June 4, 2009

Assessing the Relevance of Reviews on Tabletop RPG's

In any medium where developers are offering creative intellectual property for money there are reviewers, reviewers are necessary and helpful, they tread ground before the average consumer and they let people know if there money is well spent there. Reviewers are usually entertaining in their own right, and they have to be these days because the internet is full of them all clamoring for attention.

In Tabletop RPG's Reviewers are especially important, but nearly every one is balanced towards one side of the RPG industry by their very nature. See, unlike most other forms of entertainment; Movies, Music, Video Games. Tabletop Role Playing requires a significant investment of time before the game can even attempt to be played, and once people are at the play stage there is inevitably a period of interpretation ("Does this work the way I think it does?") before everyone is in the swing of things. This is a reality of the hobby, if gamers wanted quick fix roleplaying, they be playing MMORPG's like World of Warcraft or City of Heroes, and many do. But still the TTRPG world pumps out more books so obviously someone is buying them. To achieve more than a computer game fix, or a board game RP experience like Clue there needs to be a degree of sophistication in the rules, and if the game is going to have the legs to pull off a long term story it's going to need even more sophistication which means more content which means more to read, interpret and play out in order to get an accurate impression of. To a reviewer this is simply not desirable.

Reviewers need credibility to earn the trust of their audience, and to develop that credibility they need to establish a rapport by reviewing a lot of stuff and doing so in a consistent manner. That means regular reviews and thus the simpler the game the more likely the reviewer will like it because it makes his job easier.

Therein lies the crux of the issue. Games that lend themselves to extended gameplay which is the ultimate goal of any GM and player, are generally more complex than those that aren't. More complex games require more time and effort to get an accurate impression of, and by devoting more time to one particular game the reviewer becomes invested and loses impartiality.

This means that the games where the most time and effort towards an intricately balanced setting and system have been invested will not get the appropriate review from an impartial source, while games that are more simple will get all the attention.

This makes me wonder... how can designers of intricate and detailed Role Playing Games successfully market their games independent of the reviewer? Honestly I don't think it's possible, but what game designers can do is support forums and sites that attempt to do fair and detailed reviews with plenty of balance. Good RPG reviewers need to be supported not because publishers want good reviews but because to get proper reviews a reviewer needs to devote real professional time along with 5 other people to give a detailed game a fair shake. That requires commitment and funding because quite frankly it's a lot of work.

So here's a question to the RPG bloggers out there:

PublisherHow much would you donate to a professional reviewing platform?

Everyone else: Who do you think does reviews good enough to go pro?


  1. Good questions. I hold my own reviewing skills in high regard!
    I've been 'paid' in the past for them, usually in product, but it all counts.

    I tend to focus on adventures. I'd be very interested in feedback.

  2. Welcome to TCM! Just added your blog to my reader. I'm sure helmsman will start digging into your reviews; as will I now that I;ve got your RSS.


By submitting your comment below, you agree to the blog's Terms of Service.