Why Spoilers Suck
Trick Jarrett published an interesting article today and having had some time to digest the piece and the feedback (blowback?) from it, I’ve decided my opinion on the matter would be laborious and difficult to Tweet. What’s the point of owning a soapbox if you only ever pay other people to stand on it? I happen to align my views with Trick, and while it may seem like I’m piling on, I have heard a lot of dissent and criticism of his viewpoints and the manner in which he expressed them. I didn’t think it would be controversial to come out on the side of “Don’t spoil cards that aren’t your cards to spoil, you enormous prick” but Donald Trump is leading in the polls, it’s raining in December and people who aren’t fans of Star Wars are targets of ridicule so nothing surprises me anymore.
Speaking of Star Wars and surprises, I saw the new movie on Monday night and it was incredible. Disney is a corporation who knows how to manage leaks pretty well and Wizards could take a page out of their book. Thousands of people worked on the movie and have seen it through all phases of completion from the script draft phase to the finished product and lots of people saw the movie Monday when I did but here it is Wednesday night and I still haven’t seen anyone online saying that Luke Skywalker wasn’t in any of the trailers because he is wearing his father’s old mask and going by the name “Kylo Ren,” a fact I’m really surprised hasn’t leaked online.
OK, I made that up. As far as I know that’s not true, but I bet I pissed a few people off when they thought I spoiled the movie before you got a chance to see it. And isn’t that kind of the point? I don’t know about you, but spoilers piss me off.
Is it the best possible defense of a subject to continue to make jokes and evoke “feels” rather than present facts? Obviously not, and I’m aware of that fact. In this case, though, it seems appropriate because if we’re trying to make the case that spoilers cause harm and I am making the further case that the harm caused is emotional harm, we need to talk about our feelings. Have you ever had anything spoiled for you? It’s a bittersweet feeling, like unwrapping all of your gifts on Christmas Eve. Sure, it’s fun, I guess, but then you come downstairs on Christmas morning to play with your new toys and you already know what everything is. The magic is gone. That’s why my parents had us open only one gift on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas Day. That’s how you handle “reveal” season. Give them a taste to whet their appetite and keep them wanting more.
The community has largely embraced the concept of getting spoilers fed to us slowly. We’re so numb to the concept that we haven’t even stopped using the word “spoiler” to describe what’s going on. It’s an ugly word.
This is what leaking a ton of cards all at one does, right? The word “harm” is even listed as a synonym for spoil.
Over the Line
I think a lot of people were a little shocked at the tone of Trick’s piece today. I think that is because people have very short memories. Remember Rancored Elf? If you’re not familiar, read this piece (actually, read it either way) and compare its tone to the tone of Trick’s piece today. They brought a law suit against a guy who was spoiling cards. For years, Rancored Elf was Magic the Gathering’s Loki, finding early images and spoiling them. I’m not sure what he got out of it, besides a lawsuit, but there had to have been some modicum of personal gratification and increased website traffic. While the lawsuit looks like a harsh reaction, Rancored Elf gave Wizards of the Coast the opportunity to do something pretty ingenious, and that was adopt a “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mentality. Instead of wringing their hands and lamenting spoiled cards, they got out in front of it, strategically revealing cards to get people excited. You want the set to break sales records? Show everyone that the set will have fetch land reprints while there is still time to pre-order cases. This system worked pretty well for a while.
What’s interesting to me is that people were basically universally outraged when they heard about Guillaume Wafo-Tapa and his “God Book” shenanigans. When a pro player gave a teammate the entire set early to study and write about, people seemed to think an 18-month ban wasn’t enough and the unfair advantage he gave his team was deplorable.
Today, Trick says that Wizards is going to give much longer bans and describes early leaks as disenfranchising certain players and people seem to be categorically rolling their eyes. While I’m not inclined to defend every point Trick made in his article, because I don’t want to have to agree with all of them, I think the overall tone came through. Spoilers suck because they ruin the magic of reveal season. I like getting a few new cards every once in a while, with new mechanics being revealed at times of Wizards’ choosing and allowing them to tie in releases with their Uncharted Realms Vorthos series. They are building an experience for us, and that takes time and expense. That all goes to waste as does our potential enjoyment of the experience when someone jumps the gun. Not only did they jump the gun in this case, they spoiled 8 of the 9 remaining unspoiled mythic rares. Thanks, guy. Hope it was worth it.
We certainly don’t like to wait, do we? There are a lot of people out there who are not only unsympathetic to those of us who preferred our cards revealed at a moderate pace to build excitement (and give some of us time to do some analysis), but they relish the spoiler dump. I’ve already likened that to opening your Christmas presents on Christmas Eve, but when you consider the fact that someone external to Wizards of the Coast made the dump, the metaphor shifts in my view. Someone didn’t just open your presents for you, they wrote a letter saying “Santa’s not real, neither is the Easter Bunny, neither is Jesus and you didn’t get an N64, you got a Sega Saturn and socks.” As a member of the content creation community as well as the MTG Finance community, I can’t just plug my ears and refuse to look at spoilers like I’m doing for Star Wars, (I’m seeing it in just under 36 hours and if one of you spoils anything for me… I have no recourse. Just don’t do it.) I am compelled to analyze the new cards and talk about their financial and gameplay impact. All of us do. Once the cards are spoiled, the spell is broken and there’s no un-ringing the bell or finding a third clumsy metaphor. It’s like eating candy for dinner – it sounds like it would be fun but afterward you’re left feeling sick. I guess that’s why I feel sort of sick when there is a big spoiler dump.
It isn’t just the content consumers who have their parade peed on, either. These dumps deprive websites who were granted exclusive spoilers of their traffic and ad revenue. The people who perpetrated these leaks quite literally stole money from people. I don’t think it’s silly or hyperbolic to say that, either. Why isn’t this obvious to everyone? Why are people so divided on this topic?
I think this is absolutely part of it. I think a fundamental lack of empathy among non-content creators (which is not a malicious lack of empathy nor am I deriding anyone) because from a content-consumer standpoint, they were always going to have every card revealed to them.
I think there are a few irrelevant arguments that are tripping (no pun intended) us up in this debate and we should identify what they are.
Irrelevant Point #1 – The Topic of “Blame”
Wizards of the Coast screwed up. They have to know they screwed up. What most likely happened is someone fished cards out of a dumpster or took pics of cards that were thought to have been destroyed. This has happened in the past and the fact that the cards seem damaged seems to support that theory.
See how jacked up the card looks on the edges?
Whether or not Wizards is to blame for not vetting the printer that allowed this fiasco to happen or the printer is to blame or the dumpster diver is to blame for being a scumbag is kind of irrelevant. Don’t let your debates get caught in this quagmire. WotC messed up and they are getting more punitive with people who leak these images. Hopefully they’ll try to see if they can run a tighter ship going forward. I want cards spoiled, but I want them spoiled on WotC’s terms. It’s a better experience. I’m old enough to know candy for dinner is bad for me and I don’t particularly enjoy the fact that the candy was gavaged down my throat in this instance.
Irrelevant Point #2 – “Professionalism”
A few people seemed jarred by Trick calling whoever perpetrated this dastardly offense against all of us a “terrible human being” by comparing them to someone who announced someone else’s pregnancy on social media. Maybe it’s unprofessional for someone in Trick’s position to call someone a terrible human being, maybe it’s not. What I do know is that I’m not in Trick’s position. Whoever did this is a terrible human being. I mean, that’s an opinion, but to imply that Trick can’t indirectly imply that what the leaker did was horrible and that by extension makes them a horrible human being doesn’t smack authentic to me. I’m glad some emotion made it through the editing process. He’s making an emotional appeal to people not to do antisocial things, after all.
Irrelevant Point #3 – The “Enfranchised”
This one is actually one of Trick’s points. He said;
Leaks create an unfair advantage as—because they do not go out over official channels—they are not as widely distributed to less-enfranchised players, thus creating an unfair advantage for some players.
and I think that’s a pretty specious argument. I’m not going to pretend it isn’t because he made other good points. Let’s leave this out of the debate and keep it on track. There’s no way he actually thinks the official channels have more reach than the whole of the internet when official channels use some of the same sites that published leaked photos eventually, which is where most of us saw them.
Irrelevant Point #4 – Scale
I think a lot of people got mired in the gigantic difference in the scale of spoiling someone’s pregnancy and therefore a huge, life event and ruining some surprises in a children’s card game played by adults for some reason. Don’t go too far down this rabbit hole. If you want to say the example failed because it was too hyperbolic, fine, but don’t let it derail the debate. Hindsight has probably made Trick realize this came across kind of tone-deaf.
But I actually don’t think it totally fails as a point. The truth is you wouldn’t spoil someone’s pregnancy announcement because you understand how inappropriate that is, and while spoiling these cards isn’t as bad, you’re still robbing someone of an experience, doing something it’s not your place to do and depriving everyone of a much better experience than some rando blurting out “They’s totes pregs, guise!” which is what dumping a bunch of grainy cell phone pics on your lame gamer blog equates to.
Hugging and Learning
I need to wrap this up, but I feel like there is a good debate to be had here. Let’s keep it civil, remember it’s mostly our friends we’re debating with and let’s remember that all of us lost in this situation. Whether you’re a “candy for dinner” kind of person or a patient person who wants to open all of their presents on Christmas morning and not have the new Star Wars movie spoiled for them, we all could have been treated to a much better spoiler season experience and someone deprived us of that, selfishly. Let’s remember that in an ideal world, we would have gotten the cards spoonfed to us, lots of different websites, publications and podcasts (Not my podcast, but, whatever) could have gotten their own exclusive spoilers and maybe a few bucks in ad revenue and increased traffic. We could have had the weird diamond mana symbol explained to us as soon as we saw it instead of wildly speculating amongst ourselves for weeks. Let’s try and do better next set and let’s try not to be horrible human beings.