Posted by : David Guyll August 27, 2014

It was either fight their way through
undead-infested catacombs, or
give a 5-star rating to a shitty game.
Ever since I got into the whole indie-publishing scene just over a year ago, it's always been my practice to write a draft of something, put out a call for anyone that wants to take a look at it, get feedback, and rinse and repeat until it's done. I do this because not everything that comes out of my head is awesome or even written in the best way (certainly not at first), and the only way to either confirm that it is good or (more likely) improve it is to have other people tell me where I done fucked up.

Well, that and I have to be willing to listen: I've been kind of surprised at how often someone tells me that it's nice that I don't get offended when they constructively-yet-negatively criticize something I've done.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, not everyone feels that way.

If you're into the gaming scene at all you've probably heard about Zoe Quinn, who I guess cheated on her boyfriend with a series of journalists in order to get her game, Depression Quest, better reviews. Or maybe it was so that it could get greenlit on Steam. I dunno, but what I've also heard is that she absolutely did do it, which makes her a horrible person, that it's just drama bullshit because she's a woman, that anyone criticizing her is for some reason a coward, and that that's just the way the industry is: if you professionally review games, you'd better kiss and/or suck ass no matter what the quality is if you want to keep getting more freebies.

It's that last one I want to talk about, partially because I agree with that statement, partially because it's also not just limited to "professional" "reviewers" for video games, and partially because I've dealt with that shit in some capacity.

I did several paid reviews over five years ago. Unfortunately all but one game was incredibly bad, so I wasn't surprised when the company just stopped contacting me (honestly I was surprised that they did contact me after my Blue Dragon Plus review). I had another, much better paying job, so I didn't really care, and that's probably part of the problem: some reviewers kind of need that job (or they at least want it), and if they don't do it a certain way then they get axed, or you lose out on a potential source, and if that guy knows a guy it could be even worse than that.

Thankfully video games are widespread enough to the point where if you do even a little searching, you can cut through the bullshit and get a more honest opinion, or enough opinions to get a pretty accurate general reception.

Tabletop games, though? Well...not so much, and that goes double for indie games since they tend to lack the widespread attention that something like, say, Dungeons & Dragons gets. This is a problem because if you can't trust the author to back up his claims or promises, the handful of people bothering to give it a review (or even a star-rating), or the vocal minority blindly praising anything and everything the creator shits out no matter how polished of a turd it is (which in all likelihood are the ones giving star-ratings or "reviews"), then who can you trust?

Normally I'd say people that don't know the author and have no vested interest in remaining on the author's good side, but in my experience any negative criticism, no matter how justified, gets drowned out in a chorus of the aforementioned blind praise, dismissed with comments about how much money it makes and/or how popular they perceive it to be (I get this a lot with the 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons crowd), or—probably the "best case" scenario—simply ignored.

Another common tactic is—depending on how much control the person can exercise—to mark your comments as spam, delete them, and ultimately remove you from the conversation completely (with or without an ultimatum). In my experience I've had it be all of the above, in sequence, though I guess I got off kind of easy: a G+ buddy of mine got a pretty aggressive reaction from Jacob (of Inverse World infamy) and crew for the audacity of wanting to know why Jacob had gone two months without saying anything about his already very late project.

I've seen a lot of things get blind, undeserved praise. This almost always comes from a friend of the author, a friend of a friend, and/or from a vocal member of a particular gaming/social community with some clout just trying to remain popular (or maybe trying to get popular). I mean, they don't even have to see any iteration of the product: they just say "So and so is doing this thing, and you should support it". There's no conditional "if you like this sort of thing", it's just "fucking dooo it!", as if you owe the guy something.

If you want an excellent case in point, just check out everything having to do with Inverse World. It has a handful of what could laughably be considered reviews over on Drivethrurpg: three out of four give it 4-5 stars, including one that tries to claim that "it has at least as much content as a $40 release from a big publisher". To put it nicely, I'm guessing this guy hasn't actually seen the kind of books that come from the big guys. Another person has even boldly stated that it is a thing that objectively "deserves your money".

It doesn't stop there, either: Gamer-XP, a kind of online gaming magazine that you probably haven't heard about, wrote a very glowing review in which they simultaneously lauded it for features and content that it objectively doesn't possess, and find absolutely nothing bad to say about it, not even the most minor of nitpicks. I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that their Patreon is being funded in part by both Jacob and Andri (whose Mounted Combat rules were used for vehicles and mounts in Inverse World, and is also a friend of Jacob's)?

UPDATE (2/15/2015): They also awarded Jacob's--based on his track record--probably very shitty Law's Out game "best diceless game of the year". Makes me glad that I'm not so pathetic that I need to line someone's Patreon account in order to lie about my quality.

Nah: according to their About Us page, they're not backed by a publisher or faceless corporate entity. Of course, maybe if they were they could afford to be actually honest with their reviews?

I recall a thread on G+ where a guy was praising it up and down for anything and everything. Since he posted it online I just assumed he was prepared to have an actual discussion about it. Boy was I wrong: apparently some people just like to say things and expect you to either agree with them or just let it slide unchallenged. Who knew, right? Seriously, here's a tip: if that's the kind of thing you like to do, then maybe you should make a circle called Echo Chamber, Yes Crew, or something similar and fill it with people that will just agree with you no matter how baseless your statements are.

Anywho, I tried pointing out that it only had two magic items, a couple of pages for each region, no actual description for any of the sample locations (not even NPCs or steading tags), super cheap airships (despite them being billed as really expensive), no rules on anyone else using a robot suit, the races lacked magical/amazing features, the monsters were just bog-standard stuff like flying fish, a flying jellyfish, and a devil (and they weren't even statted correctly), that hollow worlds have been done before (apparently with suns in the middle), moves that didn't make much sense, and so on.

The only thing anyone actually responded to was my issue with the page dimensions: apparently to them 300-something pages is 300-something pages, no matter how small (though to be fair Andri seems to think that 300-something pages is actually 500 pages). In regards to everything else, all I got was a dismissive "whatever". I found it telling that he didn't have anything to say about anything else, and though I was prepared to keep going was quickly uncircled and blocked by the original poster... I turned to the one place where I could say what I wanted and not be silenced by rapid fans that are too insecure to handle a dissenting voice and/or be bothered to actually address the criticisms: here!

Surprise surprise, though not really, when his fans and supporters couldn't just stamp out what I was saying, people started opening up and saying that they actually agreed with me: it was lackluster, it wasn't original or imaginative, and despite being very, very late failed to fulfill what it claimed to do. The guy that had been attacked even thanked me for being bold enough to let everyone publicly know about my dissatisfaction.

I know some of his fans have seen the posts, as they were linked on a Twitter thread by a supporter, where a handful of them chose to predictably continue and focus on the page count issue. Only one of them actually messaged me directly, but only to try and...shame me, I guess for reviewing his stuff that I bought. Of course, we all know he wouldn't have cared if my review had been positive: I guess it's only arbitrarily "unprofessional" if you make negative yet legitimate criticisms against someone's work?

Obviously I don't think it's possible to get honest opinions all the time, whether it's because it's somebody's meal ticket, their buddy's pet project and they don't have the heart to tell him about how bad it is (or even what particular parts are bad), or they just want other people to like them. That kind of sucks, because if more people were honest I think we'd have better indie products out there, they'd be selling a lot faster, and maybe for more.

If something sucks, tell people what and why. If the creator and/or fans try and drown you out, take it somewhere where they can't. Not all of us can't handle criticism, mind you; as I said at the top hearing even the bad let's me know where I really need to improve. Also, when it comes to reviews and comments I guess my best "rule of thumb" is that if it doesn't mention anything negative (not even nitpicks), it's probably bullshit, especially if the person is friends with the creator (who honestly should not be the one posting reviews).

On a related note one of Jacob's friends is running a Kickstarter right now under his company's banner, which I found over at Gamer-XP while looking for their "totally unbiased" Inverse World "review". I think what I love most about this one is how Paul claims that the Mythos is a "little overdone" (ironic?), there have been "more than enough Mythos games already" (very ironic), and that "a lot of them don't really 'get' it" (wow, stay humble).

As with Inverse World it makes a bunch of claims and promises, but despite the rules being allegedly done there's no preview to be found. I did see mention of promises that there will be previews at some point, though I'm guessing that won't be until the campaign ends so your money is locked in. There's also no mention of a budget, which is interesting given that the artist looks...well, not bad, but not good, as well as the fact that they are pushing the cost of printing and shipping entirely onto you, the backer.

This would be fine if the pdf was cheap, but it's not: $10 for the pdf (the price of, say, Dungeon World), $15 for the softcover (or about $25 to have it actually printed and mailed to you), and the hardcover costs something like $35+ in the end (or, about what you'd pay for the 5th Edition Player's Handbook on Amazon). Of course that's not all: if you toss them $50 or more, you get the "privilege" of choosing what a picture looks like, or having them make a monster or NPC for you.

If you've ever read Fate Accelerated Edition, that's not terribly hard to do.

But, who knows? Paul authored the Fate Accelerated Edition version of Inverse World, which was still anemic and fulfilled none of the project's promises, but maybe he was just in charge of the mechanics? Maybe they were even good? It's already been funded, and that's not going to change because they collectively know enough people willing to throw money at them for any reason, no matter how shitty their publishing history is.

No, this is more for the people who're on the fence and/or don't really know the guy. Obviously I'm not going to back it: I've been burned by Jacob already (and seen how he reacts even to his supporters that ask questions and/or criticize him), and I can't trust the crew he runs with or even knows to give me anything remotely approaching an honest opinion...

...which might explain why there're no previews available.

UPDATE: Still no preview pdf available (shock!), and despite the KS stating that the book is mostly done, Paul has stated that he is getting four other writers to help write the book (s-shock?). One of them is Bruce Baugh, who is one of the guys that dismissed my Inverse World criticisms. Considering that the softcover book is going to run you about $25 in the end, I still love how he claims that the "do-it-yourself" model is cheaper for you.

{ 2 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. Since I was with a lady who worked for one of the largest circulation magazines in Germany, and I saw the kind of "product release" trips she was sent on, I lost all faith in any published review anywhere. A few nights in five star hotels, gourmet meals, wine tastings and tourist bus tours, with a one hour product demo in there somewhere, all paid for by the product manufacturer who just happened to be a major advertising client of the magazine. And *regularly*. This is obviously bad behaviour, but it's not a rare anomoly, it's the status quo. The larger the publication, the more of this shit that goes on. Getting a friend to write a review of your unimportant small press RPG is pretty tame comparatively, but no less uncool.

    1. I'm guessing, or at least HOPING, that people aren't buying into them (last I checked, the FAE version of Inverse World still hadn't cleared Best Copper Seller).

      I'd be curious to see how this affects other peoples' purchases. Personally I've been burned by so many late, underwhelming indie Kickstarters that I don't see myself backing one in the near future, unless the author has a good track record (which, most don't).

      Like you, it also makes me distrust reviews, especially the 5-star/100%/10-out-of-10 ones that have absolutely nothing negative to say at ALL.

      What also sucks is how many of the "louder voices" pimp and praise their buddies, and also stamp out dissenting voices regardless of the criticism.

      When you got "reviewers", "journalists", and the better known community members (that should really know better) all pulling the same stunt to I guess keep getting free stuff and make friends that only care about them so long as they keep singing their praises, it makes it very hard to find the gems in the sea of shit out there.



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