This, more or less, has been a topic for discussion in one of the forums, along with the age-old question of: How do we grow the hobby? I’d thought I’d add my two cents worth at this venue, responding to both questions.
First off, Origins: Is it killing (or at least not serving) the wargame hobby? The answer to that is of course not! The once traveling, national, convention has settled down into a large regional convention (and/or a convention for a large region) that attracts enthusiastic hobbyists (and those with spare dollars) from across the nation. What it’s not doing is drawing more (new) people into the hobby the way that a traveling convention can generate new interest as it visits different metropolitan areas. One only has to examine the NMRA (national model railroad assoc.) for an example on how to energize the hobby in different regions. Now I understand the advantages (esp. from the vendors point of view) to having the convention in Columbus every year... I’m just saying......
And to respond to the second question: No, this is not why the hobby is dying off, it’s (and let’s be blunt here....) really cool video/computer games. You have to put yourself in the mind of a 15 year-old and ask yourself: What would I rather play? Something like Battlefield 1942 or ASLSK 1? Believe me, that’s a no-brainer for a 15 y.o. boy. I know.... I teach 15 y.o.’s for a living. They do not gravitate towards little cardboard counters with strange symbols and rule books exceeding eight pages. That’s just a fact.
Okay, so what can be done to revitalize what’s left of the hobby? Well, I’ve got a few ideas that I’d like to suggest:
There was a time when wargaming almost became “mainstream.” You older guys know what I’m talking about... the 70s, etc. There’s a lot of former gamers out there heading towards retirement. Instead of worrying about getting the youngsters into the hobby, how about figuring out how to attract those that once enjoyed the hobby. This suggestion comes from personal experience, as it was my wife who, about ten years ago, called my attention to a copy of Fire and Movement in a Barnes and Nobles store exclaiming: Hey, didn’t you used to play these games back when we were in high school? About a month ago I was talking with a friend of mine who’s a history professor at a local university. When the discussion drifted around to “what do you have planned for the weekend,” I confessed that I planned to pull out an old SPI quad and give it a ago. Very much to my surprise he said: “Hey, I used to play those games... We should get together sometime this summer and play a couple of games.” I have to think that there may be more people out there willing to give it a second look. I know I did and I’ve never regretted it.
If you want teens to play games, then make them colorful, fast-playing and easy to learn. If you can explain a game to a teenager in less than five minutes, and if it looks “cool” (i.e. colorful board with interesting counters/blocks), you have a chance to recruit teens to the hobby. I’ve been running a Friday night game club at the high school for the last ten years. Wargames that students have bought themselves and then brought to the club meetings usually fall into two categories: semi-Euro wargames (colorful, blocks or miniatures... Memoir ’44, C&C:A), or easy and quick to learn wargames (like those published by Mark Walker’s Lock n Load Game Company).
Support your local game store. Our store is the Game Kastle, near the San Jose Airport. Great people, good store and lists of weekly game events aimed at all ages. Once more, it doesn’t cost a dime to walk through the door and join a game. (They make it up by selling games and snacks.) They’ve been very successful with this formula and are surviving the ravages of this great recession. It’s very tempting to just order something off the net, but it’s the brick and mortar that are keeping the hobby going, esp. out here on the left coast. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t P500 from GMT Games or shouldn’t order from Aaron at NobleKnight.com, just make an effort to occasionally support the locals. Spread the money around a bit. So you’ll have to pay $10 more for a game (and tax), but it’s an investment worth making.
Finally, it’s time to loosen up, convention folk! I occasionally attend a model railroad convention and they have an interesting offer: Bring a friend on the last day of the convention (usually Sunday, in this case) and if they have not attended the convention in the last five years, entrance fees are waved. Well, it couldn’t hurt....
Well, that’s my 2 cents...