WARGAMES SHOWS –IT’S TIME TO MODERNIZE

By David R. Clemmet & Thomas Davidson (Organisers of the Stockton Shows)

We have been monitoring the debate that has been taking place within the hobby over the last couple of years, in particular the need to attract new players and the future of wargames shows. We, like many of the previous contributors, have been playing wargames for well over twenty years and have been organising wargames shows for nearly as long. We have seen fellow gamers (and traders) getting older, and many leave the hobby, but have not noticed a vast influx of new players – apart perhaps from into fantasy/sci fi gaming. This we find very sad since wargaming (in whatever form) is a great hobby. We have found historical wargaming both educational – when researching our armies - and fun. The hobby can provide great comradeship through club involvement, and excitement through competitive games. Some would argue that it is morally wrong to play at war but we think the opposite is true – it can be really thought provoking seeing your figures removed from play as casualties since not only does it stop you doing what you planned to do this game but it makes you more careful with the "lives" of your "men" in future games. This is exactly how any good general should act. A good example of the truth of this statement for wargamers of any period to study was the methods of Monty. And anyway wargaming is no way near as bloodthirsty as most computer "shoot them up" wargames and a lot of videos with a war theme – have you seen "Starship Trooper" ? we have never seen such a bloodthirsty war film!

So now that the new century is upon us what can we do to address the issue? We think that the best way to attract new members is through a change of emphasis with wargames shows – shows need to modernise and become the showcases of the hobby. Like any other activities subject to modernisation all aspects of shows are affected – but what are these aspects and how are they affected? Our views are as follows:

1) Venue

A show organiser has little choice about the location of a show in geographical terms – and why should a relatively sparsely populated part of the country be denied the chance of staging a show – but the type of venue is a different matter. It could be argued that shows should, wherever possible, be staged in an appropriate military related venue. In our view this works fine for the first couple of years, then the magic goes. What becomes more important are the three "abilities"

  1. Accessability (easy to find by car or public transport, good nearby car parking, easy access into the event).
  2. Moveability (No undue difficulty in reaching any part of the event in a reasonable timescale).
  3. Seeability (be able to see what is on display, particularly in terms of lighting).

Any venue that can score at least 7 out of 10 on the "abilities" is off to a flying start. And any venue with that score and a military backdrop should be onto a winner – but we cannot all stage our shows at the Royal Armouries!

Players discuss the battle of Montmirail at MilanoGames '99

2) Traders

Since the virtual demise of the high street wargames shop shows have become a major selling opportunity for traders, especially the smaller traders. Traders are also important for show organisers since the quantity and quality of traders will make or break a show over time – sometimes not too much time! However gone are the days whereby reeling off a list of traders guaranteed a good attendance – the modern gamer is looking for more. In our view traders, in particular the bigger traders, can play a very significant role in modernising wargames shows – and help the long term prospects of their own businesses through attracting new customers – in a number of ways:

  1. Offering special deals only available at shows – "Buy five, get one free" type deals – and advertise that fact in the magazines. We think it would be a mistake for traders to rely on mail order (or even Internet shopping) since those customers buy only what they want to buy and not what you might want to sell them. Anyone who thinks that wargamers are not looking for bargains should observe the crowd at the Bring & Buy.
  2. Ensure that their products are displayed to their best advantage- both in terms of height above floor level and lighting. Also ensure that you name and address is prominently displayed. Perhaps the best way to check is to ask yourself – how has my trade stand changed in the last five years?
  3.  

  4. For traders specialising in a particular period or scale follow the lead of Jon Sword as outlined in the October 1999 issue of Wargames Illustrated and sponsor a best wargames display prize. We are delighted that Jon has included our shows in this very generous offer and we thank him publicly for that – so come on all you World War Two Wargamers, we are waiting to hear from you!
  5. Stage your own product-based wargame. We are sure that most show organisers would, like us, make suitable arrangements to place both trader stand and game in close proximity.

3) Wargames Clubs

Be prepared to stage wargames at shows, you are likely to have a great day out. However there is much more to just setting up the table and playing the game, clubs have a key role in "selling" the hobby. We realise that not every club can have superb quality terrain and figures to stage a game and that fact might put them off appearing in public. But clubs should remember that a newcomer seeing just the very best games might well be put off before they even take up the hobby – "I could never stage a game like that so why bother to start" Our view is that there is a place for the less lavish wargame, what is more important is the attitude of the players to the crowd of onlookers. No matter how good the terrain is made or the figures are painted the game is only a 10 second wonder if the players ignore the onlookers. Players should be prepared to answer questions, or merely interact with the crowd and above all convey the message that wargaming is not as complex as it first looks and really is fun. Wargamers need to remember that to a newcomer the continual need to refer to a rule book is quite off-putting as it looks complicated (similar to the situation lots of people encounter when faced with the manual of a new gadget), they need to be encouraged that this need to refer to rules is not too bad and will diminish as rule familiarity increases. So come on wargames clubs stage games at shows - the more games staged, the more there is for the newcomer to see and the greater the chance that the newcomer will be hooked.

It has been suggested that one of the best ways of "hooking" new members is to provide a "beginners corner" at shows where newcomers can learn the basics of the hobby and get questions answered. This is a fine idea but has problems – a) it is very labour intensive and some show organisers, like us, might not have the physical resources to handle it and b) questions tend to come from things seen "live" (why did you move/fire that way?) rather than thought up in passing. As stated earlier our preferred option is for newcomers to learn through seeing games – and the more games the better. Thus we hope that other traders will follow Jon Sword’s lead and give an inducement to clubs to stage games. Thanks to local clubs and individuals we stage at least 11 games at our shows but we can make space available to stage 40 games if only we could find them.

4) Show advertising

If we want to attract new members into the hobby then show organisers need to carefully consider how they advertise their show. Obviously they need to attract existing wargamers through adverts in the wargames magazines and leaflet distribution with the help of traders – but that is not enough. They should also be looking for mentions in the local press or on local radio and displaying leaflets in other leisure facilities such as libraries and sports centres – anywhere that you can think if where potential members might go. However no matter how good your imagination is at finding places to display leaflets it will be of little value if the leaflet itself is not attractive. How many leaflets have you seen with a design little changes in years and printed in black & white? It need not be that way. Over the last few years the ownership of PCs has soared and costs of colour printers/ software design packages have fallen. Yet we have seen little sign of this PC/colour revolution in leaflets. We started producing our own colour leaflets six years ago and our production costs have fallen 25% over the years and we use the PC for so much more – in fact we could not run the shows without it.

 

5) Show programme

How many shows have you gone to where you have been left to your own devices once you have walked through the door? It can be very confusing trying to work out where the various facilities are located – how much more confusing (and off-putting) can that be to a newcomer? In our view a programme showing the layout and exhibitor details, as a minimum is essential. In addition the programme can be used for other purposes – to advertise your club details, your website address if you have one, dates of other shows in the area etc. Like leaflets a high quality programme is relatively straightforward to produce on a modern PC.

6) Other show facilities

We agree with the view that show organisers should provide facilities such as lectures and films on relevant subjects as additional attraction. Unfortunately we (and we suspect a fair number of other show organizers) have neither the physical resources nor contacts to handle this – but we would be prepared to provide the space if there are any volunteers out there.

7) Show Admission Charges

In our view the Savage Pen in the October 1998 issue of Wargames Illustrated made one of the most significant contributions to the debate when he/she compared entering a wargames show with entering a major store. The disparity caused by having to pay an admission charge to enter the former but not the latter struck a chord in us. The analogy is slightly wrong however – due to the diversity in the hobby the more accurate comparison is with a shopping complex such as the Metro Centre. How can we attract newcomers to the hobby when we charge them just to walk through the door? (In comparison there is no charge when they go into a Games Workshop). Accordingly we have decided to make an adjustment to our admission charges, unfortunately not to free admission - at this time – but to minimal admission charges (Adults 45p, Children & Senior Citizens 15p). This is a cut of 70% (yes 70%) against our 1999 admission charges. We decided on the minimal charge as against free admission so as to provide us with a physical measure of the effectiveness of our approach.

8) Wargamers

If you want to see your hobby continuing into the foreseeable future you have a role to play in its modernisation – that is to attend as many wargames shows as you can, either individually or as part of a club display. Also get involved in your local club – and if there is not one then why not set one up. But above all make everyone in your circle of friends and acquaintances aware that wargaming is a very enjoyable and educational hobby and not on a par with train spotting as so many people believe.

The above is a complete package designed to provide the newcomer into the hobby with a similar environment to that obtained when walking through the door of any Games Workshop store – if it works for them then there is a good chance that it might work for the rest of the hobby. It is our opinion that for the hobby to continue (and prosper) into the foreseeable future then it has to modernize. Or in other words – and with apologies to the French Foreign Legion! – Its Modernize or Die.

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