Wintercon, and the Way of Warhammer
This weekend at Exhibition Park in Canberra (also known as EPIC, bro), it was Wintercon: Canberra’s other games con. It’s held in the middle of winter, in one of the coldest parts of Australia, so is pretty much just locals. Actually I’m just guessing that – but it does have way, way less people attending than Cancon does in January. I didn’t play in anything, but I briefly went along both days this year.
The first day, I went with one of the players from my D&D game, who is just getting into the whole gaming scene. It was his first con. He’s a huge video gamer from way back, but he’s new to our scene. He calls D&D, wargames etc. “these sorts of games” or sometimes “traditional games” which I find interesting.
There were around a dozen 40k tables, more (maybe sixteen or eighteen?) Warmahordes tables, ten or so Bolt Action tables, three Warzone Ressurrection, two Infinity, two Bushido, two Malifaux, and a bunch of historical games. I didn’t spot any WHFB (or Age of Sigmar) but I could have just not noticed. There was also D&D and a board game library and shops and things but that’s not really important to you guys I guess.
It was funny actually, the fantasy and SF tables (including Bolt Action, so the classification system clearly wasn’t foolproof) were on one side of the hall and the historicals (DBMM, Impetus, Flames of War, Wings of Glory and maybe some others) were on the other. I asked my friend to tell me what he noticed when he looked at the two sides of the room. He pointed over at the historical end and said “those guys are all like in their forties and fifties or older. And they’re all guys. Oh and they have leather jackets and military caps and stuff.” Then he turned to the fantasy and SF side and said “they look more like us, I guess, like in their twenties or thirties, and some of them are women.”
I had to agree with him. He liked the look of the historical 15mm games the best though. He thought they looked the most impressive, and that’s even after he saw all the giant warjacks and stuff on the fantasy side of the room.
The second day I went with the family, and we spent most of the time chatting with one of the store vendors who I know socially (his wife and mrs. ronin are old classmates). That was after we er… extracted our son from the car. In an astonishing display of careful parenting, he was accidentally locked in with the keys, and then refused to unlock the door to free himself until we had agreed to buy him “maccas chips” (that’s McDonalds fries to you non-antipodeans) on the way home. I’m proud of you, son.
Hard-ball playing recalctrant offspring aside, I had an interesting chat. The two main pillars of our friend’s business are GW products and Magic cards. I mentioned that Age of Sigmar had cometh, and had enrag-ed the internets. He just kind of made a face and said “yeah, but only the old guys though. And it doesn’t matter what they think. The kids are going nuts for it.”
Interesting. Veeery interesting. Now this is a throw-away remark, true, but it comes from someone who doesn’t play at all, and doesn’t follow the rumour mill much – all he follows is how well things are selling, and Age of Sigmar is apparently doing all right. He’s been selling a few. It made me think that yeah… if I was a kid and I walked past an Age of Sigmar set-up, it looks pretty exciting. Maybe it doesn’t matter that the models are (as Sandwyrm says) hard to put together – they just need to look cool enough to get a ten year old to buy them. Maybe they’ll persevere despite the difficulty. I would have at that age, come to think of it.
And maybe the models can do just that: sell the game. Most ten year olds, even very bright ones, don’t care much about tight rules. They don’t need ’em, because they have imaginations to fill in the gaps. Things like distances being measured from the weapon seem a bit crazy to us, but to a kid it makes sense I guess. Their minds are going to more focused on the model itself rather than the rules around it. Again, I know mine was. Don’t think I ever noticed bases much, and certainly didn’t put any effort into painting or texturing them.
As well as reminding me of the worrying idea mentioned in the comments a few days ago on Thuloid’s recent post, that our hobby is in the same cultural space as model railways and we are all old duffers at heart (if not in reality), all this made me think for some reason about the recent re-branding of GW’s stores. I noticed this a few weeks ago when I went past the local GW and it was suddenly the Warhammer shop. This was one of those rare times in today’s world when I found something out by actually seeing it with my own eyes before I even got my first email from GW (yes, I still get them) telling me this was happening.
So here’s a thought: maybe GW has decided to go into the business of selling an aesthetic. The Warhammer aesthetic. Maybe they want to make a world where people see their stuff, and instead of having it fragmented into 40k and fantasy and wargames and video games and books and what-have-you, people just see it all and think Warhammer. The look; the giant shoulder-pads; the dynamic large kits; the OTT weapons. Perhaps GW just wants it all visually unified in the minds of people who aren’t yet customers as “Warhammer,” instantly recognizable, and worry about the rest later. One of the reasons I think this is that my friend, the new RP gamer, pointed at some Warmachine models in their packaging and said “so is that made by the people who make Warhammer?” He thought, as a relative outsider, that it was a GW variant, and I couldn’t blame him. They do look remarkably similar when you look with fresh eyes.
None of these thoughts are probably new. But sometimes with all our micro-analysis as adult wargamers and readers and writers of the blogosphere, I think we can lose sight of the forest, what with all the trees. I know I can. Perhaps Age of Sigmar, and the re-branding of GW stores, is an attempt to expand away from the existing customers. To let them go if they want out, and nab a new generation who’ll support the brand for the next thirty years. And the first step is by stripping back and making what people already think of when they think of Warhammer easier to find and more unified.
Warhammer. It’s a game, it’s a shop, it’s a look, it’s a universe.
Till next time, have a good one,