Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Fire Warriors for sale! And in other news...

If my posting has been erratic of late I apologise. I've been suffering with a heavy dose of 'manflu' and have finally raised the white flag and taken some time off work. You can make me feel better by buying some of my old gaming gear so that I can re-invest my cash into my Blood Angels army. You do want me to feel better don't you?

Here is the linky:

Tau Fire Warriors, Tyranid codex and Eldar Craftworld codex

While I'm recuperating I'm surfing the web because I can't be bothered to do anything productive.

I came across some interesting stuff, though.

Gav Thorpe has been posting on Warseer. I'll reproduce some of his posts below because they give some insight into Games Workshops' thinking on 'the hobby.' The link to the discussion is here. There are three separate posts here which are divided by many other posters comments in the discussion, so this may be a little disjointed. I'm sure you'll get the gist.

We've long been aware of the 'beer and girls' phenomena that hits young lads around 15-17, it's been the same for many years. It's important to consider, however, that these returnees may not have played or collected for several years, sometimes a decade or more. Although they have experienced the hobby before, the details of the range, stable access to the rules, where to get stuff is all as useful to these guys as it is to the 12-year old who picks up WD in the newsagents.

As to support for veterans, I have been working for GW for nearly 14 years and I have never had anybody tell me that we do not care about veteran hobbyists. Continuing to strengthen recruitment is not mutually antipathetic to established gamers. However, veterans are expected to be able to look after themselves for much of their needs – they're wily enough to find painting, collecting and gaming advice from peers and elsewhere. There is also a large and healthy global tournament circuit, which tends to appeal to more established gamers, as well as other events. Not to mention many, many websites and forums where veterans can exchange opinions and ideas. Much of this stems from a mature community that requires occasional support from GW, but would be hampered by too much control or interference.

Put simply, other than cool toy soldiers and occasional pokes with different ideas such as Cities of Death or Mighty Empires, what exactly could GW provide to experienced, literate and confident veterans?

I'll start off by saying that the 'GW hobby' appears to have changed dramatically since I began playing in the 80's. Even when I was in full hobby mode in my mid-teens, I visited a GW store only once every few months (usually Luton, though sometimes we jumped on a train down to London). For the most part I bought my miniatures at a local hobby store (well, actually it started as a market stall, and the guy leased a store later!) and from Mail Order. All my gaming was done at home, with a group of mates from school. I contacted a local club, but they pretty much laughed at me when I told them I played Space Marine. Occasionally I would take Blood Bowl to a friend's house, but I wasn't going to lug my 5' table around on my bike! I bought WD every month to find out the new releases, read the battle reports and maybe get some painting or modelling tips – for the most part the rules they printed were really just lifts from books that I already had. Oh, and I would get up at 4 in the morning with my friend Dan and get a lift from my dad down to London so we could get the coach to Games Day and Golden Demon every year, and we'd blow all our money in the first 30 minutes and then spend the rest of the day playing as many different games as possible! I remember the coach or train journey back from GW or Games Day, as we'd open up everything we'd bought and lovingly fondle those miniatures

I would say, from conversations with many other gamers of the period, that mine was a fairly typical hobby lifestyle. So, that was my experience of becoming a gaming 'veteran'. These days three things have changed dramatically:
  • A lot more GW stores.
  • A lot more players, meaning a lot more clubs that play GW games, as well as tournaments and other events.
  • T'internet.
I think that the expectation on what GW provides has grown with the first. A lot more players are raised on the experience of gaming in a store, so that players concentrate on collecting (and hopefully painting) with their army. With the new terrain releases that are being released this summer, I'm hoping that more and more players are able to create a better gaming set up at home - it really is the ideal atmosphere for a game of toy soldiers. The running of stores and Vet's Nights isn't under the control of the Studio, so I can't really comment on the pros and cons. I think the idea of a Veteran's Night is kind of cool, but it's not really essential is it?
Finding opponents is a lot easier than ever it was, particularly the rise in the number of clubs and independent stores that have gaming facilities.
This has significantly altered the ratio of 'basement' games with friends compared to pick up games with 'strangers'.

The global communication allowed by the Internet has a twofold effect. Firstly, players can get great advice, tips, conversation and such 24/7. Secondly, they can discuss gaming and rules with a far wider audience with a much broader approach to playing games (and in many different languages). The scrutiny on rules has never been greater, and I think communication and pick up games is more the issue than tournaments per se. The demand for instant responses is high, but we have to maintain the integrity of those printed books as far as is possible. Officialdom and tournament-legal are concepts that have entered into the vocabulary of gamers in the last few years, and really it's a debate we would rather avoid - not because we're ducking the issue, but because it shows that we haven't done our jobs properly has far as presenting a single unified game system is concerned. Important lessons have been learnt in this regard.

The Internet also also the rapid exchange of images and experiences, so that for those who want it, there's a great deal of rumours, photos and so on for upcoming releases. On a personal level, I avoid most of this sort of thing – I don't like spoilers for TV shows I watch, I don't go hunting down every piece of news for a movie I'm looking forward too. Even when we first started working on LOTR I tried to avoid it as much as possible so as not to spoil my enjoyment of the movie! I prefer the full sensation of watching a show, seeing a film, reading a book, without any pre-judgement. I would imagine that if I were still a customer and not an employee, I would likely be the same – I wouldn't be hanging round on Warseer trying to snaffle up every tit bit of info. All of which is a way of saying that if people are going to go out of their way to get sneaky peeks and inside info, they can't expect GW to pander to it. We have a website, events and WD to showcase our forthcoming releases, if hobbyists pre-empt these media they have to understand they're not going to get the same buzz as they would if they were seeing them for the first time. For some people, knowing as much as possible as early as possible is what gives them their kicks, and good luck to them. For those who perhaps are missing a bit of that excitement you used to get each month with WD, I'd suggest spending the next 3 months avoiding all rumours and sneaky photos, and then look at WD in Aug/ Sep and see how you feel about it. This is the experience many of us had with WD when we first starting out, and it doesn't have to be lost forever.

WD is, as you've all heard before, an evolving beast. It had got out of hand, the idea of a variant army list pretty much every month was simply unsustainable, and towards the end was causing as much frustration as it was excitement - what's official, what isn't? Is it worth collecting? Etc etc. These began appealing to a niche within a niche, and although entertaining to read, very few people actually collect or game with those armies. Apologies to those who do, no offence is intended, but the fact of the matter is that compared to the number of Tau players, say, the number of Kroot Mercenaries players is very small. Is it better service to address these very small groups within the community, or to focus on the armies that the majority of players collect, paint and game with? We were very extreme, resetting the bench mark for WD to deliberately ensure it was focused on the miniatures people can actually collect and game with. Confident that we've now left behind some of the more awkward excesses of the past WD is restoring some of the balance and certainly will be including more gaming material in the future - the Blood Angels army list for instance, as well as some articles for Mighty Empires, in the next few months. There's no perfect mix, but we would like to get WD to a place where people will have their favourite issue, will check it out every month.

I shall finish this long-winded reply with a short summary!

I think it's sometimes easy to forget the infrastructure and community that has been grown by GW that exists beyond the company. That community didn't really exist fifteen years ago, and it's there that hobbyists can always find the greatest support. Clubs, tournaments, forums, all of these things are now possible to allow players to meet new people, play different opponents, exchange ideas and keep their hobby dynamic and invigorated. With the various tribulations involved in recreating the 40K codex range and the Warhammer armies range of books, it's been very hard for GW to find the time to create the sorts of supplements and products that expand the gaming available to players. We are now in a much better position, and with Cities of Death, Mighty Empires and many other supplements we have planned, we hope that we can continue to add fresh appeal to players who have been collecting their armies for many years and are perhaps looking to freshen things up. This part of the range will continue to grow over the coming years.

Thank you to everybody who has responded, it's far more than I was expecting (I suspect my post being cut out of the original thread sparked much more interest than it would have done!). We live in an age characterised by increasing cynicism and disenchantment, and I would hate for that to grip people's hobbies as well as their work (or school) life. I think it is a testament to the passion of players (and the lure of toy soldiers!) that such arguments and debates can take place. I would be more worried by apathy than misgivings!

The point of describing my own experience was not to say I share your pain or any other attempt at empathy, but pretty much the opposite. The conditions in which I became a hobbyist were very different to those today, just as the gaming hobby was very different when the likes of Rick and Jervis were growing up. It is because of this that perhaps I don't really sympathise with some of the issues being raised in this thread - not that they are not genuine concerns, simply that I have never found myself in a similar situation. I never had a venue other than my parents' house to play in. I didn't have access to a wealth of advice and discussion on the Internet. I certainly didn't have starter sets and army books to get me started.

These days an incredible amount of effort is expended introducing people to the principles of collecting, painting and playing with miniatures. Many of us take for granted what a wealth of knowledge we have accumulated over our years of gaming, and forget how little we knew when we started. Our aim is to remove as many obstacles as possible that stand in the way of people who are going to enjoy collecting, painting and playing with toy solders - what we call the 'hobby gene'.

For me, being a veteran is about being the controller of your hobby. A veteran has the experience and know how to own their own hobby and to know what they want from it. A hobby is a personal thing and miniatures are no different. A veteran knows what sorts of games he likes to play - competitive tournaments, wacky scenarios etc – and he understand his level of painting and modelling, the armies the collects, the types of miniatures he likes and so forth. Once a hobbyst has been introduced to the possibilities available, they will make their own informed choices. However, it's important for everyone to remember that a hobby is a personal journey, each person gets something different out of it, and it's not the place of GW or others to dictate to individuals what their hobby should be.

One of the things we are looking to do is make sure that we continue to support all of those possible choices in a better fashion. We'll run GTs and other events for players that like that sort of thing, but we'll also still have Golden Demon for the painters, Black Library for the background-lovers, Forgeworld for the treadheads, and so on. What we've identified as being a gap in recent years is the 'non-Codex' gaming side of things. We recognise how popular Kill team was in the 40K rulebook, for instance. We have a number of supplements planned that will give gamers more variety - different game types like Cities of Death, campaign tools such as Mighty Empires, large free-for-alls in Apocalypse, and others. We're also dedicating some time to purely collectible miniatures as part of our direct sales offer. Over the last couple of years there has been lots of talk about the 'veteran offer' in the Design Studio, and it is an area we're seeking to address, so it pains me to see people claim that 'GW' doesn't care about veterans.

On the suggestion about the evolving storyline, this has proven to be impracticable. The Warhammer and 40K background exist as settings in which players can create their own armies and battles, write their own stories and invent their own characters. They serve as a backdrop, not an ongoing narrative. To overlay too much narrative onto this background will again start to restrict the choices players can make. Have Grimgor leading your Orcs army? You can make up any number of storylines for him. However, if we followed through on Storm of Chaos any longer, for example, players would have to wait for GW to tell them what their 'army' is up to. Although we create the background, we've come to realise it is a shared part of the hobby as much as anything else, and it's not there for us to hijack away from players.

We've managed to get into a position where officialdom and dictating the hobby to players has created a great deal of restriction about what people collect, how they paint, how they game, and how they interact with the background. Our aim is to release hobbyists from these constraints so that they are again free to enjoy toy soldiers in whatever way the like, without GW (or the community) having to endorse it.

I hope that makes my position a little clearer.

Much food for thought. Whether you agree or disagree with Gav I'm glad he's at least putting his point of view out there.

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