In the latest issue of Wargames Illustrated Ray Lucas makes an interesting observation in his A view from the trenches column. Basically, he states that the increased publication quality of recent rulesets (flashy pages and photographs versus copied or — god forbid — stenciled black and white pages of dense text) has led to the article content of WI being reduced to nothing more than thinly disguised adverts for the various new rulesets.
I have recently resubscribed to WI, after having given up on it on account of the lack of decent articles in it (this was around the period when WI was turning into a Foundry catalog, written by Chris Peers). I had heard it said, however, that the publication was picking up again, so I resubbed a few months ago.
I have found, however, that I enjoy reading the magazine a lot less than I did before. Of course, part of this can be the rosy veil of the past remembrance smoothing over the flaws of yesteryear, but Ray’s comment has set me thinking that he may, in fact, have a point, and that his point is the reason I enjoy the magazine less than I did before.
I do not agree with the whole of his comment, though. I think he is right in saying, and he has certainly opened my eyes to the fact that, the vast majority of the articles in the current crop of WI issues are indeed only thinly veiled adverts for various rulesets or figure ranges. This is probably the reason why I enjoy the mag less these days, despite the cornucopia of increasingly attractive miniature photography that seems to have become be a major selling point for the publication (at least for the publisher).
What I disagree with, or at least want to nuance a bit, is Ray’s reasoning wrg to the cause of this: he argues that the increased publication costs of the new crop of rulesets is the direct cause for this style of article-slash-advert. While there might well be a kernel of truth in this, I do not think that this is the entire story. As often stated when yet another thread on magazine quality erupts on some mailing list or discussion group somewhere, WI’s editor can only publish what he is sent in the way of articles. If it turns out that Duncan McFarlane only gets sent this kind of article, then that is all he will be able to publish.
My point (what, there is a point to this?) is that while there are indeed ruleset authors and members of their inner circle (alpha friends as Phil would call them :) ) that send in adverticles for their rulesets, this was happening in the past too. What has changed though, is that there are less and less other articles being sent in to the magazines (with the odd exception to prove the rule, of course — viz Barry Hilton’s of League of Augsburg truly excellent series on WWII rulesets), thus diluting their non-adverticle content.
And I think we do not have the look very far for the reason behind that particular development: you’re reading it. Of course, I am not arguing that Tiny Tin Men is the reason for the decline of article quality in WI, but the Internet might well be. In an age where every club, wargames group, ruleset author and miniature manufacturer has its own website with information and — occasionally — good articles, there is no more incentive for most people to go through the rigmarole of writing a true to god paper article and getting it published. Only people with an interest in promoting their ruleset or whatever have an incentive to still use this channel
And while I am not quite the raving blogs are the future of journalism, the universe and everything fanboy that many in the blogosphere are, I do believe that wargames blogs such as TTM will only increase this tendency. This very post is an example of this: back in the old days, this would have been a letter to the editor. Now, it lives on the Net only.
Is this the future knocking on our door?