This is Audio EXP for the 18th of June 2022, and the title of this episode is “Ego, ethics and money in tabletop gaming”.
[The following is a transcript of Audio EXP: #153]
BRW Games is in the spotlight this month, as voted for by Patreons.
I’ve flung some questions over to BRW, but only recently. My fault. It’s squeaky bum time again, yet again, on whether we’re racing month end to the interview.
I can tell you now, so I will, that BRW Games still make first edition D&D content. Titles like The Golden Scroll of Justice, first published in 2015, are a silver best seller on DriveThruRPG.
And silver best sellers give me the first link to the topics I’ve been thinking about this week; money and from that ethics.
Last week, I mentioned how the Embracer Group, the owners of Asmodee, Edge, Fantasy Flight, Dark Horse and many computer game studios closely associated with geek culture, had sold chunks of itself to Saudia Arabia’s Savvy Gaming Group.
Savvy isn’t a private company, not cleanly, it’s an extension of the country’s rulership, and it’s a country with a horrible human rights record. Cultural differences, yes, but also moral and ethical ones for me.
I wasn’t alone. Others complained. Now Embracer has shared a long statement that really didn’t say much at all.
It boils down to claims that they’re still calling the shots, did the deal because they thought it was the right thing to do and insist they’re not going to be baddies now.
Hasbro is trying to move on. Last week I reported on the company’s victory in the board room battle against investors who wanted Wizards of the Coast spun out so something could be sold. The argument made by some investors is that WotC is trading at a 75% discount because it’s coupled with Hasbro.
Hasbro’s new boss is Wizards of the Coast’s old boss.
The toy maker has announced an investors’ day is coming and in which they insist they’ll listen, that’s the olive branch, and detail the new strategy, which reveals going back to doing what they wanted.
What is Hasbro’s new strategy? fewer big projects, but doing them better, and the bit that interests many geeks; making sure the gaming range is fully supported.
So, that’s a quick Audio EXP style recap of ethics and money from two huge companies.
Let’s layer in some ego: go small to a privately run gaming studio. Let’s go to Apotheosis Studios, the people behind Battle of the Bards and Red Opera.
The CEO has just stepped down after many people stepped forward with stories and screens that grabbed evidence of him being an absolute horror.
He is Jamison Stone, and he’s married to TTRPG celeb Satine Phoenix. Both have now lost influencer gigs and other deals.
Satine has released a statement to say she was wrong to empower Jamison’s bullying and knows what she needs to do now.
However, there are also leaked screenshots that seem credible but might not be, revealing that Jamison is all about protecting Satine. I suspect he doesn’t mean to protect her emotionally from the abuse the couple are getting from an angry internet, but to protect her reputation as a charismatic, friendly and attractive RPG celeb.
Others point out that Jamison Stone still owns Apotheosis.
I know neither, but I find the whole drama incredibly uncomfortable.
For a start, Jamison Stone is a physically intimidating man who is now revealed to be quick and cruel with emotional abuse. What pressure is Satine under? Is she enabling, empowering or even egging Stone on? Is she caught? Is she at risk? Who knows.
If so many people have had terrible experiences, then why did this take so long to come to light? Was everyone that scared?
I’m not saying the evidence is faked; I’m saying I’m frustrated that it wasn’t rumbled earlier. But, and here’s the gotcha, I also get why people want to be professional and not necessarily bang a public drum when they don’t get on well with someone in the industry.
It’s caused ripples. Mark Rein-Hagen created Vampire: the Masquerade and is about to launch a Kickstarter for his new company’s 5e project. That’s called Badlander and you get a free preview of that from Geek Native.
The Kickstarter is due now. Now-ish. Yet, Lostlorn games, the company publishing Badlander, felt they had to or wanted to support an employee and their emotional journey. They, too, had had a horrible experience of Jamison, so Lostlorn published it.
I imagine the whole hot drama is eating into everyone’s time.
In a fluke of timing, I also have a story on the likely D&D alignment of your average American.
It’s Neutral Good, according to YouGov US. YouGov is professional pollsters, and they questioned thousands of Americans about this.
13% of Americans are True Neutral, around 1% Neutral Evil, and another 1% Chaotic Evil.
I think that’s scary high. What does that mean for the number of straight-up evil people attending Gen Con?
Oh well, I hope to be wrong. I may be wrong on DMPCs. Ben and the Genre Police published In Defence of the Monster and argue that a correctly run DMPC can be good.
I disagree because if handled right, a DMPC is an NPC.
But, a DMPC isn’t a question of ethics, and it’s just a matter of making it work.
Making it work brings me back to money. Funko bought Mondo.
You’ll know Funko; they make models, especially those cool Funko Pops. If I ask, “Do you need another Funko Pop?” you might imagine the challenge ahead for them.
Mondo is also a pretty cool company that sells posters and art-designed records, it’s got into board games too, but it’s owned by a cinema chain. As all theatres have, the Alamo Drafthouse chain has had a rough lockdown.
I think they’ve sold Mondo for the money, getting rid of the successful, hard-to-run side business to help support the main one. I think Funko has bought Mondo to try and do more than just Pops.
It could work but will require effort.
I think the next money story is less necessary but in equal measure, “it’ll work with effort”. Backerkit has launched a Kickstarter rival called Crowdfunding by Backerkit.
I don’t think they’ll be kicked out of the Kickstarter ecosystem. If I was running a Kickstarter, I might be less keen to use Backerkit to help manage my campaign or promote it if I know they have money invested in taking market share off Kickstarter. Don’t they want Kickstarter to fail for their new Crowdfunding alternative to grow?
I might be paranoid and cynical. Big publishers from the RPG space, like Frosthaven’s parent company, Monte Cook Games, Tuesday Knight Games, 9th Level Press, Roll & Play Press, Restoration Games and even Exalted Funeral, have all signed up.
Backerkit knows all about advertising campaigns, so soon, we might see many Facebook ads drawing our attention to their service.
There’s one more Kickstarter story this week and it’s firmly in the topic of ego, ethics and money. It’s maybe a little ego and money, but mainly ethics.
Philip Reed, that’s the same person behind all those Mork Borg Kickstarters and who is the CEO at Steve Jackson Games, has also been appointed to the crowdfunding platform’s Community Advisory Council.
The council was announced in response to the backlash against Kickstarter’s desire to decentralise on a blockchain. People didn’t like the blockchain technology ethics, or the company Kickstarter picked and were even more worried that this would open the door to the likes of NFTs.
Since then, Kickstarter has taken a relatively straightforward anti-NFT stance.
One more bit of news before we get onto the freebies and bundles. The UK Games Expo wrapped and with it we had the UKGE 2022 Awards.
You can see all the winners on the blog, the link to that from the show notes and transcript, but Twilight: 2000 from Free League won the Judges Award for best RPG and Shiver, the horror from Parable Games, won the People’s.
Two freebies of note this week are both from Modiphius. One is the Fallout Quickstart. That’s for the Fallout TTRPG and the Starter Set, which was announced.
The other, out in time to support the Discovery campaign guide for Star Trek Adventures, is the 6th Mission Briefs. That’s called Psychic Incursions and, yes, has missions around all the telepaths we encounter in Star Trek.
I found two bundle deals worthy of your time this week too. One is from the Bundle of Holding and Fat Goblin. It’s called Planners and has loads of DM/GM tools in it.
The other is from Capcom and Humble, which has Monster Hunter, Devil May Cry and other computer game deals.
And on that note, let’s wrap up there, enjoy your games and see you next week.
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