Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Make do and mend

One side-effect of revisiting the old Realms of Chaos warband rules is that I have found myself trawling through back issues of White Dwarf looking for examples of warbands and models. The process has been illuminating about the way in which the wargaming hobby and Games Workshop in particular have changed over the years. The most obvious difference being the price.

Back when I started gaming in 1990, Games Workshop charged a standard £2.99 for a metal blister pack which contained, on average, 3-5 metal models. It didn't take very long for them to put up their prices, within a year they were £3.99 a pack, but even then it seems ludicrously cheap by modern standards. First issue of White Dwarf I ever bought contained a special offer deal for a 2,000 point Dark Elf army. This deal got you 84 metal models for £50. A modern Dark Elf battalion boxed set now costs £60 and gets you 53 plastic models.

It's actually very difficult to say with certainty how much something has increased in cost in real terms. Inflation has a huge effect as does the price of certain raw materials. Another factor is changes to game rules. I may be wrong, but my impression is that armies have gotten bigger since the 1990s (while points costs have gotten lowwer) which effects the overall cost of collecting an army quite apart from the cost of the individual models.

I bring all this up, not as a way to bash Games Workshop for putting up the prices, but because it made me remember my early experiences gaming. For a while now I have been commenting on blogs and message boards expressing my view that GW are in danger of pricing their customers out of the market, particularly given that their market is mostly teenagers. Oddly, looking at these old prices has lead me to revise my view.

The £50 army looks like a good deal to modern eyes, but the thing is, I couldn't afford it and neither could any of my friends. Maybe if we saved pocket money for months, but that wasn't going to happen. We used to buy models in fits and starts where we could and, like most teenage boys with limited patience, our focus was on low cost high impact models. It's no wonder Games Workshop started focusing on special characters, for a few pounds you could buy a single model as powerful as most units.

When my friends and I first started playing we used to improvise, using experimental rules from White Dwarf, proxying models, ignoring minimums and maximums, all so we could get in a game. In the early days we didn't even have the right dice and used to employ spinners or rolling odd number of six-siders to get the effects we needed.

Back then GW didn't produce much in the way of scenery, a few trees and fences, but certainly not the big plastic boxes of today. But if they had I doubt we would have bought much of it. Why spend money on scenery that you can spend on models? So we used anything to hand: books, video cases, polystyrene packaging and lego trees. I remember one memorable game of Warhammer 40,000 in which Eldar took on Space Marines in a 'Mountain Pass' made from the gap between the sofa and the coffee table. I even played one opponent whose Tyranid army was two-thirds paper counters.

My point is that for teenagers everything is too expensive, from video games to trainers. Miniatures are no different. Most teenagers have no source of income beyond their parents it didn't stop us then and I doubt it would now. While I would have jumped at Mantic Games cheap plastics had an equivalent existed, high prices were not going to push me out of the hobby.

It's a point that adult gamers can easily forget. Games Workshop may be at the pinnacle of high priced miniature companies (and I emphasise may), but this is an expensive hobby across the board, expensive in both money and time. It takes a level of dedication and commitment, possibly even a touch of obsession, to make something of it in the first place. The teenage audience that Games Workshop focuses on has this in spades, even if it doesn't have much money. I had forgotten just how keen I was to get my miniatures and get in a game, even if I couldn't afford to spend the kind of money I do now. With all that in mind, I wonder how badly Games Workshop's prices really will effect their audience? Perhaps, as long as they keep the quality up, price is less important than I thought.

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