Tobold's Blog
Monday, September 12, 2022
+1 Short Sword of Self-Reflection

I am watching a lot of YouTube channels from content creators that talk about board games. That is not the only YouTube content I watch, but certainly about half. Board game YouTube channels are their own little ecosystem; there are obviously a lot less people making board game videos than computer game videos, and viewer numbers are a lot lower. But frequently the issues reflect the wider YouTube world to some extent. Only that, the ecosystem being smaller, a smaller event can look a lot bigger.

The small event that happened recently was that a game company, Chip Theory Games, selected a number of YouTube content creators and not only sent them their latest Kickstarter game Hoplomachus Victorum, but also a custom-made real short sword in a leather scabbard, engraved with the logo of the respective YouTube channel that received it. And a lot of board game creators on YouTube, whether they got one of those swords or not, were prompted by this to do videos with some self-reflection about what their role was. Are these YouTube content creators "journalists", or are they "influencers"? How much can they be trusted to give honest advice and reviews? How easily can they be bought?

These self-reflections of content creators aren't exactly new. I did one back in 2009, where I stated that I can be bought for $100,000; unfortunately there were no takers. I believe that everybody can be bought if the offer is high enough, and the thing that person has to do for the money is easy enough, like giving a fake good review. Also I believe that this, like pretty much everything in life, is not black and white: Maybe somebody can't be "bought" for $100 in free merchandise, but is his attitude towards the product and the company behind it exactly the same whether he received those $100 free merchandise or whether he had to pay $100 of his own money to buy the product to review it?

Writing a blog is a dying form of content creation, and I wouldn't recommend it. Having said that, I have a lot more respect for the content creators of the blogging age than I have for the content creators of the video stream age. It takes a lot more time per week to run a successful YouTube channel about anything than it takes to write a blog about that same thing. As a result I don't really know anybody from my blogging days who ever claimed that his blog was his full-time job, while being a full-time content creator on YouTube is a lot more common. And people who need to pay rent and get food on the table are easier tempted by money than those who just want to shout out their personal opinions for fun. That doesn't necessarily mean taking money from companies to do fake reviews, but I sure can see a lot more content creators on Twitch and YouTube doing attention-grabbing stuff to get viewer numbers and thus ad revenue up. I don't think any blogger ever wrote his content from a hot tub.

So, what about board game YouTube content creators? Are those influencers being influenced by free stuff? I definitively think so. And more so than YouTube content creators reviewing video games. That is not necessarily because the board game people are more easily bought than the video game people, but it has to do with the business model of crowdfunded board games. If you fund a board game on Kickstarter or Gamefound (the two biggest platforms right now), you pay money now, and hopefully get your board game a year or two later; sometimes you get it 3 or 4 years later, but cases where you don't get anything at all are few and far between in the board game category. As a result, board game companies don't need advertising when they deliver their game, they need advertising when they run their crowdfunding campaign. Only, at that point, the game isn't available anywhere yet. So they send free prototype games to YouTube channel creators. And that is close to 100% of their overall advertising budget, board game crowdfunding campaigns don't get advertised in print media or on TV very often.

The YouTube board game channels on the other side need those prototype games, because during the crowdfunding campaign their viewers are most interested in the new game and want to see how it is. If they waited for the game's release before playing it on their channel, they would miss out on a lot of views. Furthermore, board games are usually a lot more expensive than videogames. Especially the big box games with lots of miniatures easily cost several hundred dollars, depending on pledge level. That gladius short sword that caused so much commotion might actually be worth less than the game it came with, at least I saw one video of an unboxing of the content of the $255 pledge. So I would say that the board game content creators are a lot closer to their industry than the video game content creators on the same platform are.

Still, I don't think free board games with or without swords change the value of the videos for the viewer all that much. I tend to prefer videos with actual gameplay, and then I don't just listen to what the reviewer says. For example one of the big games in the board game sphere that is both currently delivering on the first crowdfunding campaign and preparing a second crowdfunding campaign is Oathsworn. Despite mostly positive reviews I could see from the actual gameplay that the game was a bit too complicated and fiddly for me and my wife. Especially since we don't paint miniatures, so games with a lots of miniatures are actually not that much of a draw for us, as they stay ugly grey on our table. Whether the reviewer was influenced by getting a free game and possibly other goodies was irrelevant to me.


" I believe that everybody can be bought if the offer is high enough". This is a thing people who can be bought often say, just like dog training guides tell you how to motivate your dog by use of "treats". Some dogs, though, just are not sufficiently interested in food to change their behavior significantly because it's offered and some people are not sufficiently interested in money.

If you define "offer" as in the above statement as "lever", however, it's more likely to be true. There's probably a lever that can be used to change most people's behavior but that lever is often not a bribe but a threat. Many people would certainly endorse just about anything if the alternative was being shot, for example. Then again, history is littered with examples of people who wouldn't, so even that doesn't work as an absolute.

Absolutes outside of the hard sciences never hold true so it's counterproductive to claim they do when making a point. Like I just did.
Not every statement is an absolute, you need to consider the context in which it is written, instead of isolating it and taking it to mean something completely different. I would claim that in the context discussed here, that is "bought" meaning "persuaded to endorse a product on the internet" a bribe works a lot better than a threat. At least I am not aware of cases where YouTubers were forced to endorse products under the threat of violence.
I agree with your post and would actually say it applies to pretty much all of YouTube and Twitch and beyond.

I think that content creators are more influenced by companies then many of them might think. While I don't believe everyone is just a paid shill giving reviews for money I do believe that the mutually beneficial relationship between game devs and creators naturally leads to a relationship where both sides are often "nicer" to each other then they otherwise would be.

I watch a fair amount of WoW content creators. It's my way of keeping up with the game even though I don't play anymore. When the "Exodus" to FF14 picked up steam many of them said they wouldn't touch WoW again and they were tired of the hype cycle for each new expansion, etc. Yet here we are prepping for a new expansion and just about all of them are covering the game again.

Even Asmongold, infamous for being a rage streamer, has softened his tone towards Blizzard recently seemingly because Blizzard is finally engaging with him behind the scenes.

Of course content creators will tend to chase whatever get views so these relationships are often fickle and only last as long as the views do.

Company I work for, accepting such a gift would be a breach of ethics.
It’s a very interesting and symbiotic relationship. Games Workshop, for example, changed their tune from ignoring and shutting down content creators to sending them free samples, inviting them to events, and generally working with them. They realised that by marketing to YouTube creators, they could in turn market to a much larger extended audience with ease. Many content creators are just freelancer marketeers that don’t realise it.
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