Who Are You Reviewing For?

When writing a review, it's worth taking a moment to consider who your intended audience is.

reviews.jpg

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

I listed some tips in the previous article about the basic mechanics of reviews, but there are many other considerations when writing reviews besides just putting your ideas down. And that's your target audience.

Some target audiences are a group you can target specifically, while others may have access to your review whether you want them to or not. Taking a moment to figure out who, exactly, you're writing the review for will go a long way to ensure your review accomplishes its goals.

The Platform​

Different reviewing platforms have different rules. Amazon's reviewing system lists quite a few caveats about what's not allowed, and most of them broadly apply to other platforms as well:
  • A review by someone who has a direct or indirect financial interest in the product.
  • A review by someone perceived to have a close personal relationship with the product's owner, author, or artist.
  • A review by the product manufacturer, posing as an unbiased shopper.
  • Multiple negative reviews for the same product from one customer.
  • A review in exchange for monetary reward.
  • A review of a game in exchange for bonus in-game credits.
  • A negative review from a seller on a competitor's product.
  • A positive review from an artist on a peer's album in exchange for receiving a positive review from them.
DriveThruRPG's policy is much more comprehensive:
Your review should include your feelings about the product and what aspects you liked and disliked and any insight that might help others in making their purchase decisions. Reviews should not be used for reporting problems with viewing the product or the purchase/download process.
This is good advice. Unfortunately, many Amazon reviewers use the platform to slam shipping or other problems unrelated to the product itself. Amazon has a separate community guidelines section that also governs reviews.

Of significant note are the first, second, third, sixth, seventh, and eighth bullets, all of which tie to the industry rather than the product itself. DriveThruRPG explains:
Please note that publishers are very limited in what they can review. We would consider it an abuse of the review system if a publisher were to leave reviews of their own titles on site. Similarly, anyone with a professional relationship with that publisher (for example authors, illustrators, etc.) leaving reviews of their titles, especially reviews of titles to which they contributed would also be considered an abuse of the marketplace review system. Leaving low reviews of competitor publishers' titles is also not tolerated.
So be sure to know the platforms rules before you post. Failure to follow these rules can get you banned from a platform.

Other Consumers​

In a perfect world, reviewers own the product they're using and have thoroughly used it, explain their biases, and post it out of the goodness of their hearts. In reality, everyone has an agenda when posting reviews, be it to drive traffic to make money to affiliate links, to increase their brand, or to just warn people away from something they hate or rave about something they love.

Once you know which audience you're speaking to, this will go a long way in making your review relevant to that audience. If you just want to say something sucks, unless you explain why it sucks it's unlikely to have much of an impact. Well-though explanations of why a product is terrible can be surprisingly impactful; and conversely, raving about a product and explaining why can bolster that product's sales (which is precisely why platforms forbid publishers from writing their own reviews).

One other audience has become increasingly common: comedians. There's a lot of reviews that aren't serious and meant to amuse the author and/or entertain others. There are a lot of variants on this; years ago, one of the top Amazon 100 reviewers wrote all their reviews as limericks. Their reviews got a lot of upvotes, but you probably don't want to base your decision to buy a product from it.

The Creator​

More often than not, reviewers who like or hate a product aren't even talking to future readers. They're much more interested in shouting directly at the creators in an attempt to get some attention. Sometimes this works (like yelling at an airline on Twitter about a bad experience) and most times it doesn't.

But in the RPG space, which is small enough to be insular, reviews can make a real impact. And by impact I mean sometimes it can be a punch in the face. I've written a few reviews where I was critical of a product ... and the author took personal offense and let me know it.

If you're planning to review a product, it's worth asking yourself if you're trying to send a personal message to the creator. If so, you might be better served sending the feedback directly first and, if you're ignored, write your review later. Larger brands will likely ignore you (or worse, send you a form letter) but in the RPG space this can go a long way in avoiding hurt feelings.

You​

There's one final audience of course, and that's you. You may not care what people think, and write a review for your own amusement. You may do it as part of a paid gig, or because your Patrons on Patreon want you to, or for some other reason. There's nothing wrong with this, but it's important to share your reasoning up front. In the U.S., there are laws guiding how reviews are written. Reviewers are protected by the Consumer Review Fairness Act, which ensures that people who write reviews are not penalized by companies for writing reviews.
The Consumer Review Fairness Act makes it illegal for companies to include standardized provisions that threaten or penalize people for posting honest reviews. For example, in an online transaction, it would be illegal for a company to include a provision in its terms and conditions that prohibits or punishes negative reviews by customers. (The law doesn’t apply to employment contracts or agreements with independent contractors, however.)
Conversely, the Federal Trade Commission prohibits undeclared endorsements. Or to put it another way, it's against the law to pretend you're an unbiased reviewer when you've been incentivized in some way to write the review, even if you've been given a free product:
The Guides, at their core, reflect the basic truth-in-advertising principle that endorsements must be honest and not misleading. An endorsement must reflect the honest opinion of the endorser and can’t be used to make a claim that the product’s marketer couldn’t legally make.
Who are you writing your review for? The reality is that if your review is public, all the above audiences may have a say. Consider them carefully before you write your next review.

Your Turn: What audience do you write your reviews for?
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

aco175

Legend
I do not write that many reviews, but tend to only write for other consumers. I'm guilty of looking at how many stars a product has and relate much of that to quality of product. I tend to consider 80% 4&5 stars to be a base worth looking at. I also like to read several of the reviews and weed out the ones that just say "It sucks" or "Poor shipping company" People that can explain some about what is good and bad are the most useful.
 

I'm not sure why people post 2 or 3 star reviews on a small indy product on Drivethrurpg.com with no comments. At least have the courtesy to explain to the author why you didn't like it.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
I'm not sure why people post 2 or 3 star reviews on a small indy product on Drivethrurpg.com with no comments. At least have the courtesy to explain to the author why you didn't like it.
In general I find the comments to be far more relevant to my purchases than stars. There have been times I've read reviews about a product and see a low star review with comments on it that make me think "this is actually what I'm looking for" - sometimes a bad review is better than the ad copy for the product to let you know what's actually inside (in fact sometimes that's the reason for the negative comment - that the ad copy doesn't match the experience - and that's really useful to know).

Stars tell me almost nothing unless there are thousands of reviews to generate them. And the more reviews you get on something, the more likely it is that you have someone review bombing instead of providing real impressions. At least comments give you something to judge against.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
I'm not sure why people post 2 or 3 star reviews on a small indy product on Drivethrurpg.com with no comments. At least have the courtesy to explain to the author why you didn't like it.

As far as general reviews, most I find if they do not tell me the mechanics, and gist of the setting in the first paragraph or so, they lose me, I don't read on. Plus, people reviewing stuff that is 40 years old? Uh ...
 
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It is sort of a known issue that someone comes along to do that to all the small press products,

Why would some one hunt down indie products to do that? Do they have unrealistic expectations? Are they offended that "unofficial" products exist on DMs Guild? Is it some screwy version of bullying some one who was brave enough and talented enough to make a thing?

How bizarre.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
Why would some one hunt down indie products to do that? Do they have unrealistic expectations? Are they offended that "unofficial" products exist on DMs Guild? Is it some screwy version of bullying some one who was brave enough and talented enough to make a thing?

How bizarre.
My guess it is over production values, or maybe the amount of small press material in the market? It is bizarre, I don't know.
 

MGibster

Legend
Personally, I don't read reviews for anything I'm not interested in. So the few times I've written a review for a game, my target auidence has been those interested in the game I'm reviewing. And I do my best to judge the game based on what I think the creators are trying to accomplish. i.e. If you're game is suppose to be filled with swashbuckling action, does the system accomplish this? Does the setting?
 

talien

Community Supporter
My guess it is over production values, or maybe the amount of small press material in the market? It is bizarre, I don't know.
One of the astonishing things I've discovered is that my PWYW material gets harshly judged (because they usually just get it for free) and the higher priced products do much better. In short, the amount of money someone invests in a product definitely affects how they feel about it. Which is bad news for PWYW reviews.
 

One of the astonishing things I've discovered is that my PWYW material gets harshly judged (because they usually just get it for free) and the higher priced products do much better. In short, the amount of money someone invests in a product definitely affects how they feel about it. Which is bad news for PWYW reviews.

I've seen the same thing here when EN World mentions the free fan made stuff for DL or DS. I know gamers are notoriously stingy but it makes no sense to act like FREE stuff should be held to a higher bar than published stuff. Though, I'd bet dollars to donuts those reviewers probably couldn't articulate it either.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
When I write a review it is for myself, other consumers, and the seller/creator. But I write from my perspective. The review is pretty much going to be what I would have liked to know when making the purchasing decision. So it will be most useful to those with similar interests and needs as myself. I don't spend a lot of time trying to think through what other people might want to know whose needs or interests differ from my own. But I do try to state my interests and needs. I find that these are the most useful kinds of community reviews. When people state what their needs, interests, and expectations are and how the product met or failed to meet them. I can determine for myself whether they are relevant to what I'm looking for.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
One of the astonishing things I've discovered is that my PWYW material gets harshly judged (because they usually just get it for free) and the higher priced products do much better. In short, the amount of money someone invests in a product definitely affects how they feel about it. Which is bad news for PWYW reviews.
PWYW products also do not enjoy the amount of support that paid products do through things such as the metal ratings, or being able to be included in site wide sales.
 

JEB

Legend
One of the astonishing things I've discovered is that my PWYW material gets harshly judged (because they usually just get it for free) and the higher priced products do much better. In short, the amount of money someone invests in a product definitely affects how they feel about it. Which is bad news for PWYW reviews.
Funny, I tend to take the opposite arc in my DTRPG reviews - the cheaper the product, the more generous I am about any flaws (and vice versa). PWYW always gets called out as a positive even on products I find lacking in terms of content.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Like @JEB, I also tend to make an extra effort to give positive feedback on PWYW items. Then again, I'm not apt to write negative reviews. I review items I like to give a shout out to the creator and to let other know that it may be worth their time and a bit of money. For me to leave a bad review, their would have to be some significant issues with the product. Even then, I usually find I have better things to do than spend time writing a negative review.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
I can't review stuff on dtrpg, as that is a huge no-no and if they catch you, even doing it by proxy, your products will be removed. That said, I don't care to make negative reviews anyways. I do see a lot of reviews coming through various places, such as youtube, which I don't watch. Though I will usually return the favor if someone boost my game, I will boost theirs.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
One of the astonishing things I've discovered is that my PWYW material gets harshly judged (because they usually just get it for free) and the higher priced products do much better. In short, the amount of money someone invests in a product definitely affects how they feel about it. Which is bad news for PWYW reviews.
Good point. I believe there is some known psychological effect in cheaper products evoking cheaper behavior. Like the same people behaving politely on a flight they spent a lot for, and becoming more demanding and even rude on a discounted fare flight.

Personally I want to think I write reviews to help others make more informed purchase decisions, but who knows how much am I biased myself...

On RPG reviews specifically, after your previous article I realised I don't actually read them nearly as much as I read reviews on other stuff (like house appliances). I think the reason is that online discussions and especially PREVIEWS are generally enough for me.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Stars tell me almost nothing unless there are thousands of reviews to generate them. And the more reviews you get on something, the more likely it is that you have someone review bombing instead of providing real impressions. At least comments give you something to judge against.
Same feelings here.

I do generally look at stars averages to get a first feeling between competing products (like if I want to buy a coffee machine and there are 50 of them, I focus on the 7-8 with best average), but that's not applicable to RPG! For a RPG book it's a matter of "do I want it or not" and not of "do I buy X or Y or Z".

Besides the first feeling, full reviews are what I am really interested in.

Each product type has its own reviews phenomenons you become aware of. For example MOVIES get a lot of extreme votes that are usually unwarranted by the movie itself but the result of something else, such as someone expecting a serious movie and finding a comedy and viceversa. When you read actual reviews you find out that many people haven't even watched the movie but gave it a very low grade because they quit watching after 10 minutes...
 

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