Poe Probes > Reviewing Samples, Part 5: Q&A with Pixel Dan

This is the fifth 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 Pixel Dan, who’s best know for his popular video reviews. His website is www.pixel-dan.com.

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?

To a certain extent, yes. You do feel the urge to be kinder. I think that’s just human nature. Someone just gave you something. You’d feel a little bad about turning right around and bashing it. You know what I mean? But at the same time, I also understand that I have a responsibility to the viewers to give them a solid, objective review. I feel like this is an area I’ve definitely grown in over time. I started to realize that the whole point of a review is to show faults as well as positives. I just always make sure to do it in as positive of a tone as possible. I won’t rant and rave and throw out curse words. I’ll just simply point out the flaws. And I have found that both the viewers and the company that sends the samples both respect and appreciate that.

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

Has that thought ever crossed my mind? Absolutely. If something is outright bad, I do have that worry sometimes. Should I have to worry about that? No. But sometimes the companies that send you these items will take it to heart, and possibly decide not to send anything else. I’ve actually received an item from a company one time where they sent along a contract with the item telling me I wasn’t allowed to say negative things about the product in the review. I thought that was just wrong, and I haven’t received anything from that company since. Bottom line is this: the review itself is more important than me getting stuff for free. So I’ll point out the negative stuff as I see it. If that company stops sending me stuff, that would suck, but I’ll just keep moving forward with reviews regardless.

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 see it as a problem. In some cases, some reviews can be considered more as a “preview” than a review. I’d even say some of my videos in the past can be classified as this. Sometimes it may just be best to look at it as an early look at the item if you’re worried about it not being fair. I understand that to some, they appear as nothing more than commercials for the product. And to an extent, that’s 100% true. That is after all the reason these companies send out early samples. They want to promote their product. So I think it’s in the eye of the beholder. It’s up to the viewer/reader to decide how they want to interpret the review.

Comments now closed (18)

  • i will say, i've been critical of your reviews in particular dan, in the past, but i have seen marked improvement over the last several. when something isn't up to snuff, you mention it, but you don't harp on it… that's all i've ever thought was fair for any reviewer. i don't dexpect a three page diatribe, that would be infringing on my little niche. but i do expect reality to sink in, and some folks, yourself included, have been guilty of that in the past, not letting reality in to the review.

    i kow i've been a chatty mofo as it pertains to these interviews about samples, but it is one aspect of the collecting experience online that has really chafed me over the last several years. it's only one aspect, but it's there. i would love to see integrity in our community, even when stuff is stuff we really like… honesty is a goal we should work towards as human beings, in every facet of life, and one thing i like to think the geek world is better at than some other demographics is being able to honestly and impartially look at a problem and find a way to fix it (praising success is harder for us than say, the sports world… they praise the hell out of things, while we tend to be more analytical.) it's an aspect of our culture i'd like to see us share w/ the larger world. it that ambitious for toy reviews? sure, but you never get anywhere if you don't take the first step.

    anyways, i've given lots of chances, and am happier than ever w/ your reviews. keep up the evolution of pixel dan and i'll keep watching the vids. don't let my meger praise convince you to rest on your laurels. 🙂

  • I like PixalDan. He's a genuinely nice guy. That being said, I do think some of his reviews are soft where some constructive criticism would be helpful especially where Mattel is involved.

    • I think (and please forgive me my opinion here) you may be misinterpreting Dan's high-spirited attitude and high road approach as being softball in nature, whereas I think Dan can be just as critical as he needs to be every single time out. For instance; I've never seen him go 'soft' in his review when a figure had a glaring engineering issue, paint splotches, etc. He simply chooses not to dwell on those issues and instead focuses on the figure as a whole. This approach is more even-handed and realistic, since he's attempting to differentiate between true disappointment in how crappy a toy may have turned out from the realities of mass market toy production. In other words, he's being a professional. In this day and age of Mom and Pop reviewers- basically any dope with an iPhone- true professionals are rare and should be cultivated and protected. In my eyes Dan is one of these and we should be thanking him rather than accusing him of softball journalism. My 2 cents.

  • agreed and kudos to Dan for admitting that the feeling to be kinder to Matty, Toyguru and allthe other Mattel characters is there. Now if we could get them to admit they’ve made mistakes with DC at retail, rather than state mom and kids didn’t buy enough, all would be right in the toy world

  • One thing Dan touches on at the end their is so true – the importance of the reader’s interpretation of the review.

    With toy collecting most of us are getting similar products from the same company over and over and turning to the same folks to find the various reviews. In that regard, the reader gets a sense of each of our outlooks. They can see an older review of something they’ve since passed up or purchased and get a sense of what we focus on, overlook, etc. and make that the grain of salt for a new review. It makes sense for our repeat traffic.

    The question It brings to mind though is how useful are any of our reviews for the new traffic. I don’t know if my reviews are abstract enough for a casual non-collector to come in and get something concrete out of my review beyond “I had fun with it”. 

    One of the tenets of this exercise was what makes our hobby different to the point that the “sample product” review is a rare commodity. Perhaps we’re just too select a group catering to an already pretty select group. Dan’s function in regards to Mattel/MOTU is primarily to reach out to the Org, which is the baseline for that line’s sales. Now, Dan’s charisma and high quality vids transcend that (and we’ve seen him rise to the top of the reviewer pile quickly as a result), but what’s his reach? 

    While IAT gets a sizable return on our MOTU articles, our Lego Decoders are easily some of the most trafficked articles because they show up on sites like DFWMoms and other parenting blogs. I know we’re mostly talking about , uh… “geek on geek” reviews this week, but what if there’s something larger to be done out there that could target moms ands kids?

  • I've only ever found Dan's reviews to be fair and entertaining, which are more than reasonable demands of any online critique. Unfortunately Dan is part of a very select few others who are actually capable of this and I cling tightly to these people like Linus to his blankie! My question to these reviewers is- do you keep review samples as 'your toy' from then forward and simply meld them in with the rest of your collection or do you purchase the toy separately also on your own and feel any moral imperative to then give away (through a contest, etc.) samples after you've done your review? Morally I would have a big problem keeping review samples as they were obtained for the purposes of 'work' and are (in a way) not really mine but are a bi-product of my business. For instance; does a NY Times columnist keep a review sample of an iBook sent to them for a review or does that then become the property if the NY Times? Being an independent toy reviewer the moral quandry may not be as cut and dry, but I'm just curious how most reviewers deal with this.

    • Mattel has told me I should not sell their samples or use them for giveaways. I have asked before, but I was told "no" with the reason being that they technically are "early" releases and not the "final" product. From a business standpoint, I can understand that.

      So yes, for the most part, every figure I review goes on the shelf in my collection. All of my opened MOTUC figures are the review samples, while my subscription figures stay in their boxes for now.

  • I've never had a problem with Dan's reviews. I feel he's always been honest in a respectful way. I look forward to them because they are scripted and filmed in a professional manner. As much as I appreciate the freedom of the average joe reviewing something on youtube, it can be pretty annoying most of the time–poor volume control, stupid remarks, poor camera control, etc. I watch Dan's reviews from his noted perspective of a "preview" as opposed to a review. I actually don't pay a whole lot of attention to his words (sorry Dan, nothin' personal 🙂 ) but rather study the figure for what it ist with regard to the personal 4-Horsemen touch with sculpt, accessories, potential character customizations, etc. As long as Dan keeps makin' the reviews, I'll keep watchin'.

  • I watch Dan's reviews knowing they are totally biased towards any company that gives him free stuff. They are still informative though and he does a great job showing the product for people to make their own judgments regardless of his views.

    One only has to look at his reviews of Thundercats which he bought compared to Matty that he got for free to see how free samples can effect reviews,

    • I felt the same way abut Dan's Thundercats reviews, at a time. My opinion on the Banda Thundercats have now changed. Aside from the 8" Classics, which are excellent, the figures and toys based on the 2011 show are not very good, so I doubt if if they had been free samples they would have got the same praise as the MOTUC figure reviews.

    • I get that a lot. But this brings me back to my point about the fact that if *I* don't like something, I'll point it out. I have generally not been very happy with most of Bandai's ThunderCats figures. I know I look bias towards MOTU, but I genuinely feel that those figures are far and above better figures than Bandai's ThunderCats. I know know many agree with me. 🙂

      Also, if it matters, many of the ThunderCats figure I have reviewed were samples. Some of them from Bandai directly.

      • I was so happy for new Thundercats toys I overlooked a lot of the problems with Bandai's toys at first as I would have liked the cartoon and toy line to do well. Regardless of them being free samples you told the truth about them.
        Of all Bandai's products the new Thundertank was the biggest disappointment.

      • MOTUC are better. They also cost twice as much so they should be. Like I said I do watch your reviews and find them informative. If your Thundercats pieces have mainly been samples then I again would have to find fault with you failing to disclose that.

  • Just want to say thanks to Poe for posting this interview, and that I appreciate all of the comments above! I'm always open for constructive criticisms, and am always happy to hear that people are watching and enjoying my videos, regardless of their reasons for watching. 🙂

    Thanks to all!

  • I wanna say that so far I feel that PD has been the only one TRULY honest about being a tad more forgiving with the "early samples". Now, there's a difference between being a tad more forgiving with samples and acting like a shill for a company. Now that Mr. PixelDan is getting Mosquitor, who is he campaigning for?

  • Readers should take note: Pixel Dan is the only one interviewed so far who:

    – Admits to doing “reviews” instead of playing word games to make their dishonesty “alright”

    – Admits to being partial to freebies- and actually tackles the problem in an honest human way

    – Has responded to any of you in the comments…

    – His videos and site are the ONLY ones which make it very clear to the reader when the toy presented is provided free by the manufacturer or online shop.

    Also PD is the ONLY guy who is tight with Mattel who wasn’t a part of Mattel’s 100% BS “Save the DCUC” program last year, the saddest/most blatantly dishonest marketing I have ever seen in 20 years of toy collecting.

    It seems Dan is the 1st guy interviewed here who actually got some of the “truth” and “justice” values from all those comic books…

  • Hi Dan. I thought it was great that you posted the video of Shocker Toys' 2011 SDCC panel during which Geoff Beckett was served legal papers for not paying Tony Robles for work that he had done for him, but was disappointed to find that the portion of the video during which that actually happened was edited out. Could you shed some light on why that portion of the video was edited out?