Friday, December 09, 2011

Rating one's own game

Every once in a while a thread erupts on BGG in which somebody complains that the designers/developers/publishers of a game have rated it a "10" - sometimes they call it "shilling," other times they just say it turns them off. Some go as far as to suggest that a high rating from the publisher of a game negates any interest they had in the game, even if that were considerable based on what they'd read or seen before examining the ratings.

Obviously everyone's entitled to their opinion, and one could argue that if ANYBODY is turned off by the practice of a designer rating their own game then I ought not rate my own games. No need to turn anybody off unnecessarily. However, I find that sentiment repugnant...

I am a gamer. I've been playing, tracking and rating games on BGG for years, and that pre-dates any of my game design or publication efforts. All the while my ratings have been biased toward games I enjoy. Of course when it came time to rate my own games I would be biased toward them as well. The very idea that I should have to censor myself and not rate the game is abhorrent!

Giving a high rating to a game you design, or a game you publish, is not shilling. Shilling is opening fake accounts in order to give additional ratings and other non-genuine props to a game, posing as somebody else. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but only one of them. The problem with shilling is that it's duplicitous - it's an attempt to fool somebody into thinking that more people like the game than really do. Rating a game that you designed is not duplicitous, provided you really do like that game.

Having to hold back your rating is like negative shilling and it's equally duplicitous - representing that FEWER people like the game than really do. I am not interested in artificially anti-shilling my own game for any reason.

I understand the arguments against rating one's own game, but frankly they just don't hold water. If other designers want to refrain from rating their own games, then that's fine for them - I don't care. It's the principle of the thing. I absolutely refuse to change my behavior in this case just because other people are unreasonable. If that means some guy I've never met decides he's going to predispose himself against my game, then so be it!


Paul Owen said...

You know, this topic comes at a good time for me. My game just became available on, but the description was woefully inadequate, and I was afraid that no potential buyer would consider it because there was just no information on which to base a decision. So I posted a review as "designers notes," and made an upfront disclaimer that as the designer, I'm not reviewing my own game but only providing more information to help the customer make an informed decision about whether the game is right for them.

So, how many stars to give my own game? Well, to be frank, it's not a five-star game. It's an elegant little family game, fun and all that, but it's no Agricola. So I gave it four stars - generous, but not transparently ridiculous.

My sister saw it very differently, though. If even the designer doesn't think it's good enough for five stars, why would anyone consider buying it? From her perspective, five stars for your own game is de rigueur.

I see her point. But honestly, if a designer or publisher rates his own game as a '10' on the geek (as my publisher did for my game), that's not shilling. That's just, you know, marketing, but it's also very transparent, and so in my mind it's okay ... like when an advertiser says his product or service is the best. Of course you're going to say that. It doesn't mean we think you're trying to trick us.

So I guess my bottom line is that everybody discounts rating your own game, so it's just for form's sake; it shouldn't be seen as any kind of shallow statement or thinly-veiled deception.

Jay Treat said...

Thanks for this post, Seth. I completely agree. I'd back up the argument some more, but you pretty much nailed it already.