“It’s actually a pretty good game, despite it being WotC” -anonymous gamer
The above quote was overheard while playing a game of LORDS OF WATERDEEP at Balticon 2012 this past May. And it illustrates something that has come to irritate me about us gamers as a group: We love to complain. Particularly if it allows us to complain about the leaders in our industry, especially if those leaders are Wizards of the Coast (WotC) or Games Workshop.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve done my fair share of bitching and moaning in the past. One only needs to click on the WayBackMachinetm and listen to how I ranted and raved at the aesthetic changes of my favorite role-playing game upon the release of SHADOWRUN fourth edition. Or how I flipped my lid as recently as 2009 when I saw that the third edition of WARHAMMER FANTASY ROLEPLAY was heavy on cards and special dice. Never mind that I had yet to play it. Never mind that I have come to see that particular game as a lightspeed leap forward in RPG innovation. I whined and complained like a little bitch. We all do it. But I gave those things a chance, and the older I get the mellower I get, and the little things in this hobby of ours just don’t bug me the way they used to. Mostly.
But I’m really here to talk about those gamers that can’t seem to enjoy anything without griping about it. Maybe it’s internet culture. I don’t know, maybe I’m just an old man. Look at the example quoted above. LORDS OF WATERDEEP is a great game. Wizards of the Coast took the done-to-death board game mechanic of worker placement, gave it a really thick coat of thematic paint and set it in one of the most beloved urban settings in fantasy RPGs. By most counts, it’s a pretty solid success. Now, does WotC have a track record of putting out crappy product? Or even bad board games (my personal opinions on CASTLE RAVENLOFT aside)? No. In fact, as if it weren’t obvious enough, Wizards of the Coast is the giant gorilla of the hobby gaming industry, and with good reason. Nobody can dispute the power of the MAGIC: THE GATHERING brand. Both CASTLE RAVENLOFT and WRATH OF ASHARDALON are sitting pretty in the TOP 20 money-making items of all time at Games and Stuff as we speak. They put out quality product. But for whatever reason, this gamer at Balticon thought that somehow LORDS OF WATERDEEP was a good game in spite of its oh-so-awful Wizards of the Coast pedigree.
Let’s come at this from a different angle with a new example. Any MAGIC player will remember all the hype surrounding the Hellvault at the PreRelease events for Avacyn Restored. For those that aren’t MAGIC players, basically, once every three months or so, WotC promotes huge events at most retailers that allow players to get their hands on some of the cards from the new set that won’t be actually released for sale to the public until the following week. Typically, players pay about thirty bucks and they get themselves a handful of packs of the new cards and they all build decks and fight it out over the course of the day, with top finishers getting even more of the new packs. These are MAGIC’s signature events, and most casual player’s only exposure to these type of things. Well, for the events this past April, WotC was promoting these big sealed cardboard vault things: The Hellvault. It was all tied into the current MAGIC storyline and the massive thematic shift of the new set. The big hullabaloo was that nobody knew what was in these vaults, and at some point during the tournament, seals would be removed and everybody would get some of whatever was inside.
So some jackass of a retailer cracked his open early and spoiled the contents. (For what it’s worth, I think that guy should get tracked down and banned from ever hosting official WotC events again, but I digress.) So inside, there were a bunch of free promotional cards and some unique player aids. People flipped. Cries of “rip off” and anything else you can imagine filled the internet. Then, after all the events actually occurred, it was revealed that *some* of the vaults actually had even more stuff in them. Very valuable promotional cards. The forums exploded in rage.
So let’s put this in perspective. You show up to an event that you show up to every few months, and your entry fee has remained unchanged. But this time, there is added excitement around this wacky story event and this weird sealed box thing, and ultimately you end up with even more free stuff than you would get at any of the previous events of this type. But somehow, this EXTRA FREE STUFF is not “good enough” and you feel ripped off. A couple of lucky folks got even MORE free stuff, but because you weren’t one of those people, you’re extra special pissed. Seriously kids? Does anybody else not understand the math here?
OK, one more.
There’s something about Games Workshop that inspires a very specific kind of rage-hate. People like to complain about GW like it was a competitive sport. And while I can’t say I agree with every decision they make on every level, the fact of the matter is that they have created worlds that I have enjoyed spending time in since the late 80’s.
So a few months ago, GW announced they were over-hauling their paint line and expanding it a great deal. This was met with one part excitement, and two parts disdain and bitterness. In fact, when we announced it online, one person couldn’t resist the flippant comment of simply “Again?” As if a corporation in a capitalist society should somehow be vilified for attempting to sell more stuff. Dude, reality check here… we’re talking about PAINT. It’s not like all of your old, perfectly good GW paints are going to spontaneously combust and you’ll be forced to buy new ones. Hell, I’m pretty sure this particular guy making the comment isn’t even a Workshop gamer anymore anyway. Why waste time and energy complaining about something that you’re not even invested in?
And yes, Games Workshop’s miniatures are expensive. But ya know what? Another reality check. First of all, these are TOYS that we are buying. Yes, I know, we all take them very seriously (you should see the dead birds that I keep on the Tzeentch Shrine at my house,) but at the end of the day, they’re toys. Really cool, badass toys. Luxury items. We don’t NEED any of them. And frankly, Games Workshop and Citadel miniatures are the industry leaders. You get what you pay for. Finecast was a huge leap forward in mass produced resin models. (Finecast, for those of you that don’t know, is GW’s new high detail plastic resin formula that replaced the use of pewter alloy earlier this year.) Most of those rumors you heard about the stuff, like them melting in a hot car? Totally false. I bet you think you can fry an egg on your dashboard too. And oh, by the way I saw Elvis at the 7-11 today. He was getting a Slurpee.
So a little bit of personal history here. I worked for a company called Hot Topic for over a decade. If you’re not familiar with Hot Topic, basically they’re a mall-based chain of stores that sells clothing and merchandise connected to whatever’s hot in the alternative music world at the moment. The point is, the average customer base at that store and the average customer base at a hobby gaming store are frighteningly similar. Slightly socially awkward. Inclined to be in the store 2-4 times a week. Intensely, passionately interested in their hobby. And oh so righteous about the specific things that they consume within that interest, and how they perceive those things to be superior to whatever other people in the same hobby are into.
Picture this: a 14 year old kid with a freshly shaven mohawk comes into the store and notices a new Green Day shirt on the wall. What follows is this kid ranting about how he liked Green Day before they were cool, and now that they’ve sold out, and they’re all about making a buck, and there’s too many little kids into them, and so now he isn’t into them anymore. Sound familiar? No? Have you ever listened in on two people arguing the relative merits of different DUNGEONS & DRAGONS editions?
Basically, what I’m saying is… do you really want to be behaving like a teenaged mall rat with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove to his Mom? We’re all here to have fun. We’re playing GAMES, people! They’re supposed to be fun! We should all spend a little less time hating on stuff, particularly if it’s stuff we don’t even play! Why do people who don’t play D&D 4th edition spend so much time complaining about it? Spend more time improving the campaign of the game that you do play! Don’t play WARHAMMER 40,000? Then why do you go on a rant about the new edition?
Take a breath.
Play some games.
-Paul Alexander Butler is the store manager of Games and Stuff, where among other things, he runs Tuesday Boardgame Night. He hates Tim Burton movies, cheese, and decaf coffee. [Card.Board.Box.] is his monthly gaming column at gamesandstuffonline.com.