Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Start as you mean to go on...

Well, 2016 is well under way and already one Saturday game has been played and a show attended. This, surprisingly, is a good start. The game itself has a good report already on gloriouslittlesoldiers though I shall say now that I think the reporting is a tad unfair. (But then I would say that!)

Sunday was the Vapnartak show in York, and a good day it was too. The show food was of the decent to rather good variety (this is a biggie if you go to lots of shows, you get to sample some... delicacies (if that's the right term)). Compared to the first show at the race course where they served Breakfast pasties, this year's sausage bap was superb. Having said that, it's a pricey venue and when three portions of noodles and three bottles of orange juice reach £24, you know you have to chew your food slowly just to get your monies worth!

Still, the show itself was extremely well attended, for the first four hours at least, and unlike most Sunday shows, actually made it to 2 o'clock without dying a death. I have always liked the York show and the only real downside, apart from the lack of a visible bar (possibly a good thing as two years ago, three cans of beer topped £12!) was the lack of lighting on the first floor. There was very much a hint of Kelham Hall's stygian gloom. I have seen a comment on TMP regarding the show and traders packing up at 3.30pm when the official closing time was 5.00. In one respect, it's a fair point of view. However, Sunday shows are infamous for dying early and there comes a point that staying is a fruitless exercise. All told, 3.30pm seemed about right.

Anyhoo, onto other things. Big Andy posted an item on his blog with a question as to where does wargaming stop and gaming begin. It was his round up of the current crop of magazines aimed at the wargaming market that started me thinking. And after such pondering, I have a question: Is there any longer a point to the printed magazine?

Whoa, whoa whoa!!! Surely, you may think, he has lost his mind. Well, bear with me. I have two hobbies that I have, in the past and to this day, purchased the occasional magazine for: Wargaming and Videogames. Back in the day, magazines were pretty much the only source of general information, product reviews, how to guides and the like. I remember fondly the days of flicking through Computer and Video Games, ACE, The One (later The One Amiga) and Mean Machines, finding out about the latest Japanese imports, the best and worst of the new software releases and the shiniest new tech on the horizon. Monthly mags were brim full, as all news was complied into these neatly wrapped, and usually well written, four week packages. As a result, it could take up to a couple of hours to make your way through everything. Information was savoured.

Compare that to the current market where the internet (I know, hardly a new invention), has changed that. News is now a daily stream, sometimes accurate, sometimes not. But as such, it is a momentary flash before being replaced by the next item. It also means that anything a magazine publishes can be several weeks out of date or just not considered newsworthy anymore. This is more prevalent to videogaming, though the upside is that whereas once you had to stand in front of a shop window and hope the demo machine was playing, you can now see any game you are interest in Full HD via publisher websites, youtube etc. It is, however, also coming to wargaming/gaming in general. Witness the recent release of Team Yankee where the manufacturers have released a number of "how-to" videos. From a consumer point of view, this can be a good thing. From a magazine publisher's viewpoint, how do you cope with that? In the case of the latest issue of Wargames Illustrated, how can they counter a video with several pages of photographs? (Roll two D6 and hope for the best???)

Reviews are a staple of many websites and magazines, and how the editorial bias of the publication sways can have a significant bearing on the style and content of featured reviews. WI has (a somewhat historically deserved) reputation for being a corporate vehicle, though it's style is approaching that of some of videogaming magazines aimed at the teenage demographic. Miniature Wargames less so, but I am picking on the most recent issue of this mag because it has a prefect example of dual standards. They have reviews of two Ospreys, a US Battleship tome and one for Soviet-era self-propelled anti-aircraft guns. The former is a well written review, detailing both good and bad and offers an opinion as to if it is worth purchasing. In other words, a review. The latter is a filler piece, little more than "Here is a book on this, wouldn't it be good to play with the rulesets to make then more funky". There was no mention as to if the book was well written, informative, whether it contained any previously unheard of historical details, or if it was any good at all. That comparison, more than anything I have read in recent issues of magazines, highlights the question Big Andy put: where does wargaming end and gaming begin.

There is one more publication that deserves mention: Tabletop Gaming. A new entrant last year, it's a glossy, well printed and quite hefty mag. It does what is says on the tin, it's a magazine about gaming. And that's where, after giving it two issues, I stepped away. Whilst gaming is part of the hobby I enjoy, it's not my primary focus, as noted in previous posts.

What I should have said at the beginning of the post is that I do not subscribe to any magazine of any kind at the moment, and base my purchases on the contents page during a perusal at the local WH Smiths. Sometimes I spend my money, other times I do not. The decider for me, and this is where magazines currently have an advantage over web-based outlets, is the nature and quality of the articles. Those pieces written by paid for contributors who may offer a new point of view on an established topic, or introduce a new period, point of view or genre to a wider audience. I know this sounds a little harsh on magazine editors (and those who have issues with publishers even more so, as it may be a case of trying to square a circle), but the quality of these articles is directly linked to whether I hand over the requisite £4-5. And when I say harsh, there is very much a feeling in both war and videogaming publications that there is a trend of dumbing down. Or, at the very least, mistaking accessibility for over-simplicity. And that is before you get to any involvement from the big advertising spenders.

So where does this leave me? Well, as far as videogaming magazines go, I am about done with them. Reviews are pretty much the only thing I read these days, and even then, the number of games I purchase each year is dropping, so I don't look for too many reviews anyway. As for the wargaming titles, I agree with Andy, you pays your money, you takes your choice. I shall keep checking out each new issue of all three (MW, WI and WSS - who haven't had a mention so far as I haven't read the last couple of issues) and take it from there. Magazines still have their place, but whether they are in for the long haul is a different matter. Content is king. I just hope the editors/publishers remember that, and please don't infantilize the readers. We are not all 12.


  1. Thought provoking indeed- you take my question and push it along a good bit further. I see your point. I recall a time when the main reason for buying mags was for some- the adverts. That time is gone thanks to the Internet. I'm coming around to the view tht quality of product- magazine or model is not as important insome ways as how loud you shout about it. However apt this may become it is of course bollocks Quality SHOULD always count- not merely some web-video with a smug tosser reminding you to "shake the paint".....
    Surely you don't NEED to be so patronising.
    Why is there this current assumption that you are either 12 or some kind of idiot.
    Perhaps we need "Adult magazines" ......

  2. Hmmm, a good suggestion, something to ESCORT you through the RAZZLE dazzle to the top, nay, PENTHOUSE, and avoid the HUSTLER's of the world. Okay, sorry, had to be done, but in all seriousness, the apparent aim of some magazines, in both hobbies, seems to be "entice the kiddies and Papa will follow to empty his wallet". Although I have no children, I too have a wallet. Is my money not good enough?

    1. Yes it did I'll bowl 'em you smack 'em into the long grass !
      I don't have kids either so I don't tend to be bratcentric either but earlier magazines were not so childish so why now?
      It is the endlessly patronising tone of much of this crap that I find particularly galling - even worse than the instructions in flat- pack furniture which some seem to find "difficult" .... Hmmm go figure that one out .

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you very kindly, it's always nice to have feedback.

  4. Interesting post. The only magazine I ever subscribed to was the New Zealand wargamer, back in the 1980s - and that lasted 1 year - 6 issues. All the same, I acquired a lot of mags over the years, Battle, Mil Mod, Model Soldier, Army & Navy, Practical Wargamer, Wargames Illustrated. But in recent years, I can't be bothered. I've been given a few by friends who would otherwise have deep-sixed them, but I don't think I've bought one for damn' near a decade.

    Why? Yes, it's content. But what about the content? After 30 or 40 years, you start to find something new hard to come by. WI was attactive for its ads that featuered painted models and superbly presented terrain, but that too has palled.

    Reading the blogs of others, I find myself more drawn to those in which an individual's creativity, modelling, painting, presentation, extemporisation is on display. The more limited their resources, the more fascinating their approach to 'making do.'

    Recall the photos in Don Featherstone's first book. recall those plaster of Paris 'panthers' (that looked more like Tigers. I can't explain why I want to see more of that sort of thing... but I do!

  5. Yep, food for thought which has repercussions in other areas. I pretty much echo your views on mags, including Andy's call for a 'top shelf' version, but I'd then let the extant mags wither on the vine.

    I drafted a reply which was far too long, so may do on my blog, but if there's a prize for original thought I won't win it. One of the idiosyncracies of this hobby is the way the same questions are raised almost cyclically, but we plough the same furrow.

  6. But .... If people had to pay for reading blogs, I am guessing most of us would see our visiting numbers substantially dwindle. It is difficult to compare free internet stuff against paid for magazine stuff, as it is as much about our willingness to pay as it is for content. On a blog, despite being heavily read, how many people actually stop to either thank the blogger or interact.

  7. Thank you all for your comments, interesting and valid all. Archduke, I get your point regarding content, there does come a time where re-invention of the wheel is a certainty. Blogging does allow individuality and creativity, to the point where I (and I am sure others), begin looking at publications with one eye on where the corporate money has been spent. Too cynical, possibly, but that's the impression I get. And there is certainly a long history of money talking in the videogames industry.
    Gary, please do put that reply up on your blog, I look forward to reading it. And yes, the same topics always seem to circulate every now and again. Same time next year? :-)
    Norm, I think that if you pay for something, there is the expectation of a return, usually what was advertised. Blogs to me are a means of freedom of expression, free of the restrictions of traditional media. You are right, it is difficult and that's perhaps why paid for blogs have not taken off. I do think that you raise a good question about interaction. It is only common courtesy to reply to people who comment on my blog posts, in the same way that if I see a blog post I like, a comment takes but little time. It can also lead to good discussions, which is part of the idea anyway, isn't it? On that train of thought, the death of the letters pages in some magazines is surely a sad sign.

    1. Up to a point magazine websites have replaced the letters page ad even more to the point so have personal blogs such as ours. Of course the more corporate dues in any arena don't really want feedback they can't control but they do need feedback.
      I do think actual discussion is on the wane- people seem disinclined to actually put forward a reasoned opinion backed by actual facts in the way my gweneration were taught to do. There is often it seems the idea that an opinion - however ill informed is as valuable as a fact. So we have "Opinion formers" apparently - see the Linkedin forum for example. This of course is not new I recall a furore in the 1970's over NME reviewers being bribed to push certain records ....... So Gary is right there is nothing new under the Sun.
      Norms point about interaction is a good one- we are doing it now ....
      Perhaps there is a question to be asked about the function of paper magazines in todays world. I still find them useful both as advertiser and punter but there is no doubt in my mind that they have dumbed down . One is forced to wonder why this is- chicken or egg....

  8. Guys,
    I was at the Tunbridge Wells show last weekend on the Sunday. As a showing club there was no point in staying after about 3:30pm. We did hang on but by then some of the traders were already away and most others were "itching" to leave. That's not a slight to the show - most of the punters were looking to leave after about 2pm for a number of reasons