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What kind of year has it been?

It is tradition for critics to look back on the year that was, reflect on their subject of choice, declare some ‘of the year’ contenders and maybe chuck out a prediction or two for the coming year. I am not always one to hove close to traditions, but I always reflect privately on the year for the Giant Brain: what I’ve done, what I can do better, and what I should do differently. Let’s take a look back at the year for The Giant Brain and where the hobby stands as we start 2022.

Raw numbers are always a good place to start, but as I’ve said before chasing only the numbers is a path to disappointment and stress. Taken with a pinch of salt though, they can let us see growth and decline, what is good for the site, and what isn’t. I am writing this on the 28th of December so the numbers aren’t quite complete for the year, but close enough for comparison.

We had decent growth on the podcast last year with 4.8k downloads against 4.1k downloads in 2020. We put out less extra casts last year so it’s encouraging to see people discovering and downloading older episodes of the show. We will always be a niche podcast, but I am proud of the work we have done in the last 3 years. Alongside that growth we increased our Patreon income, every dollar of which we really appreciate. 

The site has grown only a little after the huge growth we saw in 2020. 36797 visitors vs 32880 and 62718 views vs 60206. Quite a few more visitors but they are reading less articles per visitor. That is probably something I can improve with the layout of the site, links between articles, and tagging articles better. These are all things I can work on. 

Turns out people really want to read about this one

Arkham Horror: The Card Game continues to dive a lot of people to the site but the Beginner’s guide has now taken a back seat to the Deckbuilding Guide. Outside of Arkham related articles, Scum & Villainy (2458 views) and Spirit Island (1124 views) make their way into the top 10. I’m especially surprised by Scum & Villainy being in there. I would like to do more RPG work, but do to it the way I want to, the way it should be done in my opinion, takes a lot of time. In my continued quest to review all of my collection I put pen to paper on Eldritch Horror. This game is a good few years old now but takes spot number 6 at 1900 views. I think this shows that their is life in reviewing older titles. The Warcry review from Peter Hopkins rounds out our top 10 non-Arkham titles.

Top 10

All in all not a bad year for the site, especially considering I posted less in the latter part of the year. As to changes I am currently hoping to ramp up my interviewing and have 1 written interview a month. I’m also aiming to do 6 On Stage casts this year and already have the first one lined up for both of these.

What of the hobby itself? Jamie and I cover the news of the hobby as best we can and 2021, much like 2020, has had its share of highs and lows. 

The hobby had a good year financially with an uptick in money and units sold across a lot of publishers. Awareness of our hobby entered mainstream culture more and we saw evidence of this towards the end of the year as Critical Role featured in Vanity Fair, Asmodee engaged in its first national radio campaign and celebrities like Henry Cavill professed their love of the hobby. We saw the population of the hobby grow, the diversity of themes increase, and this trend looks unlikely to end as we head into 2022. 

On top of the financial growth we saw some great initiatives and moves towards making the hobby more welcoming and inclusive. The headliner we talked about a lot this year was the Zenobia awards. These awards sought out diverse designers and themes in the area of wargaming, not the miniatures kind. The results were surprising to someone like myself who had a preset notion of what a wargame could be, and I look forward to trying out some of the designs, all of which you can read about here

Wingspan, the bird based tableau building phenomenon broke the 1 million copies sold mark, proving that there is a demand out there for games with themes that aren’t smashing fantasy creatures in the face or shooting each other in space. Wingspan brought more people to the hobby, showing that diverse themes are a good thing. 

Kickstarter and Paizo saw unions form within their organisations and we look forward to seeing more action by the workers of the industry to get themselves better conditions over the course of 2022. We will always report on those efforts as we believe that people should be paid a fair wage and have the benefits they need to live, not just work. 

Will we see less of this in 2022?

It was certainly not all wishes and ponies though. Over the course of the year several well regarded old white guy designers revealed themselves to have less than savoury opinions. Daniele Tascini, Phil Eklund, Jeff Deboer and Jeff Bergen amongst others found themselves being written up for the Brainwaves cast. It is only right that such behaviour is called out and that the community continues to make clear the sort of environment it wants to foster. 

As the hobby appeals more to the mainstream we must be wary of those who would resist change. There are plenty of gatekeepers that don’t want to hear their favourite designer is a racist, resist moves towards more inclusive characters and art, and would pack the hobby away in a dark dungeon, never to see the harsh light of growth. We cannot let that happen. This vocal minority are loud, but they are few, and a hobby that attracts a wider audience will lead to better games. 

Supply issues have rocked the industry and shone a light on the reliance of chinese manufacturing. These issues are likely to extend into the new year and I especially feel for all those caught up mid crowdfunding. If these issues persist in 2022, which they look likely to, I think we will see some of the smaller publishers struggle to survive. 

The industry is going to have to look long and hard at the way it produces, especially as the public are more and more concerned about the environmental impact of their past times. We may be a small industry in global terms, but no corner of our society will remain untouched by the climate crisis facing us all. 

The recent announcement by Kickstarter that it would move to a Blockchain back end rightly met with indignation amongst the community. Will we be able to divorce ourselves from such an important platform? We all know there are companies that fundamentally rely on Kickstarter, what happens if the community abandons Kickstarter but companies don’t? Food for thought.

What of predictions for 2022? I honestly don’t know. It’s been a turbulent couple of years for the hobby with a lot of introspection about the state of our businesses and the community spaces we operate in. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more unions form and I predict supply issues will bring some publishers to their knees. On a more positive note continued growth seems likely and the recent acquisition of Asmodee by a company that has a reputation for actually growing their businesses rather than draining them dry is good news.

It’s been a weird couple of years for the hobby. As we look to the new year, it seems likely we will have some return to normality. We will be back round tables, more conventions will go ahead, the community will grow and thrive. How it grows and thrives is very much down to us, how we treat others, what we will allow, and what we call out. I hope you will join me in welcoming all people around our collective tables and in remembering that diversity will always makes us stronger.

All the best to you and your loved ones for the new year.

Iain

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