This post has been inspired by conversations I’ve had lately with my good friend Guy Hancock, who is in the process of opening a wargames shop in central Brighton. (At the moment, he’s trading online – see Wargames Heaven). This was also raised during my conversation with Neil Shuck in our View from the Veranda podcast and a recent comment on an online forum.
In short, we have all pondered the fact that presenting wargamers with lots of choice might be affecting the ability of companies to sell to them effectively.
The marketplace is like a kaleidoscope: wherever you look, it fragments into a thousand different periods, scales, rulesets.
It explains the dominance of big fantasy/sci-fi companies like GW: Keep It Simple, Stupid. If the player buys the products, they have also bought into The System. The downside is that this approach can produce a monoculture that brings the average, anarchistic historical gamer to a state of near hysteria!
Let’s face it, even when you think that a group of gamers has settled on a ruleset, whenever did you hear of them not tinkering with the rules to suit their own interpretations?
Dealing with wargamers is like herding cats. So what is a manufacturer in our hobby to do?
To use a smelly metaphor, it’s like cheese. There are hundreds of varieties of cheese from all around the world, and each of us has our favourites. There are even a huge number of different makers of, say, cheddar cheese, all competing for attention.
From time to time, I’ll buy a different cheese, just to see what it’s like. If I like it, I’ll buy it again.
I suppose that if I were to run a dairy making cheese, the best I can hope for is that my cheese is on the shelves alongside the others, and that I’ve done everything I possibly can to make sure that my cheese is attractive and well packaged, so as to get noticed by the customer. If I can get a famous cheese-lover to taste and review my cheese in a prominent publication like Fromage Monthly or Battlecheese, then that can help sway people’s opinion so that they might at least give it a try.
Now sometimes, I have to confess, I have bought cheese that I don’t really need, and it has gone smelly and had to be thrown out. I have also bought Gorgonzola for a dinner party, only to find that everybody else has moved on to Camembert without telling me, and I’ve been left with a mound of surplus cheese.
But I still like the cheese, and I carry on buying it, because I can’t help myself, even if the cheese isn’t good for me, is too expensive and makes me fat.
My name’s Henry and I’m a cheeseaholic.
Now, that’s enough cheese for the time being, but in my experience, most wargamers are, shall we say, prone to a certain amount of obsessive behaviour, and will quite happily keep buying figures (and books), whether there’s any likelihood of them finally being used in anger or not. Projects come and go, some blossom into memorable experiences and others fall by the wayside. The more conscientious types may organise the casualties and sell them off at Bring & Buy stands or on eBay, but many more suffer the creaking floorboards of accumulated failures stoically, its tiny metal and plastic casualties consigned to cardboard coffins on the shelves.
But that won’t stop me, ahem, I mean them, from buying even more. Heck, they may even order some figures, only to wrinkle their brow when they arrive and realise that, somewhere in a box under the stairs, they may already actually own some of these very figures…
I don’t know the answer, other than to note that one man’s rubbish heap is another man’s horde of treasure.
As Monty Python said so memorably, “Blessed are the cheesemakers.”
Amen to that.
Pass the pickle.