News // Viral

Popular Facebook group Subtle Asian Traits embroiled in controversy

The group's admins have been accused of intellectual property theft and backdoor profit-sharing agreements over rival card game designs

Photo of rival card games

The admins of prominent pan-Asian Facebook community Subtle Asian Traits (SAT) have faced significant backlash and allegations of intellectual property theft after advertising the card game Asians Against Sobriety (AAS) in the group.

Various viral posts in other Subtle Asian communities on Facebook allege that the SAT admins refused to promote a rival card game A for Average (AFA) unless they were given a 75% commission of AFA’s profits. After negotiations broke down between AFA and SAT admins, SAT began advertising AAS in a pinned post in the group.

The creator of AFA, Crystal, alleged in a statement that certain similarities existed between the two card games, including that the “shipping date was the same as our launch date.” In addition, both card games are drinking games which blend elements of Cards Against Humanity with inside jokes relevant to the Asian youth diaspora. Crystal told Honi that her attempts at advertising AFA in other groups were met with comments claiming that AAS was a “better version” of her game. However, the admins of SAT denied having any connection to the individuals behind those comments, telling Honi that they have never met with the makers of AAS.

A significant number of comments in response to SAT’s pinned post have since accused the group admins of stealing Crystal’s idea and profiting from the advertisement of a competing card game, calling into question the admins’ profit motives and behind-the-scenes commercial agreements. This prompted the admins to close the comments thread overnight on Sunday. In response to these allegations of plagiarism, SAT stated that they were “blown out of proportion by Crystal’s friends since they did not fully understand the situation” and that they had previously reached a mutual understanding with AFA’s creator.

Whilst AFA is geared towards the global Asian diaspora, AAS features references that are culturally specific to Asian-Australians, suggesting a different target audience.

Eugene Soo, one of the SAT Moderators, wrote an unofficial statement on the group.

“We outright reject the overwhelming majority of the claims made as misunderstandings or complete falsehoods,” Soo said. In addition, Soo denied having any hand in the creation of AAS, claiming that SAT was only assisting AAS in an advertising capacity.

Previous edits of Soo’s statement, which were subsequently removed, also assert that “splinter groups” like Subtle Asian Networking and Dating have been “profiting off” the popularity of the SAT “brand.”

Soo’s statement has since been followed by an official statement from the admins.

“As we are trying to be a supportive community, we do not wish to silence anyone, however it was also agreed upon with Asians Against Sobriety that comments promoting competitors will be deleted as that’s the nature of business,” the statement read.

Honi understands that SAT’s admins have subsequently apologised to Crystal for the excess of their initial demand for a 75% profit commission. Crystal stated that she counter offered an even split of 50% and to take out images, such as a Pikachu meme, which SAT thought could make them liable for copyright infringement. However, she did not receive a proper reply from SAT, leading her to end the negotiation.

SAT concedes that poor organisation on their part hampered their negotiations with AFA, and that the increased experience they had with business negotiation by the time AAS contacted them is what led to their successful agreement. SAT further stated that they were contacted by AAS after negotiations with AFA broke down but before Crystal publicly released AFA on other Asian Facebook groups. Honi is aware that as part of SAT’s agreement with AAS, SAT’s admins will delete all comments and promotions regarding other games similar to AAS.

When asked what principles guide them in choosing which businesses to promote, SAT told Honi thatWe aim to support Asian businesses more in the future as we believe we have a platform that can encourage and aid in the growth of aspiring Asian entrepreneurs.”

With its nostalgic appeal to children of the diaspora, SAT rapidly became a viral meme group back in September 2018, gaining international traction in the New York Times and SBS. Despite recent controversies, including substantial allegations that non-East Asians are being excluded and underrepresented, the page has continued to thrive, accruing more than a million members.

Editor’s note: This article was amended following publication to include comment from the admins of SAT