A controversy involving one of the biggest YouTube board games channels and a board games publisher has had fans worked up over the way communicaton was handled and the perceived meaning of the interaction. Into the Unknown, the board game developers behind Aeon Trespass: Odyssey have accused Quackalope, a YouTube channel known for board game reviews, of trying to force them into a sponsorship in exchange for avoiding a negative review for their game.
Into the Unknown made the accusation via a comment on their Kickstarter page, when fans started mentioning the negative YouTube review Quackalope made for Aeon Trespass: Odyssey, called “The Horrible Truth of Aeon Trespass Odyssey”, calling the game “the worst they’ve ever played” in one of a number of pre-recorded videos posted. The studio also stated they weren’t afraid to show the receipts if it came down to that. Fans were quick to pick up on the drama and knew something was up.
Useful Links to Help Piece Together the Case
- Quackalope and Anderson issue an apology in light of the suggested controversy. Quackalope denies he had meant any ill will towards Into the Unknown and shares his points of view.
- BoardGameGeek forum topic (You will find Anderson’s response here which offers clarity and makes a strong case as to why some of the focus of the conversation is misleading)
- Into the Unknown statement (You will find Weɫnicki’s take on the situation and the full uninterpreted communication between the two parties)
- Anderson will be doing a stream explaining his full side of the story on June 12 and taking any questions from the community. This will be streamed on Quackalope’s official YouTube channel.
Please see Anderson’s video response posted to address the flurry of speculation that has ensued over the past four days:
What Do the Receipts Show?
Since then, the “receipts” were indeed posted on an Aeon Trespass: Odyssey BoardGamesGeek thread, in the form of back-and-forth emails between Into the Unknown CEO Marcin Weɫnicki and Quackalope owner Jesse Anderson. The following is our understanding and interpretation of the case based on the publicly available information. To summarize the conversation in short:
- Quackalope (Jesse Anderson) did reach out to Into the Unknown first on January 19, with the clear intent to offer a sponsorship deal, highlighting their numbers and rates, as well as the price for their promotional services – 5 videos for the total cost of $7,500 ($1,500 per video), supposedly discounted from $12,500 ($2,500 per video).
- Marcin Weɫnicki responded on February 3, seemingly interested, but noting that the discounted price is still steep, but despite that, they would be willing to make a deal. They then ask a series of sensible questions in regard to the collaboration.
- Jesse Anderson then says that their team (including a Patreon member) found the game frustrating even after 50 hours of learning and playing it and that they already have recorded content showing this. He then doubles down on the sponsorship, but what’s interesting is that he states that if the studio agrees to it, Quackalope would scrap the content and have another go, and extends an invite to Into the Unknown to collaborate with them personally.
- Marcin Weɫnicki replies back, seemingly surprised, but understanding of the frustrating experience the Quackalope team has had. He does state, however, that the Into the Unknown team has no capacity to send someone overseas. He still offers a collaboration, showcasing the game together with the Quackalope team.
- After some back-and-forth emails the two parties failed to reach an understanding. Quackalope confimed they will be going forward with their pre-recorded content. Into the Unknown did not respond negatively at the time, wishing them success and being open to future collaboration.
That was, until the Kickstarter comment. Since then, the issue has blown up everywhere – Kickstarter, YouTube, BoardGameGeek, Reddit, and all social media platforms imaginable. Fans were quick to point out that it was strange that a dedicated board games YouTube channel struggles with rules and mechanics after 50+ hours of gameplay. What’s even more interesting is the polarity of Quackalope’s experience with Aeon Trespass: Odyssey, compared to the experiences of fans – the game is an overwhelming success, with a 9.3 rating on BoardGameGeek.
The Downfall of Quackalope? Not Really
Before posting “The Horrible Truth of Aeon Trespass Odyssey”, Quackalope was nearing the 48,000 subscriber count, but since the allegations came to light, it may have been losing some steam. The community backlash has been overwhelmingly negative for the channel, calling them “fraudsters”, “fake reviewers” among other things. Their proposal to Into the Unknown was quickly dubbed “a mafia-type deal” by fans.
Jesse Anderson did address the situation via a YouTube pinned comment, which he later copy-pasted across a variety of platforms, stating that the review and experience were genuine and that he simply does not have the time to properly respond due to a myriad of personal reasons – being abroad, having only an iPad to respond with, and getting married. He further went on to announce a public live stream the week of June 12, where all questions will be answered. This video is much anticipated now and it will provide Anderson’s full story without the second-guessnig of community and social media chatter.
Fans were quick to point out the interesting timing of the emails, the video itself, and the explanation Anderson provided. Anderson denied that the game developer was contacted after recording the footage:
I reached out to Into the Unknown after filming my unboxing and before filming any of the content we have posted. I reached out asking if they were interested in working with us leading up to the next campaign. I offered a package of videos 5+ and requested rules guidance and support. They did not respond for over a month. My goal in reaching out was to secure the resources needed to allow us to dive into ATO fully.Jesse Anderson
However, even if Quackalope had all the best intentions in mind, the very fact they are willing to change their content entirely for a set price or sponsorship, makes them appear incredibly disingenuous, which seems to be the main problem for many fans here. Some developers and reviewers have since distanced themselves from Quackalope.
Controversial Or Not, Businesses Have a Right to Generate Revenue
This entire case caused a lot of controversies, namely the issues with YouTube-sponsored content, and whether or not it is viable and truthful. Both Quackalope and Into the Unknown have no issues with sponsored content in general, but there is no doubt that fans have a negative opinion now, that is likely to stick for some time. There is definitely a noticeable split in the community right now.
Quackalope is a powerful influencer and the channel does have a right to generate income and revenue – owing to not least consistent and hard work, as Anderson has pointed out himself. A regular work week at the channel is 50-60 hours, and it takes a lot of hands onboard to make happen. Some fans have said that nothing in the emails suggested blackmail, a term that was largely put on the case by people sharing the news on forums and social media origianlly.
Quackalope’s tactics are, say those who see nothing wrong with the conversation but a big misunderstanding, “standard business emails“. Even if the latter is true, their channel is supposedly founded on the genuine love of board games and the honesty of their reviews. Either way, you look at the situation, it is definitely not a good look, and we can only guess how it will impact the board game world in the future.
Whether Into the Unknown was right to release the emails is another matter altogehter. It would be good to think, though that Quackalope’s status as a community leader is out of the channel’s love for board games, and not because of a promise of “discount fees.”