Poe Probes > Reviewing Samples, Part 2: VeeBee of TheFwoosh.com

This is the second in a series of articles about the practice of toy reviewers being given free samples for review, and whether that represents a problem for readers looking for honest assessments to make purchase decisions. You can find the other articles in the series here.

Today’s Q&A is with VeeBee of TheFwoosh.

1.) When you receive free samples, do you find an urge to be kinder to the item than you might be? If so, do you find yourself softening a bit, do you try to simply be fair, or do you think you end up trying to be even more objective than usual?

It’s funny, I have never really thought of myself as a toy reviewer. In our First Looks, the only kind of format that I ever try to adhere to comes from the pictures, not the wordage. I suppose the one place I feel responsible for providing something to other collectors is in bright, clear pictures that focus on the toy itself and nothing more. That is why I make a conscious choice to provide neutral lighting and backgrounds (well that, and because I could never in a million years do what Matt K does, he is my action figure hero). More than anything I still believe that those that view our First Look articles make their preliminary judgments on any product from the pictures (if anything). Sometimes seeing a small action figure blown up many times its actual scale can be jarring, but pictures show what is there, warts and all, for everyone to see.

As far as written content goes, I don’t focus much on review receptions because my articles are usually 75% anecdotal/conversational. That is mainly because these are colloquial in nature, like I am just talking to a friends about toys. Often times, they are all over the place. I can talk about toys for hours and sometimes I realize that articles can feel just like me talking to myself about any given toy. Toy collecting is my hobby, and it is a hobby that I love very, very much. I am a glass half full guy by nature but I think just having a pragmatic approach to anything you present for public consumption is the best method. I have not really ever focused on reigning in enthusiasm, that is just not who I am. I have such a love for so many of the properties and characters, and nostalgia for the things I collect that composing First Look articles has just become an extension of that. I get more response from the personal stories or anecdotes in our First Looks than anything else. I feel fortunate because I only really know how to write for myself, but being able to strike a chord here and there with someone else is always a fun experience. There are a lot of places to read reviews out there, many of which are very concisely written with the most fine-toothed comb. That is good because the internet is a big place and it takes all kinds, but I present things as something that I would like to read myself. I think I am like most collectors out there in that I am going to be the one to form my opinion about an actual toy, not have someone else do it for me. So I am realistic about others coming to their own conclusions with toy in hand, not from reading on the internet. What I personally like to read is the history, attachment and stories people will share about their toys. The boom in nostalgia lines really fuels that and it can make for funny, endearing and engaging reading. That is pocket of the community I like play in the most, so I generally go in that direction.

There are a lot of sites out there that provide product previews. Some just take pictures, some go into painstaking review, some pose and play on video and some like to tell stories. I think that is great for everyone, including the companies. It makes for well-rounded reading and just about everyone can find a place to gravitate towards and ultimately, companies have the coverage saturation they want. In the end, I go with what pops into my head about any particular toy and I am always sincere, something that is aided by just not over thinking or over interpreting what may or may not be there. You simply cannot write for everyone but if you can relate to someone out there by doing what you do, then all the better. I just like to have fun it all and hopefully provide some enjoyment to my fellow geeks.

2.) Do you ever worry when writing a review that being too negative will hurt your chances for more free samples?

Fortunately no, I have never had any kind of concern about previewing a product with an article that might generate a negative response. There is not one company that we have worked with in all the time we have provided First Looks that has ever even eluded to such an expectation. From the outside, I think it is easy to automatically assume or form the conclusion that it may be implicit that companies want to dictate certain specifics, have an expectation of positivity or have some final approval of any preview, but that is not at all my personal experience. Nor would I EVER expect to be placed into that kind of situation. That is kind of a “point of no return” and, in my mind, defeats both sides’ purpose for the venture in the first place. If companies want a canned response and managed preview, we are certainly in an age where they can provide that kind of thing themselves. I think that most PR personnel are smart enough to realize that to want to dictate or control content with an independent site would be much more damaging than weathering a negative look at a product.

I have not ever really thought about “hurting chances”, and I suppose that comes from not having any kind of expectations about being provided samples in general. I think the moment you step into the realm of expecting to be provided something you muddle your thoughts and motivations with pretentions, be those to a reader, a company or yourself. I kind of write all of my previews as if they were my last and when it comes down to it, I have to make it personal. I suppose many look at reviewing/previewing figures as type of job, but I don’t spend my free time working so the “job” concept just doesn’t translate for me. I enjoy taking pictures and providing personal thoughts, it is about all I know how to do. I guess if that isn’t what is wanted or expected, there are a lot of outlets out there. Like I said above, I cannot take my love and passion out of the hobby I enjoy so much, but that is completely self-applied.

3.) Do you think that, in general, reviews of free sample toys on the Web are generally fair, or do they tend to be biased? Is this a problem for the toy collecting hobby, or a tempest in a teacup?

I don’t really know how to determine or label when a review is “fair” because everyone that takes the time to do a preview or a review of a toy has their own personal situation and motivation. Toy reviews are subjective by their nature and at least a little bit of the reviewer comes out in the review. Or, the intent of the preview might not be to review the toy at all. There is so much to interpret that I usually just take things on their own merit. But in the end, I don’t think it matters one way or the other and I don’t think sample previewing has a negative effect on the hobby.

I can say that, for the most part, toy collectors that I have interacted with online or in person are very sharp, and all of them, ALL OF THEM, have their own opinions about just about everything. Now, if that is a “chicken or the egg” type of scenario in regards to being “told”, that is open to interpretation. I do absolutely believe that collectors are going to be the ones that ultimately make up their own minds about products in general and if there is one thing the Internet has taught me even more so than real life, is that it is very hard to get a person to change their mind, be it actively or passively. That can be a seen as a touch of frustration for some, but that fickle nature of the community at large does much more to exact change or dictate trends with toy companies than any individual review could ever hope to accomplish. I strongly believe that only comes from the experience of having an actual toy in hand at the individual level. To be cliché, the proof will always be in the pudding. Thank Grodd for that.

Comments now closed (9)

  • I like this. It also brings up again that most toy reviewers review stuff they persoally like, so objectivity is relative, anyway.

  • Great starter, Poe! Veebs is a great guy, and I really enjoy his "First Looks" and photos!

    And I agree wholeheartedly that reviews are completely subjective. Reviews/Previews are 100% opinion. Everyone will always have their own opinion, and that's excellent!

    • that's crap and you know it dan. the example i would give is the varying QC of motucs… when you get one w/ really floppy ankles, that's 100% observable and reportable. even if your toy is the only one that's defective, if it's defective, it's defective. not being able to stand is not a question of perspective, it's recordable fact. you've noted this personally in your reviews, like when a figure has nice tight joints, or elbows that don't entirely bend, or floppy bits, etc… that's not opinion, that's your experience.

      when a reviewer hides those experiences, THEN that's a choice of perspective, and it's DISHONEST. now, i will refrain from calling anyone out personally, but i will say this, everyone reading this article has likewise read a review that failed to notice a major gaff. like, shoulders that are not constructed properly, or figures that can't hold pack ins that they should be able to hold, or when paints don't match up, amongst others. now, on our end, the reader end, there's only a couple ways to interpret a review that is wrong or negligent… A) we assume the reviewer is lax because they got their toys for free B) they're being coerced by the company or C) they don't know what the hell they're talking about. should we recall that not every toy in a given release is constructed the same? sure. should we recall that every one makes mistakes? you bet. but A,B, & C are the answers we tend to leap to because we assume if you're getting samples and we're not, and you have a website and we don't, that your level of expertise exceeds our own.

      is that fair? should we assume that veebee or pixel dan or noisy are better, smarter geeks than we? that they're better informed, or have an inside track? that perhaps is it's own discussion, but i suspect most of us reading the reviews expect you guys collectively to be sharper than we are.

      back to the point though, when you hear a guy gush over and over and over on a given line, it kind of starts to look like a fix, doesn't it? i don't trust peter travers from rolling stone because he's never seen a movie he didn't like… and god help me, if you can come up with one positive thing to say about bucky larson, you just don't live in the same world the rest of us do. the guy's a shill.

      i read a couple reviews on the t-cats classics mumm-ra, none of which mentioned that because of the skirt, his thigh swivel and hips were essentially useless articulation. i discovered that to be the case when i bought the figure. now, it was an easy fix, but why did none of the fan sites point out that the skirt had no slits and was not flexible at all? hips are kind of important to posing a figure, and had someone said "btw, there will be no action poses w/ this mumm-ra" i and perhaps others would have not made that purchase. without that clear, obvious, repeatable issue being brought up, none of us get an informed choice to buy or not. the "glass is half full" doesn't apply to a mumm-ra who can't take a deep stance. reviews like that are clearly negligent, and fail to discuss the reality of the toy. again, that's not a perspective issue, that's fact.

      • as it pertains personally to veebee, i don't read the stuff he writes anymore. i don't care for it, because he takes that "glass is half full" approach and doesn't really tell you much about the toy in his hand. that's fine, that's his prerogative, but let's not pretend the guy's doing anyone any favors. the photos are nice, and honestly, they're more informative than the accompanying text. matt k's photodios are an out and out lie, your set up at home is not that cool and the lighting is worse. it's a good kind of lie, but i truly hope no one out there is buying because of matt's photos. again, nothing wrong w/ that, but i wouldn't call what either guys does a review. there's no real analysis of the items, and there's no room for critique of something that might have an intrinsic flaw. a review should discuss the actual toy you unpacked from the box, not an idealized image of the play pattern in your head, or how you like the color combinations, or were the guy fits into the mythos. lots of guys don't live up to that, and need to be more honest about what they're actually up to.

        it's possible, and indeed probable, that when you're given something, you fail to value it properly. my dad always lectured me on the value of earning something, and certainly, some of the prize possessions in my collection were objects that took some work to acquire. i bet i'm not the only guy who grew up hearing that kind of lecture. being given something is great, but it absolutely colors your objectivity. that should be something that the "we get free sample" guys consider. i have yet to see a scathing review of a free sample, not once on any figure, and to sit there and imagine that every free toy received by any of a half dozen websites in the last 3 or 4 years were all perfect is just flat out preposterous. remember shocker toys a couple years back? the only even halfway objective reviews that i read on those were by guys who bought the damned toys. the stuff that glowed on them, on how cool the sculpts were, how great the articulation was, all turned out to be either getting free samples, or directly working for the company. we're not making this stuff up.

        i do think it's entirely fair and honest that folks receiving samples should be upfront about it. the simple fact that some "reviewers" don't mention that right up front says they feel they have something to hide. even if it's subconscious, that's playing a role in the reviews they write/film/photo.

  • People read and watch reviews because they are interested in a toy they might never see in person, or because they want to feel good about their hobby and interest; watching someone validate your feelings about something that is important to you is elemental to materialism, and likely the reason you see so few negative reviews.

    If somebody routinely lies in his reviews about flaws in products, then the community won't pay any attention to him. If somebody gushes over an item because he loves it, and fails to point out imperfections his rose-colored glasses have obscured, you should be a critical-enough reader to figure that out. But to call a reviewer negligent for doing so, implying they have fraudulently taken up some noble mantle to serve your grumpy ass and purposely pittled all over it is a bit too much to take. Poe and Pixel Dan, et al, are providing a service, often at a cost to themselves in maybe money and certainly time, because they love it. We should thank them, forgive their occasional fanboyisms, and enjoy.

  • "I suspect most of us reading the reviews expect you guys collectively to be sharper than we are"
    This is a great point. Do I think the reviewer is smarter than me? Hell no, but I do think they have an eye (if they don't they shouldn't review). I can tell you the number of times reuse, backwards parts or paint is pointed out that I never would have noticed without the likes of a Yo go re. Now since I'm predisposed to liking a figure and not looking to close before grabbing the first one on the peg I depend on the warnings. I bubbly review does me no good if undeserved.

    Free sample or not I have to feel like the reviewer has my back , with Pixel or Fwoosh I don't.

    "Forgive their occasional fanboyisms, and enjoy."

    Occasional being the optimal word.

    I'm not a "grumpy" as day raven, but when you come to the point where you are willing to accept free stuff, you're also accepting add responsibility to the people reading. No matter what these guys say they want you to believe that their opinions matter . Fine but there are expectations. Media and journalism are in flux because of the internet this is part of figuring it out. We will it just takes time and debate.

  • some of you might consider me grumpy, some might not. i don't particularly care either way. what i expect, and what i hold to, if you're doing all this work, for free especially, why not make it good work?

    to put it another way… i've done product reviews for amazon and TRU, restaurant reviews for yelp, and a few other smiliar sites, aggregates of peer review. no restaurant gets gone over w/ a fine toothed comb, i'm not a health inspector so i don't get access to the kitchen, but if i notice that my table didn't get wiped down, i report that. if the salt shakers are empty, i note that. if the waitress is attentive, i note that. if the lighting is incandescent, i note that. i try my damndest to relate in each of those places what the experience actually was, and if someone likes what i've written or doesn't, they at least have a thorough record of my experience that will be, given a fair and just universe, similar to the experience that they will have if they chose to eat there.

    i'm not some crazed super genius, nor am i a nitpicky sheldon cooper type… i'm a dude, with reasonable powers of observation, and the ability to remember experiences i had a couple hours ago w/ fair clarity. i have a modest grasp of the english language, and i deploy words carefully for chosen effect to get my meaning across. that's all it takes.

    oh, and a little integrity. i don't manufacture details that weren't there, nor excuse details that were, to fit into a preconceived world view. i've eaten bad meals at some of my favorite restaurants, and i've had good coffee at starbucks. the freak chance occurs, and i don't ignore it… and especially when doing a review for others, i make sure that that kind of thing isn't glossed over. because in writing that review, i have an automatic social contract w/ any would-be readers that i'm informed enough and diligent enough to write a review of my experience, to help them assist in decision making. if i buy a non-stick pan and the non-stick comes off the first time a liquid in it hits a boil, i have a social obligation to note that in my review… that's what integrity is. if "being grumpy" is newspeak for having integrity, then yeah, i'm super, duper, megametamorphosis, surfing a tidal wave of molten rock grumpy. cuz i was raised right.

    as far as comments above go, as trisbaint points out, if we're not engaging in the conversation, and we're not talking about these things and trying to encourage the community towards integrity and forthrightness as much as possible, then each of these articles is an exercise in masturbation. i didn't attack anyone, i avoided name calling, i dodged the ad hominem bullet… i asked questions. as i pointed out to pixel in my retort, we absolutely have to remember, as a community of toy fans, and as people, that not every act of negligence is malicious. we ought to remember that mistakes happen and we make them. some reviewers have taken flack over the years for what could be honest mistakes, and i was making the point that that well could be the case more times than not, and asking dan for his thoughts on the subject. that's how discourse works homefries.

    when you're lied to, your brain doesn't tell you that person chose to lie? when someone innaccurately reports facts, you don't grow suspicious MBB? what is your social mechanism for recognizing innaccuracies? this makes me genuinely curious. me, when i'm out in the woods and i hear a branch snap behind me, i turn around and see what did that. if i'm enjoying a tv program w/ the family, and suddenly smell rotten eggs when there's no one in the kitchen, i ask who farted. that's just my mechanism.

  • Just to cut in here…in the interests of fairness and civility, I'm going to point out that calling someone "grumpy," while perhaps not a particularly heinous personal attack, isn't helpful to the conversation either. Or, y'know, nice.

    I've called Dayraven on civility before, and I'll call others on it against him as well.

  • For the record I was kidding , that's why it's in quotations. Sorry Dayraven if I offended, I honestly agree with many points you make, you're just more aggressive than I would be. Again sorry I was not trying to make a personal attack.