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Thursday, December 11, 2014

If OneBookShelf Banned a Game, What Would the Potential Fallout Be?

(it is nearly 830 PM - I just had dinner and I'm ready to fall asleep - OSR Christmas Day 4 remains open at least until tomorrow morning - overtime 5 out of 6 days is wearing on me)

So, if OBS banned a +James Desborough Gamergate Game, based in part on a threat by Evil Hat to pull their releases from OBS, would anyone care?

It's drama for the sake of drama, which both James and Fred are good at, but banning the game is NOT the way to handle it. The market polices itself. All the banning did was polarize fans and publishers.

OBS seems to know this but doesn't really seem to know how to fix it.

Here's the letter OBS sent to publishers (and thanks to the anon reader that sent it to me)

Dear Publishers,

We elected to ban a title from our marketplaces. Of the tens of thousands of titles that we carry, and after operating for 13 years, we have never before banned a title (other than for
legal reasons). I hope those numbers make it clear this is not an action we have
undertaken lightly, nor is it one we will undertake frequently, if ever again.
Nonetheless, as this is the first time we’ve decided to ban a title, I
thought a letter of explanation was in order.

The title in question is a card game whose theme is the Gamergate issue. The game attempted to present the issue in a satirical manner.

Normally, satirical works would be welcome on our marketplaces.
However, we feel that there are situations where satire is inappropriate. For
example, we do not think that a game released today that satirizes police
killings of minorities in the USA would be appropriate. Regardless of how one
feels about an issue like that, we feel that it is too current, too emotionally
charged on both sides, and too related to real-world violence or death to make
it an appropriate matter for satire.

Similarly, no matter how one feels about Gamergate, it is likewise too current, too emotionally frought, and too related to violence to be an appropriate subject for satire. Additionally, we considered that the violent element of the Gamergate issue has a basis in misogyny. For
these reasons, we felt that this card game title was not welcome for sale on our

Note too that this is a card game, not a roleplaying game. Some may feel that if we
were to ban an RPG from our marketplaces, that action would levy a significant
economic penalty on that title since we have a long reach in the overall RPG
market. This is not true of card games, where OneBookShelf is currently a tiny
corner of the card game market. Our not carrying a card game should have minimal
impact on that card game’s economic viability.

While we also considered the customer complaints on both sides of this issue (we are a business, after all, and we cannot ignore customer complaints and survive), these were not a major factor in
our decision. Not surprisingly, given the gaming fanbase, many of the complaints
we received were intelligently written and provided us with additional,
thoughtful perspectives on the issue. Unfortunately, most customers were not in
a position to review the content of the title itself and were therefore forced
to be “judging a book by its cover” only.

Some publishers also complained about this title, and a few publishers let us know they would not be interested in continuing to work with us if we carried it on our store. We will not allow any
publisher to dictate content policy onto any other publisher, explicitly or
implicitly. If any publisher ever decides to discontinue business with us
because our content policy errs to the side of being too open, rather than
restrictive, then we will respect their decision to leave our marketplaces and
wish them well. To be clear, no publishers’ comments had any bearing on
our decision to discontinue selling this title.

Having now banned a title for the first time, we asked ourselves if we needed to establish any explicit policy for banning of future titles for reasons other than legality or production quality.
Given that this is the first time such a thing has happened in 13 years, and
given the difficulty of defining policies of this nature, we elected not to
invest the time in creating a policy that would probably end up a poor guideline
anyway. Our time is better spent getting back to retailing your titles to fans.

We carry a lot of titles on our marketplaces that some or all of the members of the
OneBookShelf staff find morally distasteful (and we’re generally a pretty
open-minded lot), but we find anything that smacks of censorship even more
distasteful. We will continue to have a content policy that is more open than
will give many of our publishers and customers comfort.





Normall Grumpy would be inserting all sorts of obnoxious comments, but as he dictates and does not type, that won't be happening tonight.

Alright - discuss. I'm putting my head down and catching some zzzzzzsssss...


  1. The interesting thing is that Machine Age also had a Gamergate game on OBS which wasn't pulled. (It was later pulled by the publisher however.)

  2. That's one of many interesting things, Jason.

  3. The fallout is that I'm likely to find Evil Hat less relevant to my interests. Their focus on Young Adult Fiction is already a few nails in that coffin, using their currently popularity to play ethics police is just another. Really a Shame, I love fate.

    1. I saw a video Grim posted where he was going through some products he'd recently received. He had something from Evil Hat and his only comment was something like, "I hate giving these guys money because they're dicks, but this is a useful product."

    2. I'm with you. Evil Hat is out for me. Too bad, I had some of their games on my wishlist too...not any more.

    3. Not to mention Fred Hicks was in on the witch hunt against Zak S. Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence...this is apparently not the first time they've tried this stunt with OBS so we're at three times is enemy action.

  4. Unfortunately any decision OBS make - after the fact - is going to be the wrong decision to an element of the community. As the saying goes, "act in haste; repent at leisure." So easier to maintain the current status quo and be aware, going forward, that if you don't control the narrative, someone else will. And it may not be to your liking.

  5. Not cool. Going to send some words their way. Evil Hat had me happy with the Designers & Dragons deal, and now I'm pissed they would pull crap like this.

    1. Do what I do and don't buy Evil Hat products. It sucks to not buy their stuff because it is good, but the fact is they threaten OBS to remove a game they don't like. That is a damning move and one that deserves to be punish. Losing money turns out to be the best policy.

    2. They will tell you like they did that one guy on Twitter who told them the same thing: you and your money don't matter to them so you can kindly fuck yourself.

    3. If enough people don't pay them then they won't have the economic power to threaten OBS again. So in the end he can tell us to fuck ourselves all he wants, but he will be powerless man with no money.

    4. Any business stupid enough to tell someone that deserves to go out of business. I deal with idiotic and unreasonable people every day but you still have to treat them all as potential repeat customers.

  6. I violated my own internal standards and recently made a political post on this issue in an arena where I very much want to discuss only gaming. But here's where I'm going to at least try to stick to principle. I'm going to try to NOT boycott a game, author or publisher for political reasons, even of they want to do it to me. I'm a bad Christian who sort of sucks at turning the other check. But I'm going to try here. Fred Hicks may be a Nazi wannabe but...what games by him or his company are supposed to any good? :)

  7. I agree that the market should make the decision about what products will succeed, but I don't think that means OBS should carry this product. If they are too restrictive in what products they choose to carry, they will fail.

    Of course, the fact that James Desborough openly insists that Gamergate has nothing to do with misogyny makes me skeptical about his claim that the game is "satire". Frankly OBS probably inadvertently gave him much more publicity by banning his game than if they let it languish in obscurity. Still, none of that changes the fact that OBS can carry or ban whatever they like, and if Desborough and the Pundit don't like it they can complain from their soapboxes all day long.

    1. Right. I honestly can't think of two worse people to be carrying the water on this issue. Desborough is a known agitator for the sake of it. Pundit is much the same and also happens to believe he is a real life wizard (seriously). Not the two most credible figures in the hobby.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Of course he is the worst person to being carrying the water on this issue. That's why Hicks et al chose him. Once they're able to do it to him somebody 2-5 people closer to the mainstream because the worst person to be carrying water on the Hicks types will take him out. Eventually they weed out anyone that disagrees with them.

      It's not tolerance when you deploy it only for people you like.

  8. The inter webs are dark and dirty.

  9. My first reaction was to think, gee, that's really uncool, no matter what a jackass Desborough is.
    But as others have pointed out, both parties involved love drama and are probably laughing all the way to the bank.
    How a PDF distributor was going to distribute a card game is pretty questionable anyway.
    Calling it "censorship" when a distributor decides not to carry a product is overboard. Whether it is legal for one publisher to try to squeeze out another from a distribution chain is a different matter, but one I'm not qualified to address.
    I don't even know who what "Evil Hat" is, though it sounds like they publish FATE? That's not really my thing anyway, so boycotting them is moot for me. I don't think I've ever bought anything on OBS unless they were the ones with the tsunami and earthquake relief bundles a few years back.
    So I agree with Erik on this ... Zzzzzzzzz

  10. Hicks is pretty tough with ol' OBS. Wonder what he'll do when the game shows up on Amazon where his bread & butter might fall out if he opened his mouth?

  11. Well, it's either the beginning of the slide down the slippery slope of political correctness, with lots of bans to follow, or it's the proverbial Tempest in a Teapot.

    Personally, given the other things they gladly sell, I don't think this should have been pulled (and I really don't care for the author of the banned game - or rather, I've not found his products useful, and find elements of both sides of the GG issue to be repugnant).

    And when it comes to this:
    " We will not allow any publisher to dictate content policy onto any other publisher, explicitly or implicitly. If any publisher ever decides to discontinue business with us
    because our content policy errs to the side of being too open, rather than restrictive, then we will respect their decision to leave our marketplaces and wish them well."

    Well, it really doesn't pass the smell test, does it? FATE and other Evil Hat products probably sell a fetric muckton more than the products produced by the banned guy. It's a matter of math.

    1. Obviously a lie and he's taking marching orders from "Evil Hat." Fortunately I don't do business with any of the dramatis personae. And I think "Fate" sucks anyway.

  12. Guys, it's a little more complicated than you think...

    Firstly, all of Desborough's other products are still up on OBS. He's still getting all the money from those products that he was getting before. Possibly more, as this issue has been free advertising for him.

    Secondly, Evil Hat doesn't make as much money as you think and Desborough has a ton of products on OBS. Without directly comparing financials we don't have, there's no way for anyone to reasonably guess whether the money difference is significant. This is a tiny industry and unless you're WotC, you don't really have a lot of weight to throw around, even tho there's no doubt that Evil Hat is more popular than Desborough

    Third and most importantly, the person in Evil Hat who made the comment y'all refer to on Twitter was not Hicks, and he did so without Hicks' permission. Evil Hat and Hicks did not officially threaten OBS at all. If you want to be mad at Hicks, be upset Evil Hate didn't make this more clear ASAP, tho to be fair Hicks was AFK due to other life issues at the time. On the other hand, I hope said employee *at least* got a very *serious* talking-to.

    1. Given Hicks comments about Zak S I have less than 100% confidence that Hicks disapproves of the employee's statement but at most doesn't like the risk to his income stream.

  13. Is it censorship, or a shop not carrying a product?

    I used to have a gift shop -- I got to decide what I carried and what I didn't. Theoretically, I could do that on a whim.

  14. Given that Onebookshelf carries titles such as "Crack Whore" and "Prison Bitch", the " too related to real-world violence or death to make it an appropriate matter for satire" excuse is clearly bullshit. Based on the half-dozen cards from the game that Desborough previewed, this game looks like a 4/10 on the offensive scale in a world where we've got Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Cards Against Humanity, and where FATAL even exists.

    1. I'm sure the people who hate this Gamer Gate game unseen love Cards Against Humanity because the later seems to be more than happy to get a hate on against the right people (and pour a patina of "but we satire everyone" over it).

  15. It's a damn monkey-knife fight (which would make a great card game btw) - no one wins and all you get is two dead apes with bloody knives strapped to their paws.

  16. I must say I'm glad to see the discussion here is (mostly) civil ;)

    True, Fred did not post the twits in question - it was the guy hired to do PR or something for Evil Hat. That being said, Evil Hat is Fred Hicks

    "@drivethrurpg Going to have a talk with the rest of the @EvilHatOfficial executive team about hosting our products on a site next to _this_"

    I'm not saying the above tweet got the card game banned from OBS, but there certainly are more offensive titles available on OBS to be concerned about having your products next to.

  17. By the logic presented in OBS' decision to ban the Gamergate card game, why the Hell do they publish my stuff? My signature game world is one where pro-lifers have seceded from America, formed their own country and are shooting at (and being shot by) the setting's bad ass pro-choice heroes.

    1. That is a good question. it is a political game after all and the debate between these two is certainly vicious. I am pro-choice by the way and I still think the "reason" for the banning of the card game is bullshit. Just admit it OBS. You either got scared, or you don't like gamergate.

    2. I'm pro-life but your game sounds awesome and I would be pretty sad to hear that someone banned it just because they didn't agree with your view/angle/concept or whatever. I THINK OBS is probably on the right side of the gamergate issue, but their actions are careless and disturbing. As someone else said, the idea of a game that satirizes the issue (even if we grant it's purely misogynistic) getting banned is far scarier than the idea that such a game exists to begin with.

    3. Having actually looked at the game Desborough put out and all of the cards in it, I can assure you that it is incredibly innocuous. Other than dirty words, there is nothing in the game to be offended over other than the fact that it has to do with Gamergate.

  18. I'm torn. I don't like censorship, especially because the RPG industry as a whole is pretty hypocritical when it comes to bad taste. I mean you can trash Christianity, label all Catholic priests pedophiles, and kill puppies in the name of Satan and no one bats an eye. But make a game mocking sexism in games (at least I'm assuming that's what the card game was about??) and all of the sudden we've crossed the line?

    I don't like the idea of gatekeepers on principle because I may one day design a game that the current standard bearers don't approve of. Then again, I don't want my products listed alongside F.A.T.A.L. or Rahowa either, so I guess it's a wash.

  19. I have no interest in this card game and don't know what "Gamergate" is, aside from another lame-ass shorthand borrowing from Watergate despite likely having nothing in common. But I don't like b.s. and clearly both "OBS" (whatever that is) and "Evil Hat" are both run by hypocrites based on what I see here. I don't do business with either of them simply because neither has anything I want, but now I know not to do business with them even if they develop something interesting. On the other hand, this is free enterprise and if they want to do stupid things because they don't like whoever this Densborough fellow is, that's their right. Densborough can sell elsewhere and if the consumer wants his product it will succeed. He has no inalienable right to sell whatever he wants on someone else's market. What a bunch of silliness over card and roleplaying games.

  20. Pretty lame on the part of OBS considering the shady content they already make available. Sad to say it's pretty obvious they folded under pressure. Also sad to hear that Evil Hat is even attempting to wield that kind of pressure to begin with. Makes them a bully to be sure. I'm not all about boycotts, but I certainly attempt to do my business in the place that handles this sort of thing in a way I agree with. Which pretty much means that where I can, I'll be grabbing my product elsewhere. And no real interest in supporting a bully in the market. There are too many friendly customer centric publishers and content creators out there who are making good product to bother with companies who try to use their influence to silence other creators in the industry they don't agree with. Imagine if someone bigger that evil hat did the same thing to them for doing this? Then someone got pissed about that and so forth. Where would it even end? It's just absurd. People are not thinking clearly on this issue. Which is why knee jerk (no matter what they say to the contrary) bans are so silly. If this was a legit and principled stand they were taking, there are dozens if not hundreds of products they could be banning that fit the exact same criteria, which means it adds insult to injury that they not only stifle a small publishers at the behest of a large one, but then they're dishonest about why they're doing it.

  21. I'd like to thank Evil Hat for making my RPG budget smaller and purchasing choices easier by taking themselves out of the running.