There was a discussion on social media this past weekend about honest and accurate product reviews for RPG products, whether affiliate links muddy the waters and how much disclosure is needed regarding relationships and such. Opinions ranged across the board. One thing is certain though - the RPG Hobby / Community / Industry does not have professional reviewers.
Before anyone gets bent out of shape, let me explain what I mean. Unlike the film industry, we don't have full time (or part time), paid for by a third party (media / news outlet) reviewers / critics. Heck, we have few full time creators in the RPG industry. Most folks that create do so on the side - they have "real jobs" that pay the rent, put food on the table and hopefully offer health benefits.
Our "reviewers" are pretty much the same. They review on their blog, podcast or YouTube channel on their own time. Nobody pays them to review products (that's where affiliate links come in - that's fodder for another post).
So, what does all this have to do with a noticeable lack of negative product reviews?
Simple. There are basically two ways for a potential reviewer to obtain a product for review. The first is to buy it themselves and the second is to be comped / gifted a copy to review, usually from the distributor (OBS / OGS) or from the publisher / creator themselves.
If I'm going to buy something for review purposes, I'm going to pick something that I have high expectations of. The publisher / creator will have a history of releasing top notch work. It's likely to be something I could see myself using in my own campaign.
What I've done here is I've filtered the results of the potential review pool. I am, most likely, going to have a product that will have a positive review.
What about review copies? If you are a reviewer for OBS, you likely get numerous emails each day containing links to comp copies of products to review:
Now, how many of those will I actually download and review? Very few. One in a hundred, maybe. It really has to strike my interest to want to grab a copy and review it, even if it's free.
Because its no fun reading crap and generally speaking, its even less fun writing a review about crap. So I self filter, again. Looking mostly for OSR releases and even then, looking for something that I may actually use at my table.
Products aren't chosen for review by a random lot, at least not by me. They are chosen based upon my interests.
If they were random, I'm sure there would be a spike in negative reviews. Come to think of it, if they were random I'd be less likely to do them at all. As stated earlier, writing reviews of RPG products generally isn't a paying gig. Affiliate links to the products reviewed aren't just about the immediate sale but the long tail and later sales. I don't post reviews hoping to sell copies at an online store. I do hope that folks will be interested enough to check out the online store and maybe make a purchase down the line that suits their interests.
I do post some negative reviews, but that isn't by design. I just happen to grab the occasional product that, despite my best hopes, isn't up to par.
As stated, reviewers generally are filtering what they will review, not how they will review it. That initial filter does keep the number of negative reviews in check.