Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Termite Art, Branded Materials, and DIY in the hobby

Every so often, my blogging worlds (all this nonsense and Doctor Who fandom, in case you're keeping score) collide.  It's been a while since the last one, in which I was chattering about the Doctor Who roleplaying game, and so this has probably been a bit overdue.

Who pundit Lawrence Miles has (unless he's deleted it, as is his wont from time to time) been pontificating of late about brands, making things, and TV spinoffs.  Specifically, the rather cool Deadly Art.
But Deadly 60 has its own pilot-fish programme, Deadly Art. This is the latest and most carnivorous offshoot of the Take Hart format (or Art Attack, if you're dead common), and you can probably see how it all fits together. We get a precis of the accompaying Deadly 60, and then two artists in the studio - usually young women, y'know, like with Tony Hart - make A GIGANTIC SODDING PRAYING MANTIS WITH GLOWING EYES OUT OF SCRAP METAL. Only pausing to run off a smaller version out of the sort of thing you might find, ooh, in your bins.
I mention this less to rattle on about children's TV and more to pad the entry while explaining the term 'Termite Art'.  Y'see, Miles goes on to make an Interesting Remark:
If the Termite Art version of television provokes the viewer into going outside and poking around to see what's there (and I still hold that this is what most good telly does, especially children's telly), then this is more like siege conditions. Branding always closes the gates. This is your product, you don't need anything else.
Now, you can probably sense where I'm going with this.  Back when I was a lad, there was a lot of the miniature wargaming hobby that one was largely encouraged to Do For Oneself.  Sure, Citadel made trees (they weren't very good) and produced their own paintbrushes and paints and clippers and stuff, but there was never a particular drive for everything to be Official.  White Dwarf ran frequent articles on how to make modular chipboard battlefields, with terrain crafted from of bits of toilet and the ridiculous amount of white packing material that their larger kits came in, and they showed this stuff in battle reports; it was part of the Right Way to do the Hobby, and it was mostly pretty damn cheap.  Names were dropped in painting articles - Humbrol, Tamiya, Airfix - and there was a culture of crossover and usage between manufacturers.  Furthermore, it meant there were relations, however tenuous, between my hobby and the sort of shops my grandfather loved to visit.  The hobby sent me off into the big wide world looking for stuff to do things with (or things to do stuff with, if that's what you prefer).

Nowadays, of course, there's a Citadel-branded everything, and a definition of the Games Workshop Hobby that actively avoids mention of any other kind of Hobby.  The terrain you see in White Dwarf these days is exclusively the stuff you can buy in kit form in your local GW.  Mention of other manufacturers' paints and tools and miniatures and goodness knows what else is strictly off-limits.  I'm going to be fair here and point out that Privateer Press tried to go this way as well - Formula P3 paints, their own brushes and tools and even brass wire for pinning, not to mention the ill-fated Warmachine terrain kits - that Battlefront makes its own proprietary terrain kits as well, and that every bloody gaming company ever does it with dice, templates, tape measures and other accessories to play.

This saddens me, and it does so beyond the staggering expense of the stuff (this blasted thing is a particular offender).  I like to keep the gates open and to have a steady flow of people outwards as well as in.  I like initiative, and re-use, and re-cycling.  I like putting things to strange new purposes.  I don't like having the Official Product and being told that I don't need anything else.  Especially not when it's four times the effective price of what I've come up with.

4 comments:

arabianknight said...

I'm not going to knock GW for promoting their own products in their own mag. Similarly I'm not going to knock folk who buy their terrain - time is a precious comodity. However I too miss the old "make your own" articles. In a hobby (especially one that is fantasy and Sci-Fi based in GW's case) imagination should be encouraged. Putting an article "for inspiration" where someone takes the core pieces of 2 or 3 expensives kits to make one building is not the same!

Von said...

There is a difference between 'promoting their own products in their own mag', which they've always done, and which is entirely laudable, and 'pretending that no other hobby companies exist, and that there is no other way to meet your hobby needs than through their products', which is what they've been doing for a few years now, and beyond the magazine at that.

Comparison to the competition is good - it enables superiority to be established and demonstrated and, I feel, generates a kind of goodwill (a company which acknowledges its competition's existence is seen as more aware and savvy than a company which sticks its head in the sand and tries to pretend there isn't any).


You've put me in something of an awkward corner with the terrain thing, I feel. I refuse to be drawn into making the false assertion that money is somehow more precious than time. It isn't. That said, I will always... be wryly amused, shall we say? - by folk who spend £155 on a four foot square table when they can build one for about £50 and an extra evening's legwork, or £15 on three pre-made trees when they could be making twenty.

arabianknight said...

The GW selling model relies on spoon feeding to the - I'll try and avoid the abiguity of "ignorant" and say "inexperienced". Their stores are placed in Malls to attract the new customers, and by not acknowledging any alternatives (and having the stock range to prevent shortcomings) they keep the custom to themselves. That's why forums flame so high at their mention.

djk said...

It was those original how to build your own models in the late 80s White Drawf magazines that got me started. The first thing I build was the Coaching Inn, and I followed their instructions using foam board, filler, balsa wood etc. Those articles really encouraged you to be creative and I think helped you get a wider enjoyment from the hobby. It seems a shame they've lost that.

I'm all for using what odds and ends you can find, coffee sticks, firework sticks, old packaging I use it all.