First off, I'd like to state that this is not going to be one of those articles.
Anyone who knows me from Warpshadow knows that I don't go in for Games Workshop bashing. Though this may start with a bit of negative sentiment, I would ask you to stick with the article and read it through 'til the end as the end, in a way, is the most important part. That being said, it's a biggie, so best to grab a cuppa something to go along with it.
Though I don't go in for Company Bashing, I got very close last May, when it seemed like The Company was doing everything in their power to squeeze more money out of their Hobbyists (heck, at one point I was planning a revolution). On May 18th of last year, at the height of the Internet furor over price hikes, Finecast (and its further price hikes), and the restriction of UK-based, world-wide online retailers, Games Workshop CEO Mark Wells sent out a letter to hobbyists. If you missed it, the full letter can be viewed on Beasts of War.
There are many things I could take issue with in this letter, but the greatest and most glaring of them is the following, taken verbatim from the letter that Mark Wells, CEO of Games Workshop, sent out to a hobbyist:
...the simple fact is that European internet traders will not invest any money in growing the hobby in your country. Their model is to minimise their costs and free-ride on the investment of Games Workshop and local independent shops in creating a customer base.
For all my lack of Games Workshop bashing, that was a statement that rankled me. Though there may well be some free-riding internet retailers, there are also SCADS more internet retailers who support themselves by selling models so that they can spend the rest of their days writing hobby articles or creating cool conversions for other hobbyists to use. Some of these online retailers who invest a goodly portion of their time into growing the hobby online took the statement as what it was: a direct slap in the face, and they posted comments like this one from Matthew over at Miniwargaming.com.
The gist of this letter seemed to be the idea that Games Workshop invests more time and money than anyone in growing this hobby, so it makes sense to pay their prices and not to support freeloading online retailers. It got me thinking about just how much time and money all of us in this interconnected, online, miniature community invest into this hobby. I had a revelation about the nature of what our communities had evolved into: I thought that if we could ever herd together the 1,000 cats of our online community and convince them to dream a single dream, we would be the ones at the controls of this hobby community and not The Company. I came to a realization that is the first main thrust of this article. It was a simple statement that belies the foundation-shaking strength of the sentiment behind it:
We. Are. The Hobby.
We are the ones generating the tutorials and the CMON/Massive Voodoo/Insert-Name-of-Awesome-Artist-Here-calibre painting. When The Company releases an army book, and half the entries in it don't have models, we are the ones who come up with the clever conversions to fill those holes. When new model kits are released, we are the ones who write the kit reviews that are far more in-depth than simple marketing rehash.
As an example, I ask how many of you were introduced to this hobby by your friends who were already into the hobby, and how many of you, then, introduced other friends? How many of you, conversely, were introduced to this hobby by a Games Workshop hobby centre, as Mark Wells believes the majority of his customers were?
As a further example, I'll ask you another question: when was the last time you picked up a White Dwarf and were impressed by the depth and breadth of its contents? In fact, when was the last time you felt a need to pick up a White Dwarf for anything more than a White Dwarf Only rules supplement?
Now, once again, this is not one of those articles, and these two questions may seem like an obvious shot at The Company, but what I'm trying to illustrate is something more complex.
The reason you were introduced to the hobby by your friends is that they know you, and when you've got your armies bought and painted, they are the ones who are going to play the game with you. Even when these friends fall out of the hobby or move away, the birth of the online miniature communities means that you've got a whole new group of e-friends to encourage you with your hobby projects and to get you into your next army.
The reason you haven't been impressed with a White Dwarf for a good while is not that White Dwarf is crap and has turned into nothing more than an expensive brochure. You're not impressed with White Dwarf because the concrete restrictions of a magazine can in no way keep up with the breadth of material available in our online community: the huge, seething, rabid mass of material that our netconnected web of modelers and painters and sculptors and kitbashers churns out on a daily basis.
We. Are. The Hobby.
If you doubt me, click over to the Games Workshop "What's New" blog. How much of the content that you see posted up there on a daily basis is simply posts "dipping into the Flickr pool" to present the hard work of independent hobbyists? How many of those posts rehash stuff that you've already seen elsewhere? When the recent second Tyranid wave arrived, I obsessively checked the Company blog, salivating for Tyranid updates, and all I found was marketing material and standard shots of standard models painted up in slightly unique colours. There were no clever conversions; there were no sneaky strategies. There weren't even in-depth kit reviews. The content was sterile and uninventive. I had to go to the online community to see innovative people doing interesting things with these new releases: cracking them open and pouring over them and coming up with great ideas for how they could be put to use.
Once again, that looks like an obvious shot at The Company, but I use it simply to illustrate a point:
We. Are. The Hobby.
We are an atomic reactor of potential, generating megawatts of original content every day. Whilst The Company tries to keep this Hobby chugging along with a paid creative staff of hundreds, we are an unpaid creation workforce that numbers in the thousands.
In case you ever doubted it, let me tell you something very important: you have power. We have power. We are a Games Workshop community that is, more or less, independent of Games Workshop. They could stop their factories and shut up their shops tomorrow, and never sell another sprue, and we would go on, and on, and on, working through our back stores of models and inventing new rules for ourselves.
It would be unfortunate. The models that are being produced today are TOP NOTCH. Ever since the Dark Eldar release, or maybe slightly before it, I have had to keep a key guard on my laptop to protect it from the saliva that's generated by each new Games Workshop release. However, when Mark Wells tries to argue that the online community is in some way freeloading off the investments made by Games Workshop and not pulling its own weight in growing the hobby, the bile comes up in the back of my throat.
When I try to comb through the hobby Blogosphere, or I try to take count of the hobby forums out there, my mind reels. We have grown into this massive, interconnected, gaming e-group, and if ever we all decided to move in the same direction at the same time, we would move mountains.
We. Are. The Hobby.
And don't let anyone ever tell you any different. We keep the Games Workshop Hobby running. We have power.
However, as has been cliché in the pop culture sphere ever since Uncle Ben uttered the words:
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.
This brings me to the second, important point of my little editorial, and if you go away without reading this, then you know nothing, Jon Snow!
I once had a talk with Jes Goodwin that was at once flattering and saddening. He was telling me about how he and Phil Kelly had occasionally dropped by Warpshadow, taking a peek around to see what Tyranid modelers were up to. I was flattered; that the fathers of modern 'Nids were snooping around our little forum! I felt about ten feet tall.
But then he told me that he doesn't spend much time on blogs and forums because he can't stand the levels of vitriol in them: for Games Workshop and for the models they create. He commented that it seemed to be a race: who could be first to label the next release as crap.
Anyone who knows me from Adam knows that I am a huge fan of Jes Goodwin's. The man standardized loyalist space marines, designed the bolters you've been using for more than ten years now, created the Eldar aesthetic and saved the Dark Eldar one, defined the four primary chaos legions, tamed the schizophrenic Tyranid aesthetic, and his dirty brush water has been known to cure cancer.
Okay, so maybe that last isn't true, but you certainly have him to thank for all of the previous points, and that is to say nothing about his contributions to other races and game systems. This man, pretty much, brought the aesthetic of Warhammer 40k into its current, golden age. And yet Jes, who has done so much for all of us; who created dozens of kits we love, using his bare hands before the age of Computer Aided Design, cannot interact with the modeling community because he gets tired of trying to filter through all of our bile.
Essentially, one of the men who built this house no longer feels comfortable living in it with all of us.
How would you feel, were the tables reversed: you dedicated years of your life to crafting a system of models, and you were excited to see the interesting things people had created using your models. However, when you visited their websites and blogs and forums, you had to wade through pages of people talking about how crap your models were before you could find anything truly interesting.
If all these rallying cries that I've been sounding for the first half of this article are true--If We. Are. The Hobby., then what does that say about how we've acted as the Hobby's stewards when one of the most talented sculptors The Company has ever employed doesn't feel comfortable interacting with hobbyists.
The Internet makes it easy for us to sit back and spout criticism at this big, faceless Company from behind the security of our own faceless aliases and avatars. Though this anonymity protects the individual, it harms the collective. The negative acts of the detractors persist and are remembered, and the positive contributions of that creative engine I was praising in the beginning of this article are lessened and coloured by the negativity of the rest of the community.
It is here that the responsibility comes into things. If you want to believe, like I do, that you and me, we make up this hobby, then we need to take responsibility for how we represent it in our posts and our comments and our actions.
In short, you have the responsibility of being the hobby you want to play/have/be a part of. I can't really figure out how to hammer this point home as concisely as I think I did with "We. Are. The Hobby.", but I can't help feeling that it is no less important.
If you think that there needs to be a change in this Hobby, then be the change you seek.
If there are too many little kids in your area who only play space marines at your local gaming night, then try to take some of them under your wing and explain that their strategies are simplistic or explain that there are other fun armies out there. If you wonder why there aren't more girls in the game, then treat them like humans when you come across them. If you're tired of playing against an opponent's unpainted models, then ask if your opponent has ever had any instruction on how to paint well/fast/en masse. If you are jealous of how nice someone's army is, then damn well tell them that those models are envy inducing; you might just find out from your opponent that you have some skills/models/paint jobs of which they are equally envious.
If you accept my previous point about all of us making up this Hobby, then you should also accept that we can shape the Hobby with our actions. For my own small part, I'm tired of seeing models go straight from box to table with little changed in between, so I started writing the How To Sculpt series in the hope of helping people to make their models more original. Consider what you do well, what you can contribute to the community, and then do so. Make the power that you have in this community known by standing up and making the Hobby a better place: in your gaming group or in your store or on your site or wherever you interact with others.
I'm not sure if I've done a good job of explaining this, but I hope that it has come across as rousing and empowering because that is how I intended it. It is a sentiment that I feel very deeply, and I hope to rally some of you around the standard to take up ownership for how awesome we all are in our day-to-day creations and to use our awesomeness to make this Hobby an awesome-er place.
If you feel what I am dishing out, please share this with people as far and wide as you think it should be shared. Hopefully these sentiments can help to bring us all closer together and to burn away some of the negative elements that naturally crop up in any net-based community.