Hype in board games

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There Will Be Games

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The cure is worse than the disease. There exists a disease at the core of the online board gaming community. It festers, changes its form and function to elude diagnosis, and grows parasitically off of us. It drains the fun, the lifeblood of board games, from us slowly but surely. It's a cancer that we need to excise.

I'll stop bullshitting around the point. It's hype. Hype is the disease. You probably figured that out. Moreover, not only do we not have a cure, we willfully infect ourselves with it. It's addictive. It's harmful, and the only treatment most people use is another dose. And in a particularly insidious twist of the needle we aren't even getting high on our own supply.

We are constantly assaulted by manufactured hype. Moreso than any other hobby industry I've been a part of, the online board game hobbyist experience often entails immersing yourself in the advertising network of publishers. This is quite unique. In video games, film, television, and other hobbies it falls to them to reach you. You may have favorite genres or elements to track and seek out, but generally speaking you would prefer not to be bombarded with endless advertisements. Why, then, do so many people willfully subject themselves to this marketing and attempt to engage?

That was a segue. The engagment is the reason. With some exceptions, board gaming is a much smaller space with much smaller engagement numbers than the types of entertainment I mentioned above. Engagement sells, but more importantly, engagement fosters a connection. A face to the label. A sense of personal involvement and ownership. A rep at a convention who's wonderful at demoing. A charismatic, if eccentric designer. A game-previewer who may or may not be paid to do exactly what they've already succeeded at - sell you a box.

Board game media is incestuous. Many of us personally know people that are somehow involved in the making and selling of games. I do. You probably do. That's ok. I'm not saying your friendships aren't real. If you hang out with that person in real life, enjoy their company, and don't end up handing them money in order to do so, that's excellent. But the majority of board game internet interactions not only aren't that, but in some cases are borderline predatory. Pleasant interactions sell boxes. Quick forum responses sell boxes. Social media likes from official accounts on fan posts sell boxes. Happiness, however hollow, sells boxes. Sell boxes, sell boxes, sell boxes.

So you purchase the box. You feel compelled. It's only fair that you do, after all. That's how social interaction works, right?

Hype is poison. It seeps in and consumes people with minimal, if any, resistance to it. It's addicitive and feeds people who crave engagement. It preys on those who seek validation, and to some extent everyone does. No one is truly immune. I'm certainly not. The worst thing is that I don't have a solution to offer for it. I do, however, have some treatment options.

Unfollow and unsubscribe from at least some of your direct publisher feeds. Engage more with other players. Find an area of the community that isn't focused on discussing recent purchases or sharing pictures of hauls. Play the games you already have and talk about them with people. Do the thing we all initially came here to do - engage with humans around a table. It will hurt, but you will feel better for it in the long run. You can help grow a board game community that's truly built around a love of play.

Or you can close this tab, refresh the Gone Cardboard widget on BGG, and keep farming those publisher likes on Twitter. Up to you.
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Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #290836 28 Jan 2019 22:15
You’ve misread the pathology.

Read my commentary pieces on this and why it is how it is at www.superflycircus.com . I think the four articles
That explore the reasons for hype and overconsumption are easily the best things ever written on the subject.

The short version is that it’s a feedback loop feeding a core set of desires: The desire to be right, the desire to be smart, the desire to be in the club, and the desire to be Alpha.
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #290840 28 Jan 2019 22:52

SuperflyTNT wrote: You’ve misread the pathology.

Read my commentary pieces on this and why it is how it is at www.superflycircus.com . I think the four articles
That explore the reasons for hype and overconsumption are easily the best things ever written on the subject.

The short version is that it’s a feedback loop feeding a core set of desires: The desire to be right, the desire to be smart, the desire to be in the club, and the desire to be Alpha.


I remember reading your piece about consumerism in board games some time ago. I'll need to refresh and read the others, they're a bit foggy in my head at the moment. Thanks for the reminder.

While I didn't put nearly as much work into this as you did into those, there is a 5 year gap and I think the issues I focused on are a more recent phenomenon. In addition, I don't see why all of them can't be true. Some of the current board game marketing is seriously, disgustingly predatory for people who look to these "friendly" sources for validation/interaction.
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #290874 29 Jan 2019 10:39
I disagree. It's the same stuff, just packaged differently. The social media aspect is still being pressed into the willing hands of people still consuming for the same reasons.

"Hey, like/subscribe!" is just a way of making sure that people are the first to get information - ie. "Did you hear that DIFWRIJIWRWQF is launching next week? No? Hmmm...." or in other words, being able to say to friends, "Yeah, when it comes to boardgaming, I'm kind of a big deal. I know stuff."

The whole "friending" of designers and publishers is the same. "I'm friends with so-and-so, we chat sometimes". Now, there's some guys that are just totally approachable and love people, like Buonocore - there's not a fake bone in the man.

But all of it comes back to the same shit:
People want to be right.
"I watched that Tom Vasel review and he agrees with me, so I should but it. Then when I bring it to the group I can say I discovered it and Tom agreed with my positions. Maybe I should start a YouTube channel?"

People want to feel smarter than their peers.
"I knew about that game way before anyone. I was going to sign up to playtest it, but I'm working on my own projects so I didn't."

People want to feel affirmed.
"I looked up the game, and since the reviews were positive, I was right to buy this. We should play this."

It's all psychological and it's consumer-pushed. Many, many gamers are intellectual wannabes, very condescending (internally or externally), and are naturally competitive. The hypewagon system of sales and marketing (read: unregulated "journalists") are a veritable layered onion of genius. The publishers have found willing interlocutors who act as honest brokers (and most are) but they are humans first, and humans know not to shit where you eat, nor do we like painful things, so the overwhelming OVERWHELMING number of reviews are positive because nobody wants to be in a position where you rail against someone who sent you a free game (and may never again), and furthermore, nobody wants to play a game they hate three times and then take time writing about something they hate just to get shit on (maybe) by a publisher who is mad that you shit on their game that they invested heavily in.

So, it's all geared towards affirmation, making people feel smarter, and is really quite the "meta marketing" system which has proven to be incredibly powerful. One might even argue that board games have become the best example of effective influencer marketing today outside of high fashion.
jpat's Avatar
jpat replied the topic: #290882 29 Jan 2019 11:26
I don't claim to have thought about this as long or as well as some here, but there are at least a couple of issues here: (1) the quality of board game review/criticism and (2) psychological and social factors behind consumership in board gaming. I think we've largely established that the quality of board game review/criticism is, in the main and with some notable exceptions, appallingly bad. The social and psychological dimensions of board game consumerism aren't unique to board gaming, but they may be particularly effective in the domain for reasons already indicated: the field is relatively small; the hobby is more social in nature than many media-based ones; many of us were "evangelized" into board gaming by personal influence, so we remain susceptible to such seemingly personal influencing by people we may not know but we seem to know because they have such a large place in this small pond, and so on.

Today's movies are pretty much 100% hype driven by studios, by (in many cases) franchise-ism (you've seen 22 of these, might as well see the 23rd), and by social media influencers, and movies, except at the margins, are largely immune from professional criticism. So board gaming isn't unique at all in the hype department. But the quality of criticism for board games is much weaker than that for film, and board games are more social (I would say) and more prone to triggering a collector impulse because of their "durability." (True, lots of people collected films at one time, but this has certainly dropped off in the age of streaming and was impossible before the advent of home video.)
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jpat replied the topic: #290893 29 Jan 2019 13:43
And, after reading more of Pete's work, I see he has both preceded me in pretty much every salient point and far surpassed me in insight. Hats off.

For me, if anything's changed qualitatively, it's not KS or the general mechanism of hype (which Pete covers, even from the comparatively innocent distance of four-plus years ago), it's how BGG, clearly the reference point for any discussion of the hobby, has even more profoundly leaned in to the consumerist bent and the branding with its "hotness" list, its official content, and the like. Maybe this is really just a quantitative change, and BGG has always been less neutral and user controlled than it's seemed, but it just feels like the site pushed commodification more than it used to because that's what everyone seems to want.
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DukeofChutney replied the topic: #290900 29 Jan 2019 14:52
Important points are worth remaking and this is an erudite article.

I think the friendliness in boardgames is partly due to the heavy dominance of video in the criticism space. It is easier to write harsh words and say them to a camera. That in turn is a reflection of the era boardgames have grown up in. Video game critique developed in the 90s and early 00s in print magazines with a reputation to defend where the print was their product. In the late 2000s to present the internet is the medium and video the easiest way to convey games with physical components and complex rules. So everything has a face. I point this out because whilst I do agree friendliness has been commercialized i think this is a happy convenience for the benefactors rather than any specific design.
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #290901 29 Jan 2019 14:52

jpat wrote: Maybe this is really just a quantitative change, and BGG has always been less neutral and user controlled than it's seemed, but it just feels like the site pushed commodification more than it used to because that's what everyone seems to want.


I think the last point is all that matters. BGG is moving with the times so they can get their cut, and the way they do that is facilitating the hype engine. Paid promotion, partnerships, etc.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #291085 30 Jan 2019 09:09
This is a perennial issue of mine, as everyone knows, so no need to go into it, but there's another angle I haven't seen brought up.

It used to be that in nerd hobbies, the way you showed your dick size was by either knowing things others didn't know about the thing or having things others didn't have about it. This allowed people to do gatekeeping and status checks and so forth.

But now we have the Internet, where you can find out the most minutest details about anything in moments, learn the entire history of something in an afternoon, and buy a Japanese-only import with the misprinted box sleeve at the click of a button. I no longer have to depend on the guru who has the fifth-generation copy of an episode from 1965, I can watch it on youtibe. How the hell do you gatekeep that?

Same way we've always done it: cold hard cash. Sure, you can buy a t-shirt about the show. But can you buy 20 of them? Sure, you can get your hands on this edition, but do you have a complete set? How does anyone know you like this character unless you have every possible toy version of it, more than others to prove your fealty.

Conspicuous consumption has worked for years to prove one's devotion and status. You can buy a $75,000 wristwatch that literally doesn't do ANYTHING better than a $5 one except tell people you can spend $75,000 on a wristwatch. How many people are right now driving around solo in giant behemoths that can hold 8 people, but which never have more than 2 in them. But they could afford the thing, so they must have the thing.

Boardgames are becoming mainstream and popular. When I first got into hobby games I read about Waldschattenspiel and was mesmerized at this arcane wonder. Now I can buy it at Target.

When a game reviewer wants to establish his (usually his) credibility, what does he do? Places himself in front of a wall of games. Owning 1000s of games means you have bona fides.
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #291087 30 Jan 2019 09:17
That's an incredible point, Dave. The truth of that is glaring.
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #291088 30 Jan 2019 09:28
I have seen it mentioned in offhand comments, but never laid out in detail. Contempt for the wall-o-games background is shockingly rare and I think you nailed why.

One of my favorite video reviewers (who has since moved on to podcasting) is Mark Bigney. When he did All The Games You Like Are Bad he filmed in front of a shelf that had absolutely zero games on it. A couple books, some dust collectors, that was it. That always comes to mind whenever I see someone who's taken forever finding the perfect staging angle for their "shelfie".
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Gary Sax replied the topic: #291095 30 Jan 2019 10:50
Which is hilarious because mark had said on his podcast he has a huge collection, like 700 games
Jexik's Avatar
Jexik replied the topic: #291105 30 Jan 2019 11:28
I don't know if it's my early Christian (Lutheran)* upbringing or what, but this does not jive with me at all. My family was middle to upper middle class (teachers), but I've never been about conspicuous consumption (or had the means for it).

*The likely poorly translated line, "It's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of god."

What I DID do during my youth was try to win games as much as possible, and if possible to do it on a budget, all the better. Nothing gave me more joy than putting MtG players with $1k decks on tilt with a plucky $80 red deck. Even when I was running a game shop, my commander decks had some pretty strict budget restrictions. There are some more collector oriented players that show their personal worth by trying to have as much dollar value on the board as possible.

I don't know if trying to win through my wits etc. is some weird perversion of the protestant work ethic. I also think the phenomenon of people playing freemium games and refusing to spend a cent is similar.

To the OP, I've made real friends with a bunch of plaid hat guys and Rob Daviau, which somehow had me end up playing a party game with Quinns and Matt from that one show. They were NOT the funniest people in the game though. (I was the least funny one though...)
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #291107 30 Jan 2019 11:32
Nah, you’re just high functioning and Alpha AF when it comes to winning. You were always outclevering people at Heroscape.

Maybe there’s an underlying heirarchy in the hobby:

NERDFAME
Video Reviewers
Designers
Podcasters
Winners
Collectors
Well informed

Maybe not in that order
Jexik's Avatar
Jexik replied the topic: #291108 30 Jan 2019 11:34
I was at best, a top 20 player in the country lol. They made a list that said I'm probably only top 100 all time. ;) D-list nerd celeb sounds about right for me at my prime. Then I had to go and do different things a little more.

Nowadays I like losing more than winning. It's a mix of the dopamine rush being less than it used to be and relishing the opportunity to learn something new. Stomping people does not create a learning experience... for either side really.
SaMoKo's Avatar
SaMoKo replied the topic: #291110 30 Jan 2019 11:39
How much cred does my 45 game collection give me? I should buy some empty boxes if I ever do a video review maybe
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #291111 30 Jan 2019 11:41
Buy a bunch of Queen games on Amazon. They're like $2 a pop and look like real games if you squint.
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Sagrilarus replied the topic: #291113 30 Jan 2019 11:41
I always saw the wall of games as an insecure fallback for street cred. When you're losing an argument, you point to your wall (or your particular hobby's equivalent) and say "do you have one of these? I think that's a pretty good indication that I know what I'm talking about." In a lot of ways that wall is a sign of insecurity. Given how garish walls-of-games usually are they're an awful choice for background from an aesthetic perspective.

I've always joked that if I did a video podcast I'd stand in front of an empty shelf save for one copy of Monopoly. But I'm a middle-aged white male, I get street cred for free, and I don't really give a damn what people think of me anyway.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #291114 30 Jan 2019 11:42
Makes sense, Jexik. Learning is fun. Losing forces you to learn. But then, I would say that, since my day job is as a professor.
Jexik's Avatar
Jexik replied the topic: #291115 30 Jan 2019 11:44

Vysetron wrote: Buy a bunch of Queen games on Amazon. They're like $2 a pop and look like real games if you squint.


I have a friend who has become inundated with games from a company once they saw his photography skills. I don't know what his endgame is, but he is getting tons of crappy review copies and started doing video reviews.

And he hates Settlers of Catan because it has dice in a strategy game, so I don't even respect his opinions on games that aren't D&D.

Gary Sax wrote: Makes sense, Jexik. Learning is fun. Losing forces you to learn. But then, I would say that, since my day job is as a professor.


I also seem to care about more visceral learning experiences (combat, etc). Point salad games determined by less than 5% of the total score annoy the heck out of me. Or anything with seemingly arbitrary mechanics that are central to success... or focusing on turn order. Basically any Feld and I give Power Grid a pass because the overall trappings make so much sense.

I think it depends on the circle how much people respect the winningness. One of the clubs I used to frequent had a bunch of guys in their 40s and 50s who basically all had games and have been playing stuff since the 90s. The guy who seemed to have the most unspoken respect is the one who just by sitting at a table became the favorite for whatever it was. He really has a knack for winning. The guys with well-curated collections but never seemed to win just seemed kind of sad. But maybe that's just the vibe that club gave.
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Jackwraith replied the topic: #291118 30 Jan 2019 12:01
The only time I ever took a picture of my "wall of games" was when I was trying to convince people to COME PLAY SOME FUCKING GAMES WITH ME! Because many of them hadn't moved off that shelf in eons.
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Jexik replied the topic: #291122 30 Jan 2019 12:08

Jackwraith wrote: The only time I ever took a picture of my "wall of games" was when I was trying to convince people to COME PLAY SOME FUCKING GAMES WITH ME! Because many of them hadn't moved off that shelf in eons.


Might have been intimidating for those not interested in gatekeeping.

Among plebs my closet and a couple of shelves half full of games seems like a problem. I wanna say it's under 30 unless you count expansions as new entries.
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Shellhead replied the topic: #291127 30 Jan 2019 12:25
I finally got a couple of Billy bookcases for my boardgames about three years ago. Not to show off my games, but just to make them accessible. Before that, playing a game meant going into a basement storage closet and rooting around in various storage totes and cardboard boxes. I actually to either sell 1/3 of my games or get another Billy, because 1/3 of my collection is still in totes.
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Deleted replied the topic: #291229 31 Jan 2019 10:31

Sagrilarus wrote: I always saw the wall of games as an insecure fallback for street cred. When you're losing an argument, you point to your wall (or your particular hobby's equivalent) and say "do you have one of these? I think that's a pretty good indication that I know what I'm talking about."


Yeah, so the hierarchy still remains with "in the know" being at the top, but the wall o' games is really just the dressing that underpins that. That makes sense.

Jexik, if I could go back in time, I'd have done video reviews instead of written reviews. It's so much more fun to talk shit out of your mouth than out of your fingers, so to speak. I'd also have made a convincing and easily identifiable clay phallus and hide it among the wall of games, in a different spot each time, like an Easter egg, but an Easter dick. Just to trigger people.
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Deleted replied the topic: #291230 31 Jan 2019 10:33

Gary Sax wrote: Makes sense, Jexik. Learning is fun. Losing forces you to learn. But then, I would say that, since my day job is as a professor.


Well, if this is the case, I am the smartest gamer on Earth, because I never win. Anything. Ever.