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Counterfeiters have a new scheme to make money: Board games

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Counterfeiters have imitated popular shoes, watches, purses, and now they're coming for your board games. Charlie Hall wrote about this in polygon. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

CHARLIE HALL: Thanks, Ari. It's good to be back. I appreciate it.

SHAPIRO: You begin your article by talking about a game called kelp, which had a successful crowdfunding campaign. It was scheduled to launch later this year. And what happened?

HALL: Well, you know, they're coming in to the last couple of days of this campaign where they earned, you know, more than $1.5 million in total. And they're just cruising the internet to see who's writing about it and who's excited about it. Well, they found it for sale. And they hadn't even finished making it yet, so that came as quite a shock.

SHAPIRO: How pervasive is this? Was the experience of the Kelp creators pretty unusual or are a lot of board game creators seeing this these days?

HALL: This is something that has been simmering in the industry, really, for years now. The growth of the tabletop space, which includes card games, board games and tabletop role playing games, has just been tremendous over the last decade. And there's a lot of money to be made there, especially if you're an unscrupulous counterfeiter just looking for low-hanging fruit, really.

SHAPIRO: And what makes it so hard to crack down on them, to end this?

HALL: Well, you know, tabletop games are, by and large, physical products, right? In order to get them out into the world, you have to physically produce them. And a lot of that production takes place overseas, which makes them susceptible to having their assets stolen, really, as they're being produced. It's hard to really pin down if that's happening, but there are suspicions. The point where a lot of this stuff kind of - I hesitate to use the word leaks out is during a crowdfunding campaign because these publishers and these designers have to show the game that they're trying to get money to produce, and when they do, they're showing their cards literally, and they're getting...

SHAPIRO: Literally - actual cards.

HALL: Yes. And they're getting picked up by these counterfeiters and turned into quick heists of their intellectual property, basically.

SHAPIRO: Although it sounds like, at least in the case of Kelp, these were really shabby knockoffs. Like, one of the playing pieces in the game is a shark, and somebody who thought they were buying the game but bought a counterfeit wound up with a Lego shark in the kit.

HALL: Well, that's what they showed their demo with, right? They're literally building it out of paper and with pens and ink and glue at home. And they included a Lego shark in their early press materials. And so the counterfeiters thought that's what was going to come in the box. But, you know, it's silly.

SHAPIRO: Do you have a sense of whether the people doing this are the same counterfeiters who are making the imitation Rolexes and Gucci purses or is this a completely different kind of fraud scheme?

HALL: It's not something that I've really been able to dig into, right? It's - all of the companies that I discovered are these nonsense names. They pop up, and they disappear. If there's any rhyme or reason to it, it's that they seem to be using bots to spread their illicit wares across multiple platforms, from Amazon to eBay to the vast sea of competitors that are springing up all around them.

SHAPIRO: So this is obviously harmful to game creators, but it's also harmful to consumers who are intending to buy something that is well-made and well-thought through and wind up with a piece of junk. What are the solutions here?

HALL: The solutions are few. Honestly, most of it comes down to diligence and just man hours spent by these small creators to track down these counterfeit listings and to demand that platforms enforce their own rules.

SHAPIRO: That's Polygon's tabletop editor, Charlie Hall. Thanks a lot.

HALL: Thank you. Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Christopher Intagliata
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Gurjit Kaur
Gurjit Kaur is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. A pop culture nerd, her work primarily focuses on television, film and music.