The news feed coming out of Fantasy Flight Games has been overflowing with X-wing updates of late. GR75 and Tantive IV previews, Imperial Aces and the GR75’s alternate X-wing pilots, store championships and regionals, wave 4 previews… and now yet another type of event: the Assault at Imdaar Alpha — a wave 4 pre-release tournament where the tournament package will include one each of the four new ships. That’s pretty smeggin’ awesome if you ask me.
This all adds up to six brand new types of ships, plus two packs with a pile of new pilot cards and upgrades for existing models (the X-wing and Interceptor), all coming out in the next couple of months. The excitement is almost overwhelming, and in some ways that might not always be a good thing.
Hear me out! Fantasy Flight and GW are taking drastically opposite approaches to PR, and both have some pros and cons.
The GW Approach
GW has been clamping down on rumors for years, with virtually nothing previewed in any official capacity until it’s up for pre-order. This leaves a huge void for the rumor sites and the odd troll who Photoshops up a false preview once in a while.
This makes it harder for the average gamer to plan ahead, and doesn’t do much to build up anticipation in advance of the new products. If anything, it just puts a lot of doubt in people’s minds, as they can’t trust what little information that they can get, and there’s a justifiable fear of their expensive armies being invalidated overnight by upcoming releases.
On the bright side, you do get some very nice surprises once in a while, and they generally are hitting more home runs than strikeouts in the miniature quality department lately. Knights look fantastic and while I’ve only just begun putting mine together, I’m actually rather looking forward to painting a big vehicle — something that is damn near without precedent in my personal gaming history. I plan on re-reading my Forge World masterclass books again before slapping any paint, but it really is nice to be excited for a GW project again.
The FFG Approach
Compare and contrast against Fantasy Flight’s treatment of X-wing. They are routinely dumping previews of new ships and cards on their website for all to see. Just enough things are left to the imagination so that you still have some surprises to look forward to (i.e., not all cards are shown in advance, and there’s always the mystery surrounding the all-important maneuver dials), but generally you know almost exactly what’s coming out before it gets here. A lot of folks have nailed down new army lists long before the release date, and picking up the actual models so you can start playing proper games is just a formality.
FFG also takes another very welcome step, engaging some of the best and brightest of the community directly. The first ever world champion, Doug Kinney, has penned an article for them recently, and so has A-wing fan Neil Amswych (I admit, I have no idea who Neil is). For someone new to the game, who doesn’t necessarily know all the blogs and forums to really dig deep into the tactics, these articles are a great resource and build up a lot of good faith with the community. There have also been hints that the world champs have helped design some rules for future wave 5 releases… how cool is that!
The downside of the FFG approach kinda sneaks up on you. When you preview so much stuff months in advance, and then fail to deliver expansions within a reasonable time frame, a lot of that excitement is wasted. The lustre fades before the models even arrive, and the excitement shifts to the next round of previews.
I’d obviously consider the FFG approach to be better from the customer’s perspective, but there’s still room for improvement. A steady supply of new rules and packages for tournament organizers is awesome, and will go a long way towards sustaining the game for the foreseeable future, but they really do need to narrow the gap between previews and release dates significantly. Most of that seems to be on the logistics side, manufacturing and shipping the products. Fix that lag time, and you fix one of the very few shortcomings with this excellent game.
For GW, I see some progress in the weekly White Dwarf and the daily articles on the website, but I don’t really see them shifting their approach too drastically. Without a charismatic figurehead or significant engagement of the community leaders who help keep the game going, it’s hard not to perceive them as the monolithic corporation that only sees gamers as walking dollar signs.
Yes, they have a bottom line to worry about and shareholders to keep happy, but there are plenty of gaming companies that find a way to transcend the “us versus them” relationship between themselves and their customers. GW could really benefit from doing that. Giving customers the Knight kit after years of demand was probably a very good move, but it’s not enough on its own.
Enough philosophizing for now, I’ve got some drinks that need drinking, models that need building, and a squad roster to finalize before the last week of the X-wing league at Mission tomorrow. Paul just needs to show up to lock up 1st place, but I have a fairly firm grip on 2nd and I don’t intend to let it slip 🙂