As of February 16, 2022 Protospiel Online has discontinued support for the virtual board gaming platform Tabletop Simulator (TTS) developed by Berserk Games.
In concrete terms, this means:
- We will drastically ramp up our support both between and during our events for the virtual board game platforms Tabletop Playground (TTP), Screentop.gg, and Tabletopia
- We will keep an updated list of our top recommended resources for building games in TTP, Screentop.gg, and/or Tabletopia, on our new Digital Prototypes Help page.
- We will collaborate with TTP, Screentop.gg, Tabletopia, and Board Game Engine to help them improve their platforms for the purposes of online playtesting
- We will partner with creators in our community to run public training sessions for Tabletop Playground, Screentop.gg, and Tabletopia via Twitch livestreams and our YouTube channel
- We will work with community members to put together openly available asset packs for TTP and Screentop.gg (along with Tabletopia and Board Game Engine if/when we become aware of opportunities to do this on those platforms)
- In order to make our events more accessible to a wider variety of attendees, we will encourage attending designers to build each of their prototypes in at least one free-to-play platform where possible (see this FAQ entry for more info)
- Prototype listings on our website will allow designers to list multiple available digital platforms for playtesting
- Our Code of Conduct has 4 new sections under “Special Considerations for Virtual Playtesting“
- Playtester Availability Based on Platform
- Sharing Digital Players Wanted Cards
- No Unsolicited Direct Messages (DMs)
- Digital Prototype Access
Until further notice:
- We will not provide training for TTS on our website or Discord server
- Our FAQ will not direct users to resources that help them use TTS
- We will provide unlock codes for TTP rather than TTS to our scholarship recipients
- Our Tech Requirements page will not mention TTS
- TTS will not be a selectable platform when adding a prototype listing to our website
- TTS will not be a selectable option when creating a Players Wanted card for posting in our Discord #looking-for-a-game text channel
- LFG Voice Moderators will not assist designers in verbally coordinating playtests for games using TTS
Why the change in policy?
Protospiel Online runs on the Golden Rule that each designer (or team of designers) should aim to give as much playtesting time as they get from the community. Given this, the multiple people in our community who no longer feel comfortable using TTS due to recent actions of Berserk Games (see below) will not be able to easily participate if TTS remains the platform 95%+ of playtests use at the event.
While it is true that it is up to each designer to decide for themselves which digital board game platform(s) they will use to build their prototypes, it is also up to us as community leaders to maintain spaces that allow people to interact without unnecessary friction or discomfort.
We have discussed the current situation privately with multiple designers who are uncomfortable using TTS. What we’ve learned from those conversations is that, while these designers don’t cast people who run their playtests using TTS in a negative light, they do not want to have to repeatedly decline to playtest prototypes built on TTS, and they certainly don’t want to have to repeatedly explain why they are declining. What’s more, they don’t want to feel like a drain on the group if they are receiving plenty of time and feedback invested into their prototypes but are unable to find more than a handful of prototypes they can playtest for others.
We understand that the need to rebuild prototypes in a new platform will pose some level of inconvenience ranging from minor to major for designers who have already put a lot of time and effort into building their prototypes on TTS. This is why we are committed to doing everything mentioned above to support our community in learning to play and build in the alternate platforms.
If you have suggestions for more things we could do to help make the transition easier for you and/or the entire attendee base, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Strengthening our community with greater platform diversity
From our seat behind the customer service desk for Protospiel Online, we have seen that there are plenty of reasons the TTS tool itself is not always the best solution for online playtesting. Rather than feel discouraged about the absence of TTS at our events, we hope designers can see this break from TTS as a good opportunity for all of us to work together and get better acquainted with a variety of digital prototyping options.
The fact that TTS has accounted for 95%+ of the prototypes at our events prior to February 2022 has made it impossible for many people to participate up to this point. For example, there are some people who refuse to open a Steam account. There are others who have long been disgusted with TTS’s lax policies on intellectual property rights and refuse to use the platform for this reason. There are also a significant number of potential attendees who have run-down or low-performance computers that can’t access and/or keep up with the processing demands TTS puts on them. Using less resource-intensive programs like TTP, Screetop.gg, and Tabletopia will make all of the games in our community more accessible to people who can’t afford a new, high-performance laptop or desktop computer.
We have always been committed to making Protospiel Online a place where designers and playtesters of any background or experience level can come together to help make the games of the future the best they can be. We believe that increasing the diversity of digital board game platforms represented at our events will also increase the diversity of designers and playtesters who can participate. We’re looking forward to building toward this goal together.
What if rebuilding in a new platform is too big of a lift?
Of course, part of the problem with switching platforms is the lack of available time, energy, and, in some cases, money to learn and implement something new.
For those unable to find the time and energy to rebuild your games, we encourage you to:
- Remember that the minimum requirement to get a game tested at Protospiel Online is to build one prototype in one supported platform. Only build multiple prototypes or multiple versions of the same prototype in different platforms if you can find time and energy for this.
- Don’t let perfect be the enemy of playtest-ready.
- Consider using one of our recommended resources, including some done-for-you options, to speed up the process.
- Learn the procedure for mass-uploading assets from TTS mods into TTP. While this does not include table setups or scripts, it’s still a time-saving feature worth using where possible.
- Come as a playtester for your first visit to practice playing in new platforms before learning how to build in them.
- Maybe take the opportunity to design a relatively simple new game idea that will work perfectly in the new platform you most want to learn.
For those worried about the cost of switching platforms:
- Know that each of the platforms we are recommending offer cost effective options
- TTP is a one-time cost of $15 for both builders and players
- Screentop.gg is completely free to both builders and players (at the time of this writing)
- Tabletopia offers a free subscription level that allows the account holder to build one game without the use of 3D objects
- Remember that those who apply for our need-based badge scholarship and tell us they don’t yet have a copy of TTP will get a TTP unlock code along with their badge. (Our ability to do this is thanks to a generous donation from TTP themselves.)
What about prototypes that rely on features unique to TTS?
This break from TTS may not be forever. In fact, we hope it won’t have to be. Unfortunately, we don’t have control over what TTS will choose to do (or not do) in the coming months and years. Those actions/inactions will determine whether or not there will continue to be a large contingent of our community members who feel disgusted by the thought of opening TTS even to playtest someone else’s prototype.
TTP added a drawing tool to their platform in early 2022. This conversation in TTP’s Discord also explains a technique that may allow some roll and writes to work through the use of scripting. Another option to consider for roll and write games is using a Google Sheet or Jam Board outside of the game platform to manage the player sheets.
Many online playtesting community leaders have been in touch with the developers behind TTP and Screentop.gg, and both are very open to suggestions from the online playtesting community. It’s possible that one or both of these dev teams will add a feature you need for a mechanic to work if you make a request through the Screentop.gg Discord or TTP Discord and/or upvote existing items in the TTP Roadmap.
The TL;DR on what follows
The remainder of this page is written for those who feel bewildered and/or frustrated by Protospiel Online choosing to pause support for TTS. The first section is focused on helping readers understand the facts behind what happened, and the second section is focused on helping readers understand the feelings behind what happened.
If you already fully understand why this break from TTS is necessary, you may not need to continue reading. All of the above info covers the concrete things you need to know before making the choice on whether to attend our events while this policy is in place.
As an organization committed to creating safe online spaces for marginalized populations, this has not been the first time and it’s unlikely to be the last time we’ll have to make a tough call like this one. We want all of our community members to know that we’ve listened to and considered several different perspectives while making this choice. We hear and understand the confusion, disappointment, and general sense of unease this creates for many people in our community.
For those feeling left in the cold by this policy change, even if the below doesn’t persuade you to continue engaging with Protospiel Online, we hope it will serve to help you unpack your own feelings and thoughts around events like these that, whether we like it or not, continue to regularly show up in all areas of our lives.
Why are people refusing to use TTS?
On January 7, 2022 Xoe Allred (Zoë ALL-red) of Knife Bunny Games published a Tweet sharing screenshots from her conversations with mods for the TTS global chat and Discord server and stating that she had removed all of her prototypes from TTS.
She started the conversations documented in her screenshots to ask why she was banned from the in-game global chat after self-identifying as gay, then asking for clarification on how this went against TTS’s rule that chat content must “be family friendly and centered around Tabletop Simulator, tabletop games and chatting with other players.”
Xoe has gathered and transcribed all the screenshots from various platforms where the conversation took place into this Google Doc. The Google Doc also includes Xoe’s commentary and her thought process in deciding to stop using TTS. The final straw for her was a conversation inside the TTS Discord server in which she asked “Is gender considered inappropriate for chat too? Like sharing that I’m trans?” and CHRY, a mod with the role ‘Berserk’ inside their server, replied “Tabletop simulator is about playing tabletop games, not a place to discuss sexuality, fetishes, politics.” Xoe then asked “Are you suggesting that being trans is a fetish or political?” and received no direct response.
In the few days after Xoe’s initial Tweet, team members from TTS put out a series of Tweets attempting to make a public apology. While no one can ever have 100% certainty of what’s in another person’s heart or what their true motivations are, these attempts to make a public apology rang hollow to many in the LGBTQIA+ community and only served to further inflame the situation. Two of the public statements that came out from within the TTS/Berserk team contradicted themselves saying they supported the LGBTQIA+ community while simultaneously implying that Xoe was either a liar or unable to understand things that should have been obvious to her.
The second public response Tweet from the @TabletopSim account didn’t say anything wrong in itself, but mixed with the fact that CHRY continued to serve as a mod with the role ‘Berserk’ in the TTS Discord server, the post felt deceptive. Right after TTS’s second public statement came out, CHRY was still posting comments inside the TTS Discord server insisting that everything was merely a misunderstanding. CHRY also drafted their own apology stating that they did not represent Berserk, that they (CHRY) didn’t have anything against the LGBTQIA+ community, and also insinuating that Xoe was leaving out details and misleading the public. All of this served to seriously undermine TTS’s second response post.
TTS’s third response post included the announcement of some concrete actions members of the LGBTQIA+ community inside the TTS Discord server had been asking for, including a $10,000 donation to the National Center for Transgender Equality. Unfortunately, the statement continued to ignore the human element. It did not include the removal of CHRY from moderator duty or a personal apology to Xoe for both the original offense of not showing her respect within their internal communication systems and for the parts of their public statements that insinuated she was lying or did not understand things she had made quite clear she did understand.
Shortly after this third public response, Bryn Smith, owner of Doomsday Robots Game Co and leader of the Heavyweight Championship Playtesting Discord server, reached out to Berserk Games through the TTS Discord server. She posted a message thread explaining what Berserk’s next steps would need to be if the company wanted to rebuild trust with the LGBTQIA+ community. (You can read the content of those posts here.) The on-shift moderator in the TTS Discord server told Bryn they would elevate the message directly to the Berserk team. Shortly after this, Berserk contacted Bryn privately to let her know their team had recently reached out privately to Xoe to extend a personal apology.
The final piece of advice Bryn offered was to “either hire or professionally consult with someone from the LGBTQIA+ community to help guide [Berserk] going forward.” The company also assured Bryn in their private message that they were “working directly with LGBTQIA+ members of their team, discussing at length what to do going forward.” At the time of this writing, we’re not aware of any further public announcements from Berserk with steps they are taking along these lines.
Why haven’t TTS’s public apologies stopped the criticisms?
No one on our leadership team or anyone we’ve talked to privately has said they think anyone/everyone behind TTS is a cruel-hearted, irredeemable villain. Even publicly, Xoe states in her Google Doc that she doesn’t believe they have intent to harm LGBTQIA+ community members. The problem is that Berserk has repeatedly demonstrated in their responses they don’t know how to handle these kinds of situations with their current set of resources, and, as far as we can tell right now, they haven’t brought in anyone new with specific cultural sensitivity/public relations training to help them. This creates the unsettling feeling that it would still be easy for something like this to happen again.
We’ve discussed this situation with many members of our community looking at this from different perspectives. It’s not uncommon for people to tell us privately that they don’t feel safe to voice their unpopular opinion that the lack of forgiveness for TTS from the LGBTQIA+ community bothers them. It feels scary and disappointing to think that people and companies can make mistakes so terrible that the Court of Public Opinion will demand their complete shunning. This idea feels especially scary for people who can’t quite get their heads around what was so very upsetting in the first place about TTS representatives’ words and actions.
One key point that many commentaries fail to address about all this is that Xoe was not some common everyday user of the TTS platform. She is a new and promising board game designer from a group that has traditionally been marginalized in the board game industry. Protospiel Online and many other individuals and organizations have been working for several years to help these marginalized groups feel safe and welcome to participate. We do this unselfishly because it’s a nice thing to do for people who often feel pushed to the margins of society. And we do it selfishly because people in these groups often have amazing ideas and insights we would all miss out on if they weren’t part of our communities. Their participation also helps us all learn about different perspectives, which can help us create games that appeal to a wider audience and grow the market for board games in general.
Xoe has been a very positive contributor to our community since the early part of 2021. She is a model attendee as far as participating in all activities, following all the guidelines and procedures, bringing fun, interesting games for everyone to try, and giving and receiving feedback in a kind, helpful, and respectful way.
It’s clear to all of us on the Protospiel Online leadership team that Xoe did not start out this process with an agenda to destroy TTS or make it impossible for any of us to use it. Like her Tweet said, it had been a bad day, and she wanted to let her followers know they would not be able to playtest with her on TTS going forward. As one of her later Tweets explained, one reason this was so painful to her was that she was certain she would be shunned if she could no longer trade playtests with people in online playtesting groups. She’s been surprised and grateful that so many designer community members have been willing to support her through this.
With this background in mind, let us paint a picture:
Xoe has been participating in online playtesting communities and using TTS to build all of her digital prototypes for at least a year. She has been encouraging people to buy copies of TTS so they can join her tables. She has been helping several other people learn the controls for TTS and navigating others through assembling their own prototypes using TTS. She has essentially been working for TTS as their unpaid sales person and trainer — not because TTS ever asked her to do this or, in fact, ever acknowledged her in any way up to this point. She did all of this simply because it was what she needed to do to participate in our online playtesting communities as they have been structured up to this point.
It’s worth noting that TTS’s practice of ignoring Xoe’s efforts is unlikely to have been due to any kind of deep-seated transphobia behind the scenes. TTS has been an equal-opportunity ignore-er across all types of people who have similarly been working to spread the word about TTS since early 2020. Many community leaders have reached out to TTS in the past to seek ways to partner and gotten no response. We have posted their sales on social media. They don’t even give us a follow or a like. We send them an email. They never respond at all. We watch the training videos they’ve made for their own product. They’re out of date and difficult to follow. It falls to the board game community to make better videos, all along with no way to get a commission for doing things to drive traffic and sales for the product. We’ve heard reports that Berserk doesn’t send payment in a timely manner to people who build mods to for their downloadable content store and they don’t respond in a timely manner when publishers ask them to remove mods containing their intellectual property from the TTS Workshop.
No one we’ve talked to knows anyone who works at Berserk personally. Normally that wouldn’t be all that odd, but considering that the board game industry operates with such above average transparency, this faceless, nameless, unresponsive company gives a fairly unfriendly and untrustworthy impression.
But enough about TTS’s relationship to the board game community as a whole. Back to Xoe.
As a power-user and evangelist for a product that’s been an almost daily part of her life for at least a year, she starts to notice posts in the global chat expressing gay/queer pride and decides to add a statement of her gay identity in solidarity. She is met with what seems to be an auto-ban.
Since all of her board game designer friends exclusively use TTS for playtesting, she doesn’t want to have to stop using TTS because of one uncomfortable exchange. She emails the company using language that gives them the benefit of the doubt and even offers to help them with some free cultural sensitivity consulting. They ignore her for a week or more.
Eventually she visits their Discord server seeking a mod who can explain the chat policies around what is considered “off-topic.” In response to her question on whether or not it is allowed for her to let people know that she is trans, the mod replies that the chat is “not a place to discuss sexuality, fetishes, politics,” and ignores her request for clarification on whether this statement should be taken to mean they are labeling trans identities as a fetish or political.
This is all quite bad enough, but it’s still only the beginning. Next, they put out public apologies, some of which refer to her (one of the people who’s been supporting the spread of their product for a year or more) as a nameless faceless “user,” and imply that she is lying and/or purposefully trying to stir up trouble. Finally, after about a week spent under the constant stress of being in the public eye, getting bombarded with messages from both supporters and bullies, and seeing a storm of insults towards her and unfounded accusations of lewd behavior on her part in the hundreds of “Positive Reviews” under TTS’s Steam listing, the leadership behind all the policies that set her up for this horrible treatment send her a personal apology. Of course, this apology doesn’t come until after 50-100 people have told TTS in public forums that the way they are treating her is out of line.
After all of this, it seems more than understandable that Xoe and many others who witnessed this unfolding would need some time away from TTS to heal and assess whether or not it feels safe to engage with the product again. And, if they ever do return to the platform, it would need to be because they truly feel comfortable and not because using it is the only way to participate in communities they want to be a part of.
In the event that the above narration has not gotten you to the point of understanding Xoe’s and her supporters’ perspectives, we’d like to offer you some resources that may help.
First, a very timely episode of the Stuff You Should Know Podcast came out shortly after these events entitled “How Forgiveness Works.” If you want to skip to the meatiest part, start at 19:30 min mark. This episode goes over the ways forgiveness can be both beneficial as well as harmful if not carried out in the appropriate way.
Next, this interview with psychologist Dolly Chugh from behavioralscientist.org, “Why Being Good-ish is Better than Being Good,” touches on a lot of points very applicable to our current situation with TTS. If you learn better by listening rather than reading, you can listen to this 10 min video of our Lead Organizer, Heather Newton, reading the contents of the article.
Finally, if you are feeling afraid that asking questions or bringing up concerns will cause the online playtesting community to react to you similarly to how people have been reacting to TTS, know that you are not alone in this struggle. Multiple people have been expressing these thoughts in various forums over the past few weeks. In an effort to help you navigate conversations from this position with better outcomes for people on both sides, here are some rules of thumb:
Good intentions don’t prevent harmful impacts
While it does not make someone a bad or unwelcome person if they have questions or concerns, there are appropriate and inappropriate approaches to asking these questions and engaging with others over these issues. Although everyone has a right to their opinion, they cannot reasonably expect access to express all opinions in all situations without consequence.
Public forums and mixed groups are not productive places to discuss sensitive topics
Even if statements such as “these people are being too sensitive,” “it seems to me a public apology should be enough,” “TTS and its employees are human beings who have also suffered in this situation,” “cancel culture/politics is ruining our society/hobby,” or simply “I don’t get what the big deal is” represent your true opinion, it is disrespectful and inconsiderate to express these things in a public space containing people who are in the midst of grieving over the issue you have questions about. This is especially true if comments such as these are among only a few of the comments you’ve ever contributed to the public space in question.
It is not an onlooker’s place to prescribe the timeline for a wronged party’s healing
When a third party who was not directly impacted by an abusive behavior says to the wronged party, “Can’t you just forgive them so we can all move on?” In the absence of meaningful work over time put in by the offender, this amounts to nothing more than a guilt trip for the wronged person. The third party is effectively saying, “The fact that you aren’t getting over this is causing problems for me. It would make my life easier if you could continue to engage with the offender, thereby denying your truth that you don’t trust them or feel safe interacting with them.”
Respectful requests to talk privately with a friend are a good option
If you have a friend who you believe better understands the perspective you would like to get a handle on, consider reaching out to ask if they would be willing to talk with you about it in private. If you do this, be sure to lead the request by telling them you respect their viewpoint and, if/when they have the bandwidth to talk with you about the topic in question, you feel a conversation with them would go a long way to helping you understand. Also make it clear that you know it may not be possible for them to find the bandwidth at all, and you won’t take it personally if they decline.
Engage with groups that have already given consent to doing free emotional labor
For those who can’t or don’t want to reach out to someone in their own circle of friends, consider joining the Free Emotional Labor Club Facebook Group. Their group description begins with “Many people have been shouted down by social justice radicals just for asking honest questions about social justice concepts, and we feel that this practice is counterproductive to building a movement. We believe that conversation and discussions are far more productive than making people pay for their ignorance. As such, this is a space where we welcome and encourage open and honest questions.” This group has a clear set of 8 rules everyone needs to agree to follow to keep the conversations safe and productive. Make sure to read and understand all the rules before beginning to interact in this group. (Thank you to Bryn Smith for making us aware of this resource.)