Monday, 4 June 2018

Adapt or Die?

Following a conversation the other day with Dave Jarvis, painter extraordinaire he recommended that I check out a post that Barry Hilton had written about wargames shows. He had been impressed by the argument put forward by Barry.
  Intrigued I visited the League of Ausberg blog and found the post, titled  'Outgrowing their Clothes'. The post was dated 21st March which explained why I had missed it. I was out of the country. But I digress.
 Barry had two observations, one was the fact that several of the big shows, ie York and Tactica had basically reached saturation point regarding capacity of both punters and traders.I had already given my views regarding this year's show at York.



 The second observation was the one that interested me in particular. This concerned smaller club shows that in the past had relied on certain traders who were guaranteed to draw in punters simply because they were attending and how some of these traders intended to become more selective in which shows they attended, thus causing these club events to probably falter and fail completely.
Now I love attending wargames shows. Years ago I couldn't sleep the night before I was attending such events. Obviously as one grows older the excitement like Christmas dims somewhat, but I still like to attend any show I can.

 Nowadays I attend to see the games, and bump into wargamers that I only see at these events. Buying is a secondary issue, although I always end up buying something even if I don't need the damned stuff. Wargamers love retail therapy.
 So Barry's observation doesnt affect me as regards the paucity of traders that are popular.
I think like a lot of things I am in the minority. Most wargamers attend shows to buy from their favourite company. Which probably explains how most shows empty out by early afternoon. So losing certain well known and popular traders will probably cause these club shows to have considerably fewer punters through their doors, and invariably lead to some of them closing all together....
A good thing?
Barry thought it was and normally he is on the money with his wargaming views.
 Me, well yes and no. Like wargames magazines I view shows as the lifeblood of the hobby. Yes I know the internet has probably made magazines redundant, and of course one can buy from anywhere in the world and have the figures land on your doorstep within days or sometimes weeks.
 Over the next couple of weeks I will see what effect some of the bigger names withdrawing from small club shows has on the footfall as I attend the Durham and Penrith shows. One is a long established club event whilst Penrith has been going for only a couple of years. So certainly with the Durham event I should be able to gauge the effect quite easily.

   With globalisation, one can drink that goop from Starbucks anywhere in the world, and I view the bigger wargaming traders as similar.
  I would still buy from them, but invariably at the shows you will see several traders all selling the same products to the detriment of the smaller businesses. I understand why this happens, but to survive club shows are going to have to work harder if footfall drops.
 Personally I think it would pay for club organisers to seek out the new small wargaming traders and figure producers in an effort to encourage them to attend such events, and make it worth their while, ie cheap stalls..
 So quality games will be required. A return to trophies for the best games perhaps. No club night games. A greater variety of traders with little or no overlap between what they sell. [Probably difficult, I know] A return of well run bring and buys, or tabletop sales. So effectively a return to basics but with a 21st century twist. Better advertising via the internet.
Smaller but smarter. There's a bit of 21st century gobbledygook bollocks for you.

                                                One from the IWG archives....
How it all started. The Independent Wargames Group hosting a renaissance game circa the early 1980's at the Durham Wargames Show.  Here John has cornered a young Rahul Sarnak and refuses to let him leave until he has explained how the WRG rules work and would he like to try the deerstalker that he is wearing in a jaunty fashion........

 

25 comments:

  1. Robbie,
    As always your thoughts are interesting. The smaller - smarter shows is interesting comment and I guess the best example I can give is I attended a small show at Prestonpans most probably 6-7 traders and about the same number of gamers - the theme being battles of Scotland and was run in conjunction with the Scottish Battlefields trust.
    No cost for the trade stand and it was run upstairs in a pub.
    Maybe a 100-150 people attended over the day and I maybe took a couple of hundred pound which was enough to cover costs and make a small profit. But it was one of the most enjoyable days I've had for years.
    Barry was there with a stand and a game and I looked after his stand during busy! Periods but over the day I had time to wander around, chat, enjoy the games Andy even buy a few things. Something I don't normally do at larger shows.
    The other thing was because of the relaxed atmosphere it was clear a lot of the attendees stayed most of the day - again something you don't get at most shows these days.
    None of the big traders were there and I think it's safe to say those of us that were there all had a decent day.
    So I'm all for smaller and smarter - some of the smaller clubs just see it as an easy way of making money for their club and don't put much thought into the event.
    Sometimes small is best.

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    1. Graham, that sounds brilliant, why havent I been? Stopping over near the venue makes for a great weekend with a bit of a wargaming theme thrown in.

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  2. A great article and very interesting. Love your statement "Wargamers love retail therapy"...so so true1

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    1. Lee, I dont know about you but I will literally buy anything wargame related.

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  3. In the USA, I stopped going to Wargame conventions as a trader because the shows charge vendors too much for a couple of tables. For $200 in table fees, I have to sell about three to four times that amount just to break even and it's just not worth the effort. Game show organizers have no clue about how much work goes into getting your inventory ready for the show and the physical effort needed to do the whole endeavor. I'm totally exhausted at the end of a show ( I'm a one man show so I have no one to share the work with).

    All of that for the privilege of losing money, just isn't worth it to me anymore. The only show that I do is the SYW Association convention which is more relaxed, costs me less and is period specific to my range of figures.

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    1. Jim,
      I really dont know how one man traders manage. I find it hard enough just attending sometimes. And when we used to put a game on I would be exhausted for a couple of days and keep saying why did I do that.

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  4. I forgot to mention that many shows rely too much on dealer fees to cover their venue rental etc. and less so on visito entrance fees. Do gamers come to the show for the dealers or do the dealers attend for the punters? I don't know. (Of course the games are a big factor for the punters).

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    1. In the UK I think its clear that the 'right' traders have to be attending. For me I usually check what games are on display, and whether there is a bring and buy.I love to see well crafted games where I can come away inspired.

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  6. Robbie, I couldn't agree more. Shows have got to evolve to meet the needs of 21stC war gamers, even if most of us were born many years back in the middle of the 20thC!

    What is needed in a wargames show? Not a trick question really but one sometimes missed by organisers; the answer is good good promotion and high quality wargames, whether a demo or participation. Sadly I can think of at least one event where the traders outnumbered the games. What's the thinking behind that? The quality of games should also be policed, so that the best are lauded yet the 'club night' no effort games are politely asked to improve or don't come back.

    I don't go to a show to buy stuff. I might collect stuff bought online beforehand but the draw is always the promise of some decent games to look at and the chance to catch up with friends and acquaintances. If the former are not forthcoming then the trip turns into a glorified coffee morning for 'les grognards'. And even Starbucks sell better coffee than found at most wargame events.

    A good thought provoking post. See you around no doubt.

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    1. We are of an age Colin when we can remember some really shoddy wargames shows with some really poor wargames on show. These events were what was classed as the norm. Wargamers wanted more and organisers in the main tried. The first in our area must have been Derek Sharman and his wonderful events at the castle and Dunelm. He was astute enough to reach out to the council and make the shows into events. I can never see that happening now, too expensive given the amount of hoops that one would have to jump through but he was on to a great idea. If clubs believe that good trade makes a good show then best of luck. Therefore if traders pull out then these events will wither and disappear. Smaller clubs have got to realise that firstly there must be some real thought put into a show. There are some real innovative people in the hobby who have created some wonderful new ranges who would probably benefit from a stall at minimal costs. These should be encouraged. Similarly there are some interesting new rule and game systems that could probably do with some self publicity. The gigger shows already encourage these people so it shouldnt be difficult to invite the odd new company to attend a show, for minimal cost. I like the idea of Les Grognards, I always aspired to wearing a lovely bearskin. No doubt I will see you at Durham where you can join the other grumblers.

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  7. Kallistra run Hammerhead and that seems to be going from strength to strength, it now uses two buildings to accomodatethe crowds and there is emphasis on everything being a particpation game and having gamers stay there all day instead of disappearing at noon - perhaps theirs is a model for others to take examples from.

    I love wargame shows - period. one of the interesting things is that despite the same traders (in general) attending and a good number of gamers being groupies who travel the shows within 100 miles of home, shows do have different flavours, they are not all the same. Hammerhead is very different from York is very different from Penrith is very different from Phalanx etc. So I think there is scope for one show to learn from another and improve.

    Most shows have become very poor at scale diversity. If you like one of the smaller scales, your trader MAY be there, but not in any number, terrain will be limited and demo /participation games are unlikely. You can buy a 28mm ACW figure at half the stalls, but try and get one in a smaller scale and you are not well served. Perhaps this is reflecting the fact that everyone at home is collecting 28mm .... are they? I don’t know, maybe they are and all the other scales are dead!

    It doesn’t matter what one argues for, if traders don;t take money, then they stop going to THAT show, so if YOUR local show is THAT show, make sure you spend money there, the bottom line is that a show is a trading venue (not a fun meet-up social), so no trade, ultimately no show, so supporting your own local show with money seems paramount.

    Bring and buys worry me. At one of my fave shows, the bring and buy is a hive of activity .... it seems to my eyes at the expense of the trading hall. If you are going to bring your gains from bring and buy to spend in the trading hall, then good, otherwise, the bring and buy is just money flowing out of the building at the expense of the traders, plus the bring and buys, sometimes look like trading hubs, with some individuals arriving with multiple suitcases.

    Last but not least, there is an older generation atthese shows, who ache and need a few sit downs to help them keep going, why don’t shows have more seating and big hairy arsed security guards to drag young people off those seats so that the leg / back weary get a chance to rest.

    There should be a condition of entry to shows that anyone with a back pack has to set fire to it before they can enter. I always thought that this was a bit of a joke until my wife got side-swiped by one!


    Anyway, bottom line, make a trader happy or lose your show! (I am not a trader by the way, just a numpty punter).

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    1. I attended Hammerhead this year Norm and was very impressed. I explained why in a previous post but I thought the show had a good feeling about it. As for traders, I used to only game in 6mm and for a number of years shows were effectively a waste of time for buying anything. Irregular Miniatures who I used at the time operate a great mail order system so I dint worry about such things too much although a paucity of 6mm games used to rankle. As for Bring and Buys, they must impact on traders although I usually see certain traders snapping up items furiously usually at knock down prices, but who can blame them. I certainl think a Tabletop fair with perhaps a few decent games on at the same time might work. As for seating, I know exactly what you mean.

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  8. I'm almost in complete agreement with your comments about smaller (club) shows. It does seem to me though that some clubs see 'their' show as a cash-cow to top up the funds for another year, at the detriment of the both the traders (charging them more for their wobbly trestle table) and the punters genrally crammed in (rucksack n all) into ever decreasing spaces, as demo games are diminished to make way for more traders.
    On the other hand the last show I went to, "Stand To" was a demonstration of all that a show should be.

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    1. I missed Stand To which was shame as I usually attend.Every one has different views but certain things seem expected, ie eye catching games, decent/cheapish food and a varied trade on offer. But youre right some clubs are in it to turn a decent profit for minimal effort or thought.

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    2. Correction :
      It was "Battleground", I was referring to which you certainlyattended!
      (I put it down to age and the early onset of dementia)

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  9. My only point of disagreement would be regarding what yourself and Colin call 'club night' games. I have in the past put on games at wargames shows and have enjoyed myself, but I would be reluctant to do so now as I do not have the time and motivation to create some spectacular triumph of modelling and painting. When I see some of the much admired games at the big shows, I tend to ask myself - 'do these guys do anything else all year?'
    Personally, I have more time for a modest game where gaming is actually taking place and where original rules, scenarios and playing techniques are in evidence than one of the increasingly common 'diorama games'.
    At a show, I like to see all levels of game on display, representing the whole hobby. Those 'club night games' represent the kind of wargaming I do. I hope enthusiastic wargamers don't get put off doing demo games because they think their terrain and figures just aren't up to scratch. The grass roots need to have their day at the shows.

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    1. Hi Keith

      There’s nothing wrong with using an attractive cloth and terrain items rather than sculpted works of art. There are some great terrain matts out there now and they tick all my boxes for a good grass roots type demo game. I’ve seen a few games recently that were embarrassing dreadful and sloppy. No interest in the punters. No explanation as to who the group were or what they were doing. No handouts. Shoddy terrain. Poorly presented figures. Evidence of a little effort isn’t asking for too much surely? As a footnote I even heard today of the powers that be in one local club refusing to invest £40 or so of club money on a custom made roller banner to accompany the usually pretty good games they’re putting on at various shows on the circuit this year. Whoever made that decision is a dinosaur of the first order and a nobhead.

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    2. Agreed Colin - for a show game, a bit of effort is definitely required. Though funnily enough, one of the most interesting conversations I had at Colours a couple of years ago was with a guy whose game had all the faults you mention. He looked kind of lonely so I had a chat and we put the wargaming world to rights.

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    3. I know what you are saying Keith. My definition of a club night game, is what we used to see time and again in the 1980's etc. I appreciate not everyone can be a Bill Gaskin. It would be boring if it was so. I always enjoy the games that Andy Callan puts on at shows, they may have no sculpted terrain and top notch figures, but they always have a purpose usually to showcase some great rule ideas etc. Andy will always talk about his ideas and I always come away marveling at how he thinks these ideas up. Totally inspiring. What I dont want to see is a club dumping some terrain on a table with a few okay painted figures and then proceed to 'play' a game without any attempt to engage with any public. Pointless and frankly self defeating.

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    4. I see what you mean Robbie. It is sad to see (after all these years) that so many demo gamers still fail to engage with their audience. Unfortunately it seems to happen no matter how much effort has been put into the game.

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  10. Surely one of the motivations that we need to come from a show is that a gamer sees a table that catches their eye and they think 'I could do that at home (or club) and they go to the trader and buy, so the loop of see / enjoy and buy is complete. That is probably a prime function of a show, but there is a disconnect between table and trader. I like that both Kallistra and Peter Pig put on tables that look do-able and that support their range (so does Great Escape).

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    1. Norm,
      Exactly. One should come away from a show on a high having seen some great games, new ideas, met new and old friends and genuinely feel re invigorated. Kallistra and Peter Pig have some lovely games that showcase their ranges, ah if only Peter Gilder was alive now.

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  11. A thought provoking post Robbie. Back in the day Phil and I would attend upwards of twenty shows in a year, ranging from small club efforts locally all the way up to Salute. We enjoyed them all for the enthusiasm and effort of the gamers, through the chance to put our hobby to rights with friends, to spending our hobby funds with traders. Along the way we have organised and run several WMMS and put on demo and participation games at shows like WMMS, Partizan and Claymore. Now a days the small local shows have mostly folded, with the exception of Wargamer in December; we have grown too long in the tooth to put on Demo games; and have given up on Salute for various reasons. What do the shows we do attend offer then? Well, First Division traders firstly, so I can buy the toys I’m after; visually stunning games to inspire my poor efforts to improve; the opportunity to meet my hobby friends in a friendly environment. Which shows meet these requirements? Partizans, Carronade, and Claymore. Locally I support WMMS, Wargamer, Barrage and Penkridge TT Sale, which meet some though not all of my criteria, on the use it or loose it principle, though I usually stay only an hour or so at these.
    Can the smaller shows grow? The more established ones evolve? The mega events rise to even greater heights? Well, it’s down really to the organisers to respond to their experiences isn’t it? That most don’t seem to suggests that inertia rules mainly, but then they are mostly amateurs fitting it in around work, family and hobby time. It’s a lot to ask isn’t it for most. Their shows have a formula which works for them or doesn’t.
    Anyway, enough rambling on my part. A show that grows is an organism, responding to change or die! A show that bumps along is an organisation with no inclination or capacity for growth.

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    1. 20 shows a year? No wonder you wore your legs out. A lot of traders like the majority of their customer base are getting older and to be fair I would hate to have to tote large amounts of lead around the country. Small club shows have to realise that they cant rely on good will and loyalty to get the bigger traders to their events. Like everything in life, things change rapidly and therefore organisers need to re think each yearly event to see how they can make things better or more interesting. Difficult but doable.

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My 6mm Napoleonic set up.

My 6mm Napoleonic set up.
Austria 1809.

Austrian Hussars

Austrian Hussars
Hinchliffe figures

Austrian Grenzer

Austrian Grenzer
Austrian Grenzer

Smoggycon 2013

Smoggycon 2013
Smoggycon 2013

Smoggycon 2012

Smoggycon 2012
Smoggycon 2012

Smoogycon 2009

Smoogycon 2009
My French getting another beating