Reflections upon Imperfection: Tybalt takes another look at White Dwarf.

Back in February 2014, I published a short note on my Facebook page, which was also published here at Paint Water Diaries. In it, I gave my gut reactions to GW’s newest publications – White Dwarf Weekly and Warhammer Visions – that had appeared with relative alacrity, replacing the long-running monthly version of White Dwarf. It’s fair to say that I was generally unimpressed with the whole affair. However, I was also aware that I was committing something of a cardinal sin, insofar as I was allowing a knee-jerk reaction to run forth onto the page. As anyone who has responsibility for managing people through any change process will know, there’s a fairly classic cycle of denial and rejection to be worked through before you can really make progress with the new status quo.

With this in mind, I determined to re-visit the subject matter after a few months, and see how my views had changed with some more time to reflect. This short piece is the result of that reflection.

White Dwarf Weekly

A fifteen-minute diversion...

A fifteen-minute diversion…

I’ve made an especial effort to travel to a nearby GW store over the last three months and pick up each edition of White Dwarf Weekly, despite never normally visiting a store with that regularity. Thus, I’ve now read issues 1-12, and have a view on the pattern that the new WD Weekly has adopted. I will say straight away that my overall view of the content in WD Weekly has not, sadly, changed since I wrote my initial piece back in February – I won’t re-hash it here, but suffice to say that I want more detailed content in my hobby periodical.

However, I have taken the time to consider why the change was made (based on my assumptions, of course) by GW – I’m assuming that the intent for WD Weekly is to provide introductory hobby material, and to increase customer ‘foot-fall’ in GW stores. If I’m correct, then I can see the point in WD Weekly from GW’s point of view. The format of the Weekly, with lots of new release pictures, few articles over four pages, and a rapidly-changing ‘headline message’, makes it well-suited for new gamers, especially those below the age of about sixteen. Viewing WD Weekly as a hobby-introduction for new starters makes it seem relatively well-suited – if you don’t know what went before, or you don’t want to be daunted by the seeming complexity of an expansive new game system, then why would you object to the content of WD Weekly? Furthermore, gorgeous Citadel Miniatures have always been the ‘draw’ into the hobby – why on Earth would GW pack their stores with display cabinets if that wasn’t the case? WD Weekly devotes 95% of space to only the newest miniatures – those that have come out that week, or in the preceding two-three weeks. In many ways, it’s even-more explicitly a product catalogue than the monthly White Dwarf had become.

The Weekly format hasn’t been all bad, of course – the new release focus has seen a comparative increase in the number of articles that look at gaming tactica, or designer’s notes, for recent releases. Unfortunately, these have all been incredibly brief, but at least they’ve arrived with relatively high frequency. Over the last three months, the Weekly format has nicely supported high profile releases, most obviously the huge excitement over the Imperial Knights, whereby the weekly drip-feed of new content, and the decision to publish rules for new releases (which is a return to a much older WD tradition), has doubtless kept sales high (anecdotally, WD Weekly #4 flew off the shelves). It’s also allowed ‘mid-profile’ releases, such as the Chaos Helbrute, to get some limelight, when they would otherwise be placed inside a larger issue of a monthly publication. Of course, if there’s not much to release on any given week (I’m looking at you, Void Shield Generator and Quake Cannon craters…), then the whole magazine feels even more sparse than usual.

This leads me to my second point, that of increasing in-store foot-fall. If people are doing what I’m doing, and making a special effort to visit a store each week to pick up the Weekly, then I can only imagine that the total number of store visitors increases quite significantly (especially with the frustrating policy of removing previous issues from sale, even if I suspect that there’s an under-the-counter trade in back issues being run from many GW stores!). Now, in my case, that doesn’t increase the amount of sales I give GW – I have developed a pretty thick-skin to knee-jerk ‘cool toy’ purchases, but perhaps I’m in a minority and others pick up a few pounds/dollars worth of product with each visit, and thus do sales increase markedly as a result of WD Weekly. Certainly, when there were exciting releases like the Imperial Knights, it was nice to pop into the store and geek-out over how lovely the kits were. I obviously don’t have access to the sales figures, but someone at GW will do, and will have a view on whether or not they’re been seeing a WD Weekly effect. I suspect there might be. Personally, if GW would only offer a subscription option to the Weekly instead of me having to walk into the store, then I’d probably acquiesce with some of my disappointment regarding the format. However, if one of the goals is foot-fall, then a subscription is simply going to undermine that. Damn.

So, I’ve decided that WD Weekly isn’t aimed at me, and thus will mostly leave me feeling annoyingly underwhelmed, while still keeping me up-to-date with what’s new in the hobby. However, I’m perfectly happy to accept that the company might be viewing WD Weekly as something aimed at a largely different market to the one I represent, and therefore it might be entirely fit-for-purpose from another point-of-view.

Warhammer Visions

Warhammer Visions. Sadly, not sufficiently visionary for my tastes...

Warhammer Visions. Sadly, not sufficiently visionary for my tastes…

Oh, Visions. I desperately wanted you to improve. You haven’t.

If I accept that WD Weekly is now aimed at novice hobbyists, I want the sister magazine to cater for the other extreme. In a sense, you could argue that it does – surely only committed hobbyists would spend the money on a booklet packed with miniatures painted to a standard no novice could immediately replicate? Well, probably. However, as I explained in my first note, that’s entirely not what I had hoped for. All of the flaws I identified in Issue 1 have been replicated in Issues 2 &3 and, again, I won’t replicate the list here. I can’t get my head around Visions, and I can’t really ‘read’ it. It has highlights, of course – the expanded Army of the Month is very welcome, and some of the expanded Kit Bash pieces have had potential – but I’m afraid to say that I don’t want to flick through sixty pages of Golden Daemon winners every month. On top of the that, those of us who have purchased WD Weekly over the past month have then been subjected to repetition of content in Visions; the very poor Visions ‘battle reports’, for example, and the great number of ‘new release’ photos. My Visions subscription ends after Issue 4, and it won’t be getting renewed. That’s £65 that can buy me the best part of a new Horus Heresy hardback from Forge World, thank you very much.

I still strongly believe there’s a place for a monthly hobby magazine from GW, but I want it to be one that focuses on the depth of the hobby, in words and pictures. The length of the monthly White Dwarf was about right, if only there was an effort to double or triple the word count (smaller font sizes do exist, after all!). I would love it if GW were brave enough to decrease the amount of focus on brand new product in a hobby monthly (dare to get everything into the first ten pages?), and then cut loose on a rich and diverse smorgasbord of hobby content – keep the Visions-style Army of the Month, Parade Ground and Kit Bash features (though, increase the explanations of what we’re seeing – let the painters talk inspirations and techniques), and supplement them with the return of ‘Eavy Masterclass tutorials and allow Kit Bash to include more intricate conversions and sculpting tutorials and examples as well. Around a third of a magazine with that sort of modelling content, alongside detailed battle reports, expanded game and miniature designer’s notes on releases (why, oh why, was the Imperial Knight release not accompanied by an in-depth look at the past incarnations of the Knight from Space Marine and Adeptus Titanicus?), tactica pieces (remember ‘Olde Wierde’ from fifteen or so years back?), hobby opinion (I’d like to read a series of linked articles that reveal the different ways people approach our hobby – very much like Stillmania in the late 1990s), new or expanded background canon, and perhaps some series that cover ongoing narrative campaigns, or the return of a ‘Tale of Four Gamers’ style army-building feature – all of these things would make me trip over myself in my haste to give GW money. I’d even contentedly pay the current cost of a Visions subscription to get that each month.

Unfortunately, it seems my desires in this regard are very wide of the direction GW wants their monthly magazine to head in. While I can put myself in the shoes of the company when it comes to WD Weekly, Warhammer Visions continues to confound my best efforts to unpick the underlying rationale behind the magazine. Miniature photography in-and-of itself is all very well (assuming that everything displayed is stellar in quality – not all of it has been), but the proliferation of incredible painting and modelling projects over the internet continues to make Visions feel to me like an analogue relic in a digital age.

So, for the moment I will continue to pick up WD Weekly as and when I’m near a GW store, but I’m not going to maintain my special efforts to reach a store every week as I have been doing for the last few months. Of course, others have been more positive; over on the excellent ‘Tale of Painters’ blog, Garfy has recently given an enormous thumbs up to WD Weekly, calling it, “… a genuine joy to read…” . While I can stumble on by with WD Weekly, Warhammer Visions is doomed to fall off my hobby shelves very shortly, and I’ll await word from others that it’s either significantly changed focus, or been replaced entirely by something else.

I would never have thought I’d have said it, but I miss the 2013 iteration of White Dwarf. I certainly wouldn’t have envisaged saying that one year ago…

Tybalt

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