Thursday, September 1, 2011

Are We Trying to Make GW Games Something That They Aren't? Understanding Games Workshop

(written for BoLS)

There have been a flood of op-ed articles discussing tournament vs narrative play and which is superior. Unfortunately sometimes when people get into intense debates they miss the point that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

This was inspired by a BoLS' article about the Nova Tournament the other day,EDITORIAL: Nova Open: Lights, Camera, Gripe! , which highlights some inherent flaws in how people are trying to adapt Games Workshop's games in a way they never intended, and that really reinforces many of GW's long standing policies that people have repeatedly railed against.

FAQ's and the Internet

GW used FAQ's and Errata heavily during 3rd Edition and even offered up printable sections of text to cut out and paste directly into your Codexes and Army Books. By 4th Edition they started only FAQing things sporadically and one of their stated reasons was that rapid and repeated FAQ updates resulted in conflicts because everyone was not on the same page. It made more sense to have people all running around with the same information, for better or for worse, than to have people running around with all sorts of different wording and rulings and muddling the gaming environment with additional confusion. The internet has always insisted otherwise, of course. This weekend's NOVA championship perfectly proves GW's assertion. The title bout was decided with complete disregard for a FAQ that no one read or properly interpreted if they had read it. So the question becomes, “do regular FAQ/Errata updates necessarily benefit the gaming public as much as they think they do? And do they even pay attention if they don't radically affect the player base in some way?

Games Workshop Tournaments, Painting, Composition, and Prize Support

I worked for Games Workshop from 1998-2001 our number one concern was with creating committed hobbyists. Tournaments were a way of getting hobbyists together to play, but the focus was always on playing for the joy of playing, and the best hobbyists received the biggest accolades for their achievements. The player with the best composition and painting scores ruled the day, and walking away with the best general award really didn't mean all that much. It was understood that the rules weren't designed for tournament play and there were a multitude of articles on the “Spirit of the Game” in White Dwarf to help reinforce that rolling dice was good fun but it wasn't as much about winning or losing as it was about having a good time, talking about the hobby, and showing off your hobby skills. One of the things they kept highly contained was prize support. This wasn't because they were stingy as many people believed, it was because when you provide a big prize, people become cut throat, and they no longer push their skills for the love of the hobby and a pat on the back, but instead for lust for the big prize. We've seen all of these things whittled away over time. Almost no one in the tournament circuit believes in composition scores anymore, painting has taken a backseat to generalship, and prize support is a much bigger incentive than a being known for having a great looking army and playing it well. As we deregulate the playing environment is it surprising that it has spun out of control and become dictated by the most competitive players? And does the current model for tournament play reward people for buying their way to victory by changing armies every time the metagame changes, and punish those who “work with what they have”? It seemed that the old mind set leveled the playing field by rewarding hobbyists who might not be the best players or have the shiniest new toys, but who have come to make the most of their chosen army and models through years of painting and playing their beloved army.

Are We Really Video Streaming Tournament Games Now?

I'm not sure when miniature wargaming became Wimbeldon, but as was pointed out in Brent's article, Warhammer is an imperfect game and is based upon social interaction. In its current incarnation, it is not a closed system with clearly defined boundaries, simple rules, and a judge overseeing each play and making the call as to whether it is legal or not legal. We're still operating under the idea that wargaming is more of a open “gentleman's agreement” because there are so many variables that affect game play. Do we want it to continue along this path in an attempt to sterilize and hone game play? Or should people who seek that sort of game play find a new hobby instead of trying to force Games Workshop's games into a mold that it does not seem to fit?

Can Games Workshop Meet Everyone's Gaming Demands?

Games Workshop has always been a model company first, and the games were designed to put existing model collections to use and encourage people to buy even more models. On the internet there are thousands of voices all telling GW what to do. Games Workshop keep churning out army books, codexes, and expansions that sell more models. Warhammer Fantasy has been trying to overwhelm and entice us with “Wow!” inducing models, and 40K is coming up on its next revision that could very well try to do the same with true “flyers”. When codex creep is evident, like with Blood Angels and Grey Knights, everyone screams, “FOUL!” When Sisters of Battle or Tyranids are clearly tempered and don't get the same creep, everyone screams “FOUL!” Which voices are they supposed to listen to? Everyone says that balance is the key, but there are too many variables to balance fully and when Jervis tried to balance the system by minimizing wargear and stripping the armies down to their component parts, everyone cried “BORING!” It seems to me that maybe the customer base isn't this all knowing entity people believe it to be, because every time they try to appease the great customer beast it only gets more enraged. Maybe the customer base is trying to make miniature wargaming too many things that it is not?

Square Peg – Round Hole?

The question isn't “are tournaments bad or good?” or is “narrative play superior to tournament play?” because I find both fun, and I don't see why I should have to choose or why the two can't be combined. I know I like both because I love playing games. Though the game was designed with a winner and a loser, it was designed with so much flexibility that there are countless areas for exploration, as well as for confusion and exploitation. I think how much fun you have with it comes from accepting the game for what it is, instead of forcing it to be something it is not. Maybe we'd all get more out of it if we kept that in mind?

Personally, I love tournaments with creative scenarios and unique constraints. The most fun I've had at a tournament in the last 5 years was at a Cities of Death tournament where it felt like game play was turned on its head and top armies were usurped by 3rd tier ones. Do the current competitive tournaments add anything to the hobby? Should Games Workshop focus on appealing entirely to competitive gamers? Is the exodus to other systems necessarily a reaction of disillusionment with Games Workshop's products and philosophy or is it that the customer base has gotten so large and disparate that they are actually disillusioned with each other and are fleeing to systems that are filled with more like minded players or hobbyists? Are you getting the most satisfaction you can from the hobby and what is the secret of your success?



Equinox said...

Great article! Of the many tournaments I have run, the one you referenced at the end (K'Wars: The Consuming Darkness) still stands out to me as my personal favorite when it came to 40K events. Glad to read someone remembers it so fondly!

With regards to your points, I agree with you. The general environment has become so focused on competitive play that everything else seems to have fallen off. It seems like all anyone discusses is how to prepare for the next tournament. Even pick-up/casual games are intended as practice for the next tournament.

All that said, I think we are just experiencing one large hill on the roller coaster that is our hobby. Given time, I wouldn't be shocked if the tournament mindset begins to fade and the hobbyist approach becomes more important again.

xNickBaranx said...

That was a great tournament! Cool scenarios, good scenery. And something a little different. I'm so glad we made the trip up for it, and I wish I would have stumbled into something else like it since then.

As for the roller coaster analogy, I think you're right, and hopefully we're nearing the top of the climb! haha.

oni said...

Good read. I enjoyed the immensely. I too hope that the highly competitive mind set changes soon.

xNickBaranx said...

Thanks Oni. It caused quite a stir when it appeared on BoLS today, but most of the 150 comments I read seemed like they focused on the raw "narrative vs tournament" debate rather than my points. haha. Such is life.

Dasanton said...

Everyone should just play Epic: Armageddon and there wouldn't be a need for articles likes this.


A well designed, balanced game, without the need for endless FAQs and balanced armies that allow you to play an army just about any way you want.

Anonymous said...

I think we are able to make whatever we want to, however, there are some things we will have to wait for a while, that's what Indian Pharmacy Journal says.

Dain Q. Gore said...

Excellent points all. I never quite considered the reasoning behind GW decisions as most of it is discovered via internet. I only paint the minis, but I am always interested in anything having to do with the game and how the company runs, as it directly affects my ability to paint cool new minis!

Blogger said...

I have just installed iStripper, and now I enjoy having the best virtual strippers on my taskbar.