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Boardgames, blackmail and pay to play brouhaha

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23 May 2023 16:18 #339415 by Cranberries
kotaku.com/board-game-sponsored-content-...be-stream-1850459869

This really changed the tone of the conversation for us. At this point we really didn’t want to go into any collaboration with Mr. Anderson. However, at this point we felt pushed to a wall. ‘Quackalope’ was the biggest boardgaming channel with a lot of sway. Their coverage of our previous campaign had a noticeable impact on our KS result. We thought about how to get out of this situation. Few days later, we’ve sent another e-mail, delineating rules for paid content, lamenting that Mr. Anderson found the game frustrating, asking for more details on what he found wrong with the game, as well as wanting to see the raw footage that Mr. Anderson had shot. We also proposed forgoing ATO coverage whatsoever (I had a hard time imagining the cooperation, seeing his disdain for the game) and moving to TSOH, which was being designed with critical feedback in mind - more streamlined, player- friendly, with less overhead, all the things Mr. Anderson quoted as being frustrating.

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23 May 2023 16:23 #339416 by Msample
Years ago this would be a Friday Freak out thread, LOL.
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23 May 2023 17:44 #339420 by Jackwraith
Having read through all of it earlier today, I think labeling it "blackmail" seems a little far-fetched. It sounds like they were creeped out and stopped talking to him and he got frustrated and just threw up his hands and told them he was running with what he had already, but not because they weren't interested in paying, since it sounded like they were interested, at first, but the lack of communication cooled them on it. But I was doing a bank rec at the same time as I was reading it in bits and pieces, so maybe I missed something more overt. The fact that he was asking for money to do material about the game is just the nature of his business. I was always under the impression that he was getting paid to do promotional stuff and then did his own reviews in addition to that, but I've never been a fan so I haven't seen much of his work.
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23 May 2023 18:23 - 23 May 2023 18:29 #339421 by charlest
I've been sort of immersed in this. I've read all the BGG threads, all of the external articles, etc.

My bias is that I really am fond of Aeon Trespass Odyssey. I also reached out to Into the Unknown (publisher of ATO) for an interview as I was planning on writing a Polygon article about the game. I've since retracted that request and Polygon has cut the coverage.

I also have never liked Quackalope's presentation or content.

This is a complicated mess. My own subjective reading into the situation is that Quackalope may not have meant to extort ITU, but he effectively did, regardless of intent. I believe he was riding the line of a hard sale and acting somewhat unethically, but maybe not entirely in bad faith. Maybe some naivety or clumsiness there.

But my main takeaway from all of this is that I don't think content creators can ride both sides of the aisle. You have to decide whether you are advertisers or reviewers. Far too many people are ok with reviewers doing paid content that is labeled as such. Disclosing conflicts of interest is great, but it doesn't completely remove the conflict.

People can't even come to an agreement on what a paid preview is. I was discussing this in a BGG thread and several people were perfectly fine with opinion interjected as long as that wasn't the focus of the video.

It's all just so fucked. Why are we ok with publishers sponsoring reviewers and paying for how to play segments? Why are we accepting of the fact that Gamefound's Chief Marketing Officer reviews games, much less reviews games that are on Gamefound?

I hate talking about this. It's always met with disagreement and hostility. You stick your neck out and you get kicked in the jaw. The whole thing sucks.
Last edit: 23 May 2023 18:29 by charlest.

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23 May 2023 18:42 #339422 by Virabhadra

charlest wrote: Why are we ok with publishers sponsoring reviewers and paying for how to play segments? Why are we accepting of the fact that Gamefound's Chief Marketing Officer reviews games, much less reviews games that are on Gamefound?


It's really easy to tune out the hobby's video content. This is the kind of stuff that makes it even easier to ignore.
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23 May 2023 19:25 - 24 May 2023 00:04 #339423 by Frohike
Yeah, it's a clusterfuck.

It's hard to even talk about since it delves into aspects I feel almost unequipped to adequately articulate.

One aspect is the uneasy territory of board game as product and its intersection with board game as (at the risk of overstatement) personally fraught/charged investment.

These things aren't digital downloads or a happenstance decision to stream some content for the evening. They take up increasingly large amounts of space on our shelves and square footage in our living space, and they often sit in visible places where we get a nearly constant reminder that we bought The Thing, and that we had reasons for doing so. They're trophies and toads with a physical volume that amplifies the adage "We buy books because we believe we’re buying the time to read them." And with the current KS model of the "season pass" (all-in) borrowed from video games, that volume has scaled even further.

Combine this with the social aspirations surrounding the game and you end up with a weird powder keg of investment/commitment, social expectation, and a visible reflection of your own self-estimated curatorial acumen. This personal charge seems a bit unique to board games, and I feel like it collides harshly with the inevitably cynical criticism and marketing practices that brought that object into your home.

Like I said... it's weird territory and I'm probably overstating it. When the cynical/market angle comes to the foreground, it feels particularly galling and sometimes shaming to me, like I've had a swig of kool aid that I thought I'd personally selected but was framed in a very different context than I'd allowed myself to believe. And the shit’s already in my system, so what do I do with that now?

This collision seems to be amplified by the harsh realities of making a living on YouTube. That culture is so beyond the pale for me generationally that I often struggle to understand its pressures but my general impression is that finding your audience and keeping the monetization going changes the quality of your critical practice in some really unhinged ways. Producing criticism at the mercy of an algorithm seems like a special kind of hell, and in this special hell some special horrific decisions are crept upon gradually until you don't even realize you're making them. And these are enabled from multiple sides: from the algo, the publishers, and your audience.

So that kool aid that I ingested comes with an extra alienating kick of algorithmic cynicism and the backroom deals that worked within it.

I also feel like the rise of the KDM sphere of games and their increasing complexity and gestation time with the player is directly at odds with the pace of content creation, while becoming increasingly in tune with the actual consumer market. In the case of A:TO, people had received this game well in advance of Quackalope and had time to process the rules and deeply explore the game. So... the kool aid had already been thoroughly tested before the spike from a YouTuber could slip in there. And that pissed people off to actually see this happening.

In the case of board games, I think these intersections & collisions are fairly recent (like 5-10 years, "fairly recent" in the old salty board gamer scale), so maybe these aren't necessarily unique to board gaming but it feels like our processing of them is still raw. Any schadenfreude or scandal sets off a deluge of outrage that probably betrays some lack of maturity in this aspect of the hobby, both on the marketing side (where the quiet part is starting to be said "out loud" in emails) and our own queasy, harsh realization of this as consumers.

It stings somethin’ special.
Last edit: 24 May 2023 00:04 by Frohike.
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23 May 2023 19:28 #339424 by hotseatgames
What offends me the most about "content creators" is that there is a VERY real chance that they get paid more to make a fucking preview video than I do to design the fucking game.

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23 May 2023 20:55 #339425 by Msample
For me, content creators remind me of "squeegee men". For those that are unfamiliar with them, here is a brief blurb from Wikipedia:

" Although some merely provided a service, in other cases the windshield-washing would be carried out without asking, often perfunctorily, and with subsequent demands for money, sometimes with added threats of smashing the car's windshield"

Content creators, at least early on in their "career" basically create stuff, of often dubious value, and ask/expect someone to pay them for this effort. Some do it as a hobby, whereas others try to make a living off it. While I don't begrudge anyone earning money, I do have little sympathy for someone who does it poorly and still expects to be paid. Some creators get quite pushy in this regard; Crapalope seems to have taken it to an extreme.

Frohike makes a good point about YouTube/video content being somewhat of a generational thing - as someone in my mid 50s I find the vast majority of video content utterly useless - 30 minute long unboxing videos being the classic culprit. My main local opponent is about 15 years younger and he watches videos a LOT to the point to where he usually prefers to watch video walk thrus rather than read rulebooks.
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23 May 2023 22:35 #339427 by Jackwraith
I think part of the reason that there's so much crossover between promotion and criticism is that the viable markets for serious criticism like Charlie's are unstable. In other words, there aren't many places like Polygon that will actually pay for board game criticism. That's in part a measure of the willingness to pay creatives for their work (see: WGA strike) and in part a measure of how many people are willing to pay the platforms to access that work. The board game community is accustomed to getting stuff for free so those people that might have been able to at least make game reviews a side hustle are few and far between. Some have built up enough of a reputation like Charlie that they can get gigs with outlets that are still paying. But most have to go their own way, which means trying to produce something that enough people are either willing to pay directly for (Patreon, etc) or enough people are willing to consume so that you can declare that you have X viewers/readers to the publishers so that they feel like their product is being shown to enough eyes to make it worth their while to even provide free copies, to say nothing of actually paying for the work.

I've said before that I don't mind if people are being paid to give their opinion. They're doing the work to write/produce whatever it is they're producing and it's up to the people reading/viewing to decide if that opinion is worthwhile, both for the acuity and insight of the criticism and with the implicit bias of being paid for it. There were some people in the Reddit thread on r/boardgames saying that even receiving a free copy irredeemably corrupts the reviewer's opinion, which I find absurd, since it means that only people wealthy enough to buy every game on the market and do this strictly as a hobby are worthwhile critics. I was tempted to point out that of the last three reviews I've done involving games that were sent to me, I've dismissed two of them as not worth the money. But I'm completely biased by having been given a copy of the game.

I don't think there's one sure answer to this situation and it certainly doesn't help to have people like the writer for Kotaku who exposed this situation declaring that any money being involved is utterly compromising. (How much do you think Kotaku is paying him to provide what he thinks is an irrefutable opinion?) That said, Quackalope handled the situation poorly in about fifteen different ways, so it's hard to deny that he dug his own hole here, regardless of his original intent.
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24 May 2023 08:36 #339430 by charlest

hotseatgames wrote: What offends me the most about "content creators" is that there is a VERY real chance that they get paid more to make a fucking preview video than I do to design the fucking game.


They probably get the finished game before you do as well
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24 May 2023 10:06 #339435 by fightcitymayor

Frohike wrote: This collision seems to be amplified by the harsh realities of making a living on YouTube. That culture is so beyond the pale for me generationally that I often struggle to understand its pressures but my general impression is that finding your audience and keeping the monetization going changes the quality of your critical practice in some really unhinged ways. Producing criticism at the mercy of an algorithm seems like a special kind of hell, and in this special hell some special horrific decisions are crept upon gradually until you don't even realize you're making them. And these are enabled from multiple sides: from the algo, the publishers, and your audience.

Two unpopular opinions:

A) We need the much-maligned "gatekeepers" back.
When social media "democratized" everything, we were left with a Wild West of fractured individuals, some with good intentions some not, which meant you had to go through a discovery phase with every half-arsed "content creator" in existence to decide if they were wearing a white hat or a black hat. At one point, having discrete distribution points for media criticism meant people got paid, some journalistic ethics were being adhered to, and those gatekeepers could ensure that a profit was being made for someone somewhere. Nowadays the shackles are off & YT is a hellsite chock full of fresh young faces yearning to be the next get-rich-quick superstar for 15 minutes no matter what they have to do, which leads me to...

B) People (particularly young folks) today are perfectly OK with scamming each other.
Ask them, they'll admit it. They were raised in a digital age & have seen all of the painfully disingenuous behavior that the social media era wrought on humanity. The fake smiles, the rented jewelry, the glamour shots on vacation meant to typify your entire life. If getting paid means blurring the line between genuine opinion & paid shillery they will eagerly line up to simp whatever product would like to pay them for. And they know it's ethically wrong, and morally sleazy, but in a nihilistic way: None of it matters. The amount of "big name" YouTubers who joylessly read ad copy of the latest & greatest advertiser they feel they need to pimp to get paid makes normal folks feel dirty, but it's all part of the sleazy game in our amazingly debased contemporary online era.
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25 May 2023 09:27 #339453 by jason10mm

fightcitymayor wrote: A) We need the much-maligned "gatekeepers" back.
B) People (particularly young folks) today are perfectly OK with scamming each other.


Very much this. As a consumer, I basically just check out the few folks who seem to align with my tastes.

LOTS of folks just do negative hate watch stuff, moreso films/TV than games I suppose. I'm not really sure how much a proper game review even needs a subjective feel, just lay out the mechanics, show me the bits and bling, and I think I can tell if it all works to my tastes. Obviously a broken game or poorly explained mechanic should be called out. I haven't watched/read game reviews in a while, are there folks gushing over games that are actually dogshit? I automatically discount any review attached to a KS launch as just a commercial, minus the "These toys do not actually talk" fine print at the bottom.

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25 May 2023 09:59 #339454 by Jackwraith
Yeah, but I'm not interested in a "how to play" video most of the time. If I really want that, I can find it (Rodney Smith and Monique & Naveen (Before You Play) get acknowledgments here for being among the best in that respect) but I'd much rather find a WRITTEN expression of how the game impacted someone, like Charlie and Dan Thurot produce. That has nothing to do with stage presence or lighting or SFX or any other kind of production. It's just their thoughts, which are almost always good ones, and I can read them at my own pace and understand that both of them have taken the time to craft something which doesn't involve whether they're comfortable speaking in front of a lens or any kind of external factors. It's just them and what they thought about the game.

Now, there is an argument for podcasts in a lot of cases because those are frequently multi-party and the interchange between people can draw out new thoughts and aspects that working alone might not. I've been listening to Woodland Warriors, Cult of the Old, and Games from the Cellar recently for that reason (and because the latter two are talking about games that I'm familiar with and have played, as opposed to almost all the rest; WW is about Root.)

I will say that I really disagree with the "Young people these days-!" aspect to FCM's post. There's a long, long history of people trying to scam each other to make money and it didn't start with YouTube or social media of any kind. Just because there's more of it with a lot more visibility and ease of access doesn't mean that the people producing it are any more self-interested than billions of people have been going back through recorded history and beyond. It just means that the industry is currently subsumed in marketing of whatever moral stripe because more is being produced than can feasibly be bought, much less played. If macro indicators are to be believed, there's an implosion (aka "market correction") coming and it might, unfortunately for many, resemble the one in comics in the mid-90s.
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27 May 2023 17:48 #339469 by Bernie
I meant to reply in this thread and replied in another. Whoops.

I’ll repeat a bit of what I said there.

I’m pretty much in the same boat as Charlie on this thing. I am however 100% flummoxed over people giving Quackalope a free ride on the sheer pathetic quality of his content in this instance.

The lack of effort put into his “50 hours” is just sad. No effort to read the rules and had a Patreon patron stay with him to “teach” the game. Then gets frustrated that he does not know how to play. Culminating I’m a click bait riddled negative review.

That’s not even getting into the lack of ethics that I am pretty comfortable saying resulted in him extorting Into the Unknown. I’m on the fence on if it was intentional, and I’m inclined to think not. But the almost comedic string of errors that got Quackalope to where he is are something. Some really poorly worded emails, then followed by content releases that unintentionally happen while a KS campaign is running that were set on delayed release because he was traveling internationally. It’s a lot. Like once or two things is an accident. But I’m pretty sure we passed that threshold.
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