First of all, if you've been missing the Precinct Omega podcast, my apologies. As I explain below, this was due to my laptop being irretrievably out of action. But I'm back now. However, I had to record this episode on my phone, so it's a bit short of bells and whistles.
I other news, you might like to know that, every Friday from 1400 to 1500 UTC, I'll be livestreaming from the Precinct Omega studio. For the time being, it's just on Facebook. And past livestreams are posted on FB for you to catch up on, if you're interested. It's unscripted conversation. I bring some interesting topics to discuss from design thoughts to hobby advice to industry gossip, but the conversation is very much led by the comments I receive live. It'd be great to see you there!
And now, on with the podcast:
It’s Friday 11th December 2020 and my name is Robey Jenkins.
You’ll have noticed the absence of both my intro music and my artificial assistant, Bernard, this week. In fact, for the last three weeks, you’ll have noticed the absence of this podcast entirely! It’s been a very frustrating time for me because, a month ago, I traced a persistent electrical fault in my house to the charger cable for my laptop.
I ordered a new charger cable and waited. And waited. And waited.
As of recording, it has still not arrived, so I’ve given up and chosen, instead, to record on my voice recorder app on my phone, which also explains the dreadful sound quality this week. But, by hook or by crook, I’m here and I’m podcasting, dammit!
Thank you to everyone who has, one way or another, reached out with offers of help over the last few weeks. But I’m fine. My laptop is fine. It’s just the damn cable.
Let’s start with the news that Takkure, a game of cyberpunk rugby, has not only successfully funded on Kickstarter but also sent out its BackerKit links for supporters to settle shipping and extras. The game itself isn’t set to drop until May 2021. The boxed set is shipping with two teams and a third team has been confirmed and offered as an upgrade to backers. The game is being manufactured in partnership with Zenit Miniatures but not - as I said in a previous episode - by them. In fact, it’s a little unclear what company is, in fact, producing the game. I’ll bring you more on this story as it emerges.
Second, Wargames Atlantic has announced new kits including French Resistance and Lizardmen, and are giving away free halflings on the cover of January’s edition of Miniature Wargames, which is out now. They continue to expand their historical, fantasy and sci-fi ranges with no sign, yet, of producing an in-house game. But if you’d like to know more, you should get this month’s Miniature Wargames.
And finally, in a break with convention and for reasons that will shortly become apparent, Games Workshop news! They have announced a new season for Warhammer Underworlds in the form of their latest Direchasm release. Other than breaking new ground in the field of tortured portmaneaux for the purposes of trademark protection, Direchasm’s core box also ships with two brand new sets of minis for High Elves and the chaotic forces of Slaanesh. The new season offers the same rules, but cleaned up and clearer, with new encounters on offer in a completely new region of Beastgrave.
And why have I brought together these highly disparate pieces of news for your ears? Well, for various reasons I’ve been thinking lately about marketing and, specifically, about advertising in the tabletop wargames and miniatures industry and I found myself asking how it is, exactly, that I learn new things, who is telling me and why.
So let’s move on quickly to the Discussion.
Just imagine Bernard doing her thing, right here.... Miss you, Bernard.
So let’s start off by having a look at where the news I shared with you today came from.
The first piece is typical, I think, of the vast majority of advertising I encounter when it comes to tabletop wargames. I asked for it. Perhaps not in so many words, but somewhere, intentionally or absent-mindedly, I ticked a box or signed a form that invited a company to assail me with information about their products as and when they wanted. Such adverts might come directly into my inbox, like the news about Takkure, or it might find me online by other means - in my Facebook news feed, or my Instagram roll, or between two sub-reddit topics.
In many cases I may not have actively asked for advertising from this particular company right here, but I have at least clicked a button allowing all cookies or permitting tailored advertising based on my online activity.
I’m sure I’m not alone in having wondered what led to Wish showing me what it did. I am assured that they sometimes just show you stuff that has nothing to do with your online activity or search history. Frankly, I’m not sure that they know what some of the things are that they’re trying to show me!
I heard the news about Takkure through the best possible route, though. I actively and consciously opted into the update because I have backed the game. Including postage, I’m into Takkure for about €100. I’ll be honest, it’s mostly about the minis. But I’m looking forward to deconstructing the quality of translation in their rules, too. Oh, and maybe even playing the game. Who knows?
But I don’t resent getting their updates. In fact, I’m actively delighted to have them because I want to know what the progress is as far as getting my hands on those minis goes.
Then there’s the news about Wargames Atlantic.
As you may have guessed, I’m a subscriber to Miniature Wargames. Or, at least, my business is. So it’s no surprise that I might notice that their front page and a lot of their content is basically advertising. In fact, as of this month, Precinct Omega is advertising in Miniature Wargames and, with a bit of luck, you’ll even see some exclusive new content in the magazine in a few months’ time. If you’re a patron, you’ll also get it. If not, you’ll need to buy the magazine.
Again, I don’t particularly mind this advertising because the magazine comes with content bundled in with it that I want to read. And some of that includes the advertising. I know what I’m buying. I’m happy to spend money on it. I am opting in.
Our third news item this week was from Games Workshop. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Games Workshop does basically zero intrusive advertising. Now, they do a buttload of marketing. And they’ve got smarter at it in recent years, too. But they do practically zero traditional advertising. And I’d even go so far as to remove the “practically” from that sentence except they might do traditional advertising in a market I’ve not visited.
To get news about Games Workshop, in fact, I had to go to their website. And even there, although I picked the headline item on their homepage, I left none the wiser as to what, exactly, Direchasm is. It is largely only from a single oblique reference that I knew it was part of the Beastgrave property.
So in the four weeks since I last recorded a podcast, I’ve basically not seen an advert for a wargames product that I didn’t consent to or actively seek out. And that’s pretty astonishing.
If we just stay with Games Workshop for a bit, I think it’s fairly well known that GW has, for a very long time, had a policy of not advertising - which isn’t, of course, the same as not marketing. Games Workshop markets through its high street retail presence in the Warhammer shops, through its magazine rack presence in White Dwarf and, critically, through word-of-mouth recommendations. Geeks talk to geeks about geeky stuff. And it’s not hard to show off your painted Space Wolf or Orruk Warlord between classes at school.
These days, GW’s marketing offer has become increasingly sophisticated, with licensing deals putting Warhammer into people’s app stores, on the New York Times bestsellers list, into comic books and popular culture and even - as we’ve discussed before - into alt-right memes. GW may not actively approve of its closet association with alt-right beliefs and white supremacy culture, but their presence there, whilst not intentional, is also not deliberate. They have actively played up the mimetic qualities of their intellectual property - and I mean that in the academic, Richard-Dawkins sense of mimetic.
Of course the problem with memes, like genes, is that it’s hard to know where they’re going to end up. But by consciously refusing to engage with conventional advertising in its early days, GW reinforced its counter-culture reputation and, by happenstance, positioned itself perfectly to take advantage of the new marketing culture of the 21st Century.
But what about other companies?
GW are the gold standard in the industry in the sense that, when asking themselves what to do next, companies are naturally inclined to compare any course of action with what GW does. That isn’t to say, necessarily, that smaller companies blindly follow GW’s approach to anything, let alone to marketing, but I think there is a general trend among companies operating within the same market to rationalize doing something different to the market dominator that GW is. Consequently, no one has yet broken cover to really engage with mainstream advertising. Of course, it’s also perfectly arguable that no one has the money to do so because so much of the market’s potential revenue is already flooding into GW. Warlord won’t run TV adverts - not necessarily because they don’t want to but because the cost/benefit equation doesn’t work out on the kind of profits that they can declare.
But it’s not just about the cost/benefit analysis. It’s also about the return on investment. A company may make enough money to pay for an ad on a TV channel or in a national newspaper. But are they likely to increase profits by a great enough margin to offset those costs? Are they going to actually generate new sales by advertising in such a medium?
Conventional wisdom says “no”.
Unfortunately, this is one of those areas where it’s incredibly hard to find any hard data - or even any partial data to support or refute conventional wisdom. We have to rely on instinct and anecdote. Our instincts as wargamers and our experiences tell us that the proportion of the audience of conventional advertising likely to be interested in our product is, to begin with, very small. And, of the portion that is interested, only a small portion of that is likely to want to buy our product among all other products - this is largely because of the substantial drain upon the total market created by GW’s dominance. And, of the small portion that is likely to want to buy our products, only a minority is going to be prompted to buy the product by a mainstream media advert. In other words, the number of additional sales a mainstream ad would prompt is very, very small.
The counter-argument is that there might be an audience out there that would be very interested in our products, if only they knew about it. For whatever reason, they aren’t tapped into the information network of geek-to-geek and so never get exposed to the hobby and so never discover it.
The name of this potential untapped market is… women.
There is an incredibly interesting conversation to be had about whether this audience is real and, if it is, how the existing offer of the miniatures wargames and miniatures hobby industry would need to be adapted, if at all, to appeal to women. Undeniably, some of the world’s very best miniatures painters are women. And more women are being drawn to the hobby through other pathways, such as arts and crafts and fantasy roleplay games. But for the moment, I will assume that the conventional wisdom - that women interested in the hobby are and always will be a tiny minority - is correct, even if I think it deserves further examination.
Instead, I’m going to turn away from GW for a moment to look more carefully at Wargames Atlantic and to compare and contrast their approach to modern marketing with another company: Parabellum Wargames.
Wargames Atlantic and Parabellum Wargames are both relative newcomers to the industry, both of whom have entered the market with a wide range of hard styrene, multipart miniatures. But there the similarities end.
Wargames Atlantic has taken a fairly softly-softly approach to the market. They have engaged deeply with the community of independent gamers - by which I mean gamers who aren’t tethered to the altar of GW - to seek their suggestions, ideas, feedback and support. For several years, now, Wargames Atlantic has been developing new miniatures kits at considerable expense based on what the community has told them they want to see. Whether this has won them vast profits, I don’t know. But it has certainly earned them a lot of community goodwill which, in this industry, tends to translate into sales.
Plus, they have staunchly resisted investing much time or effort into a setting or game system of their own. Although I gather that they have a setting and, possibly, are working on their own system, they have focused their attention on producing 28mm plastic miniatures suitable for as wide a range of possible games and settings as possible.
Although they have been marketing, it’s been fairly low intensity stuff and the latest Miniature Wargames magazine feature is probably the biggest financial outlay they’ve made. I happen to know that getting a front page feature requires a company to be able to stump up a minimum of 5,500 copies of a product to go on the front cover.
That’s a lot of stock to be giving away. I don’t have 5,500 individual products of *all* designs in my inventory, let alone of a single product.
So a front page feature on Miniature Wargames isn’t just a marketing exercise: it’s a statement to the rest of the industry that a company has a chunk of capital to throw around.
And talking of throwing around a chunk of capital, let’s turn to Parabellum Wargames. Because I slightly lied a bit when I said they and Wargames Atlantic didn’t have anything else in common. Parabellum put a mounted knight from their Conquest: Last Argument of Kings range on the front cover of last month’s Miniature Wargames magazine.
Who are Parabellum Wargames?
I mean, we’ve kind of been over this already. They’re a greek creative collective that’s formed a company - based in Cyprus - to manufacture and market a game based on the designs they’ve spent the last five years developing.
But they’ve gone hard into their own game, in their own setting, with an almost-unique scale that I can only describe as “38mm heroic” - it’s not quite 40mm in height, but the miniatures are a lot chunkier in design than most 40mm designs that tend towards naturalistic proportions. 40mm is a lovely scale and one I wish got more exposure, because it’s pretty much the smallest scale at which miniatures can be produced with naturalistic proportions without being ludicrously difficult to paint. But the minis from Parabellum have the aesthetics of 28mm “heroic” designs - with enlarged heads, hands, weapons and feet.
This means that you really can’t buy Parabellum CLAK minis for any game except CLAK. But they also aren’t of sufficiently fine or novel design that you’d buy them just for the pleasure of painting, like you might for Kingdom Death or Wyrd Games miniatures.
As far as I can tell, Parabellum made little to no effort, throughout their development process, to engage with the wider community for input and suggestions. Of course, they might have done so in Greece, which has an active and vigorous wargames community of its own, so I’m prepared to be wrong. But all the same: the big markets are in the US and northern Europe.
And then there’s the game itself, which is a fantasy battle game. That doesn’t make it bad. Kings of War and A Song of Ice And Fire are fantasy battle games, but they are also unique, interesting games in their own right. And I’ve no complaint about seeing more games in that segment of the market. But KOW and ASOIAF offer minis you could use in a range of settings and games. And those games, too, could easily accommodate minis from other ranges. KOW in particular taps into well-established fantasy tropes, giving the customer plenty of reasons to want to buy their products. That maximizes the appeal of the product.
Parabellum has shut that down with their scale decision. You can, pretty much, only play CLAK with CLAK minis and you can only use CLAK minis to play CLAK.
So, dragging this back to this week’s theme, Parabellum have attacked this problem by throwing money at marketing.
I don’t believe that they are making sales in the volumes necessary that they can put 5,500 free knights on the front cover of Miniature Wargames and guarantee a return on investment.
This means, I think, that the money behind Parabellum is making a gamble: they are betting on advertising. And this makes it an incredibly interesting experiment from our point of view. As far as I know, no one has ever tried to launch a high-end, capital-hungry miniatures wargame cold, relying almost 100% on conventional advertising streams to bring it to market.
I want to put it out there that I have no skin in this game. I don't care whether Parabellum succeeds or not. But I'm also going to put it out there that I think they will fail. The closest equivalent I can think of was Bastion Games who tried to launch Ex Illis several years ago and failed, hard. However, Ex Illis at least had 28mm minis and a USP that was truly unique - in case you've never heard of them, they were trying to be an early adopter of cloud-based combat resolutions.
But Parabellum, by my assessment, doesn't even have a USP worth talking about. They are trying to brute force their way to success by throwing money at conventional marketing. My hypothesis is that they will fail. So it'll be interesting to watch their progress in 2021.
Now, at this point we would normally have Bernard come in with a transition but…
OK, let's talk about Precinct Omega.
I've been doing very little conventional advertising since Zero Dark dropped. Pretty much the only advertising I've done has been occasional Facebook ad campaigns which do, actually, seem to generate more in revenue than they cost, but that's just a gut feeling rather than any objective data.
Rather, I've been marketing through personal appeals - being present in social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, YouTube and, obviously, every podcast stream I can find! But because of my laptop situation I've been relatively absent even from this for the last several weeks and, perhaps unsurprisingly, we've seen a gradual drop off in sales.
So my timing couldn't be better to have placed my first ad - at not inconsiderable expense - in Miniature Wargames magazine.
It's a quarter-page placement that will run for at least two months. So it's going to be extremely interesting to see what impact this has on sales before Christmas and into the New Year.
But, I thought it was worth sharing a little more insight into the world of mainstream advertising in our industry because…
Magazines like Miniature Wargames are content providers, which means they always want new content. But at the same time, they are aware that their content is also a form of marketing. If an article reviews a product, it is useful exposure for that product. In some cases, whether the review is positive or negative barely matters except to the ego of the producer. The mere fact that a product warrants review will be enough to embed it into readers' memories. The best content for a content provider is content they get for free - without having to pay someone to write it or put in time to write it themselves. The best content for a producer is content they have written to give their product the best possible exposure.
Of course, an obvious "puff" piece is an advertorial. But it's also possible to provide less blatant self-promotion for the same effect without being an obvious advertorial. And when a content provider like Miniature Wargames has the chance to embed free, but valuable content, who do you think they prioritise for that opportunity?
Simple: advertisers. The people who have already committed to support the content provider financially get first dibs on providing content!
Hence, I will be providing Miniature Wargames with some free content over a couple of issues in early 2021. When I know exactly when, I'll be sure to let folks know. It will be initially exclusive to Miniature Wargames in print, but shared digitally with patrons. And I'll release it to the general public a few months after publication.
What it will be, I'll tell you more about once I've finalized the text with John Treadaway, the editor at Miniature Wargames.
And this brings us to the end of this week's podcast. I deeply, sincerely hope that I'll be back on my laptop next week but, at least, this has proved that I can do some of my work without it.
So, one way or another, I'll speak to you again next week.