View Full Version : GW Hobby Online

Kaptin Gavrin
17-04-2006, 16:06
It’s been over 10 years since I first stepped online and viewed the Games Workshop hobby on the Internet. Ten years. That might not seem like a long time in the normal flow of life, but it’s been a lifetime for GW games online. Following the changing styles along that time has been a hobby in and of itself, and it’s been an interesting look into how the hobby has changed in recent years.

In 1995, Warhammer was still in its fourth edition, and Warhammer 40,000 was still in second edition. A lot of discussion back then revolved around the use of magic items and wargear, and they were so much a part of the game that they became part of the tactics themselves.

The first website I remember seeing back then was a site calling itself “The Ultimate Games Workshop Website”, managed by Scott and Jason Hill. It was a simple site, with many of the things that defined a GW website back then. There were a sprinkling of tactics and batreps, and a lot of homebrew rules. Best yet, toward the bottom of the page there was a link to a Guestbook where you could leave your mark. However, this had evolved from just a Guestbook. Visitors had taken to using it to discuss the hobby. It became a forum of sorts, with posts one right after the other. Compared to modern PHP forums, it would be considered crude. The simple CGI script had no quoting code, it only displayed the latest post on top of the others, with a timestamp. You couldn’t stay logged in. But for about 20 to 30 of us, it was “home.”

Now, I’m going to introduce you to one of the best services on the web, especially for a nostalgic like me: the Internet Archive. It’s made copies of almost every site on the web periodically for quite some years now. For the site that came to be known to its followers as “UGW”, it only shows a page from 1999… sans images. But that can still give you a hint of what it was like: http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://weber.u.washington.edu/~jchill/gw.html

At that time, there weren’t a lot of GW gamers online. Having a gathering place like that was something pretty special. The small group of posters helped to push a feeling of a community. Everyone knew each other, new members were welcomed warmly, posters commented about their personal lives. There were some occasional flames, but generally it blew over pretty quickly.

At that time, rumors were pretty scarce. Getting information about upcoming GW products was practically impossible. Your best bet for knowing what was coming up was trusting the latest White Dwarf.

You can get a hint of what the Guestbook was like, albeit from 2001, at http://web.archive.org/web/20010310083129/http://students.washington.edu/~jchill/guestbook.html

In early 1996, I decided I was going to jump into the whole website gig. My warboss’s name was “Kaptin Gavrin” so that became my posting handle (or “KG” to a number of people who liked to shorten it, often because they misspelled it). I named my website a simple name based on that handle, “Kaptin Gavrin’s Web Site”. With a lot of the sites having such simple names at the time, it made enough sense.

My first attempt was just a simple thing. I used Geocities’ page builder to do simple pages, and the formatting was frankly terrible. At the time I knew nothing of HTML. But that didn’t stop me from having my fun. I posted stats for Kaptin Gavrin as an Ork special character. Then, having been inspired, I went further. I created a homebrew codex for the Blood Axes clan. I did some more characters, simple stuff like that, and built my way up to a tactica for the Orks.

This was the formula for all websites at the time. Games Workshop was our hobby. We could do as we want. Homebrew rules were rampant, especially codices. There was no stopping a lot of people. Around the same time some of the most prominent sites that popped up featured that formula: The Nexus, The Realm of Inisfail, The Old Sage, The Infinity Circuit, Wulfen’s Lair, ASAHEIM, Sigfod’s Place of the Imperium. Basically, a GW website was a reflection of the person who ran it. If they could do what they wanted with the games, introduce any rules they wanted, what would they be?

I think the introduction of WFB 5th edition followed swiftly by 40K 3rd edition heralded the shifting of the websites. Some sites, such as Inisfail, The Old Sage, and The Maelstrom, had begun taking in a lot of submitted material. You can still see just how much there was by checking out Inisfail’s remaining 40K2 material (http://www.inisfail.com/40k2/) – there’s a new race, variant armies, tactics, special characters, units, wargear, and a lot more. The same goes for The Old Sage’s WFB4/5 section (http://www.geocities.com/oldsage.geo/whfb-4th-5th.html). When Inisfail was first created, the owner of Farseer Khl’ra’s 40K Page said there was no reason to pay for the upgrade from 5MB to 10MB on Geocities, you could never use that much space (after all, he’d done quite a bit of stuff himself!). Not only did it manage to surpass that, but Inisfail managed to get to somewhere close to 100MB of information stored within its pages, even getting to the point that 40K2 material that had been converted to 40K3 was dropped from the site. I dropped all of my 40K stuff, and when The Old Sage jumped to share Inisfail’s server it left all of its previous edition material at Geocities.

The mega-sites were in the process of blooming during the period of 1999 to 2001. Those were their glory days! Corribra Sector popped up, TheWarp, quite a few others.

Another popular part of the GW community at this time were the mailing lists, where you’d register to send e-mails back and forth with a number of other members discussing a topic. From the IGCOM 40K List to the Direwolf WFB list, each list had its own personality. Each of them had distinct posters who stood out, mainly because at best there were only a few hundred members on the busiest of lists.

During the period following the turn of the millennium, more forums popped up, and dedicated forums to boot. I believe it was during this time that a lot of the forums that are now big in the GW hobby came to be – Bolter & Chainsword, Dakka Dakka, Imperium Online, and so on. They began to pop up during the early days of 3rd edition, and really took flight after the turn of the millennium.

The change seemed to happen overnight. The smaller forums dwindled and fell by the wayside. Massive forums with thousands of members became “the standard”. Discussion of homebrew material, and especially the posting of it, almost entirely disappeared. Forums became less of a community, and it’s hard to find one that has a group of posters who feel so close to each other that they will comment on their daily lives freely, and the other posters will be genuinely interested. When I post on a forum these days, I don’t know who it is that I’m posting to. What is their name? Their home? Anything about them? I can post a message on The Waaagh! about Orks and get dozens of responses within a few hours. Sure, that’s great. But it lacks the personality of logging in, seeing that Sniper posted another story and then a little bit about how he had a slight run-in with another estate gang, and then laughing about the latter while asking about posting the first on a website.

The focus of websites has reflected this change. Think of GW websites, what do you think of? B&C? The Waaagh!? Librarium Online? Dakka Dakka? These sites are little more than glorified forums. Librarium Online comes closest to the old style of website, but even then you can’t find the owner’s touch to it. With PHP automation, it’s become a simple matter to just open a website up to submission of articles, and have a website that has the same design across all articles. But even then, Librarium Online only touches on the tactics, modeling, and fiction aspects of the hobby. It still gives no room for homebrew.

That’s another trend I feel increasingly worried about. As if the soul-sucking mega-forums weren’t enough, sapping away the remaining community forums one by one, you have a near reverence for “canon” these days. No one wants to venture into making their own rules. Heck, many of the arguments in the forums center around whether a certain list printed in White Dwarf is legal or not. It’s almost impossible to get a lot of these gamers to experiment, much less invent entire new codices.

In fact, many of the posts now are people expecting to be told what is coming out in the future, or complaints about GW’s dropping of Chapter Approved, upping of prices, or whatever. “The hobby is in decline!” shout the angry mobs. They provide us with less material for enjoyment! I’m appalled by such comments. I remember a truly great fanzine known as “Total Power” that had no degree of officiality to it. Come to think of it, neither did a lot of the stuff over at The University of Altdorf. Yet people were excited and willing to try it.

There used to be a time when a forum was a community, gamers loved to play with the system, website owners updated their sites with their own work, and everyone wanted to leave their own mark on the hobby. Now, websites that have that feeling to them are being left by the wayside. Granted, some of them still get plenty of hits – I know Inisfail and The Old Sage do, as well as my own site, because I work on them and I’ve watched them get plenty of hits each day. But at the same time, without any inspiring e-mails, without anyone seeming to care about the parts of the hobby that are all about your own inspiration, I find myself less excited about pulling out an old article and updating it to match the new rules, much less inventing something entirely new. And frankly, that feeling is wrong.


Kaptin Gavrin
17-04-2006, 16:07

This is our hobby. It belongs to us, the gamer. Take back your hobby. Reclaim it as your own. Build yourself a web site. Invent a new race, or even at least a special character, one that represents your handle if nothing else. Find a small forum and join it. Talk about yourself. Bring back the personality.

This hobby belongs to us. It is not Games Workshop’s duty to save it. If the hobby is in decline, it is because the gamers have sapped it of its fun.

It’s not to late to spark a new revolution.

This article is dedicated to all the wonderful guys and girls from those old forums and the websites – Frostblade, Whistling in the Dark, Crawling Chaos, Sniper, Lord and Lady Zerr, Orion-kin and Skavenwolf, Despoiler, Coony, Wrathe, Shaggy, Beth, Thanos of Titan, Deadlar, TWSL, Karandras, Buckstarved, Asmodai, Master of the Deathwing, HBMC, Cuchulain, Eldanesh, Kestrel, Kasidy, Khaine, Seraph, Shadow Walker, Slayer, Sithspawn, Wulfen, Ptolemy, Bob Lippman, Jeffrey McDowell, Tim Ray, Jimmy Murphy, Mike Marshall, Bill Edwards, Simon Dyson, and all the other folks I forgot to mention. There’s just so many of you out there.

impending slaughter
17-04-2006, 16:21
I think theres 3 big problems with the hobby:

1. People won't even join ''community'' forums. Most people join the ''mega'' forums as you call them.

2. Staggering pessimism from alot of people. ''GW w4nt to r4p3 ur w4ll3t!!!'' kind of stuff. I think you mentioned this is your article actually.

3. An increasing obsession with ''official'' GW stuff. Noone will play rules you invent yourself anymore. For instance I have a converted baneblade I use for my Black Legion chaos. Its been used 3 times iirc *sigh* Personally I blame tournys. People don't play for fun anymore, they play to win

On a side note, you mention Librarium Online. I recently left there because quality has been slipping fast. Its sad because it used to be a really good forum :/

Anyway, an interesting article. Thanks for taking the time to write it :)

17-04-2006, 16:43
Time has changed - those who were new into the hobby back then are grown up now, and either skipped or have less time, and those new into the hobby now may have different demands.

Then of course the hobby changed the hobby itself (though in this particular case it was part due to GW's workings) - I for example find great satisfaction in delving in the games' history, discovering fluff from previous editions, and discuss what is canon - something that naturally wasn't there back then.

While one could define community by all people that play the same game, one could also define community by all people who play the same "metagame", that is, follow the same established background, which is where canon and to a part fixed rules come in handy.

Last, I think it's not as anonymous on mega-forums as one might think. I admit I don't know other forums, but I feel quite in a community around here, something which happens when reading the same poster year-in, year-out. The surge that went through the community when Portent died last year, and lead to numerous initiatives that culminated in this forum, is a good example of a strong group feeling.

My respects to your article *bows*, and this is not meant to devalue anything of it. It's just my take :)

Kaptin Gavrin
17-04-2006, 17:11
Discussing "canon" of the fluff is one thing. It's the ridiculous discussions about what is "official" in terms of rules. The only thing that is "official" anymore is what's in a codex or army book. Even Storm of Chaos is no longer "official" due to its being taken out of the UK tourney circuit.

There is some community at the core of the mega-forums. But when you post something and you see 20 responses, many of which can send the topic in a completely different direction, it can be quite distracting. It seems that to be recognizable you have to post at least 20 posts a day, to be part of the "community" you have to do that. I'm not the only one who doesn't have the ability to do that.

17-04-2006, 17:30
Thanks for taking the time to write up that long two-part post. It was very thought-provoking, and I enjoy reading what people who don't mind putting in the time to write have to say.

17-04-2006, 18:10
We'll put a gold star on the fridge for you as well, Nurglitch. :)

17-04-2006, 19:48
Kappin', I feel your pain.

I miss the old days, too. I miss hanging out on the Igcom list, and seeing the witty postings of Graham Sheckles, Chris Hutchings, Jeff Arp, and other notables. I miss reading through great fan-made army lists, special rules and fiction, much of the time of higher quality than GW produced (and most all of it better than anything they do today). I miss pouring over really funny articles, contests, and other community projects. Most of all, I miss the sense of fun and openness exhuded from the community at large. Times were good, people were good, and nostalgia for that period is probably the only reason I have any interest in GW stuff at all anymore. Well, that and, you know, my friends. My stupid, stupid friends. How I hate them.

I don't think you're entirely on the mark with your assessment of some of the 'nu'-style forums, however. The-Waaagh! in particular reminds me of some of the old-school community, with a stable of unbelievably talented individuals showing off their creative work, trading off jabs, and giving a guiding hand to anyone who asks.

In the main, though, you're right - fan-based creative content's gone to the wayside in the current age of GW, and a good deal of the fun's been sucked out of the hobby, seemingly never to return. It'd be great if people really took to your call. Hey, maybe someday, I'll actually get off my lazy bum and write up those 40K v2.5 rules I've got bouncing 'round my head...

17-04-2006, 20:22
You know Warseer does have a excellent content submission system and we welcome entries covering all aspects of the wargaming hobby.

As to the more inpersonal nature of a large forum for those that are able to attend Lavfluris has run some excellent events and I've met and made a large number of friends over the years.

21-04-2006, 21:01
I still have a copy of my old 40k web site. It was "Charles Laine's warhammer 40k Page". Does anyone remember that? I started it back in 1994 and it lasted until about 1998 or so. I had a bunch of pictures of my paint jobs as well as some quicktime VR stuff. I was also posting WhiteDwarf Q&A with the cooperation of Jervis Johnson from GW. There was no forum, no adds, no nothin but my own stuff.

I think if I did another website, it would just be miniatures galleries and nothing else.

Seems like the "hobby" is being covered quite well by numerous sites already in existence.

Easy E
25-04-2006, 01:51
I recommend the rules development forum! Sadly, it gets few views, but the posters who post there are a rather dedicated lot. There are lot's of fun things to work on.

I totally agree with your thoughts about "tourney" and "officialness" ruining much of this hobby. It's trying to make an olympic sport out of GW materials. Boring.

25-04-2006, 04:43
I think I started in '96, myself, mostly with Usenet. There is no going back, though.

27-04-2006, 22:32
Great post KG. Of course I'm biased having been a frequent visitor of UGW. It was a real, real shame about the ugly manner in which that forum fell apart. Those kinds of devastating flame wars are probably the reason that so many boards are so heavily moderated these days.

I completely agree with you about the personal nature of that forum. I find that the larger forums are great for getting into detailed yet impersonal discussions but UGW was something else entirely. There might be only a handful of posts in a day but every one was pure gold.

Of course back then I was in my early to mid teens and I find myself looking back on my enjoyment of the hobby as a whole in those days with a great deal of nostalgia. In an e-mail I received from Skrittiblak (remember him?) fairly recently he referred to it as our "golden age" of wargaming. I couldn't agree more. Sure I'm a far better tactician than I ever was back then but the naivety with which I approached the game was a big part of the magic.

This article is dedicated to all the wonderful guys and girls from those old forums and the websites – ...TWSL, Karandras, Buckstarved...

You remembered me, I'm touched! ;)


With regards to your other points, I think that the third edition of 40k saw a rise in the number of people who were more interested in a game than a hobby. Whether or not Brother Edwin is a troll who likes to get a rise out of people, he characterizes an attitude that is quite prevalent among gamers at present. Just read this article (http://grasp.soft.lv//modules.php?op=modload&name=XForum&file=viewthread&fid=11&tid=853) that he used to have in his signature (I couldn't find the original article but it has posted in its entirety on that forum).

Kaptin Gavrin
28-04-2006, 03:55
I certainly remember Skrittiblak. I still have his "Space Quest" game (all 200+ pages of it!) saved on my computer. :)

29-04-2006, 17:53
No offense, but your entire post reeks of selective memory. Those lovely quaint little sites were great, what with the scripts being so badly written they ate your posts seven times in a row before they submitted, their servers failing periodically and losing masses of submitted info and the fact it took months of hit and miss hunting to actually find an active site if you were unlucky. And that's not even getting into the rampant eliteism you encountered when trying to break into those small communities.

The internet, while now home to some very irritating AOL-kiddies, is infinitely superior to that time, and the same goes for the content. Sites like Warseer and B&C offer all the benefits of those older sites, they merely do so in different ways, and they have also eliminated many of the disadvantages. Right here in the Rules Development forum, people are working together to create a Dark Mechanicus codex, and have already crafted an entirely new alien race, as well as loads of other cool homebrew rules. There is also a group of people here who I am pleased to talk to on a regular basis, and who I eagerly await to see post their latest painting projects or opinions. There are frequent discussions of personal issues and postings of funny stories as well, and it tends to be a similar group of people who take the time to discuss the issues and answer questions. Plus, it manages to do all that without being annoying to use and with a much larger volume of information to boot(the B&C crash is one of the few really major problems recently).

The people you talk about are still here, they form the dedicated core of a larger forum's userbase, those people who everyone looks to for advice and opinions on every hobby-related topic(for example, most people will only believe a new rumour once Brimstone or one or two others have confirmed it, because they are known for consistent accuracy and are always around to chat with about such things). Look at it this way; those who prefer to just use "official" material and who you seem to think are dull individuals have always been around, but what incentive did they have to use those old websites? Why would they put themselves through all the hassle of using the internet in those days when the content was not something they were interested in? Now the 'net is so widespread and easy to use that where previously it wasn't worth the effort for them, they now have what they want available at their fingertips such as settling rules disputes, verifying the legality of their conversions, discussions of tournaments or wargear combinations, tactica threads and soforth.

It's not that the "old guard" is gone, it's that the different "old guard" and the "new guard" has joined them online. That's not a bad thing, in fact I would say it's the opposite, as it provides those of us who do like things like homebrew rules and crazy senarios the chance to try and encourage others to try them.