Money. It’s a gas. It makes the world go round. It could be funny….. anyway. The relationship between reviewers and money has always been a potentially thorny issue. From professional reviewers to small fry like myself there are a lot of potential pitfalls. As a site that has been around for a while, I thought it might be helpful to look at how we fund the site and cast and some of the considerations behind that.
First of all, why should we talk about this? Even in the world where a reviewer is paid by a magazine/site to produce work, there are problems of advertising and bias. If the magazine , or site, you work for is running ads for the game you are reviewing, how can I trust your opinions are honestly your own? The answer is of course you can’t, and the only real way to learn about the critical reception to a game is to read/watch/listen to a wide range of voices and sources. I encourage all our readers and listeners to do this as it gives you a more rounded view.
For the most part in tabletop gaming, this type of reviewer does not exist. We have a couple of magazines in the UK that pay reviewers, Senet and Tabletop Gaming, and some sites like Dicebreaker that do the same. For everyone else the truth lies somewhere between reviewing being a hobby and self-funded full time. The Giant Brain is definitely at the hobby end of the spectrum, just starting the climb up towards self-funded full time (well in my wildest dreams). With that ambition comes its own ethical considerations that we will come back to.
I started out writing because I wanted to, but as the site grew, and the podcast was born, I started to consider how to fund my endeavours long term. I could have just continued paying it out of my own pocket, it is not the craziest amount of money to host the cast and site, $17 or £13 a month. This does add up over time and I wanted to ensure the cast and site could survive any financial woe that may come my way.
Patron was the obvious first step. We set tiers and goals to give our backers exclusive access to an extended version of the cast and hit targets that would allow us to improve the site. My aim right from the start is making sure we don’t make ourselves have to do a lot more work, at least not at first. The site and cast already consume a lot of my free time, so having to do more work to support that would be a bit self defeating.
It was slow going at first but thanks to all our patrons, the site and cast are now self sustaining. With the patron established I started to think about other ways we could fund the future of the site; allowing us to get more games for review, attend conventions, pay for equipment, etc. My primary concern is always to remain as independent as possible, to not become just and advertiser or marketing for big board games (I jest but you get the point). I put up donation buttons, links to refer a friend codes and anything else I could think of that would fund the site without any potential compromises to our ethical integrity.
Unfortunately none of these have borne fruit. My last port of call was to start considering affiliate links and how we would implement them. For those not familiar affiliate links mean that if you click through them and buy the product on the site you land on, the origin site, i.e. The Giant Brain, gets a small cut. I considered a bunch of different options, but in the end Amazon was the most straightforward way to go. Now there are a bunch of ethical considerations in buying from Amazon, but that’s not an issue I want to get into here.
What I do want to look at is the fundamental problem behind having affiliate links, which are basically the same as if I was being paid by a magazine: if I leave a glowing review for a game, how do you know that is honest and I am not just turning into a shill. Basically, you don’t. You have to trust that the reviewer is not turning into a marketer. Those who have followed us for a while will have built trust with us, but for new folk to the site I worry about how to build that rapport.
Disclosure has been the solution for The Giant Brain. We tell people at the top of articles how we get games, if they’ve been given or bought, and what stage of development the game is at. In addition we stick to giving honest assessments of games, no matter if that article is a first thoughts, preview, or review. This honesty comes through in all our work and I hope it will allow people to trust us now and in the future.
Let’s get back to the actual nuts and bolts. Below you’ll find a link to the money the cast has made this year, I’ve included a pic of the current state of affairs as well, and how the incomings and outgoings break down. You can see we make a small amount each month on our patron and recently got a payout from our Amazon Affiliate account.
We of course now have to decide what to do with the extra money, all £61.95 of it. With conventions being on life support just now, we are going to be spending this on games to review that we wouldn’t normally be offered. The plan will be to run a giveaway afterwards as well. This seems like a good way to build the site, extend our reach, and involve our followers in the site.
I hope this look at how the thinking behind how we fund the site has been of interest. As we grow it may be that I have to revisit this subject, for instance we have recently become affiliated with Metallic Dice Games, and consider more robust methods of keeping track of our cash flow. For now we are extremely grateful to everyone who contributes to the continued existence of the cast and site, and hope that we can continue bringing you our honest reviews and tabletop news for many years to come.