This somewhat sensational title refers to something I’ve been thinking about lately. Frontline Gamer has been worried for a while about an up-coming crisis in the way our hobby grows, and I think I’ve come up with some food for thought on that score. This is going to be a long one, I’ll warn you now – I decided against splitting it up into parts because who knows when I’d finish it, if ever? Here is the gist, in case you aren’t in the mood for reading the whole thing:
The way we collect and play in the miniature wargames hobby is traditionally focused on individual army ownership. I collect the miniatures I want, I build them, paint them, and meet you to play against your miniatures. But there are a lot of problems with this way of doing things. Some people only enjoy some parts of the hobby. Others may have more time than money, or vice versa, and the ordinary way of doing things is very demanding in a lot of ways.
Imagine a club where no-one in particular owns the armies. Each member pays a fee, and the grown-ups with more money than time buy the models they want to use or see. They are then stored at the homes of whoever wants to store them, or at some central location. The folks who love painting, the teenagers and the students with more time than money paint the models, and people simply arrange which armies they want to use on any particular game night. No-one has to have a house full of stuff if they don’t want to, and there’s nothing stopping or forcing you from participating (or not) in any way you like (or don’t like). If like many keen gamers you love to buy, convert, and paint armies, instead of sticking them in your shed or selling each one off to fund your next one you simply donate it to your local club.
Sound strange? Maybe even crazy? Allow me to explain a bit more.
Right, so I’ve been reading this book “What’s Mine is Yours,” about collaborative consumption. Basically the book is about new models of consumerism that don’t rely on individual ownership. So things like peer-to-peer selling, sharing, and renting. Our hobby already has P2P selling via things like eBay and Bartertown, and the Buy Swap Sell forum on Wargamerau. Kickstarter is another obvious one that gamers have really taken to. What I’m suggesting here is the application of one of the other collaborative models to miniatures gaming – namely, collective ownership and resource sharing.
These consumer models bypass what companies traditionally want you to do, which is buy something it would probably be smarter for you not to buy, and then have it conveniently become obsolete so they can convince you to buy something else. This is obviously a shocking waste of resources, and means that we all have houses full of crap we hardly ever use.
So all over the developed world people are starting to use the internet to create circles and collectives that rely on renting, sharing and reputation systems to function. It’s already working with things as huge and expensive as cars (zipcar) and farm land (landshare).
There are three criteria that make a product really suitable for collaborative consumer models as opposed to traditional ones: large set-up costs, large maintenance requirements (including storage) and the fact that it is used only every now and then. So think of a lawn mower. A good one is a few hundred dollars at least. It needs to be stored and maintained by someone who knows what they’re doing for it to last, and you only use it every now and then. It’s not like a coffee cup or a pair of shoes. It makes much more sense for ten people on the same street to share one mower than it does for each of them to have one sitting in their shed for twenty nine out of every thirty days. Especially if only one of them likes fiddling with engines. All it takes is a little trust and co-ordination, and that shouldn’t be a problem right? they’re neighbours after all.
You can see where I’m going with this. Warhammer 40,000 (or Fantasy Battle, or what-have-you) is a perfect example of a product that fits these three criteria. It has a (perhaps) prohibitively large entry cost, armies require storage, constant expansion and care, and you only use one of your armies at a time for a few hours maybe once a week, give or take. I strongly feel that a collaborative model of gaming that focuses on sharing and work distribution is more efficient and better for the consumer than the current model.
Back when I was an undergraduate I would have loved to be part of a club which allowed me to paint all the latest models without having to buy them. Conversely, there are a lot of people in the hobby who I’m pretty sure would jump at the chance to have someone competent who loves painting paint their army for them for free. And when I was a kid I loved assembling models. I could do it for hours. Now it’s an onerous chore. There is a clear market to be tapped right there, and what better recompense than sharing the army? Better than money, in most cases I think.
Now it could be argued that this would kill the companies. After all, they rely on sucking in new players in a constant turn-over and gouging older players by changing the balance with every book right? Surely having people sharing collections would put them out of business?
Well firstly I think good riddance, if the only way they can stay in business is by using such unsustainable 20th century business practices. Secondly, why should it anyway? My gut feeling is that the same amount of armies would be sold in the end. Only so many people are interested in table-top gaming after all, so the way I see it all these kids being suckered in and then quitting are illusionary hobbyists anyway. They make it seem as though way more people are interested in the hobby than actually are. And anyway, a sharing model makes it easier for people to get into the hobby by removing the entry cost (in time and money) almost completely.
If you’re not convinced by that, here’s another analogy. Being an Aussie, I’ve been a member of many sports clubs over the years, and being a geek, many martial arts clubs! Some of the activities I’ve done include rugby league, athletics, hockey, cricket, Muay Thai boxing, kendo and (very briefly) fencing. None of these clubs required the members to bring their own cricket bats, boxing bags, fencing masks, javelins, etc, although you could if you wanted to of course. The clubs sustained themselves through fees and providing a social space for people to play/train. And the existence of clubs of people sharing boxing equipment doesn’t put boxing bag manufacturers out of business. Come to think of it the chess club I was in didn’t expect me to bring my own chess set either. I really think this could be the future of wargaming, if we make it so.
Obviously, there’s one major hurdle to overcome, and that’s people’s learned love of personal ownership. But that’s learned, as I said. I for one would give my armies to a club like this tomorrow if I could. I wouldn’t have to store them any more, and I’d know that instead of two and a half 40k armies and an Infinity force I’d now have access to many many more.
And that’s the huge advantage here. We don’t really want to own these armies do we? We maybe just want to build them, and paint them, and play with them, and all of that requires merely access, not ownership. It’s all about access.
As I said before, some collaborative models have already infiltrated the hobby. And in Australia stores like Good Games are popping up, which seem to make a good chunk of their money from charging for a place to play rather than selling stuff. The community play-space aspect is certainly the focus rather than the shop aspect. This is a perfect example of a store that is less like a store and more like a club or a gym, and I think it’s great.
Here’s a final thought. The Games Workshop Studio practices army sharing. So do Forgeworld. Do you think they could come up with such impressive displays and epic battles if it all had to owned by one person? Maybe, but it’s pretty unlikely. If that’s how the people who invent the game actually play, with access to large numbers of armies and terrain that they can mix and match as they need to, then why should they expect us, the player base, to be any different?
This is all a bit rough around the edges at the moment. If some group were to actually try and put this sort of army sharing club into practice it would take more than the hour or so of thought I’ve put into it. But it’s an interesting idea don’t you think? If you think so, please let others know so we can see what sort of reaction the online community has to it.
Until next time, thanks for reading. Comments greatly encouraged as usual!