Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Resignation From The ENnies: An Explanation

The thought this year, among certain members of the ENnies, was that the categories of Best Podcast and Best Electronic Product should no longer need to send in a CD, but rather could more conveniently send a link to their product. The hope was that this would make the awards more accessible, not only podcasters, fan sites, and shoestring-budget pdf-only companies. It was also hoped that this would stimulate international submissions by bypassing the postage/customs headache that mailing from overseas could be.

You see, the ENnies requires each publisher to send 5 copies of their work (one to each judge), and then a 6th as a backup to the ENnies. If this book isn't used due to a missing judge copy or somesuch, then it is auctioned off, to support the various expenses the ENnies incur--operating costs, awards, that sort of thing. All well and good, yes?

The proposal was this--open Best Podcast and Best Electronic Product (and Best Fansite, of course) to link submissions, meaning unlike the prior rules, they could just fill out the submission form and link to their product. Since the other categories remained in the domain of deadtree products, this would open up two or three categories that would likely benefit most from this change without harming the financial model of the ENnies. In my opinion, it was a way to grow the awards in terms of fan/podcaster, pdf-only publisher, small press/indie, and international participation.

But it clearly is not to be. The ENnies feel that if you submit via link, you should pay an unprecedented submission fee to support the awards. In other words, they are asking you to pay them to consider your product's quality for the award. This donation, as proposed would go mainly to the ENnies, with a percentage going to each judge. Several individuals also wanted this as another "barrier" to the awards process, one of them going so far as to worry "we'll get tons of ill-considered crap that isn't worth the time to download". Hardly the right attitude for a judge, I'd say.

I will tell you right now, I will not accept one red cent of that money. I'm not saying this because I want a pat on the back, I just want you to know where I stand, as I always promised I'd be direct with you. I disapprove of this measure entirely, and find it to be a move in the wrong direction for the openness and accessibility of the awards. Instead of making a move that in no way hurt the ENnies but instead possibly improved awards participation, ease, and lowering cost for the entrants, they chose to go with a measure that provided a new income source for the awards, but that would do nothing to grow the awards in any sense. Bear in mind, this is despite the ENnies allowing several last-minute "usual suspect" and much-vaunted companies to submit via link at the very end of the submission period last year (for no charge, of course)! I'm not sure where this will lead, or what impact it will have. But at least you'll know where I stood.

I am, in a word, disillusioned with the ENnies. I am disillusioned with this, I am disillusioned with the attitude shown towards podcasters and fan products, and I am disillusioned with the purposeful lack of transparency in the awards. I am disappointed in the inconsistency shown on treatment of publishers and in dealing with technical issues.

I was especially angered and extremely disappointed when it was suggested that we retroactively change the submission cutoff dates for Book of Experimental Might 2 so that it would go undiscovered that it was accidentally ineligible for the awards period in question. I feel that judges should not be paid, but should be satisfied with the honor of being chosen to evaluate so much hard work (and all the books they receive on top of that). We have been entrusted to give every product a fair evaluation--there should be no bias or disgust at a product's chosen medium.

I don't feel any of this is in the spirit of making the awards transparent and more open. The air of prediliction towards certain favorites and an insular, incestuous culture for the awards themselves is a cancer which, if left untreated, will damage the awards' relevancy and standing.

With that in mind, and because I will not be a further party to matters I do not feel are right, I have suggested the ENnies contact alternate judge Jeramy Ware. I will work to ensure he receives all materials he needs to do the best job he can. In short, the ENnies need to adapt further to recognize both the growing shape and form of the gaming community. As I find it impossible to affect that change in this current situation, I can no longer support the ENnies. I am sorry for the inconvenience, and I am sorry I could not be a better voice and representative for those who elected me. Thank you.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've been stunned out of lurkerdom. Wow. Kudos to you. Honestly.

Tony Law said...

Thanks for your honesty, Zach. One thing I've found over the years, and especially last year as an entrant, is that the ENnies has become, and probably always was, nothing but a popularity contest. I lay the blame for that at the feet of the ENnies coordinators.

If you put small publishers in the same category with large publishers, the odds are well in the favor of the large publishers. Granted, that's not to say that small publishers will never win, but the odds of fans voting for small publishers are very, very small. Most fans, and really people in general when asked to vote on something, will vote for whom they've heard of. They will vote for the big dog in the yard.

The ENnies needs to have separate categories for large publishers and small publishers. They need to come up with a cut-off point of some sort to distinguish between the two. For example, if your company has above X number of dollars in sales for the year, then you're a large publisher.

While I don't agree with you that certain folks should be allowed to send in links while others made to send in CDs (I don't think sending in CDs is cost prohibitive), I do agree that the ENnies needs to change to make it more inclusive to the smaller dogs in the yard.

Tomcat1066 said...

You said nothing that you didn't feel needed to be said. FWIW, I support you completely.

Micah said...

Thanks for shedding some light on what sounds like a pretty scummy practice. And kudos for taking the high road.

Tony Law said...

Just to clarify: When I say I lay the blame at the feet of the ENnies coordinators, I am talking about everyone involved in the ENnies; the judges, et al, since it is a collective decision as far as how they should be run.

Dave The Game said...

Yep, you've got my full support too, as a fairly informed outsider (who knows a bit of what goes on behind the scenes of other awards) there has always been aspects of the Ennies that rubbed me the wrong way, especially this past year. Good on you for standing up.

Propagandroid said...

Wow, are you saying the ENnies changed the rules so that Monte Cook could enter an ineligible product?

Dave The Game said...

A statement was posted on the Ennie Awards site:
http://www.ennieawards.com/ (at the bottom)

Steve said...

Re: Book of Experimental Might - does this mean that Wolfgang Baur might have won a Silver for Empire of the Ghouls or Six Arabian Nights?

Tomcat1066 said...

The statement on the ENnies website is interesting. Not knowing anyone involved, I'm left with a small amount of confusion about all of this.

Still, if what Zach has said is true, the ENnies have serious problems. Even if they aren't (and I'm not saying that they aren't by any means), it sounds like the ENnies have serious problems regardless.

More transparency would definitely help I'm sure ;)

d20Blonde said...

Sucks, dude. The ENnies were made better because of you.

@Tony - Of course the ENnies are a popularity contest. It's a FAN-based award. It's SUPPOSED to be a popularity contest. Small publishers have fared very well with the ENnies. The fact that the ENnies do not make a distinction between large and small companies, in my experience and opinion, simply pushes smaller publishers to release the best possible products they can... and, in many cases, they are rewarded for it.

Anyway... before I derail this whole discussion, I'm going to shut up.

Tony Law said...

@d20blonde - I get that. But, like I said, people will vote for companies with which they are familiar, whether or not they believe the product is the best. It's true of all fan voting of any kind.

Maestro said...

Thank you for standing up for what you believe in, and not giving in to what sounds like a pretty bastardy idea. I think everyone should have a fair go, and any attempts to sabotage that will only hurt the awards, IMHO.

Zachary The First said...

I'd really like to thank everyone for their support, and I'm glad I had a chance to say my piece. I'm looking forward to moving past this--I feel at peace with my decision, and am looking forward to enjoying the hobby again as a pure fan, plain and simple.

For my usual readers and fellow bloggers, I'll still be blogging about RPGs as I always have--that won't change in the least. Thanks again!

Jeff Rients said...

You did yeoman work and for that I thank you.

Anonymous said...

Historical Cast?...

Zachary The First said...

...is definitely a possibility again!

Telas said...

I appreciate your honesty, and the stand you're taking. I wouldn't take any money from the entry fees either.

As you mention, this is a barrier to entry, but so is sending six of your published product. I see this somewhat as "leveling the playing field" instead of "unprecedented".

There's no reason this fee (of $5 or so?) couldn't go towards charity, operating costs, etc. The judges do not have to receive anything from this fee (nor should they).

Ryan Z said...

I post as RangerWickett at EN World. I've been involved with the ENnies in the past.

Quite a spirited discussion is going on at EN World about Zachary's announcement, the general tenor of which being that Zachary was making a mountain out of a molehill. Apparently the idea of an entry fee was proposed among the ENnies staff, with the possibility of that money going to offset the costs some of the judges incur by having to receive products through customs, or just the inconvenience of having to read tens of thousands of pages of text.

The judges, they say, declined, thinking it would be a bad idea. Most of them have no idea why Zachary got so upset about an idea that was never seriously considered. It's like quitting your job because in a staff meeting, a co-worker suggests a dumb idea which gets rejected (because it's dumb).

I recommend people who want the other side of the story to check out the thread here: http://www.enworld.org/forum/general-rpg-discussion/241749-zachary-houghton-resigns-ennies-judge.html

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to hear this but I understand the reason. Just over three years ago Zach posted some information on a board about a program for sending gaming supplies to soldiers, and it included a link to a Podcast called All Games Considered. Following that link I discovered gaming podcasts and shortly there after joined the cast of AGC. So if it had not been for Zach I might never have discovered gaming podcasts or became a gaming podcaster.

Ben P. Balestra
Host of Games You May never Have Heard of, part of the All Games Considered Podcast.

fusangite said...

Dear Zachary,

I have responded to your post on TheRPGSite where you also posted your resignation letter. http://www.therpgsite.com/showpost.php?p=251967&postcount=42

You make some serious accusations in your letter. Given my long acquaintance with people involved with the ENnies, I expect you to back up these very serious allegations as to their conduct and motives with real and specific evidence.

If you can't please withdraw your statement immediately.

Anonymous said...

Another stunned lurker, late to the party. I notice you didn't even say anything about the preferential treatment between Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress and Fear The Boot.

There's plenty of cases of issues with the ENnies, if folks want to look. It doesn't start or stop here.

fusangite said...

I see that rather than respond to any of my very serious questions about the allegations you have forwarded, you have simply decided to reiterate what you have said, provide no details and get your friends at www.theRPGSite.com to ban me for raising questions about your claims. Classy.

I see that you're a champion of openness and transparency except where your own resignation is concerned.

fusangite said...

Thanks for whatever you said to theRPGSite crew. My posting privileges have been restored.

Zachary The First said...

Hi fusangite,

I'm glad they restored your posting privileges. I am sorry that I cannot claim credit for their restoration. Nor did I lobby to ever have you banned.

For everyone else still following this, I have posted a link with corroborating email excerpts between myself and other judges here:

http://www.therpgsite.com/showpost.php?p=252348&postcount=98

I have received a few nasty emails, to include some mentioning my family. I've decided to post these items to let you know I am not lying nor fabricating my claims. Thanks, and don't expect me to post much more on this. I feel like I've put my evidence out there in regards to the ENnies' behavior. Take it as you will.

Zachary The First said...

Strangely, now theRPGsite board is down. Here's the link for those who cannot access theRPGsite:

http://www.mediafire.com/?nnnzmlda3mo

Jonathan said...

I've read through the forums, and the email comments you saved and aired to the public ... I have 4 comments. sorry for the comment book:

1) I know virtually nothing about the ENnies, save for they are some sort of fan award thingy. Even so - from all the rage you have unleashed by stepping down; they must be important to some people - so hats-off to you for having the courage to do what you thought was right and to draw attention to it. Some might say, the blogger in you is showing...

2) Jody Kline seems out of touch with the reality of blogging and seems to have a geekego the size of Parada IV. Press vs. Industry? Hardly! Oscars / Emmys? I nearly fell out of my chair laughing my ass off at that comment!! As the blogosphere evolves it becomes its own product. She should do some more yoga, have some chai tea, and relax - then try, just try, to understand what the blogosphere _really_ represents.

3) After reading through the press release, the forums, and the internal emails you made public: what the heck is up with all the attitude of the ENnies staff? It just REAKS of know-it-all, better-than-you, nerd arrogance.

3) Airing private emails to the public. While its not my place at all to say, not should to care, but this has been done to me before and -- well -- it makes people extremely pissed off. There's this commonly held idea that email is like this unrecorded semi-private conversation; but in reality its more like everyone openly has a voice recorder for everything. When this lil fact rears it head... bridges are burnt for a long long time.

Well, again.. congrats on the courage and stamina! best of luck and keep your blog going!

mortellan said...

Kudos indeed Zach. I am now also disillusioned with the Ennies and now by extension ENworld. A shame.

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