Poe Probes > Reviewing Samples, Part 4: Q&A with Rob Bricken of ToplessRobot.com

This is the fourth 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 Rob Bricken, editor of Topless Robot and former editor for the now-defunct ToyFare magazine.

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?

Topless Robot is not a toy review site, so 1) I don’t get a lot of toys and 2) I don’t feel compelled to have to review them when I do. My overall review policy is to only review things I like and think my readers will like (not counting movies) partially so I don’t have to crap on someone’s life’s work and partially because TR isn’t a review site, it’s trying to do news and promote awesomeness. If someone sends me a crappy toy to review, I just wouldn’t review it, because I don’t see any need for me to be mean. Of course, even when I review something awesome, I still try to be objective about its faults.

2.) Do you ever worry when writing a review that being too negative will hurt your chances for more free samples, or damage any potential personal or professional relationships?

No, because I’d rather TR be objective than get free toys. I have plenty of toys already. Same was true back in my ToyFare days, for everyone at the mags.

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’d say it depends on the site, really. I think many smaller toy reviewers are biased merely by getting products, but I don’t think there are too many companies giving toys to fansites in the first place, because most toy companies are too big and most toy sites are too small. Honestly, I don’t know how many toy review sites are there period period, let alone ones I’d trust as objective. In all honesty, Poe, the only toy reviews I read anymore are your MOTUC ones.

Comments now closed (13)

  • First off, Topless robot is one of my favorite sites hands down. It also sounds like Robb has the attitude that a lot fans have the fact that free toys are the exception not the rule breeds biased reviews. I don't even mind biased reviews as long as I know what I'm getting. The example is an unnamed MotUC video reviewer, I barely watch his reviews but when I do I know he whores to Mattel for free toys or just the love of whoring or whatever (and maybe just maybe he believe he is totally objective, who knows). That isn't the worst thing in the world and sometimes his enthusiasm is great (like the little girl said to Eric Draven "it can't rain all the time"), but if I watch a review for a product that I know is flawed or that Mattel has admitted to a problem on I'm peeved that he can't bring himself to call them on it.

    At the end of the the day we are talking about action figures not Watergate (google it). Do I want honesty? It would be nice, But I look at 75% of all reviews free toy or not as infomercials. Because as stated even if they are paying for the figure it is either something they're a fan of or they don't want to look dumb.

  • So far this series has been very informative but also kinda depressing, as a toy reviewer (for OAFE). Maybe it’s because you’re saving the interviews with more focused toy reviewers (as opposed to people who run toy news or general toy websites) but so far the sentiment seems to be that toy reviews in general are kind of a masturbation for the reviewer that has little effect on whether anyone else is going to buy anything. I know, from reading the comments at OAFE and elsewhere, that my reviews and yours and others do influence people and they do enjoy reading them, but the sentiment so far from this series seems to be “toy reviews? Those are still a thing?” hopefully as you post the interviews with people whose focus is more on the reviewing, it’ll balance out. Anyway, very informative!

  • "I don’t see any need for me to be mean"
    I am aware that there are some who might take issue with that. o.0 😉

  • I always knew Rob didn’t read IAT. LOL

    “No, because I’d rather TR be objective than get free toys. I have plenty of toys already.”

    I’ll wait to see all the interviews, but I think this will be the boiled down sentence for me this week. That’s not to say the freebie sites aren’t objective (some are, some aren’t), but I agree none of us need the stuff. For me, the main benefit would be “business related” in terms of site traffic and notoriety, but the freebies are really just a shortcut in that regard.

    Interesting stuff. Looking forward to tomorrow.

    • I long ago accepted that I was never going to be the website with the "first look" at anything. Even if I had the right connections or the clout, most of the stuff I was interested in was from Mattel, who are based on the other side of the freakin' continent. Even if they sent me samples they'd arrive here long after other sites had received them.

      So I've tried to draw traffic through other ways – more in-depth reviews, for example, but other ways too, such as interviews and series like this. And of course It Figures, Figure It Out, the bio discussions, those comics I did with RedKryptonite and MechaShiva, and all those other features I've done over the years have been attempts to make up for not having things like first looks.

  • I just enjoy your "voice" more than a first look at a figure I probably won't buy anyway. I only actually buy like 4 figs a year anymore.

  • rob's honest, i appreciate that. "No, because I’d rather TR be objective than get free toys. I have plenty of toys already." man do i wish more folks felt like that.

  • So now nobody does “reviews” at reviews sites… but they’re adamant about objectivity and truth. Way to dodge responsability. How convenient.

  • I love lists and Topless Robot does that well! However, to include an interview with a self-professed "non toy reviewer" as part of this article series seems oddly… out of place. Would make more sense to only include interviews with sites that not only profess to review toys and receive samples in doing so… but actually DO REVIEW TOYS. That being said, in the interests of objectivity, perhaps sites that do review toys whether they say they do or not qualified Rob as a viable candidate?

    • its all word games. TR does “reviews” by any normal sane standard. If you’re not doing a review when you take pictures, explain the item, and then offer your opinion, what ARE you doing? An Advert? its a convenient way to dodge the responsability of being a “journalist” or “objectivity” – allowing one to both have their cake and eat it too without fear of lawsuit or being called dishonest. While I dont get that vibe from TR as much as AFI or other places, it does lead one to a slippery, morally abiguous hole.