Clickbait doesn’t work (Topic Discussion)

Maybe you’re reading this now, because you saw the title of the article and wondered what it meant. Maybe you clicked on the link, because you disagree with my statement about the effectiveness of clickbait and have come here to put me right. Maybe you’ve come here because you do agree with me and want to back me up. Whatever the reasons, in this article, I want to talk about the effectiveness of using clickbait titles to get views.

You’ve probably seen them before. Links on a web page that entice you to click them: “Don’t miss this opportunity to make money quick!” – “You will never believe what they did next.” – “Change your life forever with these simple tips.”

I must admit, I’ve clicked on them myself before and even a big organisation like the BBC has started using them on their website. So they clearly worked on me and generally, they are seen as a great way of attracting people to your website and keeping them there.

At the same time, we’ve become accustomed to them and many of us probably no longer click on the obvious ones any longer. I certainly don’t fall for the “You won’t believe your eyes” type of links anymore and there are many others that are clearly not giving you any useful information and are merely there to entertain you and get you to go onto their website.

So click baiters have now upped their game. Gone are the days of more innocent headlines or link text. Now it’s all about courting with controversy or creating controversy where there is none. As we all know too well, politicians have gone down that same route. Using controversial headlines and soundbites to get a reaction is now a very popular tool.

I’m not a psychologist, but as far as I can tell, the reason why a video with the title “Boardgame Playthroughs Are Awful” is successful in getting clicks is that it forces people to take sides. The title isn’t moderate or positive, but negative and accusing. I would even go as far as saying that the title is actually quite offensive to a lot of people. The title intentionally provokes a reaction and that reaction can only be one of two options: you agree or you disagree. It creates division.

Some people will click on the title because they agree with the statement and want to support it in the video’s comments. Others click on the title because they disagree, and probably strongly disagree, and want to make their disagreement known. Of course, every comment on that video will spur a reply, either that of further agreement or disagreement. You have two opposing sides of an argument as your captive audience and the discussion will easily go on for days, because people are now polarized and both sides want to win the argument. Chances are, the discussion becomes more and more heated.

So if the intent of a clickbait title, of using words that try and create controversy, is to get lots of attention, then using inflammatory headlines such as “Boardgame Playthroughs Are Awful” works. Your video views will go up, every time someone comments or replies. Your marketing goal has been reached and of course, now that your video has so many views, your next video will also use a clickbait title. It’s a one-way street really.

The real question is though, whether being sensationalist or inflammatory and whether using controversy and division to get lots of views is the right goal to have.

I certainly don’t think it is. I think it’s great to start a discussion, but it needs to be a proper discussion, not a shouting match. It’s important to create an environment where everyone feels like their voice can be heard, which is already hard enough given the world we live in and our current social norms. Using an inflammatory title that forces you to take a side certainly doesn’t encourage people to listen to others and take their comments on board. It doesn’t put you into the headspace where you’re open to hearing what others have to say and reflect on whether your opinion needs adjusting or even changing completely.

Rephrase your headline into something that asks for discussion and openness to hear other people’s views. Say something like: “Let’s Look At Boardgame Playthroughs Again.”

If you don’t want to start a discussion about an issue, but you have your own opinion on why something doesn’t work, at least why it doesn’t work for you, then come up with better options and offer suggestions. It’s always easy to criticise and call something “terrible” or “awful”. It’s a lot harder to suggest how something could be done better, even with the benefit of hindsight sometimes.

So if you think you know how things could be improved, then your headline could read: “My Suggestions To Make Boardgame Playthroughs Better.” Now it’s up to you to say what doesn’t work and why, but not only that, you also have to explain how it can be improved. That would be really useful to people.

In fact, I do often think that articles, podcasts or videos that help us improve in some area and that offer useful suggestions and tips, will get more views and clicks than the clickbait titles that we see so often – even the controversial ones.

Courting with controversy with the goal of getting lots of clicks is a terrible approach and not something I condone. In fact, I suggest you vote with your feet and unfollow, unsubscribe or otherwise stop giving those click baiters your support. I stopped clicking on the “You won’t believe your eyes” links and I unfollow those who use sensationalist headlines to get more views. We need to make this world a better place and stop giving those people our valuable time who just create more hate and division.

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Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Context Switching – when games are hard work (Topic Discussion)

Recently at work, we discussed how constantly going from one task to the next or changing from one tool to another is rather draining. This so-called context switching has been shown to reduce productivity. That’s when it struck me that some board games suffer from exactly this problem. So in this article, I want to look at how research into the problems of context switching could potentially be applied to board game design.


Let me start by defining what I mean by “context switching” and how it differs from what we usually understand by “multi-tasking”. Hopping from one task to another is quite normal. In a board game, you expect to have to do or at least consider several things at once on each of your turns.

Doing several things that are all related is what I would call multi-tasking. You can easily consider multiple choices in a game as long as they’re relatively similar. Deciding which action space is best while working out if you have enough resources to do what you want to do and at the same time keeping an eye on what other players might be planning is a form of multi-tasking. It can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, but it’s usually manageable.

Context switching is a bit different though. You’re still doing several things at once, but they are very different things. In board game terms, imagine having to go through clean-up steps, where you total up points scored this round, shuffle discard piles into new draw decks and remove certain tiles, depending on the current round, while also having to make a choice about what action you should take next. All of these things are not really related and will quickly become overwhelming.

Or consider being the person who is teaching the rules, while also having to play. Not many can do both effectively at the same time. I think many of us will have been there. People asking you rules questions can easily distract you and let you forget what you were planning to do on your turn. It gets especially confusing when you have to look up the answers in the rulebook. Now you will have completely lost your thread.

The Problem of Context Switching

So, context switching is definitely problematic. Games that require players to do lots of different things or choose between options that are very dissimilar will become overwhelming pretty quickly. There are plenty of games where a single turn consists of many different phases. Player aids can be very helpful here, but they are really just a crutch to address a problem in the game’s design. People will still be distracted when they have to check what phase comes next and what they have to do. Granted, many games with multiple phases in a single turn do tend to flow after a few rounds, but it’s still not elegant.

Another form of context switching in games is to do with housekeeping steps between rounds or at certain times in a game. It’s at these points in a game that the rulebook often comes out, because nobody can remember what needs to be done. Again, a quick reference guide can help here, but ultimately it’s still a form of context switching. Players have worked out their winning strategy and now have to think about something completely different.

Now, I’m not saying that games with context switching are badly designed. It’s quite possible that removing phases destroys the overall game experience. Sometimes breaking a turn into multiple steps can actually be helpful. All I’m saying is that any sort of context switching can become problematic and needs to be carefully considered. At the end of the day, I think some games that are seen as complex, difficult or maybe heavy have that image because of the amount of context switching.


As an example, I immediately think of 18xx games. They are often seen as difficult to learn. I reckon some of that perception is due to the various phases. There is the stock and an operating round. The operating round is further divided into laying track, operating locomotives and buying and selling locomotives. Turn order also changes from time to time. There are a lot of different things going on that players have to remember when they play an 18xx game. It’s this kind of housekeeping that can put people off.

a close-up of Brass: Birmingham
Brass: Birmingham has several moments of context switching

The wonderful Brass: Birmingham is another case in point. Taking a turn can be difficult enough, given the number of options players have to consider. However, once everyone has taken their turn, it’s time to decide turn order for the next round. Adding up poker chips and moving player tokens around isn’t particularly hard. It’s quite simple arithmetic. Yet, it’s enough of a distraction to get players out of the flow of the game. Then, halfway through the game, you score everything, remove tiles from the board and get ready for the next era. Again, it’s not difficult, but it’s another moment of context switching in the game.

Contrast these with Tapestry. There are a few actions that I would consider a form of context switching. Rolling the dice when you carry out a conquer or a research action, as well as placing income buildings or landmarks are all quite different to what you usually do on a turn. Yet, these are things that you often do while the next player already takes their turn. So you can take your time making a decision without stopping the flow of the game. You will also have time to switch back to thinking about your next turn.

What About You?

So what do you think about context switching in board games? Can you think of other examples? Are there games that were re-designed to remove this break in flow? Have you played any games where context switching actually enhanced the gameplay experience? As always, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

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Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

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