This guest opinion was written by Ben Maddox of Five Games For Doomsday.
The human animal is a conservative one, and before you run at me with pitchfork shaped disavowals, this is not a statement of politics, it’s a statement of disposition.
Change is hard. Take Pluto for example. Now, unless you happen to be an astronomer or someone who is disquietingly enamoured with the Fungi from Yuggoth (look it up) I would guess that Pluto doesn’t play a huge part in your life.
I would take the liberty to suggest that in your day to day travails, the drive to work, the queue in the supermarket and the piles of laundry that never seem to stop coming, Pluto barely tickles the ripples of your brain. I would also suggest that this has been the case for the huge majority of humanity since Clyde Tombaugh (thanks Google) discovered it back in 1930.
Until the 24 of August 2006 that is, when a group of scientists decided to rob it of its status as a planet. Then, this hunk of freezing rock in the outer reaches of the solar system made people lose their collective minds.
It’s simple. It’s because even though we accept that change will happen we are appalled when it does. It is part of our make-up. It is curled up in the nucleus of our cells, inescapably ordered into a double helix.
The “Pluto Effect” is everywhere. Everywhere you see people tearing their hair out over changes that have no impact on their lives whatsoever.
Then imagine if a place you visit daily, replaced the curtains overnight, painted the walls a different colour and changed the sign from a smiling face to something slick, modern and utterly inhuman.
This is what happened on August the 6th to Board Game Geek.
Board Game Geek is the sun around which we all orbit in this hobby. It is everything. It’s as if Wikipedia, Facebook and Ebay had too much to drink one night, couldn’t control their amorousness and now we have no idea who’s baby it is.
It is incredibly useful for those just dipping their toes into the hobby and indispensable for those, like me, that are so far gone that every available space is taken up with games.
It is a source of information, a living room to vent in and through its rating system and top 100, a jumping off point for appraisal and discussion.
It is the core of the hobby and without it many would be lost. In fact I would pull a face of sneering incredulity if anyone reading this wasn’t a regular user.
For my part I happily throw my fifteen quid into the pot each year knowing that I’m getting much more than my money’s worth.
As a result I feel a kinship with the site, a part ownership even, and being nothing if not devastatingly average, I must confess to being a little taken aback when I logged onto the site and saw the REBRANDING (even typing these marketing words makes my skin shrivel).
It’s clear to me that no one really cares about the way that BGG looks as they were perfectly accepting of the way it looked last week. The functional changes are minimal and they have stated as much. This is a rebranding (puke face emoji) not a redesign and this, for me is where the main issue lies, but more on that later.
A trawl (the word is not casually chosen) of the comments and objections online seem to mainly focus on the logo. It has gone from a rather amateurish rendering of a bloke with glasses to a rather amateurish geometric orange blob (can a blob be geometric?), that recalls the previous logo.
It is logo as rededication, a reevaluation of who the logo represents. It ‘reflects our belief that gaming is for everyone, not just geeky guys with glasses.’ Aldie in his announcement of the new logo invites you to ‘see yourself in the silhouette or to find your passion represented in that “Gamer Flame”’.
Aside from the lamentable fact that the corporate has sunk so deeply into our collective bones that it’s plausible that people could have an emotional connection to a bloody logo, I see their point. The demographics of the hobby have changed and the hub of the hobby should reflect that. It’s just that the orange void that you’re greeted with when visiting the site has all the reflective value of tarmac.
It boils down to two things and both are contaminated with the Pluto Effect.
Firstly the Pluto Effect could be ameliorated somewhat if the logo was a real departure, not just an erasure of the facial features of the previous one.
People don’t see themselves in this logo. They see an absence, a removal. The people responsible for the new logo were infected with the Pluto Effect themselves. The real possibility of change has seemed to scare them so much that they just want to hold onto the past for just a little bit longer. This new logo is not an enhancement, it’s not a grand departure, it’s a diminution of what came before and that makes it unsatisfying.
The real frustration comes, though, from the fact that the whole thing feels tokenistic and superficial. It feels like a facelift rather than what people really want, which is an overhaul. What people really want is a site they can comfortably use in 2019.
One of the new features is a tantalising button that, when you’re looking at the site on your phone, invites you to ‘Switch to Desktop View’. Press that button and nothing happens. Press that button again and nothing happens again. Press it all day and you might get an insight into how Sisyphus felt.
This cheeky little addition implies that you are in mobile view, which is the same as desktop view and vice versa in an infinite regression.
Websites for local manure collection can be viewed comfortably on your phone and yet the single most important website in gaming is cumbersome on anything other than a laptop.
This makes people suspect that the money from their donations is being spent in the wrong places. Streaming from cons and strategic content partnerships are all well and good but it would be wonderful if the site could operate as well as one from 2007.
I could live with the logo being that feces emoji if I could read Tony Boydell’s blog on the train on the way to work. I don’t care about the logo as I’m sure that most people don’t but I care that the site is confusing, I care that you need to be a member of mensa to find the guild pages. The branding should be the cherry on the proverbial not the cake itself.
I don’t see any bad faith on the part of those running BGG though, just priorities that don’t jive with mine. It is a testament to what the site offers that I feel some sort of quasi-ownership because it is a place I visit every day.
It feels like home for me and, I’m sure, for hundreds of thousands like me and so it’s little wonder that when we get home to find the wallpaper has been changed we are a little discombobulated.
Still, before long we’ll find something else to complain about, but, in the meantime, they better keep their filthy hands off Uranus.