Friday Five: 5 Sensational Star Trek Ships
Review Policy

Weirdness Rodeo: Boardgames, Funk, Amazon

Joshua Haunschild
Badlands National Park / Joshua Haunschild

Are board games getting worse? A data analysis of board game ratings shows that the market is absolutely flooded, but 'peak quality' may have passed us by:

The number of extra-special gems released each year is slightly increasing, but it’s plateauing. Truly great games represent a smaller and smaller part of the year’s releases.

Sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are mainly responsible for the surge in (questionable quality) board game releases. Without needing to convince a publisher of a game’s worth, any chump can get his name on a box by convincing a few hundred people to throw $10 their way.

Although the volume of board games (a predicted 6,000 in 2016) pales in comparison to other publishing endeavours (music, books, etc), it does make for a useful microcosm of the changes in the market. There are still diamonds in the rough, but as the rough becomes more accessible and less filtered, the ratio of diamond-to-rough falls. That's understandable - what's more worrisome is that the raw number of diamonds has been falling since 2012... 

Likes, like-likes and mix tapes

This is a lovely guide to 'how to like things' by Tom Vanderbilt. He points out that there's 'nothing more essential to one's own compass of identity' than what we like, yet:

When it comes to taste, we often do not seem to know what we like or why we like what we do. Our preferences are riddled with unconscious biases, easily swayed by contextual and social influences. There is less chance than we think that we will like tomorrow what we liked today and even less chance of remembering what led us to our previous likes. Even experts are hardly infallible guides to knowing what is truly good, to knowing their own feelings. 

The article (a series of koan-like extracts from Vanderbilt's book) touches on ways to examine ourselves and our taste, and better express how (and why) we like things. Handy for reviewers and commissioning types, I suppose - but also readers as a whole. Imagine a way of asking for recommendations not by subgenre but by 'novelty' or 'conformity'!

Meanwhile, the BBC looks at the '8 most dedicated musical fan tribes'. A tiny bit Buzzfeedy, but very fun and spans generations. Chosen with no real criteria, I'd be curious to know what the book equivalent would be. Potter fans? Twilight fans? (Are they still a thing?) John Green readers? Naval history buffs?!

Tangentially-related: how James Brown invented a new genre. An oral history of how the man created funk. There's something particularly interesting here in how they note that Brown was kind of a... mediocre musician, at least when it comes to the technical proficiency part:

Brown couldn't play any instrument particularly well – although he drummed in an early iteration of the Flames – and that most of his composition consisted of issuing sometimes unorthodox verbal instructions to his band as they were playing.

Forgive the lateral leap, but it reminds me of Martin Booth's biography of Aleister Crowley, which to paraphrase, puts forward the thesis that Crowley was a pretty crappy writer - or even 'originator'. His strength came from squirrelling away the bits and pieces he encountered and remixing them into a compelling new vision. A little rude to compare Crowley's Magick and Brown's Funk, but fun to look at them from the perspective of revolutionary editing.

Innovation in publishing!

The new Harlequin mobile app serves up free, mood-based reading... and then recommends more, relevant reads. Harlequin seem (again) ahead of the curve when it comes to getting the most value out of their community and their readers. Yes, it is a niche - and the boundaries of the niche mean that recommendation engines are easily to program and communities are easier to build - but not everyone else is experimenting so aggressively.

Fakespot analyses the language of Amazon reviews and spots inauthenticity. It also tackles sentiment (more on that later) and makes word clouds and such. Probably less interesting for the authenticity aspect, and more valuable as a tool for marketers trying to see what readers are taking out of their books.

Being able to compare by product listing also opens up a whole lot of enlightening silliness. A Game of Thrones (paperback) and Game of Thrones: Season 1 both had decent enough quality reviews ('B') while A Game of Thrones (kindle) did even better ('A'). PRINT IS DEAD.

Amazon, however, still wins. It can't even lose when it is losing (money). An analysis of Prime Day shows that Amazon basically makes a shitload of money and its users love it. Prime isn't profitable (which Bezos doesn't care about), but Prime Day shows that the retailer can - essentially - make their own Black Friday. The evolution of the calendar: Julian, Gregorian, Hallmarkian, Amazonian. 

Also buried in there, some guesses at how much we spend on the 'zon, emphasis mine:

Analysts at Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimate that Amazon has 63 million Prime members in the U.S., with 19 million joining since the first Prime Day last July. Those members spend more than the typical Amazon browser—on average $1,200 per year, compared to $500 per year for nonmembers, according to the research firm.

Those are American numbers, of course, but $1.50 per user, per day, is... well, pretty amazing. 

Meanwhile, elsewhere...

Laurie Penny's visit to the RNC is pretty priceless. Even setting aside the politics, her examination of the economy of outrage is pretty spot on, although it may have you despairing for the future of social media.

Walt Hickey demonstrates how reviews can be broken, and that the wisdom of crowds can be sexist as hell. Case in point: Ghostbusters. (Bonus: Ghostbusters has been the top movie trend on Tumblr for several weeks now - evidence that even 'aggregate' reviews still only capture a certain selection [and bias] of opinion.)

The Museum of Broken Relationships.

In the future present, there will be a billion dollar gray market in which people gamble over virtual clothes for their 3-D avatars. Weirdly riveting. Also, imagine trying to legislate for this possibility!

55 best photos of Obama. Your daily blast of bittersweet.


As always, you can get this irregular round-up delivered to your mailbox.