Where do we go from here? The future of Meeple Like Us

Wait, what’s happening?

One of the things that happens with big life news is that you end up announcing it several times in several different contexts, each time requiring a degree of exhausting emotional investment. I feel like I have been announcing this news solidly for about a month, because that’s basically what I’ve been doing. This should be the last and final time, because from this point onwards I can just point people towards this post and gesticulate.

Here’s the news – after five years at Robert Gordon University and over forty years living in the United Kingdom (which I worked hard to disunite during the Scottish independence referendum), I am leaving both. Mrs Meeple, as you might imagine, will be coming with me. I have been offered, and accepted, a wonderful job in Sweden where I will be a Senior Lecturer in Interaction Design with a focus on games. It is basically my dream job in a country that I have always looked towards as an inspiration for the progressive independent Scotland I once hoped to see.

Statue in Sweden

It’s a great opportunity, and I’m sure you can imagine that I’m delighted to be leaving the United Kingdom at a time when it seems its harshest and most alien a nation. I feel very sorry for those that will have to live through the Brexit apocalypse, but save for a month or so (the worst month or so) that won’t be us. Of course, we don’t escape all the implications of the world’s greatest and least justifiable self-inflicted injury. The vote will strip us of our ability to be Good Europeans for a while – at least until we have been in Sweden long enough to naturalise. That’s the plan. We intend to regain our EU citizenship even if we need to work our way back to membership. It’s an option a lot of people don’t have, so I don’t intend to squander our chance.

But – good for us and all, but what on Earth does this have to do with Meeple Like Us?

Quite a bit, as it happens.

What was that about Meeple Like Us?

When I did our behind the scenes look at our Patreon, I mentioned a date – 6th of April 2020. That’s the date that, in the absence of sufficient backing to make it worthwhile, I’d call an end to the project. At the point of writing that I was pretty worn down. It was tough to put an expiry date on site that I think performs an important role, but also as soon as I did I felt relief bubbling through my nerves like a cool healing tonic. I do enjoy writing for the site, but there’s no denying that there are times when it feels like nothing more than a millstone. The negativity that often meets our content long ago went from being comic to being exhausting and tedious without ever passing through a point where it got taken seriously. The drive to play games and review them is intense. The community around gaming media… often problematic. Honestly, as soon as I decided to stop I felt better about every aspect of life.

That expiry date wasn’t a call to action – I don’t expect to ever achieve the funding goal I set for us through Patreon. It was basically me giving my notice period. It was an indicator of a point where I could direct the ridiculous amounts of energy that go into this site towards a new project. Something that would invigorate me once again. It wasn’t a straightforward case of burnout though. I’ve burnt out enough times in enough projects to be pretty good at identifying when it’s happened. The reasons why MLU has been a grind at times aren’t to do with the site or the topic, but rather to do with the context in which it has been operating for the past year and a bit.

Robert Gordon University

For a while at Robert Gordon University the work I did with Meeple Like Us was loosely affiliated with my research duties. There was a group of us with a specific user focus in our research. There was scope for several people to work together on this topic with the aim of turning it into a funded research project with resources that could sustain and accelerate the investigations we were doing. Over the past few years that has slowly changed – colleagues drifted away, and the research focus and support of the department doubled-down ever more intensely on data science as a core focus. That’s unfortunately a topic that doesn’t inspire me in the slightest, and so I gathered up the Meeple Centred Design research agenda and brought it fully into my personal life. That’s about the point that the Patreon launched. In reality all that happened was a timing reshuffle. Instead of a blend of ‘research stuff’ and ‘teaching stuff’ pretty much from nine in the morning to nine in the evening, I did ‘teaching stuff’ at work and ‘research stuff’ at home. All that ‘research stuff’ was for the benefit of those of us working on the project, and any acknowledgements and the like went to the site and not to the University.

So, for the past year and a bit I have been running Meeple Like Us not for its ‘professional’ research benefits but as something that I thought served as a public good. The extent to which it is perceived as such is correlated, in my mind at least, with the extent to which the community as a whole is prepared to fund its continued existence through Patreon.

I believe universities and academics have a duty to step in when there is no real business case for important work being done. I think that’s where we are with assessing the landscape of board game accessibility. I know first hand from emails and one-to-one discussion how important Meeple Like Us has been for some people in finding games they can play with the people they love. New reviews and teardowns are only ever going to have an incremental impact though. By April 2020 we’ll have covered over two-hundred games, each with an intimately detailed overview of accessibility considerations. That seemed like a good point to pull the plug with my head held high. Mentally I cast it as ‘Wow, what cool stuff could I do with all this free time I’d suddenly have?’

Tree in Sweden

Ah, but now the situation has changed again. I’ve never been a ‘lecturer in games’ at RGU. Just a computing lecturer with a personal (and teaching) focus on games. It’s never been my job to be a games guy – just something I’ve carved into the curriculum through sheer bloody mindedness. That changes when I start my new job. It changes big time.

Suddenly I’m not in the position of having to push against a departmental research agenda that doesn’t have as much room as it once did for the kind of things I find motivating. Research in games is my new departmental research agenda. That is immensely freeing, and very exciting. I’m intending to take full advantage of that with a suite of research grants I have pretty much already written but thought unlikely to get funded at Robert Gordon University. They still might not – I’ll be working in a new funding context – but I’ll sure as hell make an effort. A lot of those, although not all, involve the wider Meeple Centred Design project. I’ll talk more about those as and when they become relevant.

So, the question remains – what does all this have to do with Meeple Like Us?

Patreon implications

Well, the first thing is – that April 2020 date is no longer an absolute cut-off. While I’m not going to be paid to do Meeple Like Us, it’s once again sufficiently close to what’s important in my day job that I can think of it as being an extension of my formal responsibilities. It’ll still be something that’s funded by my free time, but my personal and professional goals once again converge. That means I’m a lot more willing to work on the site for intangible benefits.

It also means that the $500 p.m. Patreon funding goal, which I had already realised was an unrealistic target a couple of months after opening the account, is no longer the required goal for the site continuing. I fully intend to pay for meaningful Meeple Centred Design work through research funding in the future, but until that happens the Patreon will still fund the site’s day to day and year to year costs. However, anything beyond the $250 p.m that pays for our expenses will no longer be required as a implant to take the place of my enthusiasm. Instead, that’s going to go towards other things – mostly, I hope, towards funding Mrs Meeple to do more writing for the site as well as bring in others should the site funding increase. Essentially the Patreon will pay for things that I couldn’t build into a grant application. Patreon will still be incredibly valuable as an indicator of public support – something I can reference in grant applications to show the strength of feeling people have towards the topic.

My contribution to the site though will no longer be linked to any funding goal. If our Patreon dips (as it is most wont to do), I’ll just dial down my activity so it is proportionate to the support shown. We might for example drop down to a single post a week rather than two. If it rises (which happens occasionally), I’ll scale up my activity. The site will exist as long as I can justify it, and hopefully I’ll have some funding success that means I can justify it indefinitely. The downside of that, as far as the site’s future goes, is that if I can’t justify it to myself it’ll likely disappear at some point with little warning.

Expect to see a rejigging of site goals soon.

The Scotlight

One of our lesser known initiatives is the Scotlight – a programme where we will promise coverage to games produced by Scottish designers if they get in touch with us. We don’t guarantee anything will be positive but we’ll signal boost campaigns, list designers and game resources on our Scotlight directory, and offer completely unremunerated previews and reviews of games if people just send them our way. In a game media landscape where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get anyone to pay attention to a new game unless you grease palms with silver, it was our contribution to help smooth the way for our fellow countryfolk. Basically it completely bypasses the shield of ‘we can’t help you’ disclaimers that we already list on the site. Those don’t count for Scots. We got you, fam.

Scotlight banner

That’s not going away, even if it is currently somewhat underutilised. It’s just going to be complemented by an equivalent programme focusing on Swedish game design and designers. If I can think of a catchy name that can encompass both countries, I’ll rebrand the Scotlight. Otherwise there will be a Scotlight and a… Swedelight… that run in parallel.

The Depth Year Diaries

Those backing us on Patreon already knew in advance that this move was happening, and those that signed up to the depth year diaries also got a hint of most of the substantive content of this post a few weeks ago. Well, my depth year is heading towards its end anyway – from December 31 I am once again free to wildly consume as much as I like, although I no longer really have the appetite to do so. That means that there will need to be a new series to replace it, and I’m thinking that it will focus on what it’s like to move to a new country and integrate into its various gaming communities. It’d talk about the game-related work I’ll be doing in my new position, the gaming groups we join and play with, and a few autobiographical things about acclimatizing to a new country.

I also decided earlier on this year that the Depth Year Diaries and likely also the Patron roundups won’t ever make their way onto the site without being linked to Patreon. Access to historical content though will drop down to the $1 tier so all Patrons can see the older posts on an incremental basis.

There are two reasons for this.

The first is – I want to keep them just as little secrets between us – those of you that have access know the diaries in particular get Very Real on occasion. That would be true of this new series too. I quite like having something private that we share. I would enjoy that private thing becoming my candid observations of myself and Mrs Meeple integrating into a brand new country and culture.

The second is – it just seemed, in my mind, a lot of logistical hassle to release monthly older content again while also releasing new, locked, content. It would add a good amount of extra advertising spam to our social media profiles, and they’re already Pretty Spammy in that regard.

Sorry if any non-patrons were looking forward to seeing those, but in the end I can’t really justify the extra work needed to do it.

Convention Coverage

Since we have obligations and families that are in Scotland, we won’t be abandoning the country completely. We’ll be regular visitors. It seems absurd to say it but we might have to escape parts of the brutal Swedish winter by retreating to the sunnier climes of Caledonia. I’m very much hoping then that we can continue to be a regular fixture at the excellent Tabletop Scotland convention, but it depends very much on how various dates line up. It seems unlikely, barring us actually having an active part in proceedings, that we’ll be back to the UKGE very often. We missed it this year (by choice) and I suspect we’ll end up missing it (by necessity) from this point onwards.

Tabletop Scotland

However, there are plenty of sites that cover UKGE and relatively few English-speaking blogs that cover Swedish conventions. We’ll definitely be making an effort to talk about those events. Certainly those that are local to us, but we don’t mind traveling a bit to check out others on occasion. You never know, we might even make it to Essen at some point although the thought of facing crowds that large horrifies me to my core. I know there’s not much physical difference between being in Sweden and being in Scotland with regards to how easy it is to get to Germany. There is though a big psychological difference, especially with the ruling classes of the UK ever more stridently poisoning the idea of a European identity in Britain.

Conclusion

Good grief, I am looking forward to the new life that awaits us in the next few months. It’s not all positive – we’re losing a salary (Mrs Meeple’s) and moving to a more expensive city. It’s also a chance though to reset and reconfigure ourselves. I’ve run the numbers, it will be fine.

It’s fine.

It’s probably fine.

Happiness is always more important than wealth and I expect to be happy both with our new home city and my new job. It’s certainly going to do wonders in realigning my motivations for the site into something less self-destructive than an obsession about what the ever-changing level of Patreon support says about the merit of the content we do.

And hey, if any of the academics and researchers, worldwide, reading this want to hit me up with potential opportunities for collaboration on games-related research projects, I’m going to be in a very receptive frame of mind for the foreseeable future.

 

  3 comments for “Where do we go from here? The future of Meeple Like Us

  1. Robert
    24/09/2019 at 8:26 am

    Congratulations! I’m happy for you, and for the future of your impact on gaming. I’m really heartened that such jobs exist, and that they find people like you to fill them. I hope all your plans come to fruition. Good luck!

  2. Norman
    01/10/2019 at 5:41 pm

    Great news! I have some friends who were British academics (Welsh and Irish) and are now naturalized Swedish citizens, having been teaching in Sweden for a couple of decades now. I got to visit for a few weeks, and I was really impressed at how things work in the Swedish universities—much better than what I experience in the USA and what I now see in Britain and in much of continental Europe. I hope it will be a great move for you and Mrs Meeple.

    Also, thanks to this post, I finally backed your Patreon (after fence-sitting for many months). I confess that I find the value of the accessibility teardowns mostly abstract—as a color-blind player, I find that I am not getting a lot of useful information. But your mainline reviews are among the most thoughtful game journalism I see anywhere, and I want to support them better.

  3. Spencer
    04/10/2019 at 11:36 pm

    Suddenly I’m not in the position of having to push against a departmental research agenda that doesn’t have as much room as it once did for the kind of things I find motivating. Research in games is my new departmental research agenda. That is immensely freeing, and very exciting.

    This is great to hear! Many congratulations.

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