I think I first connected to the internet (at home) around 1997-98, and found that it was a terrific aid to my hobby, opening a wealth of information and yielding access to endless material resources that I was previously unaware of, or that were otherwise inaccessible. The internet was wonderful, possibly the single most important component of the hobby.
Twenty years later, I've come to realize that one of the worst things to happen to "my hobby" was the internet. Access to other gamers through the web has replaced much of the "in person" contact that I and those that I used to game with had with each other. It has also changed the face of the market place, such that the local hobby shop is little more useful to me, than a women's cosmetics store. And yet, I still dearly embrace the web.
In considering some recent discussions with other gamers, which inspired my recent "Big Battle Skirmishes" post on The Wargames Website, I offer the following thoughts, and wonder about the experiences of others.
One view shared with me in my recent game related conversations, was the opinion that packaged skirmish games featuring 28mm figs have come to overshadow classic big battle games, and smaller scales. While I disagreed at least somewhat with the skirmish side of the discussion (addressed on TWW), I find that there is some truth in how these games have impacted my relationship with hobby shops.
In the 1980s, 1990s, and even into the early 2000s, I would frequent a number of area hobby shops in north eastern and central Ohio. In years past, I could get monsters, starships, tanks, ships, soldiers, and airplane miniatures/models in 1/3788, 1/2400, 1/700, 1/300, 1/285, 1/100, 15mm, 1/72, 20mm, and 28mm scales. I could buy figs for at least 24 periods/genres that I played. Currently, at those same shops, I can get a very limited number of figs for two of those 24 interests. Additionally, I could get multiple independent rules for most of those periods through those shops, as well as a variety of board wargames and role-playing games, none of which are available today.
As time went on, the range of miniatures products narrowed, and around 15 years ago, the products almost completely ceased to be offered. They were slowly replaced in the store by a narrow range of complete game systems, offering everything that was needed for the game from a single company in high quality, full color packaging.
It wasn't until after these conversations over the last couple of months that I realized that even the most common 15mm entry into the packaged games, Flames of War, had largely been dropped, and generally replaced with a 28mm counterpart from Warlord games.
Now, I recognize the simplicity for the store manager to order a complete product line from one source, and the appeal to the new game customer to get the entire product line from a single source, as opposed to matching imprecisely scaled miniatures from different sources, with rules, paints, guides, TO&Es, etc all from multiple independent sources.
The effect on me has been that over the last twenty years, I have gone from spending 95 percent of my hobby dollars at the hobby shop, to around 3 percent today. Twenty years ago, when I found that I had some free time, I could go tot he shop, often with a friend, buy some figs, and work on them that afternoon or evening. Today, I have to order them, wait 10 days to 13 weeks, and hope that the stars again align, such that I have opportunity to work on them, before they get misplaced, or the inspiration disperses into the ether.
Curiously, since the hobby shops "abandoned" us, roughly 60 percent of the guys that I used to game with have left the hobby. Most of them were guys that had gamed with, had gamed for at least 20 years, at the time that this started to manifest. Even though we never played much at any of the shops (most didn't offer in store gaming at the time), going to the shop and buying figs was often still a social component of the hobby. As that social component went away, seemingly, so did they.
I do occasionally go to the local shops, to buy some paint, or the odd item, and always hoping to find that much needed miniature, but with little success. And while at the shop, I do find a wealth of games. Games that somehow fail to capture my interest, along with a generation of new, younger gamers that I, unfortunately, just fail to connect with. They see me, the old man, browsing the games, but not buying, and draw their own conclusions. I see them, "the kids", playing the newest 40K, Warlord's flavor of the day, or Star Wars X-Wing, often with what appears to be dispassionately bare tables with unpainted figs, and realize that we each participate in two different hobbies that, confusingly, look somewhat similar.
I guess that I should be happy that the hobby shops (at least some of them) have found a way to survive in the shadow of the internet, but I regret that in their mutual effort to instantaneously gratify me, neither has done so with the success that the hobby shop once did.
At times like this moment, I lament what was, and fail to appreciate what is. I suspect that 20 years from present, I will do as I am doing now. Probably always remembering the past as better than it was at the time. Still, despite all that is available today, I can't help but feel that my "golden age of the hobby" rests somewhere in the past.