy. Once actual money has changed hands, everything is different, no matter how objective you think you are. There will always be that urge to be polite, to pull punches, especially if you want to get paid again down the line.
I am also not sold on the concept of paid Kickstarter previews. Even if you clearly label what you're doing, the line between "preview" and "review" is very thin. You are being paid to create marketing materials that may not look all that different from your normal board game videos. Plus, you have less control of your content if it's commissioned by someone else. I frequently see paid Kickstarter previews (according to the videos themselves) listed as "reviews" on campaign pages. That honestly makes my skin crawl.
Of course, I may never be in a position to make tough choices. My blog is small. And as many of us have noticed and discussed lately, board game coverage is overwhelmingly positive. While I would consider the written reviews I have published so far on this site to be pretty positive, I have also given most games three stars (out of a possible five).
Granted, I use the Goodreads rating scale—a 3/5 means "I like it." That's good, right? You cannot possibly be head over heels for every game you play. But we also live in a world where gamers get upset if a highly anticipated video game title gets a 7/10 on IGN.
I'm also always going to be honest when a game is just okay. In fact, I did this with the only review copy I have ever received—a copy of Quest: Awakening of Melior. It was just okay, and I said so. But when I chose to film my opinion and put it on YouTube, part of me thought, "Well, that was probably the last review copy I'll ever get."
Ultimately, I am focused on what matters the most to me as a board game blogger: I want Beyond Solitaire to cater to the people I write content for—and that means people who want to play and discuss good games.
If you're my reader and you spend your precious free time on my blog, know this: My loyalty is to you, and I won't forget it.