Happy Third Birthday to Us

Happy Third Birthday to Us

Introduction

Three years. Three years. Three. Years.

That’s how long Meeple Like Us has now been running – it’s our birthday today, you see. As such one of our Patreon funded special features of the month is going to be a look back on 2018/2019 to see where we are in comparison to where we were in the year before. We’ve already done this a few times – six months in, a year in, and two years in. This is now three years in. It’s a full PhD cycle of hard research work so I think from now on I’m going to claim my own doctorate is in board game accessibility. You can call me Doctor Dice from now on.

Please don’t do that.

Call me Doctor Death-ray. That’s where my real research love lies.

The Findings of Three Years of Investigation

The last time I did an update I had to crunch all the figures by hand from the master spreadsheet I kept locally on my computer. Now we’ve got all kinds of tools and software routines to do it for us. It makes everything a lot easier than it would otherwise be, and it means you can get a real-time overview of where stuff is changing if you check out our stats page. It’s full of graphs too. You can even find animated graphs on the site if you’re so inclined.

In any case, the stats and such I discuss in this post are based on information published as opposed to what’s sitting unpublished in the buffer. My own internal figures, as a result, are a little different from what you can see here.

For calculating averages for accessibility profiles, I employ a numerical conversion from alphanumeric grades to number values. F is a zero, E is a three, and each successively higher grade is one integer greater than the one before. For individual accessibility categories, this is how the averages shake out.

CategoryApril 2018April 2019
Colour BlindnessBB
Visual AccessibilityC-C-
Emotional AccessibilityC+C+
Fluid IntelligenceC-C-
MemoryC+C+
Physical AccessibilityC+C+
SocioeconomicBB
CommunicationBB

 

You can see here that nothing is changing in terms of these broad grades and the truth is probably nothing is going to change from this point onwards. We have 164 data points now and that means that we have almost certainly converged towards the point where averages simply won’t shift. That doesn’t mean nothing is changing, but it’s going to be unlikely (albeit not impossible) we’ll see a ‘state change’ from where we are. Means, medians and standard deviations are still exhibiting some movement but probably less than you might think. If someone held a gun to my head and asked ‘How accessible, on average, is the hobby in your opinion?’ I’d be confident in giving them these grades in exchange for avoiding a messy unilateral trepanation.

In terms of especially good performing games this year, Tides of Madness, Welcome To, and Shadows in Kyoto (unpublished) are the only ones that managed to get recommendations (tentative included) in every category. There were numerous games that performed well enough to get recommendations in all but one category and you’ll see the majority of them make their way onto our Building an Accessible Game Library on a Budget feature in due course.

Wort performers this year in terms of accessibility include Chinatown (new holder of the least accessible game on Meeple Like Us award), Tigris and Euphrates (not yet published) and Tash Kalar.

The Scale of the Task

The scale of the task remains daunting. We set ourselves a catchment area of covering, primarily but not exclusively, the BGG top 500. My internal spreadsheet shows that we’ve looked at 172 games, including those that haven’t yet been published. However, thanks to new software it’s easier for us to see how much progress we’ve made. Last year I had to check the BGG standings for every game with manual queries. Blurgh.

I had hoped at after the end of the first year of Meeple Like Us that we’d cover 10% of the BGG Top 500 every subsequent year. Ha. At the time of writing we’ve published teardowns for 20.8% of those. This time last year we’d managed 18.4%.

Massive statue in Bucharest

However, I only managed to address 36 games over the period as opposed to the 56 I managed in the previous year, and the 80 that I managed in the first. Partly that was because I have now tied continued existence of the site to Patreon and we didn’t hit the threshold for new reviews and teardowns for a while. Partially it’s also an attempt to get what was a post buffer that was realistically too large down to a manageable level. At one point there were twenty-six weeks worth of posts in the buffer. That means that ones on the end could genuinely go over a year before they get on the site and by that time I often don’t even remember the games all that much. Something always jumps the queue.

That’s only part of the reason behind our poor coverage though. The larger part of the problem you see is that so many games are being released and propelled up into the BGG stratosphere that games on the fuzzy end of our catchment area are forever slipping off the end. As far as I can recall, Super Motherload, Legend of Drizzt, One Deck Dungeon, Yamatai, XCOM and Red7 were all in the Top 500. They’re not any more. Some that I thought would trend into the top 500 over time (The Mind, Century: Eastern Wonders) haven’t (yet). Despite a full year of publishing a review and teardown every a week we have only managed to cover 2.4% additional games in the top 500. Next year, assuming our Patreon remains funded enough to cover new review production, we might hit 25% if I’m careful about what gets assessed. That’s a pretty far cry from the 40% I would have hoped for at that time. Still, it’s not like the BGG Top 500 is actually a useful chart in any meaningful sense – it’s just a way to focus our attention to make an impossible task simply an incredibly difficult one.

Reviews and Scores

The average of our reviews has slipped ever so slightly, going down to 3.53 from 3.55. That’s over the whole set rather than just this year. Our averages for each year, if you’re interested, are as follows:

YearAverage Rating
13.4
23.6
33.5

I have no idea why you might have been interested in that, sorry. I did make the effort to calculate the numbers though and thought ‘How dull could it be? Surely it’s worth doing’. No, it wasn’t. It’s very dull. I’m so sorry.

Essentially though, no change year on year (in any meaningful sense) and similarly no change in our overall profile. The average game we look at on Meeple Like Us falls into the bucket we reference as ‘good’. That’s important since the site’s game library is overwhelmingly based on things I purchased from my own money. We’re in the fortunate position that we get review copies now, but we’re selective in asking for them and accepting when they’re offered. A review copy is an obligation after all, at least for a site like Meeple Like Us. Larger sites can ignore covering games for which they’ve received copies because their attention is sufficiently valuable for the mere consideration to be worth the financial cost on behalf of a publisher. For me, I can’t be that lassiez-faire.

This year though was a surprise for me because Mrs Meeple and I both found our new favourite game – Chinatown. It’s just been reprinted by Z-Man Games. I’d definitely recommend checking it out. That is if your racial sensitivity muscles don’t spasm at the box which is… well, let’s just say unfortunately stereotypical. The entire game is a problem from that perspective but if you push past it there’s something phenomenal in there.

This year we added a few truly excellent games to our register of reviews. Azul, Chinatown, Scrabble (shut up), Imhotep, and Tigris and Euphrates (not yet published). Other great games included Terraforming Mars, Tash-Kalar, Samurai (not yet published), Modern Art, Funemployed, Decrypto, Century: Eastern Wonders, and Castles of Burgundy (not yet published).

See what I mean by the problems of a big buffer? The bigger it is, the larger the percentage of ‘Not yet published’ games end up in a post like this.

Games we liked the least this year were Dungeon Petz, Friday and The Mind. Don’t @ me.

Reception

We improved measurably on our stats performance from last year. Every year we’ve done a bit better with stats but it feels at the moment that we’re mostly coasting on some earlier high performing posts from the first half of the year. Our average at about Christmas was 750 hits a day but that has since declined to 700. That translates into approximately 400 unique visitors a day on average, and that continues to blow my mind. Anyway, here are our year on year visitor stats:

Total for YearOverall TotalDifference
Year 11075131075120
Year 220191330942694401
Year 325550856493453595

 

We passed 250,000 hits for the year in our third year of operation, up about 53.6k on last year. I suspect next year we won’t do quite so well but you never know. Network effects are hard to predict but at some point reversion to the mean has to kick in.

I remain deeply grateful to those that are sharing our content – I posted an editorial explaining the power of this kind of support and if anything I underplayed just how much of an impact it has. Without people supporting and sharing and commenting we’d almost certainly be a blog with a fraction of this traffic. These aren’t world-striding figures but for a site about something as niche as board game accessibility I’m fairly blown away by it.

Scary masks for no reason

As with last year we’ve forged a few more links with companies and designers, done some accessibility consultancy (even paid consultancy!) and a few other things in terms of outreach. We did a seminar at UKGE that seemed to be reasonably well received and another one at Tabletop Scotland. However, many emails still go unanswered and most companies remain disinterested in the topic. Some are actively negative about the prospect of working with the site. Such is life.

Last year I talked about the special issue of the Computer Games Journal I was helming, and it was where I published two papers on the work we’ve been doing with Meeple Like Us, along with an editorial arguing that video games versus board games is a false divide. What matters is the game part. Those papers were Meeple Centred Design: A Heuristic Toolkit for Evaluating the Accessibility of Tabletop Games (1500 downloads) and Eighteen Months of Meeple Like Us: An Exploration into the State of Board Game Accessibility (1600 downloads). Those are actually pretty good download figures. There’s an old joke about academic publishing. The average paper is read twice – once by the author and once by one of its three peer reviewers.

Patreon

This time last year I was getting ready to launch our Patreon, noting that the prospect had filled me with intense anxiety from the moment I created a page for it. Well, that anxiety hasn’t gone away and I kind of feel like opening a Patreon campaign at all may have been something of a mistake. It turned an implicit reward for the work into an extrinsic one, and it’s not really possible to simply revert back in the event it doesn’t work out. I have remained anxious, with each new pledge and each removed pledge noticeably disturbing my calm. It was and is important to me though that this topic can show that it has value to people. The impact of sharing and commenting is genuinely phenomenal, but money talks at a volume that is difficult to ignore. We’re about half way to where I think we need to be in order to be credible as accessibility advocates. The trend there though has very much been downwards and I suspect that we’ve pretty much plateaued unless our audience dramatically increases. I suspect everyone that is able to support is already doing so, and you’ve all kept this site going over the past year. There was a period where we were only a couple of months away from shuttering up the windows but that’s no longer the case. At least, it’s no longer the immediate case.

I’ve stressed again and again that our Patreon isn’t for financial gain – in a pretty open special feature I threw open the doors of our Patreon campaign and bank balances to show where pledges are spent and why. Essentially the site still costs a little bit more to run than it brings in in terms of money because I (off the books) have my own little Patreon pledge going every month and I eat a few of the running costs off my own bank account. For me though, a well-performing Patreon is a mark of public support for what I think is a valuable project. It says to publishers ‘Other people care about this topic to the point they’ll pay money to keep a site running. Maybe you should care about it too?’.

Shiny things

I don’t think our Patreon does that yet, and perhaps it never will. That’s maybe because I have set unrealistic and unattainable goals for the site. I never want to give the impression that I want people to pledge ever larger amounts to the campaign, and I always feel a little bad when people contact me saying ‘I had to remove/reduce my pledge because of my own financial worries, I’m sorry’.

Don’t be sorry! You are phenomenal for pledging in the first place. I don’t want anyone to give a single penny to MLU that they cannot themselves easily afford. As much as large pledges are wonderful (in terms of what they let us do for the site), they’re also fragile. Large numbers of smaller pledges are also worth their weight in – well, money.

I had hoped though that a larger percentage of the hobby-base would be willing to fund an avowedly pro-social project without it necessarily being in their own direct best interests, but that too was probably unrealistic. It’s just that you see people dumping hundreds of dollars on Kickstarter games that they never even care about playing and it’s a little bit disheartening.

The generosity of our actual patrons though blows me away. I want to give my sincerest and most genuine thanks to those of you that have taken the decision to provide financial support to a project when you had no reason at all to do so. I hope the extra exclusive bits and bobs you’ve had sent your way has in some way made it feel worthwhile. If there are other things you’d like to see, I’m listening.

But honestly, let me list what it is that now exists on the site because of your support.

First of all, the reviews. Unlinked are as of yet unpublished.

Then the teardowns:

Then the special features and editorials:

That’s to say nothing of the software we’ve added and improved over the past year and the other miscellaneous things we’ve done here and there.

I may have written (most) of these, but make no mistake – I only did that because of your support. These things only exist in the world because of you. People have found accessible games they can play with the people they love because of the support of our Patrons and I am so very happy that you’ve given me the chance to do that.

Whether you’re pledging for dollar or more, I hope you feel that whatever you’re sending our way is being well spent. There are absolutely people out there that are playing games they otherwise wouldn’t have as a result of your support.

Thank you all!

  1 comment for “Happy Third Birthday to Us

  1. Jessica Eccles
    18/09/2019 at 5:32 am

    For your purposes it may be better to try to cover the top 500 most owned games https://boardgamegeek.com/browse/boardgame?sort=numowned&sortdir=desc or the top 500 most rated games on BGG https://boardgamegeek.com/browse/boardgame?sort=numvoters&sortdir=desc rather than the 500 highest rated, after all cognitive inaccessibility is seen as desirable for a lot of people rating games on BGG.

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