The Peanut Gallery Presents: Rumours and Responses

pg_titlecard_027Hello everyone, and welcome back to the monthly Peanut Gallery! Last month we talked about Darkest Dungeon, the newest HP Lovecraft-inspired dungeon crawler.

But this week, I’d like to take the time to explore the idea of community. More specifically, I want to talk about rumours, new releases and how the community reacts to both official and unofficial sources in differing circumstances.

The reason I want to talk about this goes back to my work on TableTopical News, the weekly column where I mention news and rumours. Over the past few weeks, I’ve talked about various releases, rumours,  and news from various sources, reliable or otherwise.

What drew me to this topic was a strange dichotomy that emerged just last week. Specifically, I’m talking about two things: The release of the last End Times book for Warhammer Fantasy, created by Games Workshop; and the spoiler release for Magic: The Gathering’s Dragons of Tarkir set, created by Wizard’s of the Coast. The actions of each company and reactions of each community stand in stark contrast to each other, and it’s this constrast that I want to explore.

But first, some context. Magic the Gathering’s next set, Dragons of Tarkir, was announced on November 3, 2014. As the third set of a three-set block, Dragons explores an alternate timeline, a world changed by the actions of the protagonists in the set before. It also serves as an interesting crossroads: as the last set to be part of a three-set block for the foreseeable future, it will have an interesting place in history, since its previous two sets will rotate much earlier. The end result is a set that must both tie into the  previous block, while at the same time containing enough of its own flavour and depth to stand in concert with other blocks removed from the same plane.

On the other hand, GW’s Warhammer Fantasy world is consistently the same place, with characters and places being recognisable fixtures of the terrain, only the events of the world altering their status. However, in the past few campaigns, GW has released the existence of ‘The End Times’, a series of campaigns designed around the end of the Warhammer World itself. These changes are also designed to lead into a new release: a 9th edition of the Warhammer Fantasy rules.

On their own merits, each of these stories are fairly similar: two stories that are bookending the current situation, both of which will create significant changes in the current situation. But the response of community couldn’t be different. While a significant portion of the reactions to Dragons of Tarkir have been positive, There have been multiple instances of exodus from the Warhammer Fantasy hobby.

The difference lies primarily in the actions and information given by each of the companies before said release. this context frames the decisions of the community, giving them weight and reasoning.

Let’s begin with Wizards of the Coast.  Announcing Dragons of Tarkir in November 3 meant that there was a four month period before release. During the intervening time period, I heard multiple rumours and speculation about the content in Dragons. Various reprints of old, powerful cards, how the changes would be shown via cards, and what new mechanics would be shown. There was a buzz in the air approaching the beginning of March, as spoiler season got closer. Wizards doesn’t only let speculation reign, however. Since the beginning of March, there have been  numerous articles, spotlights and pictures about the set, from card art to fluff pieces discussing the changes, to articles about the mechanics. For the past three weeks, Wizards have been stirring up hype and buzz for their prerelease, which occurs this weekend. In preparation, Wizards has released the full spoiler, meaning that every card in the set is available for viewing.

Games Workshop, on the other hand, has remained silent on the confirmation or denial of rumours relating to their product, and the result speaks for itself. Early on during the ‘End Times’ releases, rumours pervaded throughout the community. Story events, mixed with army books, changes to armies and fluff, and rumours about the upcoming 9th edition ran across the community. But with no information forthcoming from GW, the rumours uickly got out of hand. While various rumours were disproven (including photoshopped pictures of a new model with a circular base), each tidbit of information was taken as fact.

All of this came to a head when sources leaked particular images of the last “End Times’ campaign book. Their leaks included a significant amount of information confirming long-standing rumours. In particular, They confirmed that the entirety of Warhammer World was overtaken by Chaos, that the dwarven holds were overrun by Skaven, that the elves united and that the Lizardmen disappeared.

All of these were rumoured to occur, and while the details have yet to be released, more than a few hobbyists reacted poorly, flooding the Ebay market with models and lowering prices of second hand models. There were various instances of armies, some of them completely unopened, being sold on Ebay for around half their value. This comes as a direct result of rumours detailing the consolidation of certain armies, wiping out certain units and leading to an uncertain future for many armies that haven’t had a new release in a while(Bretonnians), were always a niche army (Dwarves), or alternately, were subsumed under story reasons or could otherwise have disappeared from the story (Wood Elves and Lizardmen).

In a world where early access and Open Betas are the norm, a lack of contact with your community will cause significant problems. GW’s stonewalling when it comes to rumours has done nothing but hamstring them, leading people to fear the worst about their hobby and look to sell off their models, or otherwise avoid purchasing models for fearof them becoming useless.

Meanwhile, rumours in Magic the gathering are approached with a more hypothetical bent. Being certain over anything is tough, but why be concerned? We have time to speculate, and Wizards is willing to release information long before we play with the cards. The end result is that the rumours are kept in check. Any rumour that sounds outlandish is probably false, and it can be verified. Meanwhile, people are busy theorycrafting cards, oohing and ahhing over cards that grab their attention, and speculating on what could be the breakout card of a set.

Other companies in the tabletop gaming industry have announcements months before release. But that brings me to my question. Do you prefer details? Does the previous action of a company change how much credence you give to rumours about upcoming releases?

  • When it comes to something that requires a huge financial investment, details are important. However, I would go further to argue that a reboot of this magnitude in any of the GW franchises, is a bad thing for the consumer. Ultimately, GW has taken potentially years of collecting and painting, and, in a world where it is increasingly difficult to keep such an expensive hobby, PAYING out the nose for entire armies which are no longer available in the game. From the get go this is anti-consumer. Then take into consideration that they released a huge Elves set, which is incompatible with the new 9th Ed, and how hard they pushed that with all the fans of Warhammer Fantasy completely blind sided by the Wood Elves removal from the game.

    For Magic on the other hand, the most common format is kitchen table. Yes there are people who play pro and are only interested in the most up to date decks, but they are a minority compared to the over all collectors and playership of the game. If there were significant changes to the game through the inclusion of mechanics, or the removal of a race/plansewalker/or hell even the addition of a new colour, like Pokémon TCG did with it’s Fairy and Dragon types, that doesn’t mean you HAVE to play them, and older cards are still viable. All the rules are on the cards themselves, and it’s the content of the card, not necessarily the name that matters.

    You can argue that the same goes for Warhammer, and yes, it’s true that the most common way to battle will be kitchen table. However, the rules aren’t inherent to the minis, you have to buy extensive and expensive rulebooks, and once one set of rules has been replaced, it’s no longer supported. You cannot get a copy of the rulebooks if you don’t already have it, except for second hand market and pirating. Both of which GW have tried to prevent on more than one occasion.

    So your 10,000 point Wood Elves, Ogre, Dwarf, Bretronians armies… worthless. You have spent thousands of your hard earned currency, and now GW has decided to reward your loyalty by removing those armies from the game.