Sunday, 25 November 2012

Sunday Sermon: What a mess!!!


Today's sermon is going to be as brief as I can make it, but I can't lie to you, it's a huge issue so it might go on for longer than I initially intend. As I say, I don't want to bang on about this topic any more than I have too today, but I think it's something that needs wider discussion within the industry and people seem to be pussy footing around it. Primarily I'm talking about the sustainability of our hobby. I'm not just talking about whether big retailers like Maelstrom Games are actually sustainable in a fiscal sense, but how the whole industry seems to be in a bit of a mess from top to bottom, and how us as hobbyists aren't exactly helping things. We have Games Workshop who have all but confirmed they have an annual above inflation price hike every year to keep their business 'sustainable'. May I humbly suggest if the largest player in our industry feels the need to do something that ultimately will prove inherently unsustainable, we as a hobby and industry have a problem. A big problem! Also how many of their stores in the UK are hitting their extremely modest targets? If store managers I know are to be believed not many.

But why is that important? Well because we have a model of business in this industry that is massively antiquated, it's so old that even the Victorians were trying desperately to evolve it, yep I'm talking about passing trade. This is a model that says to pull people into our hobby we need to expose them to the product in person, and the only method we've come up with so far is via bricks and mortar stores in the center of towns, where people will hopefully stumble across them. It's hardly cutting edge marketing techniques, but we know for a fact that it has worked, what seems less certain is whether it's still working now. You see in this day and age, with Internet retail already such a huge part of most of our lives, and all the 21st Century has to offer, bricks and mortar retail is becoming increasingly difficult in all sectors, let alone niche sectors like ours. Companies like eBay, Amazon, and many more besides are selling us goods from the comfort of our own homes (depending on how comfy ones sofa is). They're shipping them to us, and undercutting high street retailers who have their massive overheads and sales environments to manage. The same is true of our industry. Yet it's only a problem because we as invested hobbyists don't support our local shops. Why should we as rational consumers? Sustainability is important but shops shouldn't be treated as charity cases that need our support.

In North America I guess you guys have the Warstore and Mini Wargaming, while in Europe we've had Wayland Games and Maelstrom Games, with the new kid on the block Firestorm Games trying to cut out its own piece of the gaming market. There is no question that such large discount online retailers have had an impact on our hobby, for starters people like Maelstrom Games have introduced people already in the hobby to HoMachine, Infinity, Mofaux, Freebooter's Fate and many more besides. Whether that is positive or negative impact remains to be seen in the long-run. I'll be honest here and say that I looked into opening my own shop a few years back, I wanted to run a shop in a town center, not on an industrial estate miles from any recognisable high street, because I know that the lifeblood of our hobby is new customers. There were a few snags for me, first was professionality within the sector, or the lack thereof... but I might return to that at a later date. The other was the inconsistency in what companies said they wanted, and how they actually behaved, I guess that's professionality too.

The crux of it, or the biggest issue was that the maths simply did not stack up. If you were to match the prices that some of these large discount retailers were selling stock at the margins would be negligible at best, and the overheads incurred would mean any town center store would be lucky to generate enough money to wash its own face. Let alone provide a modest income. So why is this the case? Well our hobby is expensive for starters. Producing little toy soldiers is fairly labour intensive, and material intensive process, and shipping said items isn't cheap because this stuff is heavy. Plus the product ranges are necessarily huge, and take up a large physical space relative to other goods. So why aren't distributors more savvy about how they support the stores that are likely to bring in new customers? Because they don't care about that, that's what Games Workshop is for. I've heard that time and time again. These distributors want to make money, like any company, nothing wrong with that. But, short-term their best bet is to support those able to shift stock at discount in large quantities and that's large retailers in out of town locations basically operating as online retailers. Sure they say they want to see bricks and mortar stores, but it's lip service to be honest with you.

The future of retail.

Truth is the only way to make the business work is to rent a large warehouse, pretend it's a bricks and mortar store so you can get around that 'caveat' in the contract, so distributors can and will supply you. This then allows you to undercut the guy in the high street who is bringing the fresh blood into the hobby. The very people the industry, IF it wants to stick to the current model, should be supporting. So something isn't staking up for me when companies told me they wanted bricks and mortar stores in central town locations, in big towns and cities, not relative backwaters and industrial estates. I asked a few whether such prestigious or useful central locations would lead to preferential discounts? Or perhaps a higher allowed allocation on orders, while those in fields in the middle of nowhere were given more stringent restrictions? I was being deliberately mischievous, because I know when somebody is blowing smoke up my ass or being disingenuous... hell I've worked with enough politicians to know when somebody if towing the party line and doing so with a lack of conviction. Games Workshop though strangely did say they were concerned about these very issues, and spoke to me about enforcing caps on ordering because this online distribution model didn't fit with their business plan. You could look at it two ways 1) it's a noble endeavor or 2) it's a futile effort and they should just embrace the change... it is however a blunt tool and not a finessed one.

Just to be clear, I'm not pissed about these large online retail companies, and the fact that they do what they do, hell I use them. If I were to start my own company it would certainly be the business model I'd look to pursue because the other way lies obscurity and eventual bankruptcy. As I've said, I truly believe with the way distributors currently work it's the only way I can see to make a retail business work. But, is it sustainable? I'm sure those companies that are still operating the model would say yes, and maybe in a fiscal sense they are indeed right... despite the calamity that has befallen Maelstrom, others seem to be able to cope just fine. Though only time will tell if others will succumb to that malaise. But, I think it's only sustainable for now. I seem to be hearing almost every other week about some hobby store in the States closing down. I've heard of a few in Mainland Europe that have gone to the wall, and indeed in the UK. These are stores that used to be in our towns, you know where actual real people still live and work and might be exposed to the hobby. Many of them will have introduced many of you to the hobby, and they're dying. They used to bring newcomers into our hobby, and for all the criticism of Games Workshop, their model is the only one that leads to a sustainable future for the hobby as a whole, it's just they seem to be managing it in an unsustainable way.

Mmmm... tasty. Lets kill all of them and have none left for the future.

Trust me, we all need Games Workshop and their large network of bricks and mortar stores, because without them we don't have the fresh blood coming in, and these large online retailers don't have new customers to feed through the sausage machine. So the likes of Privateer Press, Battlefront, Wyrd and others don't get a ready supply of customers and ultimately the whole thing implodes. Quirkworthy, or Jake Thornton as he is known in the real world, asked the question what would happen if Games Workshop went the way of the dodo? Many of the responses were blisteringly short-termist, claiming we'd all just hop on to other game systems and online retailers for our toy soldier fix. Yeah we probably would, but there would be attrition rate no doubt, people would drop out of the hobby. But, what of that fresh blood? How the hell does a kid in Stoke find his way to Firestorm Games in Cardiff or Wayland Games in Hockley? Sure, I'm pretty certain that for many companies it'd represent a great opportunity, but how many would grasp it properly? How many would ensure there was always a new generation being brought into the hobby? How many would pick up the gauntlet and conduct the thankless task of generating new customers for others to pinch?

I think there is a slow dreadful drift in society towards the death of many bricks and mortar stores. Economic development officers in our local authorities might tell us it's because of the economic downturn and things will bounce back... but I've seen the retail figures for the UK. The trend has been away from city center retail,  towards online retail, out of town shopping and huge supermarkets. For 10 years the trend has been consistent and the economic downturn has just sped things up. Wargaming is so painfully niche and always will be that bricks and mortar gaming stores must be at the top of the most endangered list. As a hobby we have to accept the model is a bit broken right now, it's not working. In this light it's almost understandable that Games Workshop would impose Rest of World bans on these large EU retailers. Why? Because how many intro games in Brisbane did Maelstrom Games run? None. How many intro games have Wayland Games run in Sydney? None. They aren't supporting the continued growth of the industry in those territories, so why allow them access to them and kill off those who are? If there were marketing on TV, in newspapers or whatever... then manufacturers could factor this into the cost of their product...

How to get ahead in advertising.

But, there isn't is there? Our industries advertising remains the shop front on the high street, and the product on the shelves. Our sales pitch the intro game. I've had it suggested to me that perhaps the Internet is the way forward. That this massive social network that we have is somehow perfect for our tactile, physical hobby... anyone spotting the sarcasm? The thing with the Internet is that it is true if you look hard enough you will find all sorts of weird and wonderful crap. The trick has always been knowing where you need to look for it in the first place. Websites like Bell of Lost Souls, Beasts of War and Tabletop Gaming News etc. might be great for those of us who are already in the hobby, but what about those of us who have yet to be exposed to the hobby? Beasts of War have now teamed up with Geek and Sundry, which will hopefully expose there show to a wider audience and by extension our hobby to a wider audience. It's a good move and one I applaud, but it's not really enough. I'd still argue that the viewers of geek and sundry are likely to be geeks who have already been 'exposed' to the idea of toy soldiers. If they haven't jumped on board yet they're actually not like to do so now. Maybe the broader rainbow of product we offer now could pull a few more people in, I hope so, but I feel it's still not likely. People like Will Wheaton though, that's a different kettle of fish. People already with a profile being advocates is different.

Because here's the problem and conundrum at the core, and heart of our hobby right now... we have never, and I repeat NEVER had it so good in the hobby in terms of product. I've spoken about us currently going through a Golden Age of Gaming, and in terms of quality of product, depth of product and breadth of product we really haven't. I look at the games I've got upstairs, the range of product and how much fun can be had with it is bewildering at times, and for every game I play there are probably ten more out there I don't... actually it's probably way more than that. Yet I feel the health of the hobby as a whole hasn't felt more precarious. It's a real conundrum and one we should be able to wrap our heads around. Maybe it really is as simple as us consumers supporting our local stores rather than going to discount online retailers... but I'll be honest, that seems a little like pissing in the wind to me. We can see which way the wind is blowing, it's now up to all of us to find a way to make it work, one that reels in fresh catches. We have the product, now we need the new, innovative and convincing sales pitch. Because, simply put I don't think we're sustainable as a hobby if we continue down this same path without acknowledging we have structural issues and need to change. We all have a role to play too. Peace out!


  1. Different people get into this hobby in different ways. I personally got into it via Heroquest, Space Crusade and White Dwarf magazine. I didn’t grow up anywhere near a Games Workshop store and when one did finally open near me in Chester it was hardly what you call a prime location. My current nearest store, Worcester, has a similar issue; it’s well out of the way of the main footfall and currently resides in a dying indoor shopping centre. These aren’t places you just stumble upon. What is weird is I am seeing a rise in the number of general gaming shops; Worcester now has three gaming shops if you include GW.

    1. Hiya Steve, people do get into the hobby, or exposed to the hobby in different ways. But I have to say from the feedback I've had when asking about how the hobby was in various other countries I have to say the vast majority (78%) of the respondents (589 by the way) said they first got into the hobby by wandering into a shop and stumbling across product. The way the world is shifting that will not be the case in the future. Our model of shop front as advertising space isn't working, for the reasons you point out, many GW's and hobby stores just aren't in good locations, partly because of costs to profitability. As I said in the article GW are running their model incompetently, I've said for years they would be better served having a few key shops in major towns and cities in good locations and turning them into venues people want to go to. I've also argued many times before that the hobby needs more gateway products, You mention Hero Quest, Space Crusade and White Dwarf. Well Space Crusade and Hero Quest had big TV advertisement pushes. We might laugh at the adverts now, but at the time they were on prime time TV and brought people in. You also mention print magazines, which if large publishers like Future Publishing are to be believed are dying. So our hobby comes back to not being geared up to to tackle the issues around new customer generation. It is an issue.

    2. Maybe the future isn't in stores but communities. In Worcester a group of people are trying to set up a geek's cafe ( where they are planning on running all kinds of gaming events. Its not a traditional gaming store so maybe it has a better chance.

    3. Possibly Steve. I think communities have a big role to play in the future of pretty much everything. Hell crowd-funding is essentially grass roots networking. We are as consumers, and as community members starting to wrest more control back. Maybe that's a good thing maybe that's a bad thing. I guess only time will tell and it'll very much depend on how we use this control we get. I certainly think the hobby needs to become far more proactive in setting up networks and actively promoting itself. The Rule 32 Cafe seems like an interesting endeavour I'll have to keep my eye on it.

  2. I think it's time local clubs started stepping up to promote their hobby. I get immensely frustrated with how many clubs seem content merely to cruise along with the same members they've had for - it sometimes seems to me -.generations.

    The GCN (the UK's Gaming Club Network) has been in the doldrums recently with a lack of new volunteers to help with management and a bit of a struggle with direction. But if people (and I include Jody in that set) are serious about wanting to promote our hobby to new people then it's through clubs and the GCN that it's going to happen. Events, tournaments, demo days, open days and conventions are all great excuses to engage with local media, especially if there's am element of supporting local charities (like

    Clubs can also engage with local schools, libraries and youth clubs, like scouts and guides, to expose new people to the hobby in constructive ways.

    1. There's only so much local clubs can actually do. Do they go out onto the street wearing sandwich boards and preaching from rulebooks to the masses? I totally agree more clubs should be proactive in trying to bring fresh blood into them if for no other reason than if they let there membership stagnate it's not healthy for themselves. But the way I see it clubs are best used as tools for hobbyist retention. I used to run a club that went to local schools actually but that was years ago... it would be far harder now to get time in schools to run intro games, in fact I know as a matter of course schools would turn you down. You wouldn't even get to the stage of CRB checks. You just wouldn't the risk is considered too great.

    2. I have to disagree. There's a lot that clubs can do if the will exists, and many groups and organizations that are open to demo visits. I mentioned youth organizations like the Scouting Association, but also bodies that help the disabled get involved in mainstream life, colleges and charities that could benefit from sponsored events.

      With all these empty shop fronts on the high street, what about asking to rent one for a day, to set up a couple of tables and play demo games where people can come and go? Does it require some organization? Yes. Does it need a bit of get up and go? Yes. But if we're talking about how to sustain our hobby in the long-term, don't tell me there's nothing we can do to help ourselves!

    3. I don't know how Scouts, schools etc. are round by you but I guarantee you that round by me such things would be fraught with red tape and CRB checks up the wazzoo before anyone would let you near kids. I have no problems with that personally. The last club I was involved with actually did CRB checks on the committee and actually was looking to do it for members as well to try and prove they were a safe environment for children. There's the hassle aspect. Plus the money aspect, plus the time aspect. Many clubs are simply run as not for profit entities and only exist to wash there face and be self supporting of the group of self interested gamers. True it might be better to be a little more outward looking but, essentially we're asking clubs to do the job of shops and companies that are run for profit. Hell the amount of stuff that I've essentially sold to people via my reviews is staggering, yet I don't get a commission for doing this. With club members who run demo games etc. etc. etc. I know how it can eventually grind you and your own hobby down. I always viewed it as creating new opponents and I still do... But I do now hear others grumble about doing the sales jobs for firms etc. There is only so much enthusiasts can be reasonably expected to do. Beyond that the shops, distributors and manufacturers need to start acting more like professionally run businesses and not an extension of a community that they are essentially hoping to milk dry. You can be one or the other, but not both. Hopefully , that will be the one thing to come out of Maelstroms demise, people will start treating their transactions as actual purchases like they would from Amazon etc and be more clued up about refunds and demanding better service. Rather than letting things slide because they 'support the community'.

    4. *I should also add vulnerable adults to the heady mix of people who require CRB checks.

  3. One point that came up in the discussion on Quirkworthy about GW was regionality, and that's worth discussing. GW has far less impact in territories where it has few (or no) stores, yet gaming continues there. Probably not in the same volume, but it is there.

    Secondly, from what I'm told by non-game related retailers I've spoken to, the whole retail paradigm is in a mess, not just our happy little corner of it. Nobody has really worked out what's going to happen to the high street as a whole. It's fine moving lots of your trade to the internet, but can the big supermarkets move all of it there? Even if they can, what of the little shops? In 50 years will we have a high street that contains anything other than Oxfam and coffee shops?


    1. I accept the rationality debate, I do. But in the USA many stores are surviving because of what I'm told are the big two. Magic the Gathering and GW... and I've been stunned at how many independents there are in the States. You also have to understand that actually store rents in many major US cities (not the really big centers) are actually significantly cheaper than here in the UK and indeed much of mainland Europe. So there you have independent stores doing essentially what GW do here in the UK... but even there it's not working. Every other week at least it seems I reading on somebodies blog or other about stores closing down in the USA.

      In terms of the issue not just hitting our hobby Jake I actually make that point myself. However, there is serious difference, primarily if you're Tesco's you have an understanding of what an apple is, or a can of beans. You don't need to be exposed to those products. Ditto clothes and other essentials. As to other forms of entertainment they're either passive like music, film etc. which can have trailers emailed to you as part of advertising. Or interactive as in computer games which can be downloaded as demo's or even full games. How do you sample the joys of wargaming via the Internet? Can you download superglue and paints and maybe a demo miniature? Maybe in the future with 3D printers...

      But, the main issue still exists, how do we expose people who aren't already exposed? Other forms of retail don't have to explain to us what there products are and if they do they advertise. Our industry leaders still only preach to the converted, if they even bother preaching at all. It is an issue therefore that will adversely affect our industry more than others.

    2. I understand your point about us having to explain to people about gaming and grocers don't. However, what I was trying to say was that even the grocers are having major issues and don't really know where retail is headed. Online, for sure, but to what extent and in what format? I still can't download apples. How will that affect the smaller, individual stores? Gaming has all these questions and more, and because we are a niche we have them worse. Possibly. Possibly not.

      How does anything gain new followers? You go out and tell them how cool you are, that's how. Advertising, evangelising, whatever you want to call it, is the only way. Whether this is done face to face or in some other format is immaterial. The problem in many ways is that as an industry we barely do it at all (as you said). Could be that BOW and similar endeavours are the way ahead.

      And a final thought. I think that the tactile nature of the hobby may be a red herring in some ways. What you really need to show people is that gaming is enjoyable, cool, affordable, exciting, or whatever term you think most applies. What you are going for is an emotional response rather than an intellectual one. That can be done over the internet as much as anywhere. Even digital excitement is infectious. The real problem I see is where would you deliver this message so that enough potential gamers saw it?

      Oh, and another "final" thought: if we don't promote the gaming hobby in a wider sense, will we just be left with games based on already famous brands? Batman games, Star Wars games, Hobbit games - anything that counts as merchandising for a movie or a book where you know you already have an audience that will buy it because of the brand. Is that a bad thing or just another way in?


    3. Firstly you can't have two final thoughts!!! One of them has to be a penultimate thought. :P

      Of course everyone is having to face the brave new world of online retail and all that that entails. And while you can't download an apple, you can order it online have it delivered and have a good idea as to what will turn up. Someone new to the hobby has no fracking idea what to expect when they order a box of Terminators or some Teutonic Knights.

      I 100% agree with you the issue is one of effective communication. Not just where to communicate, but how and to whom. Our hobby does seem to have a bit of a bonkers build it and they shall come mentality. It's just a little frustrating to see. No doubt sites like BoW have there place, but it's still currently geared towards the already initiated. I actually think Will Wheaton's show Table Top has way more scope to bring people in. He is a visible face that people love. He is very well liked and you only have to have a look at what effect his shows have on game sales to see how effective a form of communication it is.

      However, adverts just wouldn't go amiss. But also when new comers got to various websites it would help if they were actually useful and contained useful information. How about demo games showing examples of play so people can grasp what games are about? Tutorials? Anything. The companies in our hobby on the whole stink at communication and effective knowledge transfer. Meh... I'm just grumpy today. One too many frustrating email conversations methinks!

  4. There is a store I go to about once a month (due to the long drive) for tournaments because the staff of the store, the stock in the store and the great scenery they have. In the bathroom they had a poster made like the opening to Star Wars telling of the story of Darside, how it replaced other Hobby stores in the area, how it is run by gamers for gamers and encourages poeple to buy locally so they can have a place to meet, to play and see new product.

    This is a mixed bag subject, as online retailers can get you a deal but then that disccount shrinks down when you put it against shipping thus forcing lager purchases to make ordering online worthwhile.

    The second problem is online you don't really get to see a product in the flesh, using the store above they have a great board game area, you can read the back of the box, feel the weight of the game, etc...all strong retail selling points. Plus, online shopping can curb inpulse buying.

    Clubs are weak here in Florida, most are informal gatherings and by my impression and what I hear from others the same gang of people with few new faces. That said, clubs can pick up a great deal but local stores are something I really appreciate seeing around. Thus I try to split my spending between the two to support all vendors.

    1. Yeah, to an extent I agree with you. But seeing our local hobby stores as 'part of the community' isn't really the answer either. I do actually strongly believe that any shop should live or die by its business plan alone. It's up to suppliers as business partners to help support those outlets that will give them a long term sustainable future, not consumers subsidizing their business models. Unless the likes of Battlefront, Privateer Press etc. decide to start promoting the hobby in a very different and aggressive way, they need to support the LGS network far better with preferential trade conditions. I can't see that happening. Ultimately though of my local stores I don't think there is one that actually deserves been supported. There's one that stocks none of what I want or need and does so at exorbitant prices (actually above RRP in some cases). One that's new, but has a store owner who doesn't know the product and is sadly full of crap, and another I've actually never been able to find it's in that obscure a location.Honestly I'd gladly see bad businesses go to the wall. I don't want to support stores that don't really support me or my hobby. It's all a little frustrating given how much awesome product there is now. Feels like we're missing out on capitalizing on the greatest creative period in our industries history.

      Perhaps I need a Valium? I hate seeing issues that could be happily solved by structural changes to the industry and how it conduct business go unchecked. We need to decide, do we fight the change the Internet will bring in, or do we embrace it and go for a different model of advertising?

  5. There is just so much on the business side of the hobby that can be discussed. I think that GW knows that their model is unsustainable and hence have been running their business for cash generation above player base growth for probably since they got back to profitability. They probably also know that they could be very nearly as profitable if the dumped their brick and mortar but the large revenue drop in the short term would cause a huge stock drop and probably a corporate takeover.

    On the High Street/Outskirts/Online issues, in the States the high street does not bring in the foot traffic that GW would need for multiperson stores. In the states most of the player base are involved through the real social network. Gamers become gamers through other gamers. This keeps it a niche hobby but I do not think in the states it ever has much of a shot to be more.

    1. Hi Eriochrome, I'll have to check out what my US respondents said, but I know that anecdotally I remember many saying they were exposed to the hobby via college or university in the States, so that might bear out what you are saying there. The issue still remains though, who inducts the initial gamers? I've seen some funny evidence that suggests the hobby is actually starting to shift to an hereditary pursuit, you know parents passing the diese... I mean hobby on to their offspring. Obviously I'm actually an early example of that. So perhaps games companies need to start paying us all to breed. :P

      As to the industry having a number of issues that could be discussed... boy oh boy does it. I wish distributors would just admit they actually don't give a flying fudge cake about bricks and mortar stores anymore. Because their business practices and their policies do not really bear that out. They aren't trying to help the sorts of bricks and mortar stores that would actually provide the growth they say they want. They need to be far savvier in their contracts and restriction of trade / wholesale discount based on geographical positioning if they truly want to support them. But they don't do this do they?

  6. I'm an American. I got into mini gaming by walking by a GW on the high street in Harrogate, UK. I never played there but I bought my first few models there, before moving back to the States.

    I have a good local shop. Their mainstay is Magic. They shift a lot of 40k. There are a few players for Warhammer, though not really since I quit with 8th. We have a good group for LotR. That will probably either stick with LotR or die, since I'm not paying those prices.

    The shop also stocks a bit of Battlefront, a bit of Spartan and a lot of boardgames and comics. All of these are a result of the clubs that play there ordering product and introducing the games to people.

    They get a few walk ins, but most people are looking for something specific. They make extra money by selling drinks and snacks and by having all of the stuff you need for a game on hand; templates, dice etc. They have a bunch of good tables and terrain.

    If they don't have something on the shelves they offer a 5% discount. They are making it pretty comfortably but they aren't going to get rich.

    Every other industry advertises. Games companies don't. This is not the whole answer, but WTF? Any business plan that says "We're going to make a bunch of product and hope people find our website on their own", would be laughed at. I get that's how it was done in the past, but really?!

    The future of our hobby, I believe, requires physical locations for people to gather, play and be introduced to new games. Those locations would be foolish not to sell some product, stuff that can be used immediately for any game. Do they need to sell everything? Perhaps and perhaps not.

    If things are as dire as you say, and I believe that the UK and the US are very different, then the distributors and manufacturers will either get their act together or go out of business. They, or their successors, will be competent and professional, which the current crop are not.

    1. The lack of advertising is something that's always puzzled me as well. I'm just old enough to remember watching the adverts on tv for hero quest, and it was getting that game as a Christmas present that led me into the hobby. Similar-ish games do exist now (I saw a heroclix lord of the rings game in TK Maxx yesterday for example), but they don't seem to have the backing from a partner company that heroquest and space crusade did.

      Of course wargames companies advertise in the wargames press, but that obviously won't bring in any fresh meat!

      My view is that partnering with other companies to make gateway games (these days probably something combined with a video game) and getting those into "mainstream" shops where they can get more exposure is the way to bring in newer gamers - especially as the Internet would now allow you to point the players of the partnered game to your full range on a website.

    2. @AHunt I think the issue is one of whose responsibility is it? Is it the stores job to advertise themselves? Should the game manufacturers advertise their wares and allow consumers to go looking for them once they've raised awareness? What role for distributors? I think there's a lot of abdication of responsibility right throughout the industry. Wayland Games are obviously trying with Beasts of War who they own, but with that set up many people I know question how independent BoW can be and therefore how trusted they can be. Part of me thinks for this discussion and debate it really doesn't matter just so long as they're effective at bringing in fresh blood. The big thing though, th very big thing is just the lack of effective communication within the hobby. We're really crap as a collective at getting the message out aren't we?

      @Matt, yeah preaching to the converted is easy to do, which is why many companies do preach to those GW have converted. It was the wise thing to do, but it is sort of getting to the point that the industry is starting to bit the hand that feeds them. It's time they started providing for themselves some of them.

  7. Great Post! A few other things to consider:

    Kickstarter - Crowdfunding is introducing a lot of people to the hobby. If the new Kickstarter rules that disallow product renderings were in effect from the start it is very likely that Reaper Miniatures would be the most funded project. CMON has made stretch goals an artform. It's something Wyrd, PP, and the small players all should consider to generate new interest.

    YouTube - I got into minis after writing a few stories about them. I did google searches, but learned a ton by watching Beasts of War videos which are amazingly well produced. It wouldn't take much for some of these companies to invest time and produce equally good introductory content. The Level 7 intro video was very well produced. If PP had something half as good introducing new players to the hobby, it could be an amazing entry point.

    Websites - I've mostly been getting into WarmaHordes so I've spent a little time on the site. The forums seem good, but barely scratch the surface of what's possible. There needs to be an intro video explaining the game at a basic level in language that noobs can parse e.g. the faction/points/stuff is a huge barricade to new players. They need to do a better job of bundling product e.g. what EXACTLY do I need to play a game.

    Then most importantly, when and where can I play. This has been the most annoying part of the system for me. The two stores closest to me seem to offer organized play, but do a horrible job about advertising it. They don't run blogs showing pics of the last games, making it easy for people to see how they can get involved. A game finder, supported by the game companies, is a piece of super simple tech all of them should get behind.

    Retail - Games stores are closing, but so are many other stores. Especially in the suburbs. With declining rents, this should help give struggling retailers some relief, if the game makers could make use of the trends I've discussed above. Part of the issue with store closures is lack of management expertise. They're trying to execute in a broken system. But some smart retailers could likely make a good living by charging for table time, running painting and modeling classes, selling more food and drink, having more organized play with registration fees, selling product/supplies that are less susceptible to mail order margin compression e.g. lower cost models, paints, etc.

    1. Joseph... paragraph 4 is something I've actually contacted a number of companies about and asked if they'd help me produce such a platform. I have a name, branding and how it would work all sorted out. All I'd need is a bit of fiscal support from some of the bigger companies. They're amazing difficult to engage with you know. I'm currently looking at other ways I could get this off the ground myself but the truth is it's not easy.

      Back to Kickstarter, yeah crowd-funding is interesting. Questions will still remain about lowest common denominator products and whether it will lead to the opposite of the creative inventive products it wanted to fund, and will instead lead to bland boring safe product. Ultimately only time will tell on that score, but you're right, it's a great way to promote yourself if nothing else, and there are people that just scour Kickstarter for fun things to back. It's growing into a huge platform.

      Video's... yep BoW are pretty damn good actually at producing high quality video's. It'll be interesting to see how much more professional they can actually get with their move to a new studio down at Wayland Games. There are actually some really good content providers out there in this hobby of ours, but again, it's knowing where, how and who to communicate with. THe level 7 video was bloody brilliant, and actually a lot of the video's done by the likes of PP, FFG's and many others are to a high quality. We just don't get them to where they need to be seen.

      Websites... wow... just wow. I've actually spoken to people who are very new to the hobby, in fact I've introduced some people myself via this Blog I write. I have a crappy bog standard platform, yet people come back to me to ask questions, and many have said that the information they find (if they can find it at all) on companies websites is rubbish. Yeah if the industry as a whole was getting graded on websites it'd get a 'D-' and a 'could do better', no question about it.

      As to retail, yep one of the biggest problems with hobby stores is what I call redundant floor space. The biggest floor hog in most hobby stores doesn't actually generate income. It's dead weight. The game store as professional club idea is another I've bandied around and worked up in my head. The strange thing is though if you ask some hobbyists would you pay a £5 or £10 a week subscription fee to be able to come into a shop any night week and get a game in they'll say no. Yet many will pay multiple fees to gaming clubs that exceed that amount. We're a contrary bunch. I just think many gamers feel if a store provides gaming space it should be free as it's how it's always been done. I do know of some stores running a fee for gaming service though. So maybe that'll catch on.

      Thanks for the comment, really interesting to read your thoughts.

  8. Off topic - but somewhat related, since both were mentioned in the article.

    Where does everyone recommend getting Freebooter's Fate stuff now that Maelstrom has gone kaput?

    I'm in the States but I'm having trouble finding anyone that can match (or come close) to Maelstrom's pricing on FF stuff.

    Basically - Wayland doesn't really carry the range, nor does Miniature Market (whom I use for basically everything else).

    The Warstore has it - but: a) has flat rate shipping, $6 no matter what you spend. (I like to buy 3-4 blisters at a time generally (aka $50-$60) b) one sale a year, for a flat 5% off (its ongoing atm - but basically the Warstore with 5% off + shipping ~= Maelstrom on any given day price wise (Though I would always buy during Maelstrom's frequent sales - saving and extra 5-8% more). c) No money back, like Maelstrom (or others) offer. All in all it adds up to like a 10% hike on an already pricey line.

    I'm not really familiar with any other retailers in the UK (where FF stuff tends to be cheaper). Where do you guys buy FF stuff from now?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thanks, but Firestorm games doesn't even have all the contents of the first book up for sale. It's missing the entirety of the second.

      And yeah - I've tried mentioning it before in various Wayland threads where Rich is hanging around. (Oddly, I did notice last time I looked that despite not having things like, say, the Amazon range, Wayland did have Gunpowder Mary in stock).

      I also tried contacting Miniature Market and seeing if they'd try carring the range, and got a flat no.

      I sketchy as I found the whole Maelstrom ordeal, I find myself hoping the "Eye of the Storm" gets going soon just so I have a decent place to buy my FF stuff from.

    3. Hiya, as I said I know they don't stock everything, but if you contact them they'll get in what you need pretty quickly. I don't want to post Rob's email address up on my Blog and get him spammed to death, but if you contact me at:

      I'll sort you out their details. I also know they let you buy stuff in US $'s.

    4. *Correction*

      I said Richard Lawford owned Maelstrom Games, when I actually meant Wayland Games.


      Lactic Acid the answer to that question is not easy. I live in the UK and I can no longer find any store that seems to stock the entire Freebooter's Fate range. I contacted Richard Lawford (who owns Waylands Games) and told him their Freebooter Miniatures section wasn't really up to speed. I mean it wasn't that long ago that they hadn't even listed the game under Freebooter Miniatures let alone had them broken down into the factions. You're right though, the range of stuff they actually stock for the game is utterly woeful. Without Maelstrom Games around an awful lot of the fun little niche games no longer have a champion here in the UK.

      You could try Firestorm Games:

      I've used them quite a bit in the past. Again they don't list everything, but I know from experience that if you email Rob at Firestorm he'll get the stuff in for you ASAP. Not too sure what there shipping to the USA will be like though, but hey all you can do is ask right?

  9. I've had the benefit of being generally curious about chatting up owners of brick and mortar locations over the years on various countries and cities I've had the chance to visit. This has given me some idea of the issues they've had to deal with running a store, and in turn, I've realized that if I want a place to hang and talk shop, these very stores are the places I must support(in the long run). While discount online retailers offer you a lot of short term benefit, you do wind up losing a place to gather and meet new people.

    Unfortunately, many consumers would prefer to be able to purchase more rather than support their local hang out spots. Whether this is being short sighted, or outright not realizing that their social gathering spots are at risk, I'm not sure(I suspect it's a little to do with most not knowing how tough things can be vs not caring though). While I'm not against the idea of a retailer having to charge a bit more to make ends meet, ultimately, the consumer needs to decide what they are willing to pay for both the products they want, as well as a location(not everyone has the resources to set a private location aside for their hobbies) with which to indulge their hobbies...

    1. Yeah, I wouldn't disagree with any of what you have said. In fact I wholeheartedly agree with what you have said. Truth is though most people are hardwired to find the cheapest deals possible. It's become second nature to us now, and the fact that the Internet makes doing so more convenient than actually going into a physical shop for many people is just the real kicker. I genuinely think if the industry wants to maintain a network of local shops it needs to offer variable deals and rates depending on location. It really is as simple as that. The industry needs to offer more support to them. If they don't have the stomach for that then the reality is they need to come up with a very different sales and promotions model. They do exist, they just need to get off of their arses and do something about it.

  10. The way I see things, gaming is like wine tasting. Who gets people interested in wine tasting? Do the wine companies advertise on television they are looking for hands to help with a harvest for those interested in the process? of course not, someone has to be interested in the first place, which means they had to have ran into someone who got them interested.

    Gaming is more or less stuck in the same boat, at least in the US. Gaming stores are great social environments, but really it comes down to the players being able to make the game worth spending $50-100+ just to TRY. Advertisements won't really be enough to push that once they see the prices. How many everyday parents blindly walk into a game shop and look at a $100 boardgame and think it is worth that price compared to a $35 version of Risk they knew from when they were a child?

    A piece of box art is questionable at best for making the sell, fewer and fewer people even have active television subscriptions so the chances of them even seeing an advertisement becomes slimmer, and the same goes for the radio and newspaper as well. Word of mouth sadly is still the best option when most of the local stores are hard to see from the road, not well labelled, and generally stigmatized as 'geeky' or 'nerdy'. There is point one.

    Point two: Stores aren't well assisted by distributors, as there isn't much need of a local store when you can go to thewarstore and miniaturemarket and get 20+% discounts base on all their goods. Isn't much need if you look at it from a pure profit view of things.

    That online discounting option gives local shops a massive disadvantage right out of the gate. I loved my local shop Knightfall Games, but when you teamed that pricing gap up with the fact you sometimes would have to wait 1-2 MONTHS before something came into stock, if not longer for particular lines... Well it just made it an obviously losing battle.

    Local shops really need to be able to get product faster, need to be able to do price matching options, and need to have a good environment with people who do support that shop. I would love to have a local shop I could go into and ask for a non-stocked item and expect it to get there by the next week at the same price as one of the online retailers.

    Since Knightfall Games shut their doors my gaming sessions went down from 1 game per week to about 1 game every 1-2 months. A game in my house won't catch the eyes of a person walking by like a game in the middle of a store would.

    1. Sunfyre, while I think the wine tasting analogy is an interesting one, what would be our hobbies equivalent of walking into a supermarket and picking up a bottle of wine? Or watching a TV show about food and drink on prime time TV? Because I don't know about the US but here in the UK and from what I have seen, mainland Europe there are cookery and food programs coming out of the wazooo all talking about different types of wine and how they go with different foods. I've never seen a prime time TV program about which units go with which warcasters!

      I've seen the arguments about gaming becoming a hereditary / social network past time. And there is of course some evidence for it. No question. The problem is if you ask any social network specialist they'll tell you our hobby is actually a closed network. That there are actually very few actors who are willing to venture outside of there gaming bubble, and try to rope new people in. Many of us will understand the 'our friends' bubble and 'my gaming friends' bubble paradigm. For many it is rare the two cross. I'm not saying those people you game with aren't also your mates who you do other things with, but they are often a separate entity and some of us will only have the gaming friends bubble.

      Word of mouth has a role to play in any sales strategy though. No question, but relying on that alone is... well... brave. I accept that the B&M situation is only likely to get worse, and therefore as an industry we really do need to acknowledge that these online retailers are going to be the way forward. That means we need ways to help and support people to find places to get games in and new opponents. That is partly our role as hobbyists, but also the companies that want to pimp us there games too.

      Bringing fresh blood in though will mean stepping out of our bubble. Joseph Flaherty above for instance writes for the very popular website Wired. He has written a number of articles on boardgames as there were some cross over product. That is the hobby gaining exposure on a news source or a site that will reach way more new people than a wargames only focused site. Sure we need these wargames focused sites when people get interested and that's how the Internet works. We need the likes of PP, BF, CB CMoN etc. etc. etc. going out there and engaging with broader spectrum geek sites. CMoN have done really well at that during their Kickstarter campaigns, we should be doing more of it any way.

  11. Random scattershot of responses here, since I'm late to the party :)

    - GW storefronts: Here in the states, GW stores are a minimal presence, and only a relatively recent one at that. Most of the legwork on the storefronts is done by independent stores. I think this is one of the big disconnects in what GW's demise would mean to the hobby - for us, it would mean another game taking primacy, and certainly a sales hit to the stores, but the actual means of getting new people in would be no different for us than it is now.

    - Advertising: This has changes somewhat in recent years, but go back a decade or two and how many TV ads did you ever see for computer games or even console games? When was the last time you saw a TV commercial for a comic? (admittedly lots of free advertising there with the explosion of comic movies/TV). ICv2 made a very big deal about how Marvel was taking out radio ads for their NOW! launches, and how unusual that was. Advertising would be helpful, but it's a stretch to say there aren't other areas that get by without it.

    - The LGS. Stores cannot compete with internet sales on price - period. This is not unique to the gaming industry. So if stores are going to stay in business, they're going to have to incentivize. They're going to have to provide extra value to match the extra cost. Many do this with gaming space. I think there are a whole host of other options that are being attempted piecemeal - demo armies owned by the store so people can try games before they invest $300, painting classes, tournaments and other events... They need to build loyalty and make people want to come to the store. Would it work? No idea, honestly, but the current model seems to be circling the drain quickly, and the stores I know of that are doing well are the ones that draw people in.

    One other thing affecting this is a downside to the "Golden Age of Gaming". B&M stores have limited shelf space, and there's simply too much to carry. That means that players who want those things are pushed online to get them - I'm a big supporter of the LGS, but at the point when I'm going to have to order and wait two weeks to get something anyway, I'm not going to pay a premium for that by ordering through the store. That erodes loyalty, and makes it hard to find players.

    And finally the biggie... the sustainability. IMHO what's changed more than anything on this front is the definition of sustainability, and what people expect to get out of the businesses they run. In the states and for gaming in general, I blame WotC for this - the dollars they brought in with Magic changed expectations across the industry, and what used to be an environment where companies like FASA were perfectly happy scraping along now has players like Hasbro exerting a huge amount of influence and spiking expectations.

    I tend to think stores will find a way to survive. We may be headed back to a contraction where the industry comes to terms with the fact that GW-like or WotC-like numbers are brief, unsustainable spikes, but I think we'll survive.

    1. At Buhallin I totally accept that the USA is different. I've wandered around the US a bit and seen that actually it is LGS's in the states that do the leg work, not GW storefronts. I think I make a similar point in the article, and I've explained it further up the discussion to Quirkworthy. GW might not have the actual store presence but they do provide a damn fine wedge of the sales for those stores along with MtG. Sure if they went down maybe some people would shift over to other products, but it wouldn't be a seamless smooth transition.

      Advertising, yeah, I'm not necessarily talking about TV ads etc. when I talk to my friends in marketing they include all sorts of things in their advertising campaigns. Including things like sending press releases out to all sorts of websites and other media outlets. Honestly, there's a lot that goes on now in advertising campaigns that isn't paid for typical advertising space or air time. Our hobby isn't very savvy at that right now. Although CMoN have done a great job spinning their Kickstarter Campaigns to alternative media outlets outside of the standard hobby press.

      On the LGS store... agreed. To an extent. What I'm saying is if this is what the industry wants (and I remain skeptical that it is) then it needs to issue sliding scale contracts that support this business model and penalizes those business models it deems unhelpful to the industry as a whole. As that's not likely to happen I think stores, as you say, need to get creative.

      Again the point about the explosion in product and games due to this Golden Age is one that I agree with. I think I mention the logistical problems in the article as well and the shelf space they take up. B&M stores simply can not stock everything. They have to pick and choose, and as you say this causes problems.

      The impact on perception of "success" and "sustainability" that GW and WotC have had on the industry is a fascinating one. However, I'm going to stick my neck out and say that the likes of PP and BF aren't massively behind in their performance. I think those levels of performance are achievable and certainly sustainable across the hobby... but not by everyone. Just not plausible. Actually on volume sales GW have been in decline since 2004 and prior to that and the LotR's films they had been on a downward trajectory too. It has been a long-term trend in terms of volume.

  12. wow.
    Great post, Frontline.

    There are only a handful of stores withing a two hour drive of my crib here in the Bronx.
    At this point, each of them is being sustained by either Magic:the Gathering, or by being niche- one store specializes in collectables, another is owned/operated by a club of gamers who subsidizes their gaming by chipping in for the rent collectively, and using their tournament and games/toy sales to keep the doors open.

    As for me, I gotta tell ya I buy the bulk of my stuffs online at this point. I ain't rich, brother, and it's hard to resist paying up to 30% less than retail for my lil' purely luxury purchases.
    Every once in a while, I gotta hear the Crazy Lady I Live With say something like 'you spent HOW MUCH on that?'

    1. Nothing wrong with purchasing stock from an online retailer SinSynn. That's the consumer saying that's the model and price point they want to support. It's now up to the people that make, distribute and sell the product to come up with ways of making it work for the long-term sustainability of the industry. It is doable. Other sectors have evolved and changed, so why can't our niche hobby. We'll make mistakes, but the wind is blowing in a very definite direction and unless we see more marketing activity from the supply chain as it were we'll struggle in the future to bring new faces in.

  13. Am I going to support a shop? In essence, no. I go to a shop, I see their prices, I check online using an idevice and then decide whether or not to buy based on price and convince.

    I have never played a game in a shop, always in clubs. So where is the incentive for me? Ok so I should support the advertising of the product to get more opponents, but of course also to increase the turnover for somebody else? Yes short sighted as eventually everything would dry up, but really I can handle going back to pre big company days, especially with 3d printing coming.

    So while things would get a bit worse for me they would hardly become terrible.

    It is hard to get away from the fact that there isn't much of a sustainable business model in evidence. Companies rely on shop visibility, but support the sales channels that are wiping them out, because of course those channels make them cash in the short term. GW seems intent on wringing the last penny out of their business model so they can retire as the 3D printing wave hits, hopefully with some digital transition of some miraculous sort before then. Everyone else bobs along.

    I think we all know there is a problem but so far no one has the killer solution, which has been pointed out won't happen in isolation as retail as a whole is facing a crisis.

    1. Chris I'm not saying people should support shops. Taking the whole Maelstrom debacle if you will, people felt they were supporting a part of the community when all those fire sales were going on. On message boards people were saying they were a big part of the community and needed our support... o_0 ... now I like Robe Lane as a bloke, and many of the staff that work(ed) there are thoroughly decent people. However, I didn't buy stuff from them because they seemed like nice chaps. Nope, I brought stuff off of them because they were the cheapest, and for me personally offered a fantastic service. Wen that stopped being the case I stopped using them. But people were fooling themselves that a private business wouldn't shaft them if they showed them support. They were talking about a company like it was a friend and not a for profit business. So no, support businesses that give you great professional customer service, whether that is an online retailer or a B&M store.

  14. Note I will be doing my bit by starting a club at my daughters school using the Mantic christmas box as the base, combined with a few photocopies of my DKH sets, a skirmish Sci Fi wargame (not sure which, free download) and chariot racing style stuff with the buggies.

    Closest I can come to an intro game currently.

    1. Well that's you doing your bit to grow the industry, but also improve your own gaming environment and hobby. I think it's the the latter part of that sentence that we should all be thinking about. When I run intro games I don't sit there and grumble and say "bloody hell, I'm giving Wyrd, Corvus Belli, Privateer Press and some retailers a lot of extra business, now where's my cut!" oh no I'm more likely to be thinking "yay, more opponents to play". It's about having a healthy positive perspective. If you are the sort of person who is constantly thinking "whats in it for me" then running clubs and doing intro games isn't for you.

    2. A slightly divergence, but look at computer games. If I want to play something like Halo I log on and find other players. I don't need to promote the game to the masses, that has been done and it is ready to go. Other smaller games that need online activity often seem to fail as there is no one to play, I would have to promote this game. But honestly its just easier to play Halo (note I don't know if you need to be online to play halo or not, I just know it is a popular game).

      I guess in gaming the reason so many suffer fantasy battle (impressed you stuck it out till recently, I gave up at 3rd) or engage in list creation 40k is they are the company that is doing the (limited) promotion. As you say the other companies rely on cannibalising their players. So it suggests whoever thinks up the better marketing strategy can take GW's place, especially outside the UK and its preponderance of shops and clubs.

      And one I might add that doesn't rely on the players having to do the advertising as really I don't mind doing a bit, but being extorted to push games on other people otherwise 'my game' will die for lack of players and support just starts me off in a poor mood. I know it is a business risk to increase costs somewhat across to the board to pay for comms to move beyond word of mouth (and even 'viral' marketing and promotion costs money), but the reward is a far greater volume of sales if your product is halfway decent.

      But yes it is frustrating. Like you I can chart the decline in player numbers. I know many say that is because you start as a kid and the other kids you play with drop out, but I started in adult clubs and remained there. They have become scarcer, players have become scarcer, though the internet has allowed better comms to compensate for falling numbers in finding and forming clubs. Certainly players seem to spend a lot more per head, but that is not a model for future sustainability and that is a further nail in the idea of players promoting games as what is the point if the player base seems to shrink regardless. And as I think you have said most promotion is to other gamers, not people completely new to games.

    3. Computer games are an interesting analogy. For instance when on your PS3 or Xbox 360, you look down your list of friends and can see what games they are playing. I have to be honest I have brought games based on the fact that my friends around the globe appear to be playing them online. So I know I can get a game. Consoles make the whole online gaming experience so much easier now. Far easier than when I was fumbling around with PC's any way.

      I have rarely met any gamers under the age of 25 Chris whose first game wasn't a GW product. A few American's tell me it was FASA and Battletech, I've had a French chap tell me it was Rackham at Confrontation, but the vast majority say it's GW. I think we actually have better product in the hobby now for first timers, way better than GW and far less off putting, with less hurdles to jump... but they remain ubiquitous, because they are A) the biggest and B) most visible because of it. Not sure that's promotion in the sense I'm talking about, they're sticking to the victorian passing trade model. But yeah you are right.

      As to players not doing the advertising I'm of mixed opinions about this. To some extent we have to promote our communities of gamers to keep them as communities and to make sure we have a good gaming environment ourselves. It is self serving I know, but there it is. However, companies that reward clubs or players for doing this donkey work for them are certainly more likely to reap the benefits as with Wyrd and its Henchmen and Privateer Press with their Press Gangers. We need to be invested but so do the companies.

      As for the decline in player numbers I'm glad it's not just me that can see it. Sure I do think the 16bit and 32bit era consoles really did eat into the wargaming community quite hard actually, so computer games did damage things, but no where near as much as people predicted. The slide has been since, sure things are more visible than ever, but that doesn't mean there is more activity happening does it? As to the promoting being to people who are already gamers? Yeah, we do that because it is easier than trying to bring fresh meat into the hobby. As a collective we do need to design better ways of engaging if B&M stores continue to falter and GW's shops continue to lose money. There's only so much of that GW can take before they start shutting shops completely.

  15. If I understood correctly, your message is this: Online retailers are undermining brick and mortar stores, which in turn are the ones who bring in the fresh blood. Since this process is unavoidable, the question is how the industry and/or hobby community as a whole can find new, more sustainable ways, in order not to "dry out".

    I think reality has surpassed this kind of theorizing for some time already. B&M stores have been "dying out" for the last 10 years, at least, and these kind of threads have been appearing in hobby forums and blogs ever since.

    Yet it seems like the tabletop gaming community as awhole has been growing and growing and growing.

    Maybe that is a fallacy, and it is only the visibility that has changed, by means of all the hobby specific websites, blogs and online communities.

    But as you said, Jody, the hobby has never been so rich and full of different choices before. And although I am certain that my generation, the 30+ gamers, is in part responsible for this phenomenon (we grew up with the hobby, and now we have big money to spend), the truth is probably that it is precisely those online media that are responsible for the rise of so many alternative systems & awesome products.

    At the core, we are talking about EXPOSURE, and the question is how exposure is created, nowadays. B&M stores create exposure, for sure, and print ads do as well. I would agree that apart from GW almost no minifacturer does any form of serious print advertisement, except in specialised hobby magazines.

    You seem to think that is a flaw. I say it is a sign that they no longer need it. (It does however not mean that they might not benefit from it, if they did it.)

    Again, the rise of different systems, of quality miniatures, and of a diversified and rich tournament scene in the last 10 years coincides exactly with the dying of B&M stores (and the rise of the internet as a means of everyday communication).

    People today get their input from a lot of different sources, a lot of them online and through word-of-mouth recommendation (which often started in an online sighting). That means that traditional media and distribution channels have lost relative importance. Meetings are arranged on facebook or twitter etc, and locations might be in stores but just as often at someone's home, at the back of a bar, or in another public place, like a room in university/high school/any other educational facility.

    I do in fact believe that clubs are an important factor, although I am not necessarily talking about organized associations with a member card. There are a lot of Facebook groups dedicated to a local gaming communities and almost every minifacturer is active in social networks.

    The hobby itself is also much more integrated in mainstream culture. Tabletop gaming is part of a (artificially created) "nerd culture" and, as such, much more mass compatible than it was 10 years ago.
    That being the case, both through new media and in terms of acceptance, the hobby has much more opportunities to recruit new people.

    My point is: Exposure in our hobby was primarily and always being done by going/being where young people went.
    Some years ago that meant a B&M store in downtown or in a big shopping mall, and by having ads in youth magazines. Because that is where the young ones were hanging around/what they were reading.

    Today, it means to use a lot of different channels, FB, Youtube, forums, specialized news sites, magazine ads etc pp.

    I am not saying that B&M are unimportant. But I feel at least that they are not as important as they used to be, because young people organize themselves differently today.

    1. I'm not so sure I'd say that it is the Online Retailers so much undermining B&M stores, because I'm not sure it's a deliberate and sustained plan that using a word like undermining would imply. I actually think it is market forces from consumers saying that they'll only buy these products at lower price points. It's consumers deciding for me. But, distributors and manufacturers are either unwilling to or unable to offer flexible contracts to support B&M stores in our towns and cities. If Privateer Press, Wyrd or Corvus Belli amongst many others want B&M stores it is they who need to change their business practices to support them in providing their product at a price-point that works for those outlets and supports their business. So that's a more detailed summary of what I'm saying I guess.

      As for the point that this has been going on for 10 years or more. That might be true, but it's actually measurable that the industry giants as it were are suffering declining volume sales, and that is recordable and traceable to the late 90's from business records. The industry has retracted as a whole. GW have just done a fracking amazing job quite frankly of diversifying how they milk their IP. Bleeding more money out of the same customers via books, computer games, and other IP sales like those to FFG. It's these new business areas that have kept the parent company and core business in the black.

      You said it yourself its a fallacy that the hobby is bigger today than it has ever been. I just think for those in the hobby it is more visible than it has ever been and the Internet has a way of making the accessible seem popular. It's not. I look at the gaming scene where I live in the West Midlands, here in the UK. We had some 7 well attended gaming clubs in Birmingham alone in the late 90's, and that increased to 13 if you included the conurbation as a whole. today at last count we have 6 across the whole conurbation and only the Dudley Darklords and Sutton Immortals would be getting close to touching the numbers that we were seeing at all clubs in the late 90's. So despite forums, despite YouTube, despite Twitter, despite Facebook and all these hobby sites like BoLS, BoW and TTGN the hobby has retracted here. Yet to many the scene is still one of the more vibrant here in the UK.


    2. Part 2...

      In the same period of time we've gone from having 8 LGS's and 5 GW's to 2 LGS's and 6 GW's. There has been a significant drop off in activity. I here of similar drops right throughout the country though from people who I have known for a very long time. The 30+ geeks I grew up with have just got way more purchasing power now than they did when they were 12. I agree that online media is what has allowed so many awesome new products to thrive. 100% agree, and that is also the gist of the article, but it is cannibalizing the customers from those outlets that originally brought us into the hobby. That does appear to be the case. Nothing wrong with that if they step up to the plate.

      Just as a comedy point. My father once told me the reason GW games in the early 90's didn't have a good tournament scene was because they didn't need them because you could get a game anywhere, unlike FASa's Battletech. He told me if GW ever started to be able to support a good tournament scene then you'd know they were fucked. Maybe some food for thought there? I'm not saying he's right, but there is a certain logic to it. I attended Necromunda, Battletech and other game system tournaments throughout the 90's. It was the only way to get games. Didn't have that problem with GW. When I did start having that problem with GW I ended up going to tournaments.

      I do buy that nerd / geek culture is becoming more acceptable as a whole, however, I refute that it means things like comic books or tabletop games are seen as more acceptable. Again I think this is the Internet stupefying people and warping our perspective. People are more open to geeky pursuits and past times, but we have a lot of work cut out convincing people still. And all I'm saying is that as an industry that is where we should be putting our efforts if B&M stores are dying... which I think they are.

    3. I see where you are getting at, but I do not know where you get your figures from.

      1. First of all, GW is about the only major industry player that publishes its numbers, simply because they have to. And their annual statements do not reveal the revenue per product stream (with the notable exception of licencing fees from external producers, although they have now pushed that into "royalties").

      If I understood you correctly, you were assuming that they made less money from miniatures, and keeping sales up only with licencing. Where do you get that information from?

      Also, even if GW had retracted (which they have not, as far as we can judge, see the 2012 annual report), how could you possibly generalize that statement to the whole industry in the light of PP' expansion in the last 3 years (and I think we agree that they could have pushed their income a lot further if they had not been so idiotically hampered by their insufficient logistics), the emergence of at least 8 well-running systems, and countless other obscure ones, not to speak of a plethora of high quality sculpters just selling minis.

      Even if you could show that GW's sales on their primary business had diminished, you would need to compare that number to sales of all other market players (PP, Corvus Belli, Mantic Games etc pp), to say if absolute numbers had diminished or actually risen.
      And even then you would still need to look at the distribution of sales among "veterans" and "newcomers".

      2. I did not say that it WAS a fallacy, I said it COULD BE. And afterwards I fleshed out why I thought it was NOT a fallacy. Again, to be sure, we would need sales figures of the major 10 or so players in the market, and we only have 1.

      Maybe a regional gross distributor, like Simple Miniatures, could shed some light, but even then they would only know about the brands they are distributing and only their market, and not help us decide on the newcomers' situation.

      In the light of this, I chose to go for what seems to most likely - and in my eyes that is: there are more people involved in miniature games now then before.

      3. I can confirm your experience with a declining number of formal clubs & B&M stores. But I thought I gave my reasonings already for why I think that this says nothing about the absolute number of people buying into the hobby and/or playing, nor the numbers of newcomers.

      4. When you write "it is cannibalizing the customers from those outlets that originally brought us into the hobby" you are making a HISTORICAL statement, and then you make the logical fallacy to generalize it.

      My point is: Just because it brought you and others into the hobby some years ago, does not mean that it brings today's kids into it. Or that we need your historical recruiting station still today. I am not saying that it hurts, but there are many other ways, that you - and I - did not have in our teens.
      And they are already happening!

      5. Your father's anecdote is exactly that - an anecdote. No offense meant, but I don't see the logic. New players are not recruited on tournaments. They do serve to expose existing players to OTHER SYSTEMS (they did not come for) but that is like what you said about TGN or BoW - if you know those, you are most likely not a newcomer.

      6. I am sure it has not escaped your attention that several multi-million dollar movies were made from comics. If that is the effect of "the internet stupefying people", then the internet is a mighty tool indeed, and I cannot wait to see the first movies based on tabletop games.

      Again, I see where you are aiming at, I just do not share your beliefs on where the hobby is standing or going.

    4. sorry for another way too long post! ;-)

    5. No you assume wrong. I said they are selling less volume now. Which they are. That is something you can verify from there general reports. They actually increased turnover during 2004 to 2007 while selling less stuff. They increased their profit margins per unit. No not just with price increases but also improvements in manufacturing. Their profits on Finecast are also reportedly far higher than 'white metal' based product. Although I don't have anything to verify this with, although in ivestor statements they have claimed this to be the case and that Finecast is a far more profitable enterprise, although they fail to give specifics about that.

      As to the Growth in other systems... erm sorry but that doesn't mean there are more players does it? I mean look at my header. I have miniatures for all those games and more. Yet I have increased. I'm still me. Unless some scurrilous bastard has cloned me. All it means is that the same customers are buying more product from more sources than just the one or two. I refute that there has been any growth in the numbers of people playing games in the hobby. We're all just buying more shit. Oh yah and I totally agree 100% with you over PP and their logistics... or lack thereof.

      I can understand why you'd think there are more people involved than ever before. But I guess the fact that I grew up with a father heavily involved in the hobby and I saw the numbers at local stores and clubs, I can say that for me and my anecdotal evidence I'd say I've witnessed a decline in numbers and a lot less fresh faces joining year on year. Hence clubs dying. Shops could die because they were pants and badly run... and most were.

      I'm also not saying we need B&M stores to recruit. I'm saying we need something new because B&M stores are toast in the main as far as I'm concerned. The passing trade paradigm is so painfully antiquated and old hat that it has probably needed changing for far longer than a decade. My point is that companies that produce these games need to do more to promote them via new channels.

      As for the comic book movies... I'm really sorry to have to point this out but the Superman Movies and the Tim Burton Batman movies all superseded the rise of the Internet age by quite some time and all proved financially popular. Even some of the dire Supermen films were popular... God only knows why!!! The stupefying comment is aimed at the fact that because so much of this is now easily shared we can believe things are in a healthier state than they've ever been.


    6. Part 2

      Take me. I'm in the UK, I'm a fairly active Blogger and I have a lot of readers in mainland Europe, Australia and the USA. In fact most of my readers are from the US and Canada. The UK ranks quite low on my actual viewing figures. However, ignoring all that people in other countries are aware of me. I've also made them aware of other new games. To all intents and purposes they might assume that the hobby is in rude health because I'm able to report on so many games etc. etc. etc.

      Now it could be, but it isn't necessarily the case. We all just have higher visibility than ever before. That can stupefy. You get a feeling that a product is way more successful than it actually is, because there appears to be a lot of people writing about it. But if those are the only people buying it... well hopefully you can see the potential misrepresentation issues.

      I mean take GW. So often people will lambast a business move online and claim it'll be a disaster, I call in 'Internet truth'. You think wow, so much anger and angst, this is going to hurt them big time. Then the launch happens or the mode comes out or whatever and there's barely a blip. How much of what we perceive to be the case on the Internet with our hobby is born out in the real world? If all you've ever seen is white swans you might be forgiven for thinking all swans are white.

    7. PS don't be sorry about writing long reply's. they're good for debate.

    8. I see your arguments. I am with you on how perceiving things can be different from how things are.

      And if you say that there are actually less people playing in your area, then I take that as a fact, and this experience seems to back your arguments.

      But my experience is totally different from yours. When I come back to my home town (in Germany) I see way more opportunities to play now than I could find some years ago.
      German online hobby news and communities are much more active than they used to be some years ago, and it is much easier to find people to play with - not necessarily in your immediate vicinity (class mates, college mates, etc) but the new media really facilitate finding other people in the area.
      I can tell you that there were never so many groups, local forums, game events, nor hobby-related campus activities than in the last 5 years.

      I am pretty much out of all of that, having a family and preferring to play with people my age. But, in my humble opinion, the new channels you are asking for are already well in place.

      - Which does not mean they could not be enhanced and broadened, so I am very much in support of all new ideas to bring more people into the hobby, mind you!

    9. Again, I'd ask you whether there are more groups or are they just easier to find now because of networked communication. For instance I've been told my stats on local clubs in my area is wrong. We actually had 11 local game clubs, so there were 4 I was unaware of and apparently the 3 local universities also had clubs but they were for students only. I sort of knew about the university clubs but because of the closed nature of them I didn't consider them 'proper' clubs. The point is at the height of gaming from the mid 90's to early naughties my local city had 4 well attended gaming clubs I knew nothing about.

      Now had we got lots of Blogs, forums and there like I might have actually known there was a cub closer to me than the normal one I frequented!!! Then there is the point that we already know to look for them nowadays. If you weren't already an initiated member of the fraternity as it were, would you know where to look?

      As for increased numbers in Germany I couldn't speak to that. I know the scene in France, which used to be as big as the scene in the UK in the early naughties has been hit very, very hard. I have a lot of French gaming buddies who will tell me that it's not what it used to be... but I bet you I could find a club in Paris, Nantes or Lyon far easier now than I could a decade ago.

      There is a theory that the UK was ahead of the curve with wargaming, because of the companies being here, and that the rest of Europe is a number of year behind the UK. France of course had its own companies like Rackham and so probably didn't lag as much as some of nations. I however, haven't seen any evidence to support this one way or the other. I just think it's worth noting that things might be easier to find now, doesn't mean there's more activity.

  16. Wow this is a passionate (and wordy) discussion! I have to say I largely agree with kaka in the post above. I too think it's odd that it seems as though the hobby should be dying, yet it seems to be growing. Perhaps this is a bubble that will burst soon, as you suggest?

    I think a possible reason for it, and also a reason to hope for the future, is the current state of our culture in general. I seem to always come back to this in your discussions, but western culture is at the moment very sympathetic to geeky activities. IT nerds are the new jocks, and I see geeky teenage boys in steampunk hats with fox tails pinned to their trench-coats swaggering around with girls. It's no longer the world of my adolescence, where I had to hide that I gamed.

    So while the hobby is still niche, I would say nearly every person I mention wargaming with toy soldiers to today knows what I'm talking about and accepts it as a legitimate activity. I can't remember the last time I mentioned Warhammer or Dungeons and Dragons and was met with "what's that?" or derision.

    What I'm trying to say is that I think word of mouth, augmented by social media, is enough now. Gone are the days when people had to be convinced to game. Young people seek out new ways of gaming in order to experience them all and be the first. I often meet people younger than me who came to TT gaming because they played Dawn of War and they heard it was a TT game first and were intrigued.

    You say that big sites and geek-targeted media only reach those who are already geeks. Well, these days, that's nearly everyone.

    1. For a more detailed reply please see my response to Kaka James. However, I will dissect this comment some more:

      "You say that big sites and geek-targeted media only reach those who are already geeks. Well, these days, that's nearly everyone."

      Firstly no, that's not quite what I said. What I said was a bit more detailed than that. What I said was that our hobby only websites are only going to reach those already exposed or in the hobby. Very few people will stumble across them by chance. Again no problem with that if other places are doing the exposure work. That's where we fall down though as a hobby.

      Your point about everyone being a geek now made me think of a conversation I had with a friend of mine where I made the same sort of argument you have. He pointed out to me that there is an analogy with sports fans here. And he's bloody right. You can say you're a fan of Barcelona or Man United and buy and wear the clubs shirt. You are a football fan, that is accepted. But are you the same sort of football fan that specifically watches the games on TV? I mean if all you do is wear the shirt and say your a fan, sure you might keep up with your teams progress via new-sites, but you don't watch the games.

      And what of those who watch the games via TV, are they the same as those who physically go to sports stadiums to watch games? No. And if you only go to the stadium infrequently you probably aren't the same sort of person who has a season ticket and goes to every match are you? There are levels and stratification.

      I don't want to get into saying that Just because somebody 'only' wears a Batman T-shirt, likes the Thor film and watches BSG they aren't a geek. But, I will say that it might not necessarily make them the sort of geek to track down Tricia Helfer at Comic Con, buy Avengers toys, read comics and play wargames. So yeah, maybe everyone is a geek James, but what sort of geek is going to be massively variable.

      The industry does need to reach out to people via new media and have a new sales funnel. One that stretches its tendrils out far and wide and pulls people along well defined paths, maybe leading to sites like BoW that can then give out more detailed information. But how do we do that? Is it via branded product as Jake intimates? Gears of War, star Wars etc. FFG seem to think it's worth a go and going by sales they may have a point. All I'm saying is if B&M stores are dying out, clubs finding it difficult to promote themselves etc. that as an industry we need to look at new ways of supporting the infrastructure that leads to a sustainable community.

  17. That may all be true, and I do like that analogy, but I still have to say that my experiences match kaka's more than yours. I see far more clubs and games in Australia than I used to, and a healthy and thriving local scene, and I attribute it to the rise of geekdom into the mainstream and the internet.

As far as I can tell new people are brought in either by their friends (as it's always been) or because they are already gamers and they use the internet to inform themselves and then get involved. That's how I got started with Infinity for example. I was aware of the name from the net (your blog being one notable source), and then I saw some tables at a large local multi-system tournament - which by the way gets more packed and harder to get a place in the games each year. I then went to the Australia-wide Wargamerau Forum, went to the forum for my city, clicked on the Infinity section, found out when a local club was playing, and went along for an intro game. Granted a complete green-horn would probably not do this - I was of course already a TT gamer. 

But the younger generation is chockers with people who already consider themselves gamers of some description and so switching styles is not so much of a stretch for them. Plus they have the social tools and know-how available to track down what they want.

Anyway back to your analogy. I sometimes feel mate as though you won't be happy until everyone in the world is a tabletop wargamer lol! You know how I feel about dividing ourselves up into levels of geekness - I think it's noxious. Someone who buys a shirt for Man U and then watches the games on TV is no less of a fan than someone who buys a season ticket in my book. They are just a more... reserved fan. Or perhaps more casual is a better word. The same holds for geekdom. I don't think everyone is temperamentally inclined to be the sort of geek who tracks down whoever it was you mentioned and collects and plays damn near everything geek-related. Nor do I think they should be. Variety is the spice etc.

What I'm getting at is that people knowing about TT gaming is not necessarily going to get them playing. I pretty much think anyone who is potentially interested these days will eventually find out through word-of-mouth and new media. But the thing is not many people are interested, even in a culture of geeks, and why should they be? I just don't think that our hobby is the sort of thing that has mass appeal, and there's nothing wrong with that. Just because it is a cult section of wider geekdom doesn't mean it will die. It might be small forever right?

Basically, I have a feeling we've talked about this before, and I still think what I thought then: the general demise of B&M retail aside, what we're seeing is not the death of TT gaming, but the return to equilibrium after GW artificially over-extended themselves and failed to bring TT gaming into the mainstream. They still made a monumental achievement though, and thanks to them, and the general increase in geekiness in culture at large (which they no doubt contributed to), TT gaming I think is here to stay, in the numbers which it can naturally support. 

You mentioned dodos in your article. To make an evolutionary analogy, it seems to me that the natural social environment is now more conducive to geeky pursuits than it ever has been before, but that doesn't mean TT gaming has the evolutionary muscle to rise to the top of the food chain. Perhaps it's just a cute little mouse scurrying around the edges of comic books, zombies, and sci-fi TV series? And if it is, so what?

    You said "as an industry we need to look at new ways of supporting the infrastructure that leads to a sustainable community." I think our community currently is sustainable - it's just small, and probably always will be. And that's fine.

    1. Sorry I'm not sure why that just posted up as a MIGHTY WALL OF TEXT. I had paragraphs, honest!

    2. Firstly don't worry too much about the wall of text. I had to copy and paste it into text edit to read it though!!! :P My dyslexia caused my brain to melt at the sight of it. ;)

      I'm going to try to tackle your points, one by one.

      1) You've said it yourself. Greenhorns wouldn't know to do what you've done. You might also want to look up some social psychology studies about youngsters in the States and their use of social media such as Facebook et al. They aren't as savvy as we think they are, and operate within closed networks. If they are shown where to look they integrate far more rapidly than adults tend to, but it's the knowing to look thing that is the problem. Take Xbox Live and the PSN, truth is those are safe closed networks that shepherd people to experiences. We have that infrastructure in place now for those initiated and it is great. But showing newcomers we exist is still a problem.

      It's not about only being happy when everyone is playing wargames. I have watched the decline of the hobby in my local area keenly James. When I talk to others now, not just here in the UK but around the globe who have been as involved as I have for as long as I have, all report fairly similar things. It's great for them as they can find things out far easier, BUT, they report decline in numbers over the last 10 years. Now maybe more people are gaming around friends houses. I guess I do that now. But like Chris above I from a very early age went to clubs jammed full of adults with my father. This was before GW became big and the numbers participating were far larger than they are today. We all as individuals just buy way more stuff. My frustrations come from the fact that I used to run intro games at local stores for various products and a good 1in 2 or maybe 1 in 3 were total newcomers to the hobby. Now when I run intro games it's at clubs and I'm converting GW gamers to PP gamers or Infinity gamers. In the last 24 months I've actually ran only 1 intro game for somebody who had never played a wargame before, and yeah I met them via my Blog. That is a decline for me, and finding ways to reach new people is becoming harder.

      3) Of course they're geeks / sports fans. I said as much. The point being their behaviour will not be the same as everyone who calls themselves a geek. You've just backed my point up. This idea that everybody are geeks now and therefore things are hunky dory is a strange one. Maybe more people would be receptive to the hobby, I'm not sure whether that is the case or not. I certainly think we have a much wider range of product now that speaks to far more geeky influences than Tolkien and 2000AD. So theoretically the hobby now offers a broader range of experience that might entice more people to play. It's how we let them know we exist that I think we could be doing better at.

      4) I have no problem with our hobby being small. It's the fact that it feels like it is getting smaller in some cases that concerns me. Having spoken to local club chairmen I feel there is a worrying attrition rate whereby more people leave the hobby every year than we are replenishing with fresh blood. Eventually that'll lead to sustainability problems.

    3. It was a bit of a ramble sorry, but you've helped me to clarify my thoughts!

      I guess the idea behind the "everyone's a geek" argument is that we on this blog right now are all gamers of various ages, and now it's even more socially acceptable and easier to be a gamer due to the background geek culture, so kids today should have no problem.

      I understand that you think we're all gamers largely because of B&M stores, but from my experience I can't agree. Back when I was a kid (in Australia at least) the sort of gaming we do was not socially acceptable for anyone of any age. My parents were called into the school when I was 11 because I was "caught" playing D&D in the library at lunch and the teachers were worried the game was dangerous. Several of my friends were banned from playing by their parents. There was no way high school me and my friends would have told anyone we didn't trust completely that we played Warhammer on weekends, and most people would not have even known what that meant if we did tell them. And if we'd explained they would have treated us like lepers.

      Yet I became the gamer I am today. There was no store in my town. No clubs I was aware of. There was no internet. I grew up in a country town and got into Warhammer because my dad (a wargamer) bought me a box one day when he visited Sydney. I survived on mail order and magazines like Dragon and White Dwarf. In a way that's not so different from forums and online stores. With all of these obstacles, I still became an avid TT gamer.

      So now imagine how much easier it would be for a kid with gamer inclinations today, in our game-centric culture and with the internet, to pursue gaming as a lifelong interest. Maybe this is why I trust the social media/internet model, it's pretty much how I got where I am today, but on steroids.

      The fact that we're all geeks now is important because pre-geek culture, the train of though went "oh, that's an activity for geeks. Geeks are social outcasts." Now it's "Oh, an activity for geeks. Geeks are cool." That's a huge difference. I don't think widespread geek culture means more people will be interested in TT gaming - it's still a niche activity - but that less of the people who are interested will be discouraged.

      I'm not going to stack up my personal experiences as evidence against your statistics, that would be naive, but I will say that stats can be interpreted in a variety of ways. I think a return to naturally sustainable numbers after the GW bubble burst is a better explanation for what is happening to the hobby than that it is slowly declining into death.

      I believe you about what you've witnessed in your area, but what I've seen doesn't bear it out. So what I would infer is that TT gaming was far more popular in the UK than in Australia, and where you are it has waned, and where I am it has waxed (a bit). Does that seem reasonable?

    4. No James, that does not seem reasonable. I demand that you agree with me!!! :P

      You know me, I'm not trying to change anyone's mind and actually nor would I want to. I just want to put my point across and have a discussion... hopefully a sensible one. You and Kaka have put your arguments and points very well. And as always I take people at face value, I have no reason to disbelieve anything either of you have said.

      On the more acceptable point, I don't disagree. I wouldn't state it as strongly as you have, as I think even within geek culture we're seen as somewhat of a pariah hobby. Seriously I've had serious comic book geeks tell me I'm sad for being a TT gamer. lol. I don't disagree with them actually. :P But I enjoy it.

      I'm not just saying it was B&M stores either James, but gateway products, another one of my pet peeves about our industry. We used to be so much better at providing pathways of choice and entry into the hobby than we are nowadays. Although FFG and one or two others are starting to realise the importance of such products again, so on that score I'm starting to feel way more optimistic than I was... especially after speaking to a few people at companies.

      As always genuinely thanks for sharing your thoughts, I quite like that people feel able and willing to drop walls of text on here actually. It's one of the reasons I started this Blog. Cheers.

    5. On another sort of unrelated note, I have a question for you. Putting aside the past, the present, and the near future, how long do you actually expect these sorts of games we play to survive? Until I'm 80? Until my son is 80?

      I sort of feel as though the games are so complex, and so tied up with cultural tropes, that it's inevitable that they'll drown in the flow of history sooner rather than later just becaus fashions will change to a point that they are no longer accommodated. Perhaps they're a cultural phenomenon of the 20th century just hanging on into the 21st?

      I mean, 40k, Infinity, RPGs, all the rest - they don't exactly have the level of accessibility and abstraction of something like chess, or even Carcasonne. Maybe they'll all be gone in thirty years and we'll look back on them as a formative pre-cursor to virtual reality games or something? Like chariot racing is to V8 Supercars?

      What do you reckon? Is there a sermon in that?

    6. Oops, replied while you were replying! Here's er... my reply to your reply:

      I agree totally about the gateway products. Without Heroquest, Space Hulk and the rest I would have been totally in the dark. Let's hope video game licenses can fill that niche hey?

      And always happy to build some text-walls :D

    7. Nothing in society ever truly dies out as long as there are those who know about it. I genuinely believe that. I mean despite there being supercars, superbikes and all sorts of awesome mechanical vehicles for going ever faster... people actually still do chariot racing as enthusiasts. I'm not joking either, I saw it taking place in Tunisia a few years back and there were teams from all over the world taking part. One of the most surreal things I've ever witnessed. Great fun though!

      How long though will wargaming be able to support the current level of infrastructure that is built up around it is different matter. Unless companies get a bit shrewder with how they approach things and how they develop pathways of choice things could look a bit grim if things go wrong for the current market leader. I think though there are enough passionate fans that we won't see major declines for at least 20 to 25 years. If we develop new ways of promoting the hobby and supporting it then it could have a healthy future and continue long into the future. Knitting has survived this long despite people being able to buy far cheaper and better clothing than they can produce at home. If people enjoy doing it and there are companies out there pushing it, it'll survive.

      As to gateway product, I'm not sure computer games are great gateway products, but they are a very good marketing tool. They get the IP spotted. Conversly seeing FFG's Gears of War boardgame in a number of computer game stores when it first launched was really interested. I had a number of 'online gaming buddies' ask me about the hobby when they were talking about that game. I was able to point them to my Blog and inform them that it was just the tip of the iceberg. Three of them have gone on to buy more board games and 2 have actually graduated to full wargame status. Now that's interesting.

    8. Well, wargames have been with us in a format we recognize for a 100 years, but 'peaked' in the 1970's in terms of widespread use (the vast vast majority were historicals and mostly board based). The bit FLG does is more what you say. I think those things will always be a bit faddy as our ideas around Sci Fi and fantasy change, but will sustain in some form as the more 'light hearted' version of historicals.

      Of course when I get to command holographic troops on an 8x4 virtual table I will be quite happy :)

      And yes, we all await the next space crusade that we can bombard the kiddy market with! (And take the models from for other games :) )

    9. I pretty much agree with you. Sci-fi and fantasy are always around but their form and popularity varies hugely depending on fashion. I'd be surprised if 40k, or even D&D, lasted for another 50 years in anything like their current form.

      And I agree with Frontline Gamer too, when you put it that way: computer games aren't really gateway products, more ads that raise awareness. GW's current flagship gateways are ridiculous. The models are nice, yeah, but the price! And the time investment! Although I suppose they're representative of the games at least ;)

    10. @Chris, yep I think you are right. You look at 40K and it has actually evolved somewhat away from it's 2000AD roots when it was Rogue Trader. They've also shifted at various times away from the fantasy in space ethic with Tau and Tyranids, but then flopped back to it with the recent re-launch of Necrons. Societies ideas and trends around sci-fi and fantasy will often change and move with the times, and if the hobby represents those changes it'll continue to survive. Another Space Crusade of any kind would be great for the hobby, it really would.

    11. @ James, yeah I think computer games on wargames IP's are actually just really long interactive commercials. They shown people the universe, and those who are interested in that might then go and seek more information out about the inspiration for their game. That's a really important tool though, and one not to be underestimated.

      As to 40k and D&D, I'd question whether they haven't already evolved and switched around in their past already. I'm pretty sure somebody wrote an entertaining article recently about Ratlings. 40k has evolved and D&D is basically what you DM and players make of it surely? They'll obviously have to change, but I'm sure they've done it in the past.

      As to those two wargamers I converted via Xbox Live... one I steered towards HoMachine and he roped 3 other mates in, the other I tried steering towards Historical wargames given his interest. But when he raised the topic with two of his mates they decided to plump for 40k instead... I'm not sure, do I count that as a success or a failure? :P

  18. Can anyone remember the stat from the mid/late 90's, that something like 25% of the male population under 30 had played a game designed by Rick priestly?

    I think there is a bit of disconnect here from peoples personal experiences feeding into gaming being more visible (for them) than ever before and a declining player base.

    That there is less players/units of product sold (at least for GW) is true. But the visibility of gaming makes up for this drop. It has not though reversed it. Player numbers continue to fall. The old guys I started playing with continue to steadily die off, GW continues to not bother to retain players in numbers comparable to the late 80's and early 90's.

    Perhaps it is starker for those in the UK as we had an awful lot of clubs and shops in a small country so the drop off is more noticeable for those that have been playing for 20+ years (note, not the same game, though I know of Avalon Hill stuff that can last that long).

    Also remember we are all rather long. The club I go to in central London is at least half 50+ and bar yahoo groups discussing their favourite games you won't find them online, having instead far more fulfilling lives than us :) But talk to them and the change is even starker, they started off in a time pre computer where the big sources of competition were model railways and airfix. Too other hobby's that have problems incidentally.

    1. Yeah I remember reading stat's like that in the mid 90's about Rick Priestly games. I actually think it was 33% thus claiming a third of the younger male population in the UK had actually played a Rick Priestly game. I have no idea whether it is true or not though, and I have no idea as to how you'd go about verifying such a claim.

      I too think the issue is one of perception and visibility. We can all see lots of Blogs and websites we've never seen before and be fooled into thinking everything must be bigger. In terms of Birmingham where I grew up we used to have 4 independent stores where I lived, all sort of clustered together around some comic book stores etc. in a geek haven if you will. When GW opened up it drove two of them out of business almost straight away and they spent the next 5 to 8 years trying to kill the other 2 off, which they eventually did with exclusive distribution rights to stuff and stifling trade. On the one hand I think GW grew the hobby in certain ways, in others they caused it to retract. I wander whether what is happening now is just there karma paying them back?

  19. Very interesting, the comments as well. Just some random thoughts:

    1) I see your point on maelstrom and wayland doing introgames. But how many intro games are gw still doing? More than, I'll give you that. But over here we have one employee per store. He has to man the register, help costumers with questions, do the rounds on the painting table, answer the phone, do intro games for two systems (now three for at least a while) and try to cram a white dwarf down my throat. Every introgame I've seen has been a rushjob with plenty of interuptions besides. I'm not blaming the employee for this btw, he does what he can.

    2) The internet has actually been the primary reason I'm into this, although the way I got round the tactile problem wouldn't be for everyone. I could see you doing it though :p A friend introduced me to 40k. I bought a codex and a box or two and got cracking. I wasn't a fan of the styling and game itself, but I liked the concept. So I started snooping around the internet. Wasn't long before I found your blog and maelstrom games. During one of their sales I ordered a single miniature from most ranges I liked the look of, so I could see the detail, the style, ... in person. Some range I kept collecting (Infinity, Helldorado, Freebooter's, ...) and others I didn't (Spherewars, Avatar's of War, Malifaux, ...)

    3) I would actually love to be able to do a monthly/weekly contribution at my LGS, so I could stick around without buying anything. They're actually a comicbook store that also sells card and wargames. It's MtG, Yu-Gi-Oh and the comics that keep them afloat. With wargames they concentrate on gw products, which I don't buy anymore. I checked whether they'd be interested in stocking (or ordering) Infinity, but apparently they couldn't find a distributor that stocks it..

    1. Hi Aeria I'll take your points in turn:

      1) It's not just GW but independent B&M stores. Of my local GW's though I know the managers of many of them have said it has become more difficult to run intro games, but they've been honest with me I think because they all report similar numbers... although I'm not sure they report real numbers back to their bosses. :P But they're in double digits for every week, and they all say in the run up to Christmas that increases. It's not just the intro game though. It's the physical presence, the very fact the stores exist not only introduces people to the product in a very physical way, but also increases the possibility of people stumbling across the hobby. Although as I say it's an incredibly crude and ineffective way of doing things. I'm not for saving every B&M store, I'm not. I'm just saying if they go the way of the dodo we need new ways of raising our profile and letting new customers know we exist.

      2) The Internet is a great tool. Fantastic actually for promoting things and making connections... if people find there way into those networks. That's the key for me, we have a highly interconnected network of Blogs, well run and written websites, stores and clubs. Good vibrant message boards and communities, it is though somewhat of a closed network. We haven't got many 'cross-over' points within other networks. To make it work we only really need a few successful ones. Because as you've found out to your own considerable cost, if people find their way to my Blog they're likely to be stung for huge sums of cash buying the very bestest products that there are! :P

      3) There is nothing wrong with those stores doing what they're doing and managing to survive. There are plenty of independent shops that I know that sell comic books, card games, board games, memorabilia and wargames just to keep a float. They are sort of like nerd mini-markets and I think they actually play a more pivotal role than your standard B&M wargames store actually, because they funnel a wider spectrum of geek into a place and expose them to all aspects of geekiness. What we need is a few of those in website form!!!

    2. Hmm, good points. A nerd mini-market is actually a perfect description. I didn't mean this is a bad thing. I've never seen an independent who sells only wargames tbh. It's either a mini-market or a gw.

      Let me see if I understand you correctly. What we could use is a system of hubs where different geek hobbies can come together. So that a manga nut can discover Relic Knights, a fan of RPGs can find Kingdom Death: Monster, card players can pick up Malifaux and a 40k enthousiast can buy Sedition Wars. These hubs would need an online presence beyond a simple online store. A place where newcomers can find information and gain entrance into the already existing network.

      Do you have any ideas as to how we could raise our profile and where we would need to be for this? (Unless you're basing a bussiness plan on those ideas, in which case: forget I asked)

    3. What you just described sounds like a really, really good idea.

    4. @Aeria_Gloris, yes that is exactly what I'm talking about, and actually it's an idea I've been trying to get off of the ground, but have been struggling to do so. I'll happily talk to you about it in greater detail via email, as I have got ideas.

      @James S, you said you were interested in seeing what my experiment was... well Aeria has sort of hit the nail on the head. I've been trying to get something similar off the ground now for some time. But I can't find the support to help me get it off of the ground.

    5. I don't have access to a computer right now, but you can expect a mail somewhere tomorrow. I'm interested..