Quackalope, a board game YouTube channel with close to 48,000 subscribers, tried to charge the developers of campaign board game Aeon Trespass: Odyssey $7,500 for sponsored coverage of their upcoming Kickstarter – and offered to scrap its existing footage of its “quite frustrating” experience if they would sign up to the deal.
Aeon Trespass Odyssey launched its second reprint campaign on Kickstarter on May 16, and surged past its roughly £43,400 goal the same day. The campaign has raised almost £2m so far, with 17 days still to go.
Emails obtained by BoardGameWire show Quackalope owner and presenter Jesse Anderson contacting Marcin Weɫnicki, CEO of Aeon Trespass developer Into The Unknown, in January, offering a five-video sponsorship deal at $1,500 per episode – a discount from the $2,500 per video he says Quackalope normally charges.
Weɫnicki responded to say that although $1,500 per video was “quite steep” ITU was potentially open to a “pilot” video – but Anderson replied to say Quackalope had already put about 50 hours into learning and recording the game and had a “quite frustrating” experience.
He went on to offer scrapping the footage already recorded in exchange for collaborating with ITU, making it clear that if no deal was reached the YouTube channel would press ahead with the 50 hours of content and eight videos it had already produced.
When ITU did not sign up to the proposed deal, Quackalope was true to its word and began releasing a series of videos about the game on April 28 – culminating in a final video yesterday titled “The Horrible Truth of Aeon Trespass Odyssey”.
The video kicks off with Anderson saying, “Aeons[sic] Trespass: Odyssey might be the worst game we have ever played. There’s a strong chance that it is.” He quickly references a second video uploaded by Quackalope earlier that day which describes the game as “undoubtedly a masterpiece”, but follows that up with “This video is unapologetically critical and negative of the experience we’ve had for the past 40 hours [of playing the game]”.
Just before midnight GMT on May 20 Anderson commented on the “Horrible Truth of Aeon Trespass Odyssey” video to say:
Hello, Jesse here. As some of you know I am out of the country at the moment (in Israel studying in a Yeshiva). I just got back online from Shabbat and I am doing my best to engage / respond with the limited equipment I have on hand (One IPad). I fly home in a week and Shira and I get married in a week and half.
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.
We certainly work with publishers. We have made no attempt to hide this, we cover a range of new games, kickstarter projects, inid titles, and old classics. This takes time—in some situations we charge for our time, never our opinion. To the best of our ability we label, link, and verababy[sic] declare any and all relationships we have with publishers when we cover their projects. From just being friendly or receiving a game for free all the way to paid or sponsored content. We have addressed this in the past and we are always reviewing our approach. We will continue to do so.
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. My suggestion was a series of highly produced gameplay videos and supporting content (how to play, rules clarifications, strategy guides) all with the publisher’s guide and support. No review content. I indicated that we hoped we would enjoy the game and keep covering it in future videos for free.
Over that month we invited an independent fan to come learn, teach, and play the game. We wanted to play ATO, the community was asking for coverage, and so we figured out how to make that happen. We spent over a week producing these videos. A few weeks after filming content, ATO reached out indicating they were interested in working with us. They had some stipulations (All coverage needed to be positive, no sponsored coverage could compare ATO to another game such as KDM, and we needed to get rules correct, however they would be unable to provide in-depth rules guidence[sic] or support.) We emailed back and forth a few times. I explained that we had already filmed a series of videos and struggled with the rules and gameplay. We wanted to love ATO and clarified that if we played or filmed anything more we would need their help getting everything accurate. They were not available to help us beyond emailing back and forth.
Into the Unknown offered to work with us on future upcoming projects and were willing to do at least one video on ATO. After considering the opportunity to build a relationship with a growing publisher in the space and the risk of missing out on future coverage—we declined this offer and let them know we had edited and were going to post our collection of previously recorded videos. In this last email I told them that these videos included the 4 gameplays, 2 reviews, and a direct KDM comparison video.
All of these videos were filmed before having any back and forth communication with Into the Unknown. Into the Unknown was not asked to pay us to keep these videos from going public. Into the Unknown was never shown these videos prior to them being posted. Into the Unknown was invited to collaborate with us so we could bring as much accurate coverage to the channel as possible—not so that we give them a positive review. I will be doing a public live stream the week of June 12th (once I am home). I am happy to engage and answer any questions then. We do our absolute best to provide entertaining, informed, and honest coverage. We will keep doing this.
ITU CEO Marcin Weɫnicki provided BoardGameWire with the following statement, and screengrabs of the series of emails between ITU and Quackalope reproduced at the end of this article. He said,
First off, we’d like to say that everyone is entitled to their subjective opinion about a game, especially
when it comes to consumer products. We do not censor content, and we do not argue with critics
and reviews. We try to learn something from them, good or bad. We have no problem with Mr.
Anderson’s opinion about ATO. Second, we also have no problem with the idea of sponsored ad content. We use Facebook/Meta and Reddit Ad tools regularly, we also collaborate with content creators on things like rules videos, summaries or playthroughs.
January 19th this year, we were contacted by Mr. Jesse Anderson (Quackalope) with a proposition of creating paid content for us. Mr. Anderson suggested doing 5 videos for the total cost of $7500, saying it was discounted from $12500. Though we were lukewarm on the prospect – especially with a price tag of $7500, which we did not feel was warranted – we asked for further details, clearly stating this would be considered by us as paid sponsored content, basically an ad. We also mentioned our reservations about the price.
Two weeks later, on February 3rd, Mr. Anderson responded, answering our questions, but also
mentioning that he has already purportedly put 50 hours into the game, and produced content for it,
finding the game ‘quite frustrating’, struggling with rules, finding cards, tracking things. He suggested
we should either get a developer to live stream with him or send one to Ohio, US, to oversee the
material over the course of a week. In such a case, Mr. Anderson assured, they “would scrap the
footage we have already recorded”. He also warned, that, 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.”
This really changed the tone of the conversation for us. At this point we really didn’t want to go into
any collaboration with Mr. Anderson. However, at this point we felt pushed to a wall. ‘Quackalope’
was the biggest boardgaming channel with a lot of sway. Their coverage of our previous campaign
had a noticeable impact on our KS result. We thought about how to get out of this situation. Few days
later, we’ve sent another e-mail, delineating rules for paid content, lamenting that Mr. Anderson
found the game frustrating, asking for more details on what he found wrong with the game, as well as
wanting to see the raw footage that Mr. Anderson had shot. We also proposed forgoing ATO coverage
whatsoever (I had a hard time imagining the cooperation, seeing his disdain for the game) and moving to TSoH, which was being designed with critical feedback in mind – more streamlined, player-
friendly, with less overhead, all the things Mr. Anderson quoted as being frustrating.
A week later, Mr. Anderson sent us an e-mail, but failed to respond to most of our questions or
suggestion: he did not provide any raw footage nor gameplay notes, doubling down on reshooting
the ATO material. At this point, we broke off communication, hoping this would go away. At the end of March, our Development Project Manager reached out for a possible first impressions video of the Learn to Play. Mr. Anderson responded, saying it was too late, and that he would proceed with the original footage – including some gameplay, a positive video, a negative video, a KDM vs ATO and some more. There was nothing to add at this point, so we thanked Mr. Anderson and finalized our communications.
In the days before the campaign, Mr. Anderson released videos which we assume are those
mentioned as recorded before. Each of those videos mentions he reached out to us for sponsorship,
but got no answer. At the end of this week, he released two additional videos, one supposedly
praising the game, the other calling it ‘the most unplayable game he has ever played’. In that second
video, Mr. Anderson openly talks to us, the developer of the game, again offering his services to
consult on game design.
On Friday, I’ve made an offhand comment about the subject. None of this is something I would
normally mention, we even posted Mr. Anderson’s coverage among the others, in our Update,
unprompted. However, seeing repeated comments from our backers, I could not shrug off the feeling
that if we were in a different position, less known, without a game on the market to defend itself,
basically your first time KS creators, this would have had a dramatic impact on our company, games
In response to BoardGameWire asking Weɫnicki if ITU has ever paid content creators to talk about its games, and if so how did it differ from what Quackalope has done, Weɫnicki went on to say,
Yes, we’re not against paid content as a concept. We don’t have video recording capacities at our office, we are also not native speakers. Video is the language of the 21st century. Things we’ve worked on are early previews, learn to plays, playthroughs. We’ve also commissioned some player aids. Generally stuff about the game, that both makes players aware of it and that teaches the game, makes it more accessible.
We also don’t have a problem with working with someone who is more critical of our work, for example the Esoteric Order of Gamers. And, as I said in our statement, we initially were somewhat open to collaboration with Quackalope (even though he panned our previous game, KF) on some impressions videos – he is the channel with the largest reach after all – but seeing where the conversation was going, we did not want to take part in it. Of course, it’s very hard to directly refuse the largest board game influencer.
The emails between Jesse Anderson and ITU are reproduced here – highlighted sections and redactions are the work of ITU, not of BoardGameWire.