Friday, 7 October 2011

HoP Idol: Interview with Lauby

Well this is my entry in week 3 of the HoP Idol contest. I actually found it quite fun doing an interview, and it's certainly something I might actually try out in the future. That's if anyone is willing to be interviewed by me after they read this!!!

Well this week we've been given the task of interviewing one of the current International House of Paincakes writers. I got one of the big ones... Lauby, who co-founded the International House of Paincakes with Dethtron. Sadly though for him he'd drawn me has his interviewer and I'd personally like to say thanks to him for putting up with my erratic ways of late, as I've got a lot going on in my personal life right now and he was a pleasure to interview and very understanding. I've dropped 4 pictures of Lauby's lovely painting in here as well. So here it is...

Frontline Gamer: Hello. I'm going to be honest and say I have absolutely no idea where to start this interview. I'd ask for some hints and tips but I'm getting pressed for time now so I'm going to go with the obvious question. Why the hell did you decide to start the international House of Paincakes (HoP) with Dethtron in the first place? And as a follow up question, and are you utterly mad?

Lauby: Like so many 'Good' ideas throughout, history the whole idea started in a bar while Dethtron and I were working on a special kind of drunk - expensive beer drunk. At that point in our e-live we were both struggling to get readers for our own blogs and we just couldn't get things going to the extent we wanted. Commenting on other people's blogs and exchanging links only gets you so far, and is tedious, tedious work. Obviously the solution to that was to 'join a blogging network'. But the ones that existed at the time didn't have a lot to offer us or had a bunch of bullshit requirements we didn't much care for.

Obviously, I'm talking about FTW and I'd be flat out lying if I said the 'no swearing' policy wasn't a big driver for the HoP. I don't usually bring it up directly because I never feel like admitting that fact, it's the kind of thing that will not go over well in the public given the sterling reputation, much deserved, that Ron has. But there you have it. We wanted to be able to swear. We had a lot of e-buddies who wanted the same thing and wouldn't or couldn't change to make the cut. Granted, we had other options, but it was either networks nobody really saw or things that always came off as 'after the fact' kind of ancillary projects with piss poor promotion. You know, things that wouldn't 'really' help us. So the drunken path that was clearly laid out in front of us was 'start your own'.

Utterly mad? Yeah.

Frontline Gamer: Ah, so it was all down to alcohol then, like most good ideas men have. Well I for one am glad you did decide to start HoP, because like you although I have respect for what others have done with their blogging networks, the restrictions on 'Freedom of Speech' is bullshit... and on HoP I can say that. Are you happy though with what you've achieved with HoP, and also where its heading right now?

Lauby: I'm definitely happy with what we've achieved. No question about it. I'm really struggling with the exact sentence I want to use to describe it perfectly. The initial community response went so far above what we had predicted that kicked over all of our initial plans and outlines. But at the same time, it really set us up for more success. I'm also quite proud of the regular content we've created and the fact that our comments section hasn't turned into a cesspit. As far as where we're heading... overall I'm also extremely happy with that as well. We're stable, we've never had a week without a new member and our original content output is, I think pretty impressive. The writing staff is the real gem here, they go above and beyond to provide Dethtron and me with some great support and have really made HoP what it is. The only issue I've been wrestling with is how to ramp up the member blog promotion. The 'user content Wednesdays' and the weekly 'top X' are great and all, but we're well over 300 members now and I just don't feel like we're doing enough. So if anyone has any ideas, we're all ears.

Frontline Gamer: When you started HoP did you set yourselves any goals then? Or did you say lets do this and see where it takes us?

Lauby: Oh man, the start of HoP was actually pretty meticulously done... by blogging standards. Haha. A lot of time went into getting as much into place as we could so that when people showed up to our page, we weren't going to have a bunch of under construction banners and shit. Our primary goal was to be planted and ready for members so that the HoP wouldn't end up some 7 blog circle jerk. So we spent a lot of time on logos, site layout, policy stuff with a brief outline of the kinds of dedicated promotional stuff we wanted to offer our members. But after that, we left things pretty open. We had no real idea what our growth was going to be like and even the prospect of adding authors was a large unknown. We just didn't have the experience at the time. Looking back , we probably should have had some better content goals - within the first month, it was pretty clear that we weren't ready for the demand. But on the flip side, being flexible kept us from heading down dead ends or wasting efforts on unworkable ideas.

Frontline Gamer: I think that content is something a lot of new bloggers think they've got down, but when it gets to actually doing stuff it can become quite a bit of a struggle sometimes. What sort of articles do you like to see on blogs? I've asked this same question of some of the regular readers of my blog and got wildly differing answers back. What do you think makes a good blog?

Lauby: Hmmmm... it depends. Subject matter is important, but at any one time I can be interested in pretty much anything. What information I'm looking for is very much dependent on my needs at the time. So the type of post that I look for in that sense isn't a constant. The big thing that I  always look for is something Brent is always on about - I'm looking for a blog/blog post that has personality. I really like to get to get a sense of what the author is about. Anything that makes the author a relatable person. Without some sense of the guy or gal behind the screen, the posts come off like technical writing - informative yes, but bland and boring. The whole blogging thing, in my mind, is all about the experience of the hobby and connecting with people. So, do that.

Frontline Gamer: I guess I’m pretty new to this whole blogging malarkey, and even in the 3 or so months that I’ve been blogging I’ve learned a hell of a lot. Mainly about death threats and socially awkward people. So I’d do things very differently now, mainly I’m not too sure my blog would be pink as I don’t think it sends out the right message about me, or perhaps it does... so what advice would you have for any wanna be blogging superstars out there?

Lauby: Haha. I remember those days myself. Dealing with people online is a whole new skill set to learn on top of all the software stuff. Lets see… everyone knows all about posting regularly,  joining blog networks, participating in the community, use jump breaks blah blah blah etc. Well, actually maybe they don’t….  but that’s really the low hanging fruit (all of it important, though). The most important things for me are a bit different.

You've gotta enjoy what you write about. This is the big one. If you hate it, why the hell would anybody else bother? Just look back at all the essays on crap subjects you’ve ever written for school – are any of them entertaining and/or interesting? Would you expect your buddies to read them and derive enjoyment from them? And if you hate it, why blog in the first place? Blogging can be a lot of work, and if it’s a chore then it won’t be very fun for very long. Wrapped up in that is that you need to kind of write to establish yourself as a relatable PERSON.  It makes people actually care about what you’re doing and can lead to some very cool interactions.

Frontline Gamer: I have to be honest and say because of all your work with HoP I'd assumed you didn't actually have your own blog. Why did you start your own blog and what did you hope to get out of it, or indeed contribute to the hobby world at large?

Lauby: I'm not entirely sure exactly why I started blogging either. Right up until the point I started doing it, I had always been one of those people who looked down on the whole blogging thing. What I've been able to cobble together from vague memories and some educated guesses is that I was fed up with forums as a means of communication and I was feeling desperately isolated after a big cross country move. I think I really just wanted to communicate with like minded people and write down some notes without having to deal with forumitis. Initially it was all very basic, very boring status updates. Slowly but surely, as my educational training kicked in and as I got more comfortable with writing the end product was a lot better and a lot more interesting. At that point it was more like a travel journal. I think the title of my first post sums it up best 'web 2.0: my experiment'. And it still pretty much is.

Frontline Gamer: Web 2.0, God wasn't that an awful phrase? I think forums are things that many of us feel frustrated with, funnily enough I think one of the reasons I started blogging was because most forums I've come across seem to have developed into cliques and are no place for sensible discussion or debate. Its because people set the intensity to maximum and it only takes a few nutters to turn a sensible discussion into an argument. However are blogs really any better?

Lauby: Yeah, I hate the term as well. But as awful a descriptor as it is, everyone knows what you're talking about. I think some of the problems with forums trickle over a bit. But I don't think any of them are unique to either format. I think it's just a feature of the internet in general. Blogs can certainly go straight into the deepest depths of forum hell, but the only reason they do is because people allow them to. The big draw for a blog is that the owner has complete control. So if you allow a shit fest to get started, that's on you. You can stop it at any time. The other benefit is that even if you have a blog run by a hard-core forum-tard, you can just not go. Unlike a forum, it's not like you're going to constantly be at risk of accidentally coming into contact with whatever drivel you're trying to escape. So yeah, I think blogs are better. Or at least have the potential to be better even if the users in question aren't taking advantage of the opportunity.

Frontline Gamer: This question is kind of linked to the first few questions really and I hope you don't mind me asking it. But I had a look at your blog Laubersheimer Industries ( Laubersheimer Industries do check it out ) and I've read quite a bit of it, almost bcak to the beginning. I enjoyed it by the way, it's quite lighthearted and not as 'heavy' as some blogs out there. However it's obvious that you've had to sacrifice content on that to support HoP, any regrets, resentments or even relief?

Lauby: A tough one to be sure. Though I'm floored by the effort and the compliment. Wow. I think at any one time, any of those could apply. I do miss the kind of blogging I was doing, it was a lot more free form and all that, but I was never much for regular updates or even finishing series. For a while, I tried to do both blogs, but it was just an absolute ball breaker. I felt like my responsibilities to HoP came first and when it came time to do blog number 2, the choice was all to often 'blog or paint/game'. Sometimes I miss it and sometimes it's a relief that I don't have to try and keep up with it. Only occasionally do I resent the work at HoP. Mostly when I'm trying to sleep in on Fridays.

Frontline Gamer: Well it's a choice a lot of us make I guess sometimes. The irony of recently writing a painting guide and wasting valuable painting time did raise a wry smile from me. I was talking to some friends who were wanting to start blogs and even a podcast or two, actually while running an Infinity intro game for Sorrowshard from the blog Rant in E Minor. We joked about the blogging/hobby balance, a bit like that thing we call work/life balance. Do you think you've got that blogging/hobby balance thing right?

Lauby: Definitely feel you on the balance thing. I think anyone who starts blogging and then gets an audience feels that pressure at some point. Nothing kills your popularity like a 3 month hiatus. It's been a rough road for me at times but at this point in my life, I feel like the balance is pretty good. But it's been a fairly recent development in my 4 year blogging career. For the longest time I didn't even have a proper boundary between my real-life job and blogging. Not something I'm proud to admit. After that, the big challenge was the period when I was still holding on to the idea that I could do two blogs full-time. The primary reason Laubersheimer Industries dropped off was because it was devouring hobby time and I was starting to actually hate 'having' to do ANY blogging. Since LaubInd was still the experiment and HoP was an actual thing... well, you know.

Frontline Gamer: Sticking with your blog if you don't mind I was really impressed with your painting blogs. I myself think that the painting side of the hobby in general is something that is becoming more neglected as the games the majority of hobbyists play right now are getting ever larger. Do you have any tips at all for people who are painting large armies right now?

Lauby: I don't know about 'more' neglected. I see your point that as the idea of what constitues a standard army changes - and by that I mean they increase - even the people who wouldn't dream of fielding unpainted units are coming face to face with the reality of just not having enough stuff to play unless they do. But even with the increase in popularity of the new breed of smaller skirmish games in the last ten years, the problem still persists. There have always been and always will be unpainted armies. Some people just want the mental exercise of the game. They don't wanna fuck around with all the 'extraneous stuff' as they see it. Though I think the shear volumne of information and tutorials on painting is a kind of proof that painting and modeling is still a pretty key part of the hobby.

As far as advice goes, ultimately, it all really depends on what someone wants to do and what their goals are. If I was gonna give some one size fits all advice, it would be these two things:

  1. You need to pick schemes and recipes that make sense for you and your situation - not someone else. Ultimately, the only person who needs to be happy with the end result is you and aiming too high (but still aim high) leads straight to burnout.
  2. Be persistent in your painting. Try and get something done every day - even if it's only scraping flash off of some bases. Incremental progress is still progress and letting a project sit for two weeks can kill it dead.

Oh, and try not to overbuy. Big piles of unpainted models are a very daunting thing.

Frontline Gamer: Well maybe it’s just me that’s thinking its getting neglected. When my dad got me into the hobby 27 years ago I don’t think I ever remember seeing unpainted miniatures on the table. It’s something that’s become more prevalent in the last 10 years for me, and I never used to hear people describe the painting side of things as a chore. I’ve seen a definite mindset change, which I think is a shame because I think when you take the hobby as a whole, painting, modeling (scenery etc.) and gaming the other parts are always enhanced if you try your best in the other two. For instance taking your time painting an army you game with builds a ‘relationship’ with that army that makes you ‘care’ for them. Do you think because there are products on the market now that remove maybe the need to do things yourself (thinking mainly scenery) that perhaps the hobby has lost something?

Lauby: It’s a tough question to really deal with since we don’t exactly have access to good, sociological data on the phenomenon.  So with that in mind, I think a huge part of what we’re seeing is that more and different kinds of people are attracted to the hobby as a natural result of the producers reaching out to broaden their customer bases.  We live in a time where a golden daemon painter can do a tutorial DVD series and expect to make money of the endeavor.  If anything, I think there’s a much bigger emphasis on painting.  It just also turns out that there’s also a bigger group of people who could not be bothered to care.   I do have to agree with you on the attachment that forms with a fully painted army, as there is literally nothing like playing a fully painted game.

As to the actual question – if anything, I think the hobby has actual gained from some of the products that you’re talking about. The thing is, that the need may have been removed, but you still have the option of making your own if you want. You don’t have to burn money on a scenery kit if you don’t want to. Nobody’s forcing it on you. And having made use of scenery kits in the past, I know the time savings are immense. A pretty crucial bit of help for people just getting started. And then you get into the area where there are people who just don’t feel like they can create something that will look good.  Now they can.

Frontline Gamer: As I read through your blog I also got the sense that you’re somebody who is in love with the ‘wider’ hobby painting, modeling and gaming. So what do you think of the current state of the hobby?

Lauby: I think that this is pretty much the best time to be alive to date - so far as the hobby is concerned. First, we’re in a great spot for availability of information and materials for the P&M stuff.  I mean, really, when I first started all I had to go on was some brief instruction on dry-brushing and whatever the hell paint the hobby stores had. Now, the amount of choice in products and the amount of shared knowledge beggars belief. The same is true with the pure gaming side of it. Probably even in better space than the P&M if I’m honest. There are more games to play from more stable publishers with much tighter rule sets. Obviously, the internet has had a huge impact on all this, but good ol’ natural evolution is in play as well. I think the biggest driver for all this is that the ultra-extreme niche market days are over. It’s not just a bunch of nerds in a shed making models and hoping for the best. There’s money to be made and competition in the marketplace and a demand from an increasingly informed consumer base.

Frontline Gamer: Moving onto gaming. We contestants were asked as a quick fire challenge this week to say what our first gaming experience was, I guess its not something many of us think about, but why did you start in the hobby? What or who got you hooked?

Lauby: That’s a tough question, to be honest. I’ve been hobbying it up for something like 17+ years at this point. I got started back with Battletech (by way of the novels, interestingly enough) and the old 2nd edition 40k starter box. Heroquest was involved at some point too. But all of this was at about the same time. I couldn’t tell you which came first. It kind of grew, slowly, from there and some dabbling in scale models – but not with any kind of direction or seriousness. It was a lot of odd model choices and early experiments without a lot of direction. Thankfully, it turned out that I was patient zero for my group of friends and as they got introduced to the hobby, my involvement got ‘better'. The painting and modeling side of things was always a strong point for me and I was always very self motivated there, but it wasn’t until Dethtron picked up Warhammer Fantasy in a serious way that any kind of structure appeared for gaming.  A Warriors of Chaos army sprang out of that during a loooong period of Games Workshop games. I just realized that was all the ‘how’. As to why? Well, I’ve always been a nerd and it was pretty much a logical extension of my interests. So that was a lot of thunder for a small bit of lightning!!!

Frontline Gamer: I personally think that it's something we should all think about though. When I was younger I used to have this insane thing whereby I’d always try to involve someone new into the hobby, whether that was board games or wargames depended very much on my own hobby at the time. Normally most people are introduced to the hobby by somebody else; the ‘pioneer’ in their group if you will, for me it was my dad. However do you think its incumbent on all good hobbyists to try and introduce new people to the hobby or different game systems? I mean after all it is our community.

Lauby: I’d go so far as to say that introducing people to new games is a civic duty. Most of the companies we’re talking about aren’t large enough to burn a huge chunk of money on advertizing campaigns. And even when they do make an ad, it’s always in some tiny, off the beaten path publication. Word of mouth is all they’ve really got. If you want to get the community (or even a single game) to stay healthy and even grow, you gotta get the word out.  Plus, new people to play with can really shake up paradigms and serve to constantly re-invigorate things.

Frontline Gamer: Thinking about why you started and when you started, I had a bit of a worrying piece of introspection two weeks ago or so when talking to a friend about starting the hobby right now. If you were looking at the hobby today would you get into it? Because I’m not so sure I would, mainly to do with the upfront cost and time investment required now. Should we be worried about this?

Lauby: I think it all depends on which version of the hobby we’re talking about.  In the world that Games Workshop pretends exists, there’s this strange, underlying idea that they’re the East India Company of the game world and we all have to accept that.  Things would be iffy.  Now that I’m established with Games Workshop games, its absolutely fantastic but doing the mental checklist and knowing what I’d have to go through to get started with them is very daunting prospect - volume of internet hate, the size of the game, the incredible variety of units and the pace of change is very hard to wrap your head around and off putting. And there’s always the cost. Yikes. Double yikes even.

Just going through getting my girlfriend into Malifaux has been very eye-opening.  Getting into the hobby is a big deal - doubly so if you don’t have any contact with the fundamental concepts. Triply so once you get into the matter of cost. But, as I said, we live in a great time for this sort of thing. Actually, it turns out that were in total agreement on that. There’s plenty of other stuff out there to get started on - and it’s pretty easy to find now. Not to mention that the cost of entry is lower for the new breeds. So yeah, hands down, I would jump right in if I was starting today. Even if it was only painting.

Frontline Gamer: Leading on from the last question. I’ve prattled on endlessly about how awesome the hobby is right now, I’ve termed it the 'Golden Age of Gaming'. You seem to be of the same mind as me, but do you think the hobby as a whole is in a healthy place?

Lauby: Absolutely. In the last ten or so years we’ve witnessed an explosion of gaming options and it has been pretty amazing. There’s a ton of very cool and very innovative stuff out there now produced by people with actual business plans, the ability to support their own product and real drive to make as good a product as the big daddy, Games Workshop. All while being very passionate about what they do. 

For the longest time what it came down to was that Games Workshop made a very good set of games and knew how to get the word out… and wasn’t in too much danger of suddenly ceasing to exist. You didn’t absolutely need someone to tell you the game existed as it was quite possible you’d find it by accident given enough contact with nerd culture.  Most other games were the kind of thing where it was hard to find a place to buy into it let alone find a game.  If you wanted to play a miniature game with strangers, it had to be a Games Workshop product.  There wasn’t really a lot of real choice.  Really, it was stagnation.

Then the internet started to be a thing and the previous difficulty to find new games or get involved in old ones has been reduced to triviality.  There’s actually competition in the marketplace and the hobbyists (aka the consumers) are the real winners. Now, saying you play more than one miniature game system doesn’t mean you play Fantasy AND 40k. It means that you could play any one of a variety of games in some really unique narrative settings, with a whole bunch of different rules mechanics.  There IS something for everyone out there and often times, multiple somethings. 

Frontline Gamer: I’m glad its not just me prattling on telling people it’s a 'Golden Age of gaming'. Mainly because once or twice I’ve said that around Fantasy players they’ve looked like they wanted to punch me in the face!!! Also good to hear that somebody else has taken the plunge with other companies products, in your case Malifaux. What do you think of it as a game and as a hobby? I mean I’ve found painting small gangs in Malifaux a pleasure as a painter and a very different experience from painting a Warhammer army.

Lauby: Since I’ve only just dipped my toes in, a lot of what I’m going to say is on a pretty thin foundation. But so far it’s been a pretty good ride. As a game, I think it has a lot of merit - the mechanics are simple and solid but allow for a pretty deep tactical game. It moves pretty quickly and because of the alternating turn structure it doesn’t leave the other person bored for very long. All of which makes it very easy to get into. I’ve also spent a lot less time worrying about rules mistakes than I have with literally any other game - which is a pretty nice feeling. It’s not without its problems though - my biggest complaints revolve around how useless the layouts are for each book and how every time  a new expansion gets published, the cost of entry goes up about $35.  Really, a lot of the same problems that Privateer Press had before they switched to the Games Workshops army book model.

As a hobby, I think it also has a lot to offer. But without going too far into semantics (fun for the whole family!), I don’t tend to consider just one game an entire hobby - I’m a bit more holistic than that. But if you we’re only going to play Malifaux, it could easily sustain you… but not if you’re a single faction kind of person. The game play is fast enough that you don’t have a lot of emotional investment in each game and can get a lot of them in and try new things. The smallness of the crews means you lavish time on the models without killing your progress. A very nice package.

Frontline Gamer: I agree with you about the holistic approach to the 'hobby' I'm way more than a one game system gamer. I think you also make some fair points about Malifaux. The game has been developing at a frightening rate of knots and I’m writing an article right now asking whether it needs to take a pause for the cause. However, why did you decide to start playing Malifaux any way? What first drew you to that particular game out of all the myriad of other products on the marketplace right now? Plus what are you ‘looking’ for in a game right now, because I’ve noticed over the past two years I've had a significant change in my gaming tastes.

Lauby: Honestly, because Malifaux was the one thing my girlfriend/fiancĂ© was actually willing to try.  Simple as that. I wanted to start a new system up with my favorite opponent and that’s where I ended up. Really, any of a number of skirmish games would have worked here. I was looking for something with a small start up cost, a small model count (‘cause I would be doing all the painting) and some tactically deep rules mechanics.  It came down to either Infinity or Malifaux. Which is not to accuse Malifaux of being some generic place holder. Setting was important and so was the artistic package, but they just weren’t the biggest factors. As far as what I’m looking for in a game… that’s a tough one. The criteria are hard to pin down because my gaming interests are all over the place. What I’m really looking for these days is something that doesn’t stress me out in some way or another while giving me a lot of easy freedom to explore the game.

Frontline Gamer: Yeah, I also saw from reading your blog that you got the Infinity rules and were now a 'sad Panda' as you didn’t have anyone to play against… from one person who loves the painting side of the hobby to another, can I please urge you to at least buy some of the cool models in that range just to paint? Also if you like I could ask around and see if there is somebody nearby who’d be willing to run you through a game of Infinity. I mean it seems to me that its growing massively in the States now because every day over at the official forums there seems to be new American gamers popping up!!!

Lauby: I don’t know about 'massively'.  There’s certainly a huge amount of awareness and buzz about the game building.  It still seems pretty larval, and it’s not really all that available yet.  Sadly, you’ve inadvertently hit upon my big gaming problem right now: I just don’t have the actual, face to face access to a gaming community that I want. Aside from a bunch of relatively minor personal problems (ranging from the worst work schedule ever, to a slight bit of social anxiety), I’m constantly tripped up by the fact that I just can’t find a place to game at a time I have available. Southern Connecticut has turned out to be some kind of hardscrabble gaming desert. Well… here’s to hoping someone can prove me wrong.

As far grabbing a few models to paint… haha. Would love to, but if I just can’t deal with my backlog getting any bigger.  Though there is that new Salamander model on the horizon.  You son of a bitch, now look what you’ve done! Well, here’s to hoping my efforts to move back to the Midwest pay off.  Because as soon as that happens, I can think of a few friends who may be hearing about Infinity.

Frontline Gamer: Sorry, I have a habit of getting new people hooked to new games... I'm Slaanesh in case you didn't now!!! Well thanks for taking the time to answer my questions and for putting up with me. After grilling you I think its only fair really to give you the opportunity to give me a bit of a grilling back, so do you have any questions for me?

Lauby: Hmmmm…  uh… nope. At least not any intelligent ones. I used all my brain power answering yours.

Frontline Gamer: Thank God for that because I crack under pressure... I'd make a shit spy. Well that's your lot people, happy gaming Lauby and Peace out!

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