They Bloody Well Did It!
Sceptics and Crazy People
( This article was first published in 2001)
The sceptics were out … they didn’t want to know … they thought it would be chaos … hordes of ‘kids’ pilfering everything in sight … no-one able to concentrate … they’d “tried it before”, they said [when?] … it’ll never work … and why bother, no-one wants to know about wargaming, except wargamers, and they already do!! Not only pointless, but mad!
But there were just enough ‘crazy’ people who believed. Just enough who thought that there was a point, it could be done; who were prepared to take a bit of a gamble on an idea that might just generate new interest in our hobby. So Campaign 01 was born, and took place, against the odds, last May, in the largest enclosed public area in any shopping centre in the UK, where the average weekend footfall is estimated to be over 100,000 people.
It took place in a large airy and light hall, in the centre of one of the countries biggest shopping centres, amidst the thronging weekend shoppers. A small number of traders, a good number of gamers from the main periods, and a creditable number of participation and demonstration games were scattered around the venue, and entertained not only the participants, but also the many onlookers.
“I’ve never seen anything like it!” gasped one lady.
“I didn’t know so many people were interested,” said another.
“Its incredible!” muttered an elderly gentleman.
“D’you mean you actually have to work all this out with rules? I’d no idea it was so complex.”
And others, “Do you have any lady players?”
“The models are so small and so fantastic.”
“ I’ve always been interested in history.”
Another view of Camapign 01
About six of us spent nearly the whole weekend talking to interested and fascinated members of the public. They were polite, some knowledgeable, some not, intrigued by the small figures, yet impressed by the overall spectacle. One man stood for over two hours solid, watching a Napoleonic game unfold, after talking at length to one of our club members. We spoke to British people, from quite a wide area, but also to Dutch, Norwegian, Australian, South African and American to my personal knowledge.
We set out to engage the public in our hobby … and we ‘bloody well did it!!
This is an impression, a collage of a weekend; but since that weekend, club members have been able to meet and compare impressions, to build up a more balanced, and so ultimately more useful, picture of the weekend. Overall, there is a sense of a hard but enjoyable weekend, both because it was a challenge, but also because none of predictions of gloom and doom were realised….and believe me we had many.
We had a small selection of traders. We would of course have liked more, but we were pleased that enough of the trade community were prepared to take a chance and turn up. We know that a couple due to be there, had last minute personal crises to deal with, and we wish them all the best, but we would also like to thank those that did support the weekend. Next year we will be wooing more! To the best of my knowledge, the impression amongst trade was fairly positive, with the exception of one who arrived, said “my God this is too open!” and left. The traders that club members spoke to appreciated the fact that the site is on one level, which made transporting easier. They appreciated the assistance provided by club stewards in setting up. We did have feedback about the restrictions imposed by the centre, which were thought to be unfair, restrictive, confusing, unnecessary, and so forth, but it has to be said, mostly from those who did not come. In reality, the interference of the regulations was very minimal. The other concern voiced by some, had been the threat to stock posed by ‘hordes of kids’ pilfering from traders stalls. Again this just did not materialise. Most of the children were in family groups, and often showed interested that dragged their parents in. I am not aware of any trader who suffered any loss.
It was, however, interesting to see the difference in the approach of traders. They are used to a clientele who know exactly what they want. They might be handed a list of specific items to sort out, and have adapted how they work, to provide this very swiftly. They do not have to ‘sell’ their wares in as such as, their reputation and the quality of their product has already done that for them. In an open show, where the hobby is on view to a wide cross section of the public, many of whom do not know the first thing about wargaming, they suddenly have to become salesmen again! There was a stark contrast between one stall that had its figures set out largely in pre-bagged packs, ready to dispense in the usual efficient way, but very little to interest the untutored eye; and another who had plenty to look at, and during quiet moments was painting figures, which proved a source of fascination to many who walked by and stopped to look. An open show will be as great a challenge for traders as for gamers, I am sure. Our hobby will only go from strength to strength, if we can engage those with a potential interest, and turn it, by our enthusiasm, into a committed interest. In economic terms, can the quality of the products and the enthusiasm of the traders, help create new customers? I think so.
We also had a dedicated band of competitors, whose faces I see regularly, and who are the mainstay of the hobby. We will attract more with an improved trade presence, but equally, a good player turn-out will itself encourage better trade. One player told me, “Its not a wargamers show.” The implication was that there was not enough to attract the non-playing gamer. True! But this first exercise was about gauging public reaction….we always knew the established gamers would find the first new-venue show limited. The public’s reaction was excellent. They were interested and enthusiastic, and the shopping centre management did not have one single complaint about the show from anyone. I do not accept that a show must be for either gamers or the public … it can attract both, and that is next year’s goal, to make Campaign much more of a gamers show, whilst developing the spectacle for the public. My next opponent might be out there somewhere!
With more players, the whole show will improve, but there were those who decided they could not play in a shopping centre. The venue, from a players point of view, apart from being in a shopping centre, had a great deal to commend it. Parking was abundant, and not too far away. The centre was light and airy with plenty of space. There was a good variety of accommodation close by. The centre had several fast-food and café facilities within a very short walk. There was plenty to do in the evening, for those competitors who decided to stay. The shopping and recreational facilities made it an ideal location to bring other members of the family to, while you were playing. And for those to whom it was important, the National League was a ranking tournament. With more players will come more traders, and with them more players. We hope we have generated enough momentum.
From a players point of view, one of the main omissions was a Bring and Buy. A fair comment, but there were logistical and organisational reasons for this, which were out of our control. Next year, however, we are confident that this feature will again be part of the show.
There was also a concern amongst players beforehand, about the effect the public would have on their games. We heard legitimate concerns about derisive comments, security of figures and belongings, interference with games, and so forth. I have to admit to hearing of one little toddler picking up a stand of figures, but dad immediately replacing them on the table. Other than that….nothing! I can understand the fears over security; many of my models, terrain and scenery were out over the weekend too. But the fears were in the end groundless. Afterwards, players spoke to me and others, of hardly noticing the public at all. Others said they had expected it to be quite noisy and had been pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t. Another made reference to all the young ladies to watch, whilst his opponent was having his turn!! It seems that holding it in a shopping centre, perhaps because of the size of the area, made no real difference in the end at all.
As far as local clubs are concerned, despite the offer to publicise them, we had only a small response. An information desk was manned and active the whole weekend, and we distributed a lot of our own flyers. We could have done the same for other local clubs, had we had something. We talked to people from all over the area. There was interest there. We felt that if we could encourage new wargamers, even if it was not to our own club, the hobby generally would benefit, and so we would by default. We will continue to offer the same facility next year, if other local clubs can organise a handout by then.
So what next?
Milton Keynes Wargames Society will be staging the second wargames showcase next year on 11/12 May 2001, in the same venue, with the same intention, to take our hobby to the public. It will be bigger and better. There will be more competitions and there will be a Bring and Buy. There will be re-enactors and there will be military modellers. Plus all the usual participation and demonstration games, and an increased trade presence, which we hope to advertise in advance this year.
“They bloody well did it … and they are bloody well going to do it again!!”
Article by Dave Hynds 2001