The Readers’ Survey Part 1: Beginnings

Happy Birthday to Me!

I am back, writing about games, gaming, the community and anything else I like (until the Bosses or you guys tell me to stop). That’s a massively awesome birthday present, considering I was pretty burned out just a couple months ago.

(PS, everyone please send a belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Lauby!!!!! With Alyssa Milano pics if you can find them.)

k, on with the article.

I love talking to people. I love finding things out, developing relationships and then finding more things out. It’s fun.

I love listening to your stories, and putting together the information in a way that”s relateable, interesting and maybe even useful. I’m a wanna be librarian, in that collecting and compiling information is a skill that I not only possess, but enjoy. 
I got replies from all over the world, which lead me to ask Lauby for some details about the readership. It’s good to be informed, right? Here’s what I learned:

this blog isn’t a car. 

The HoP network consists of 505 blogs at the moment. 500+ of us are talking about the hobby, games, gaming or something related to the nerd life. That is pretty rad!

Of that 505, the makeup of the network breaks down like this:

     USA: 44.2%
     UK:  18.3%
     Australia: 6.3%
     Canada: 5.8%
     Germany: 3.6%
     France:  2.1%

     Followed by Poland, Italy, New Zealand and Sweden all clocking in below 2% each.

Dudes and Dudettes: I got a reply from RUSSIA!!!!! (Very possibly the only Russian blogger on the network, so EXTRA POINTS!) I was very excited to see his reply, and was even more stoked when I discovered that he is probably my most unusual respondent.  (THANK YOU!)

I also got the standard US, UK and Australian folks, of course. To my knowledge, I didn’t get any Canadian, German or French persons replying.

In my survey, I  asked you four questions – to get to know you a little better for sure, but to answer questions I myself had. While the replies do not by any means offer any kind of evidence, and this is certainly not the scientific method, the results have given me ideas that I really hadn’t expected.

The first question I asked was :

When did you start gaming?

The way you answered was illuminating. (I also discovered I need to be much more specific in how I ask my questions!  I’ll have to try harder next time. In the future, I might indeed try something like SurveyMonkey or QuestionPro, as managing the data for this was much more work than I anticipated.)

Most of you answered with a year- which was easy to turn into data points. Example: 1998. EASY. Some of you gave me “10 years ago” or something like that- again, with a little math, easy to turn into data points. But more than a few of you answered with HOW OLD YOU WERE. Which makes complete sense; but for my purposes, was a little frustrating. I had to do some old school research on more than a few of those answers to gain some insight into what years those ages might have been. In some cases, I made pretty educated guesses- based on time references (ie, 90’s, or Space Hulk was just released) or by a later admission of how long ago that was (thank you for replies that included phrases like “25 years later”!). The majority of replies I got included a short explanation, which were compelling and really wonderful to read. Thank you. Hearing how people got into gaming is just cool to me.

More than a few of you told me just balls-out awesome stories of your gaming origins. One guy brought this out, and it really struck me:

I spent evenings and weekends battling my friends in the depths of various hulks while listening to this tape cassette of heavy metal music with a picture of a Dark Angel on the front blazing away with his bolter (I couldn’t find a picture of that tape and don’t have it anymore, it was stolen by some jerk or lost by this jerk – we may never know.)

This is the one, right?

Oh, no? Well, what about this one, friend?

I’m putting money on this one… You gotta let me know either way. 

[You hit the memory lottery there. I’m married to a man who LOVES obscure, way out there music history, especially punk and metal. He suggested the first album, by Bolt Thrower.  I blog with a guy in a heavy metal band whose band mate is probably the worlds’ biggest Bolt Thrower fan to ever live. I asked the band mate- I just sort of blurted out what you described and had what I think is your answer in less than a minute. ]

I loved how the music was inexorably tied to  gaming. Way back in MY day, I listened to one single, ridiculous no-one-has-ever-heard-of-them late 80’s new wavey crap band while writing games and gaming system ideas.  I’m sure VON knows a thing or two about seeing music as a way to the creative self, what with his blog being an homage to Sisters and all. Dethtron would know, too- the “Music to Game By” series was  flat out INCREDIBLE. 
I also loved all the stories involving families. From playing with brothers, to dads and/or father figures, there were more than a few stories about the bonds developed between family members over a game board.  There were stories of splitting a box with a brother (or brothers) or going to try to buy something else (thank goodness Batman toys were sold out) and winding up with gaming material.

There were a few self starters- people who did things on their own without any real “aha moment” (choose your own adventure books, or painting). I thought those were pretty fascinating; and indicated people that knew themselves very well to figure out from an early age that stuff around this hobby struck a nerve with them.

And then there were two guys that told almost the same exact story:

About 10 years ago, they got clean, and needed something- ANYTHING – to keep their minds and hands busy. Both of them discovered their “nerd selves” and have been pursuing hobby goodness since then. For them, GW’s Warhammer 40,000 was the new addiction, but it kept them out of jail and alive.

Thank you, GW, for my friends G and L. 

I saw a lot of patterns in the answers I got. There seemed to be a couple key “entry points” for gaming; both in TIME frame, and TYPE of game.

Time is the question I asked first- When did you start gaming? Here’s the results of the survey, broken down into the number of years you’ve been in the hobby.

The results of this survey have been truly satisfying. I had some ideas in my head about the questions before you folks so kindly answered. I’ve been glad to be both right, AND wrong about much of the material we’ll cover.

The TIME frame I was pretty much on the money about. Most of us entered the hobby in a few time frames:

9-10 (age of reason/age of wonder)

12-15 (early teens)

20’s (college age)

There are a FEW of us that got the bug early, or much later. I always expect outliers, that’s how “averages” get determined. The general time frames were ones I experienced or knew of from running the shop (or from almost 30 years of gaming). I know hundreds of gamers, and pretty much all of them started gaming in one of the three time frames.

It was the TYPE that I was completely surprised by. I definitely expected more variety in what KIND of game got you started.

LOADS of you mentioned one of these games:

or 
or sometimes this 

This bit was beyond fascinating. Here we are, adults, talking about how we started gaming; and more than a few of you mention very specific games from a specific company. That company happens to be GW, and the answers give me a reasonable understanding of WHY Games Workshop still has such a hold on many of us.

These incredible games were so colorful, so enrapturing and so compelling that NINE YEAR OLDS plunked down time and energy into them, and came away molded forever. (Or 12 year olds, or 20 somethings, or whatever age happened to pick it up and think it looked cool.)

Which lead me to ask: Didn’t Games Workshop KNOW they had a gold mine on their hands, at SOME point?

I run a game store. I am ALWAYS on the look out for any introductory product that essentially sells itself to YOUNG gamers, so that I can grow my business. I mean, I’m in a niche that often stagnates or goes through dry spells in terms of market expansion. It only makes sense to have an item (or line of items) whose whole purpose  is to gain new customers.

Games Workshop HAD THAT in spades with HeroQuest and Space Hulk. Not only were they easy to learn and play, they were reasonably affordable and were self contained.

When I sell a game intended as a gift for a young/new gamer, I do my best to sell something that doesn’t need anything “extra”. Ideally, I want to sell a visually compelling game that offers fun gameplay and just “hints” at something outside itself. I want that game to develop the interest, but not come with an endless drain on the wallet already built in.

WotC has a great starter in Magic: the Gathering, with cheap entry point, great visual appeal and fairly simple game mechanics at the core premise. The only problem it has is its reliance on constant investment. As a marketing scheme, it’s brilliant, but as a selling point for someone just starting out, it’s the kiss of death.

When someone is just starting the hobby, it’s pretty important to give them the ability to play with the item (or do the activity) over and over so they become confident with the ideas, the premise and the mechanics of whatever they are doing. Being a geek is hard enough- putting ANYTHING in the way of them continuing (including money) is going to frustrate them and get them to quit. Self contained games are perfect for beginners, because they allow the person to focus on just the one idea in front of them- and when they are ready, they will come back and ask:

 what else is like this?

And what’s killing me about the GW situation is that they had an answer to that question built into their product line. They could easily afford the loss leader of SpaceHulk or HeroQuest if even ONE IN TEN persons who played those games became a LIFELONG Games Workshop customer. A single flyer inside the box, with pictures of the models and a phone number for easy ordering, and BAM- you have a way to get more business for as long as the box remains in the person’s possession.

GW has tried a lot of things, and I have to give them some credit. They have done things not many other hobby companies would do: sponsored a record label SOLELY to promote a band with their products/images featured on the cover, licensed their product and images to bands and even other hobby companies to spread their market awareness, designed the first in-store demonstration program, complete with VOLUNTEERS to help retailers sell their product and created their own subsidiary company to produce complementing supplementary products to go along with their main offerings (Citadel).

Obviously GW determined that either those things were not worth the return or were not beneficial in most cases (Citadel excluded) or they would possibly still be doing them. I HAVE to imagine that somewhere a breakdown of the cost of a SpaceHulk kit compared to the return a customer gives GW has to exist, and the results on that turnaround aren’t positive enough to keep the product viable. (RIGHT? Please, someone tell me I’m right.)

Whether we as a group of hobbyists has been profitable to GW isn’t the real story, though. That GW impressed upon us at such a fundamental point that they were the “hobby company” that we remember and are, for the most part, loyal all these years later- says a great amount to the power of pleasure permanence. It also explains why it’s so hard to kick the habit (literally or figuratively) even if we’re “grown up” now.

(Just ask SinSynn about this one…)

The same could be said for the side of the hobby *I* came in on – roleplaying. For MOST of my friends, the “hobby company” back in the day was TSR, who published Dungeons & Dragons. D&D became the “hobby center” for most of those people, and it’s still got the same pleasure permanence for them as GW does for many of the HoP readers.

I know when we started, and I have information on HOW we started. For a little more on getting started (especially for future gamers), check out THIS AWESOME POST.

The next thing I wanted to know was:

when did you start blogging? 

I was really curious when people started talking about their hobby to the massive vastness of the internet. It’s a lonely thing, collecting material, writing, shooting it (if there are pictures), editing, and hoping that folks will respond in a mostly positive fashion. That’s why so many people burn out. (According to Lauby, a good number of the blogs on our rolls are either very intermittently active or completely dead entirely. That’s a sad shame.)  I’m personally guilty of being on a very long-probably-indefinite hiatus over at my personal blog, but I haven’t taken it down yet. I still have hope that my love for the hobby and gaming will be inspired again and I will have things to share with you.

For those of you that are still going strong, you told me when you started spurting your musings across the void, and I thank you. I will admit, I was COMPLETELY surprised by the answers.

I really expected something different, but I am coming from a generally role-playing based background, where the many of the BIG names have been blogging for a VERY long time.  Being taken seriously in that general world is for sure about quality, but quantity has it’s role as well, and being a “newbie” of only 2 or so years blogging can Be A Thing.

I really enjoyed reading through all of your replies, and figuring out what I was going to DO with the information once I had it. I started off with a specific intent (which we will talk about next week, probably) and wound up changing my approach and what I wanted to accomplish after about 5 replies. You guys were just so fascinating and truly compelling, I had to make the series more about our stories than about our numbers.

I would invite you to feel free to answer the 2 questions here in the comments. Even if you’ve already given ME the answers, I think the readers here will really enjoy the conversations that can come out of them. This can be the beginning of a terrific opportunity to expand what we know about each other, and a place to remember how we all began.

I’ll start- 

I began gaming in 1985 when I was 12. My dad took me to his historical miniatures/conflict simulation society meeting and I met the people that turned out to be my husband and my best man that night, along with several other long time friends. Many of those people have been instrumental in who I am today as a person, wife, mother, sister, and lady who games.

I started blogging back in 2008 on a now-defunct blog about living in a small town. My gaming-related blogging started in 2010. I’m still blogging (if only here at the House, for now) and trying to get out of a terrible funk.

Next week- Part 2: Influences! (Hopefully with interviews!) 

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