Board Game YouTuber's $7500 Video Request Opens Can Of Worms
May 24, 2023 6:25 AM   Subscribe

 
The tl;dr edition of this story is as follows:
“Years of coziness between publishers and the people filming their games has resulted in a community where the lines between advertising and coverage have become so blurred that email exchanges like the one above can take place, include the words “the coverage should be strictly positive” and nobody thought it was a bad idea putting that out in the public record.”
This gets right to the heart of the issue and its not specific to the tabletop/board-game community. We're seeing this in so many other spaces.
posted by Fizz at 6:32 AM on May 24 [19 favorites]


Oh my God I think this actually is about ethics in (board) games journalism

(This is interesting, thank you!)
posted by an octopus IRL at 6:45 AM on May 24 [48 favorites]


I often think this l that the difference between this and, say, IGN video game coverage, is that IGN has the legal department required to tell people never to share the correspondence.
posted by jaduncan at 6:47 AM on May 24 [5 favorites]


It's a difficult area; I always appreciate those creators/reviewers in both the board game/video game spaces who make it clear that they've been sponsored/given a copy, but I also get the hours people put into doing the content. That said, I'm a little taken aback by how brazen this seems; I guess I kind of assumed the publisher would reach out to the content creator to start the conversation. Having it go the other way feels a bit awkward.
posted by nubs at 6:48 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


We're seeing this in so many other spaces.

From the Kotaku comments on that article it did sound like board gaming in particular has an extreme instance of the relationship between influencer reviewers and game creators. Essentially no history of mainstream "traditional media" reviewing (with some kind of lip service paid to the advertising/editorial boundary), huge dependence on kickstarter and word of mouth, not really much money to go around outside of a few extreme cases like mtg, many people who aren't very experienced at sales/marketing. But perhaps it's just a matter of degree (and ability to not put stuff directly in print) rather than kind...
posted by advil at 6:52 AM on May 24 [4 favorites]


It's a long thread, but I'm having trouble reconciling Quackalope's statement:

TLDR: We did not and have never asked a publisher to pay us in order to prevent the channel posting critical or negative content. I will do a Live stream the week of JUNE 12th, once I am back in Cleveland, hanging out and answering any questions the community has.

With this comment by them in the email chain:

If we are working in collaboration with you we would scrap the footage we have already recorded (since we want to be as accurate as possible). If we decide to work independently, we will likely not invest more time beyond the 50 hours of content and 8 videos we have recorded.

Presumably the footage they would have scrapped includes this video, entitled "The Horrible Truth of Aeon Trespass Odyssey", which begins with the statement "Aeon Trespass might be the worst game we have ever played."
posted by justkevin at 6:56 AM on May 24 [7 favorites]


Is you taking notes on a criminal conspiracy?
posted by chavenet at 7:11 AM on May 24 [16 favorites]


yeah I'm sure it's true that there's issues like this in other spaces, but I do think there's something about the intersection of Kickstarter campaigns and Youtube content creators that makes it worse in the board game world. I think Kickstarter has been pretty good for the hobby, maybe enabling some stuff to be made without as much financial stress, but there's also so much hype/FOMO driven campaigns for huge boxes full of plastic crap
posted by okonomichiyaki at 7:21 AM on May 24 [7 favorites]


The other important factor here is that I don't think most people realize how small the board games world is, even the people who are in it. Independent publishers rarely have more than a couple employees, and these youtube channels are similarly shoestring operations. You can see a little of this in the email chain where the reaction to the idea of sending someone from the publisher to the US to participate in the videos is basically "LOL, how much spare money and time do you think we have?" It's hard to have a firm wall between advertising and editorial when the realities of the scale of these operations means that wall has to run down the middle of one person's brain.
posted by firechicago at 7:21 AM on May 24 [10 favorites]


Honestly I watched this channel for a few months, it was clear the main dude has some sort of narcissism issues (in my unprofessional opinion). There was always a weird tie to a game storefront(?)

All I know is I was like what the fuck is up with these two videos and I watched them. And was like what the hell is this? Like an artistic exercise? Then I saw a pulled video and the video explanation yesterday about "i done goofed" - yeah, bro, you need therapy, you and shira need to not get married right now and you need to sort yourself out before you fuck up more lives including your future wifes
posted by symbioid at 7:59 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


Shut Up and Sit Down is name checked in TFA, which doesn't surprise me because they are run by journalists. Quinns and Matt both started in the video game press and I think that same old school press mentality is present in their videos.

Weirdly I don't think I've ever seen a Quackalope video. Seen lots of Dice Tower, who don't hide they take money.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:00 AM on May 24 [3 favorites]


The Quackalope guys are liars, and nothing they say should be taken at face value. There is no other possible explanation for this:

"With Oathsworn last year we were able to provide them with a wide range of content over a few months by establishing a contract for the first wave of media" .

...in combination with their Oathsworn videos being marked explicitly as not sponsored. (In fact, in between the 4th of July and the 24th of July, according to their disclosures, Quackalope went from playing a copy provided by the publisher to having their own purchased copy and no ties to the publisher. Yeah. Right.)

This kind of non-disclosure of financial relationships with the sellers of commercial products you are featuring is illegal. Quackalope have no leg to stand on, and they aren't even good at lying.
posted by Dysk at 8:05 AM on May 24 [9 favorites]


Do we need a bright line between advertising and coverage here? I mean, transparency is good, but we don't need critics giving out savage reviews. We have BGG. We just want to see how the game works. Glowing or not, is this game something that will appeal to me? That's all I want to see. This isn't journalism and doesn't pretend to be. If there's news about creator abuse or corporate malfeasance, I'm not heading to Dice Tower.
posted by Garm at 8:06 AM on May 24


Do we need a bright line between advertising and coverage here?

You need to be clear what is what. Especially if you're absolutely trashing a particular game, it might be germane to your viewers that you're being paid by the publishers if every other game review video you've done, this negative one is the only time you're not. The law requires you to be clear what is what. That influencers and YouTube personalities regularly ignore these laws does not mean that they do not or should not apply.
posted by Dysk at 8:09 AM on May 24 [12 favorites]


Weirdly I don't think I've ever seen a Quackalope video.

I watched a couple of their videos of their playthrough of Oath; in the second one the last 10 minutes or so were two of the guys arguing over a rules interpretation while the third player watched, bemused...and it just left me with a weird vibe about them all. I stick with SU&SD mostly now.
posted by nubs at 8:42 AM on May 24


I think the idea of a bright line between coverage and advertising is a bit of a red herring here. For this sort of enthusiast media, a huge chunk of their content is always going to be "here's a cool new thing that I want to tell you about" stuff that straddles that line whether or not they're getting paid for it.

What absolutely is a bright line to follow is that if you're getting some sort of material benefit from the creator or publisher of the media you're covering, you should prominently disclose that, regardless of the content of that coverage. There are lots of channels where they will even add a disclaimer if the publisher sent them a free copy of the game. There are some tricky edge cases but what's described here doesn't come close to them. This should be easy stuff.
posted by firechicago at 8:57 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


Background before I post.

Tangentially attached to the industry. Nothing published because that didn't interest me enough. But my name is likely in the back of the book on something you've played. I was in this space when it was small, and I tend to hold a grudge against anyone who only moved into it because it got big, not because they want to have fun.

Separately from that I don't really pay that much attention to these guys because I don't think I like the same kids of games they do. I like to set in that 2.5 to 4, medium to medium-heavy euro range. They seem to like chrome over meat.

I think Rob's Tabletop World has said what needs to be said about this issue better than I can, so I'll just link to their video.

ALSO, on refresh:

> Do we need a bright line between advertising and coverage here?

Yes, you do. 100%. I can't believe that's actually a question. Any personality that doesn't draw that line big enough that I can see it from space has no credibility from me, at all.

To be clear, you can have videos that are paid, and you can have videos that are unpaid. You can have videos that are sponsored and have interstitial breaks. What you can't do is say that you're giving your honest opinion about something while not disclosing funding. And you ABSOLUTELY CANNOT shake down a publisher to shoot a different video in exchange for money.

These guys are dead in the water for me. They should be dead in the water for you.
posted by parliboy at 9:18 AM on May 24 [9 favorites]


The article says "This is common practice in board games media, and has been widely known, even by fans, for some time." Is that true? First I heard of it, but then I don't read board games media regularly. Are board games fans OK with this?

Do we need a bright line between advertising and coverage here?

The FTC says yes. (Or at the very least, clear disclosure.)
posted by Nelson at 9:42 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


Benn Jordan just did a video about youtube sponsor deals that's pretty informative and breaks down what prices he gets offered. He also talks about the legality and ethics of the whole thing. Tl;dr pretty much everyone is doing something illegal, but nobody is enforcing the laws.

$1500 a video seems broadly in line with the prices he quotes. Maybe it's a little high given the quackalope's subscriber account, but on the other hand, Quackalope is reaching a niche audience
posted by surlyben at 9:59 AM on May 24 [6 favorites]


He also talks about the legality and ethics of the whole thing. Tl;dr pretty much everyone is doing something illegal, but nobody is enforcing the laws.

He also seems to think it's a problem to have a bug on the bottom of the screen that says "sponsored video" during a sponsored video, as if it's some great injustice that he add that layer to the editor and increase the video processing time by .5 seconds. So...
posted by parliboy at 10:20 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


Mark Bigney of the So Very Wrong About Games podcast has a decent take on the wider issue of editorial vs advertising (pay to play) content. About 4 minutes on this in episode #264 on YouTube, link to timestamp. (The "bloat" he mentions is a reference to BLOAT, their Patreon-exclusive extra content mini-show.)
posted by jklaiho at 10:36 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


Kinda noped out of the article when it said “get ready for a lot of text, here are all the emails” and the very first email in the chain had no fewer than 4 separate advertisements inserted inline.

I get that you have a right to make a living and that ads support that. But for fuck’s sake. An interstitial ad after every goddamn sentence? That’s too much.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:37 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


Since there are a lot of emails, etc., in the article, I'll mention that near the bottom it links to a non-exhaustive list of reviewers not funded by publishers at least as of ~2 years ago. I think all but one of them have posted something in 2023, so maybe it's still useful for avoiding some of this issue.
posted by Wobbuffet at 11:04 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


To be clear, you can have videos that are paid, and you can have videos that are unpaid. You can have videos that are sponsored and have interstitial breaks. What you can't do is say that you're giving your honest opinion about something while not disclosing funding. And you ABSOLUTELY CANNOT shake down a publisher to shoot a different video in exchange for money.

Linus Tech Tips is an example of a channel that has done this excellently. There are only so many CPU vendors and models to feature, and they have openly had sponsored videos from both Intel and AMD. A year where the processor of that vendor is crap? Yeah, LTT will reliably say so with relevant metrics regardless of previous sponsored content (before looking to camera to shill an LTT water bottle). I respect the clear ethics in their interactions with viewers.

It's rarer than it should be, and I think that in a lot of areas the conduct is so bad because the stakes are so low.
posted by jaduncan at 11:16 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


The Benn Jordan link posted above is 100% worth watching.
posted by Slothrup at 2:09 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]


I guess I don't see what the big deal is here, the entire premise of influencer/enthusiast content is that brands get to skip the journalism/gatekeeping and go straight to having people you trust lie to you.
posted by bradbane at 3:13 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]


What absolutely is a bright line to follow is that if you're getting some sort of material benefit from the creator or publisher of the media you're covering, you should prominently disclose that, regardless of the content of that coverage. There are lots of channels where they will even add a disclaimer if the publisher sent them a free copy of the game. There are some tricky edge cases but what's described here doesn't come close to them. This should be easy stuff.

The issue is that it works the other way, too. Video creators can't afford to purchase every new board/video game (toaster/vacuum cleaner/lip gloss/handbag/action figure) that comes out and so their income stream relies on them remaining in good terms with companies and some of their content is going to be influenced by that, consciously or subconsciously. There's a recent issue with the video game site Kotaku (which may have been recently covered on the blue) where they had been shut off from early access to the recent Zelda release because Nintendo didn't like some of their recent editorial choices (such as they are).

It's not just independent creators. If you want to afford to film a car chase in your television or movie you had better stay on the good side of the auto manufacturers. That's why you'll see the protagonist's vehicle emblem and never the villain's.
posted by dances with hamsters at 7:37 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]


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