Fanning the flames of Commerce

The collective members of the ‘OSR’ (whatever or whomever they might be) have frequently been pilloried and mocked for promoting themselves through mutual admiration societies and you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours reviews of whatever it is that they may be churning out this or that week. Often, that criticism is on the mark. Most of the reviews written by the OSR about the OSR are softballs. The important question to me is why anyone is surprised or angry or outraged at this.

Why some folks expect the unpaid, obscure and unloved members of the OSR to be infected by an unvarnished desire to tell the whole truth is beyond me.  Anyone who has ever opened a newspaper or magazine or visited the website of ‘real’ publications to read any reviews of anything (products, entertainment, services, you name it) written by ‘professionals’ will know, if they have half a brain, that 90% of these reviews are PR pieces in disguise. Did Gene Shalit ever see a movie with Bruce Willis that he didn’t gush over? The Who seem to ‘reunite for the last time’ every couple years, yest despite astronomical ticket prices and Townsend’s dramatic leaps having become timid hops, no one from the popular press states the obvious (“I wish they had died before they got old”). Airport ‘magazine stands’ are filled with magazines that are just glossy, expensive brochures for cars, clothes, computers, crap, etc. Yet we react with horror or dismay or outrage that some blogger posting his whimsy on blogspot with a few dozen followers would write, “Joe Schmoe just wrote a new adventure and sent me a free review copy and I liked it and you should too so buy it!”  The self appointed ‘truth crusaders’ of the Internet react with shock and outrage as if they have just revealed the next Watergate, except instead of Nixon and tapes and conspiracy we’ve got one hobbyist sending another a pdf and saying, “Can you review this?  Thanks!”  Stop the fucking presses ’cause the truth crusade is gonna blow the lid off of this thing! Please.

When I was a teenager I remember reading music reviews that told me whatever was featured was ‘unbeleiveably good’ and I would save up my money and run out and buy it and 90% of it was utter shit.  This was before the Internet — or at least before I had access to any Internet — when in order to read ‘reviews’ of stuff, I had to buy the newspaper or the magazine or fanzine in which the review was written — so teenage me was getting fucked twice… the first time when I bought ‘Trouser Press’ or ‘Thrasher’ or whatever else I was buying at the time in order to read useless ‘reviews’ that were hyping whatever they were told to hype and the second time when I bought the shitty music that the ‘journalist’ in the magazine was promising would change my life for the better.  As a result, I ended up with a large record collection, only a small percentage of which got listened to more than once or twice.  When I got to be around sixteen or so I wised up and started swapping tapes with friends and going to independently owned used record stores that were half way across town because they would let you preview a record if the sleeve was already open and they weren’t listening to something else at the time… these stores were like that store in that John Cusack movie.  Many of the shit records that I had bought under the recommendation of the ‘professional’ journalists were sold for pennies in store credit to the used record shops — the most ill-advised purchases were dumped in the ‘free for the taking’ box that sat beside the exit in one of those filthy but beloved record stores. I’m not bitter about this — I consider it a part of my transition to adulthood.

In my defense, at the time I was young and didn’t usually know the difference between shit and Shinola at first look or listen — it took time to figure out.   And, along the way, I learned some valuable lessons… the most valuable of which was that the best way to determine the relative merits of this or that was to sample it and decide based on criteria you formulated on your own.  Looking back, I suppose if the journalist in question was doing blow and drinking champagne with Robert Plant, he would have been inclined to say that Robert Plant’s post Led Zep solo work was ‘brilliant.’ Fourteen year old me didn’t agree — but I didn’t have the gifts of hookers or blow or expensive champagne to color my perceptions — all I had was a piece of vinyl in a cardboard sleeve with some pseudo-pop vaguely Motown yodeling on it from a has been.
Unfortunately, this means that I think most reviews are useless. At this point, I’m actually OK with that and don’t bother with reading any reviews unless I’m interested in the opinions of the reviewer.  Some people just write interesting or entertaining reviews.  But, as a part of the decision making process, reviews are usually just a waste of time — 90% of them are bunk and in order to figure out what is bunk and what isn’t, one usually has to buy or read or watch whatever the fuck is being ‘reviewed.’  In a world full of salesmen, you shouldn’t assume that you have any friends in the marketplace. Were all just customers. Expecting the members of the OSR to be better than the rest of the world is probably just stupid, naive, stubborn or some combination of all three.
Now, in order to show you how full of crap I am, here are a bunch of reviews I have posted on this very blog.

11 Comments on “Fanning the flames of Commerce”

  1. Anonymous says:

    You suck, your drawings suck, you are pathetic loser.
    What the hell is that stupid drawing supposed to be. Looks like little Johnny lost his crayons and tried to draw with a magic marker.

  2. mwschmeer says:

    this is why I prefer evaluations to reviews — an evaluation should lay out the criteria AND the standards the writer is using to judge the work, explain why those criteria are important in understanding the work, and then judge the work using specific examples from the work.

    Reviews are about what the writer “feels” and are entirely subjective; evaluations are about what the writer thinks and why and at least attempt to be somewhat objective while the writer sticks to explaining how something meets, fails, or exceeds expectations.

  3. Rob Kuntz says:

    This reminds me of the last line of a menu item description at Annie's Ice Cream Parlor in my home town of Lake Geneva. It was called the “Fireman's Special” and four people could eat out of it at once, that is how large it was. The last line was, “This one is out of control.”

  4. Kent says:

    Anonymous cowardly cunt. lol.

  5. Kent says:

    >> Why some folks expect the unpaid, obscure and unloved members of the OSR to be infected by an unvarnished desire to tell the whole truth is beyond me. < < “unloved members of the OSR” — I like that. Look, there are three problems as I see it. First, blogs which were interesting in their own right cashed in for a pittance if they happened to be popular. This is vulgar and stupid and typically turned the interesting blog into a piece of shit blog. The authorial tone changes and material become “my precious”. Second, we have progressed far beyond a point where we look to blogs for truth and honesty but there is an aggregate of this to be discovered on forums because peer pressure is stronger and authors of posts don't have control over responses to those posts. But if dollars were removed from consideration honesty could reasonably be expected from general blogs. Third, frankly, the standard of clones and osr material is shit. Writing about D&D for dollars can only justify itself if it is really good because the alternative is complete openness in sharing. For example your dungeon maps are good but your content is crap so that is usually packaged as 'Dumbass D&D' rather than collaborating with a decent writer and aiming not for more sales but for higher quality indifferent of sales.

  6. Dak Ultimak says:

    Reminds me of this joke I told once:

    What's the difference between Advertising and the News?

    Nothing, they're both trying to sell you something.

    Ironically this marketing guy didn't know I was telling a joke.

  7. I've yet to come across anyone as honest and consistent as Bryce on his tenfootpole.org blog. No false praise or gushing waffle there. He gets my vote as the OSR's best and most decent reviewer.

  8. stefan p says:

    Kent: I guess I could write a big post on why you and I cannot agree on this, but what would be the point.
    Sufficient to say:
    a) Your post seems to imply that other people owe you something. This is vulgar and stupid and typically turned the interesting blog into a piece of shit blog. The authorial tone changes and material become “my precious”. I don't know — maybe that's true, but if Joe Blogger wants to write about Magic the Gathering because he likes it or because he notices that his “+1” count goes up whenever he writes about Magic the Gathering and I am untterly uninterested in Magic the Gathering, I can complain and accuse him of 'selling out,' etc., but at the core of it I'm really just bitching because he's writing about what he wants to write about and not what I want him to write about. How are you different from that?
    b) No one who gets flagellated on YDIS and the similar sites that I think you like hanging out at for being a sellout is getting paid any amounts of money that anyone else need worry about… and even if they are, who the fuck cares? A cook might enjoy cooking and a pianist might enjoy playing the piano but I don't expect to be fed or given music for free — if Joe Blogger wants to sell another retroclone and I want to buy it, your third party opinion on the 'evilness' of our mutual commerce is just noise.
    c) I'm assuming by great maps crap writing you mean Khunmar. Since the only way you could read the manuscript was to sneak into my house when I wasn't home, how did you get past my dogs? The white one is fucking viscious and normally tries to rip the nads right off the postman when he comes to the door. I guess I could hire someone else to pretty it up with lots of adjectives but then it wouldn't be MINE… which, as far as I'm concearned, is more important to me than impressing you with melifluos prose. Since I release the maps into the wild, other people have keyed 'em and used them on their own, which IMO is much better than anything I might have done even if I got Victor Hugo or Balzac to key the dungeon for me.

  9. […] of the links might not work, but it made the migration to the new blog. Read and Enjoy : “Fanning the Flames of Commerce.” (Edit: Forgot link! […]

  10. mikemonaco says:

    If you get a free copy for review, or paid to post a review, or have a material interest in the success of the product (stock or royalties or whatever), you need to mention that in your review. If you do that, the FTC says you’re fine, ethically.
    The tenfootpole guy has stated multiple times that he buys the products he reviews. I don’t know about other sites — I do have the impression at least one “big” blogger gets review copies but does not disclose this, either because he doesn’t know he has to or doesn’t know he should.
    I agree that positive reviews are usually a lot less helpful than negative ones. When I review stuff I tend to focus on negatives not becasue I am an asshole (I am, but that’s not the reason) but because saying “the map is great” or whatever tells you very little, while saying “the map is hard to read” warns you about something that may or may not influence your decision to buy, but at least it tells you you might need to make your own notes on the map.

    • Stefan says:

      If you get a free copy for review, or paid to post a review, or have a material interest in the success of the product (stock or royalties or whatever), you need to mention that in your review.
      I don’t think that is an unreasonable standard.


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