Video Game Reviews – The Journey

As many of you know, we are raising funds to increase the number of videos we will shoot for Season 2 of our video reviews.  As a business, we can slot the ‘cost’ of making the video reviews into our marketing budget as an expense, but as you can probably tell from the IndieGoGo fundraiser, shooting 52 reviews a year is expensive.  16 reviews = $7,000; so you can do the math on what 52 reviews cost us this year.  It’s the reason why we cut down to 26 next year from self-funding and are having additional videos directly funded by our supporters.  Truthfully, it still probably isn’t a good ROI on our marketing expenses but there are other considerations beyond pure direct ROI.

The Beginning

I first started looking at producing video reviews over 4 years ago in 2009 when both the technology and our business had grown to a point that I had some funds for marketing.  It was there I first ran into the huge cost involved in shooting video reviews — at least in the format that I wished to shoot the videos.

Of course, we could just buy a camera and shoot the reviews without editing/formatting, but as you can tell from the site I’m leery of doing relatively ‘unprofessional’ work.  There have been notable successes in the ‘amateur’ format, but more often than not it just fails.  With cost ranging from $400 – 500 for just a pure video shoot without casting costs and script writing, I just couldn’t afford to do it back then.

The First Attempt

In early 2010 I met a young theater student at the VSO.  After some discussion, I made an offer to pay for the shoot for our first attempt at video reviews.  She had done some work with videography before and had some contacts which she intended to use.  So I provided the games and we scheduled time to look at her storyboards.

Things went well at first, if slowly.  A basic storyboard for a couple of the first reviews appeared and then exams came along, and she dropped off the map.  Months of silence followed before we talked again, at which point she opined that she had no time to do the work and returned the games.  By this time, it was late 2010 and I just gave up on the project, having to deal with other problems.

Sponsorship

At the same time, we were sponsors of Board to Death from when they first launched in late 2009 till late 2010.  As a new video review site, they had no prior ‘affiliations’ which meant it was possible for us to make an arrangement with them.  In addition, they were a Canadian company which was always nice to see. However, over time I grew dissatisfied with the sponsorship due to my lack of control, both over the branding aspects of the videos and the overall format.

Strange Co-Incidences

By 2011, with the hiring of Kaja to the company I was beginning to get ‘breathing room’ once more to look at this project.  Our first major convention together was Cos & Effect at UBC.  At the convention, a new webseries production was touring the vendor tables promoting their first season.  Dressed in some really cool costumes, they seemed like real geeks and, as importantly, knew what they were talking about.   I struck a conversation with both Rob & Joanna, being the curious type, and blathered on about how hard it was to shoot reviews for our site at a reasonable cost. At that time, Rob offered to provide a quote at a more reasonable cost and we agreed to follow up the discussion after the convention.

The Second Run

Our first set of videos in 2011 were a test run.  As a business, we needed to know if it was a viable addition — both in amount of work, the cost and the new processes we needed to make it an on-going project.  We also needed to iron out potential problems with scripts, the shoot times and our game selection.

It was also Kaja’s first big project, and we decided to set some overall objectives for the videos.  We came up with a few:

  • the reviews should be professionally shot and edited to provide a ‘clean’ feel
  • we’d use 2 reviewers instead of 1 to reduce the ‘burden’ of the script
  • videos should be short.  Each video review should be 5 – 7 minutes in length
  • they had to be consistently released and couldn’t be a one-shot project

With those objectives in mind, it was a no-brainer to hire Joanna to co-host.  As a professional actress she could handle the scripts with ease and she had solid geek credentials as well.  Her co-host was decided to be Kaja rather than me as she is significantly more articulate. In addition, I am somewhat uncomfortable with such a public ‘image’.

The first 3 months of videos we shot managed to reach most of those objectives. We had some issues with script length and regularity, but the first test run worked well enough that I was willing to commit to a full year’s worth of video reviews for 2012.

The First Season

The first full year of the reviews was always going to be rough.  Shooting each review (or block of 4 reviews like we do) ended up taking more time than we had expected, both in the need to write and edit the scripts as well as reviewing the final products.  Our earlier reviews had a tendency to get too long and we had to spend some time working out the best way to condense data, often by condensing rule information.

At the same time, in our first year we needed to cover both newly-released games as well as old classics.  So we had to balance shooting newer games with much older ones such that we had a proper library of reviews.

An additional finding for us all was the need to balance the types of games we reviewed in each ‘block’: too many rules-heavy games made up for very long shoot nights, so we needed to make sure each shoot had 2 ‘light’ and 2 ‘heavy’ games.

Lastly, we had to deal with games sent to us for reviews.  At first, we took any games that were given to us and reviewed them.  This actually caused problems in scheduling, with other ‘better’ games sometimes pushed back as we had to review donated games.  Nowadays, we’ve got a better procedure but in the beginning we ended up caught out due to our early willingness to take whatever was offered.

The Second Season

So why did we cut our season in half? Not surprisingly, it had to do with money.  As I mentioned, the ROI for the videos was just not there, at least not for another 52 videos.  We just couldn’t justify the cost and the budget for it, not when we had so many other expenses.  Part of the reason was that the number of viewers within Canada was significantly lower than I had expected, especially compared to the total viewership.  On the other hand, we wanted to open the door to extra videos beyond what we could self-fund if there was a demand for it — and thus the IndieGoGo project was born.

For me, Season 2 will be interesting.  While I have a mostly hands-off relationship with the video review project, I do provide some input to Kaja & Joanna.  To me, Season 2 allows us to focus on newer games especially, since we have begun to receive demo copies of games from publishers on a regular basis.  At the same time, I’d like us to film more expansion reviews as this seems to be another gap in the current review climate.

2 thoughts on “Video Game Reviews – The Journey”

  1. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the Indegogo rate structure. I hadn’t looked at it until after your campaign concluded. You seem to bear a steep penalty for not achieving your target goal. While I understand their idea of using the rates as a mechanism for setting realistic targets, it seems like a double-hit for small ventures such as yours, and I feel bad that my contribution didn’t even cover a third of your overhead for the project. If you were to ask for funding again, I’d be more inclined to send a contribution directly to you, rather than work through a third party.

    On a separate note, while it probably wouldn’t be revenue-enhancing for the store, I’d love to see a video of you. Kaja, Joanna, and whoever is the extra set of young hands in some of the videos play a game to completion on camera. Something akin to the TableTop videos without the camp.

    1. Hi Richard;

      It is a steep penalty; but it’s a fair one. It’s not as if they hadn’t let us know about it in the beginning and it’s one we had structured our pricing / project around. We had considered setting a lower goal just so that we didn’t pay the penalty but had thought we’d be able to achieve this more modest proposal of only 16 videos instead of the full 26 to do a video a week like this year.

      We are discussing setting up a page after the campaign so that newer subscribers can still help contribute / increase throughout the year. Expect to see a small page pop-up in the site later on.

      As for a video of us playing the game, it’s something we’ve discussed doing and was one of our stretch goals we had planned for. It certainly would be something that be interesting to do; but we run into a series of issues including:
      a) video quality (professional cameras or not, multiple angles or single camera, etc)
      b) Full play-through or edited
      c) Company time or extra? (i.e. am I paying Salary for this, etc)

      We still might for the fun of it, but if we do it’ll likely be a much lower quality shoot and might even be a livestream that we record.

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