Tuesday, 24 May 2016

How to attract (or not attract) new blood to wargaming?

In the latest issue of Miniature Wargames with BattleGames (issue 398), there were a few articles that touched upon the subject of attracting newcomers to the hobby. On various forums this question is also raised regularly. I guess it's a recurring question that has been raised ever since the hobby was invented ...

Anyway, most of these discussions usually re-iterate the same arguments:
  • The hobby is greying! Well, I don't know about that. What is usually meant is that the gaming group the poster belongs to is greying. And that's quite natural. Wargaming is a social hobby, often played informally among friends. So, unless you are part of a regular gaming club with a lot different age groups represented in the membership, it is quite natural that your own little window on the hobby is greying. Which doesn't mean the hobby itself is greying.
  • When I was a kid, I entered wargaming through Airfix. We need more Airfix! This is a false feeling of nostalgia. Everyone had their entry point in the hobby, and what worked 30 years ago is not valid today. The gaming landscape has changed. Teenagers are far more likely to enter the wider gaming hobby through computer games. What was a gateway once, most likely is not a gateway anymore a decade later. And BTW, we do have an excellent entry point into the hobby that attracts many young kids. It's called Warhammer.
  • Conventions should attract non-wargaming visitors! I think this is totally bogus. What would a non-wargamer do at a wargaming show? Shopping? Watching games? Perhaps the latter. But even so, wargaming shows are set up for wargamers, not for non-wargamers. If a local club wants to attract new blood, they should have a game at a local general hobby fair, or a school event, or some other event in their local community. Sure, occasionally there might be someone who wanders in at a wargaming show completely by accident and gets the bug. But those are the exceptions. Overall, it seems a bad strategy. Moreover, how many wargamers have actively visited a hobby show of another hobby?
  • We need more games of type X! Fewer figures! More figures! More history! Less history! Simpler rules! ... This argument often simply states the gaming preferences of the person voicing this argument. We have products in the wargaming market that wargamers are willing to buy. The buyers drive the market. It might be that the hurdle for entering a specific type of game is very high. E.g. if you want a Napoleonic battle with 500 figures on each side, well yeah, it takes some years before you reach that level. But that's ok. Those are the type of games for wargamers that have a life-long commitment. It makes no sense to have entry games that give a teenager an outlook for that type of game. Teenagers also want to drink whatever their mates are drinking (cheap beer, lousy cocktails, whatever the hype is). A teenager is not going to be interested in drinking fine whiskys or wines. Keep that for later in life.
So what should we do?
  1. First, I am not sure we should do anything. Do we need to actively attract young blood? If people are not interested anymore in a specific hobby, the hobby will die. So what? Many hobbies have disappeared over the years. Wargaming will disappear as well, some day.
  2. Wargaming does not have a regulatory body as some other sports (or even hobbies) have (and let's keep it that way!), so we cannot launch grand recruiting campaigns. So, every individual wargamer should make his hobby known to younger people if he feels strongly about the issue. Not through grand initiatives, but simply by introducing your own kids, nephews, their friends, ... Sooner or later, one kid might become interested, and perhaps not pick wargaming up immediately, but several years later he might remember he had fun playing with toy soldiers. That's a much more effective way of spreading the word. Sure, you will not see immediate effects (as in, I need regular opponents now!), but in the long run, it will pay off.
  3. Don't panic! Gaming is a very diverse hobby, and mainstream gaming preferences have shifted over the years. Once upon a time, board wargaming (Avalon Hill!) or even miniature wargaming were the #1 gaming choice. Then roleplaying games took over. Then card collecting games. Now German-style boardgames are all the rage. Computer gaming has become a much larger hobby all by itself. A gaming geek in his teens will not turn to miniature wargaming in the current gaming landscape as his first choice. Face it, miniature wargaming is only a small niche within a niche of the gaming hobby. There's no reason to panic. People will find the way sooner or later.
  4. Accept fantasy and scifi as proper wargaming genres. In other words, embrace the wide variety of wargaming styles and periods. Too often, I hear grumpy grognards saying that fantasy is not proper wargaming, so it doesn't count. Sure, it is not historical wargaming, and there are some differences in approaching how you play the game, but does that really matter? Historical wargaming as we know it today also is something that only originated after WW2. Gaming preferences, even within miniature wargaming, change over the years. It used to be big battles with big units, now it's more small games with small warbands. 5 or 10 or 20 years from now it might be something else. What's the proper way to play with toy soldiers anyway?
To summarize: Don't worry! Keep playing games. Everything will be ok!

And here's my own little effort of recruiting new blood: http://snv-ttm.blogspot.be/2015/11/two-new-recruits.html

13 comments:

  1. Yeah...I think gamer's kids are the next generation. So many wargames bloggers talk about their games with their children...whether wargames, boardgames or hybrids...that it seems gaming of some description seems to be a normal part of their family life. Those same kids will probably drift away from gaming in their late teens and twenties (as a lot of us did...I certainly did) but they'll be back in their thirties and forties.

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  2. Phil,
    Couldn't put it any better. Everything is fine even if as you say the world is changing dimension

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  3. Well said sir, I couldn't put it better myself (and I have tried)

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  4. Lots of good food for thought, really.
    And some very counterintuituve
    Live and let live is the bootm line? Can´t agree more
    My local club was founded in the early 80s when I was 20 years old. Now the average age is well over 45 (myself 54 y/o). Despite my kids (21 and 16) having lived surrounded by the hobby, I haven't been able to attract any of the two into it.
    What to do? Thinking about transforming the club into a house for elders (no kidding, this week the first club member and close friend took early retirement) and creating a foundation to manage our books, models and other gamiong materials once we passed away (again, no kidding: I don't want my heirs to sell for nothing or simply throw away my legacy)

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  5. I think you summed up everything perfectly..

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  6. My only complaint is Warhammer to attract people. I honestly think their are other products that do a much better job and aren't run by GamesWorkshop. Beyond that i agree with what you say.

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    1. Although I do agree with you on being better systems out there than Warhammer, GW does a very good job at luring teenagers into miniature wargaming. I don't think any other company currently has that same amount of clout. Some percentage of those teens probably will stick with wargaming through adult life ...

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    2. I would qualify your insightful comments somewhat. I think GW used to do a great job bringing young people in, but that has changed in the last few years due to the excessively high prices of Warhammer (Fantasy and 40k) models. I see very little new blood coming in to my local Warhammer scence. The typical GW player seems to now be in their late 20s to mid 30s. Not as old as historical miniature players, but not teenagers anymore. Star Wars X-wing seems to be picking up the younger crowd. I speak to some of these folks at my local game store and they cite GW pricing as prohibitive.

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    3. I have to admit I am not following the GW scene that closely anymore, but indeed, I too have witnessed that young wargamers tend to play other games than GW at cons etc.

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    4. GW seem to have lost the main gateway for the younger player to Flames of War and X-Wing

      Ian

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  7. Great points - I think the hybrid board/miniature games will be the new gateway. Games like Xwing, Imperial Assault and others.
    Also mini games based on the Halo and other universes could help.

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