Today, Games Workshop posted the new 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' products up for advance order. This has bipolarised the hobby community, perhaps completely understandably considering the seeming nature of the most vocal portion of the online community. You know what I mean.
So will 'The Hobbit' follow in 'The Lord of the Rings' footsteps as a supposed 'hobby flop'? Have 'lessons been learned'? Will 'The Hobbit' lead to, as Andrew King so eloquently put it, a fantasy renaissance? Join me after the jump where I'll be examining the facts and making a few of my own predictions.
I'm certain that, with the heavy usage of quotation marks in that opening statement, my opinion on the matter should be fairly clear. However, I do not wish to merely state my opinions and make predictions without looking first at the reality of the estate that 'The Hobbit' is moving into.
Today I have seen a lot of talk on the Internet (I'm still not entirely certain why I still browse certain parts of it) about how 'The Hobbit' will be just as big a flop as 'The Lord of the Rings' was. After all, nobody played 'The Lord of the Rings', right? It was the third wheel on the Games Workshop bicycle... Apparently.
It's blatantly obvious that these statements are made by people who have not been into the Games Workshop hobby that long. It is usually the case with the magna minoritate that they follow a set pattern.
At Hobby Infancy, everything is new and they are painfully aware of it. They ask many questions, seeking to clamber out of the Infancy state as fast as possible, perceiving the lack of knowledge as weakness and inferiority to those higher. Having learnt a thing or two, the magna minoritate seeks the companionship of the Experts who taught them, and to show off their newly acquired knowledge, will flaunt it at every opportunity. As the knowledge is still fresh, this is often misinformation, and the general showboating is tiresome at best, infuriating at worst.
Of course, this is true in more situations than just ours, and is only a particular breed of online hobbyist. Sadly, they're also the most vocal and, thus, the most often noticed.
Why is it obvious that those making these statements are fairly new to the hobby? Simply because anyone who saw the sales for 'The Lord of the Rings' when the films were still fresh from the cinema could never say it was a flop - not with a straight face at least. At the time when the films first came out, and Games Workshop was producing boxes like "The Attack At Weathertop" (boxes that contained certain scenes from the films), 'The Lord of the Rings' dominated. It even overtook Warhammer 40,000 in most cases. People went mad for it.
This is Tolkien's Middle Earth we're talking about. Try finding an adult hobbyist who has not at least attempted to read any of books. It was these books that inspired most of Warhammer, and through that, Warhammer 40,000. Tolkien was the grandfather of fantasy, and without his works, the rest of our hobby likely wouldn't even exist.
The films too were a humongous success. They're an integrated part of early 21st century pop culture. They allowed adults to relive their childhood, and for a new generation to discover a magical new world. We're talking a generation of kids that, at the time, would be just entering the computer generation. It was a time when suddenly, minds that were becoming obsessed with the digital would be cast back into worlds of fantasy and mystery.
When Games Workshop released their models, they became a manic and instant success. It's worth pointing out, however, that these were not tournament style games as we're oh-so-painfully used to being told we 'absolutely must play' in Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000 by the magna minoritate. The game then was designed for creative re-enactment of the story. Players would recreate famous scenes and see if they could, perhaps, perform better than the characters had in the books and films. They were playing What-If scenarios. What if Gandalf had not fallen in Moria and was present at Amon Hen - would Boromir still die and would Merry and Pippin still be captured?
Sadly, the films had to end. They were three films and the moment the credits rolled on 'Return of the King', this game style would ultimately be doomed.
Games Workshop owns the sole rights to the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universes. If they want to add anything, they can, and do. They can update it. They can keep it fresh with new story, new models, new rules. With 'The Lord of the Rings', the world was set. Eventually, models would be released for everything. Eventually, those gamers would have played every scenario time and again.
At this point, not content to let such gorgeous models and such an inspiring world fall to the wayside, Games Workshop expanded the idea to the precursor of the Warband model most 'The Lord of the Rings: Strategy Battle Game' players are familiar with today - the more '40k-ish' or 'tournament style' system of recent. Without this, I dare say that 'The Lord of the Rings' would have faded and died, drifting into Specialist Game territory like Necromunda and Warmaster, or worse, out of existence altogether like Gorkamorka and Man'o'War. That would be a gross disservice.
Even before 'The Hobbit' was announced, I can tell you from personal experience that a very sizeable chunk of those people that I get to introduce to the hobby as a whole, do so through 'The Lord of the Rings'. Those are the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 players of tomorrow. You're welcome, says 'The Lord of the Rings'.
I can also tell you that, if you walk into a room of Games Workshop hobbyists and ask who has 'The Lord of the Rings' models, most will raise their hand. Ultimately, nearly all of us, innately, have an appreciation for Tolkien's works, even on a subconscious level - and many 'hardcore' gamers still like to dabble in it. It is a fast and unique system and perfect for a change of pace - not to mention exceptionally easy to just pick up and play.
So, all in all, one cannot refer to 'The Lord of the Rings' as a flop, or the 'third wheel'. Admittedly, it lost momentum in the final years, but such is the nature of a limited license. There's only so much can be done before you hit the edges of the sandbox. No giant planet eating space bugs in Middle Earth.
What does this mean for 'The Hobbit'? Well, many things. The films are already drawing HUGE attention from fans if the original trilogy. It is arguable that the book of 'The Hobbit' is even more famous than 'The Lord of the Rings', and so the films are drawing an astonishing level of excitement from people who are either too young to remember the original 'The Lord of the Rings' films, or wish to relive their childhood having read it generations ago.
This is an incredible fan base that will give 'The Hobbit' game a lot of fuel. The embers of that fire will surely reawaken 'The Lord of the Rings' and even 'The War of the Ring' (which I still believe to be a sorely underplayed gem of a game), and draw more people to the community to be introduced to Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000.
It may be apparent that I've mentioned that the Tolkien fans often sidestep into the other systems, quite a few times. I do so because I am shocked at how many people do not simply 'not care' about Middle Earth, but actively frown upon it and complain that Games Workshop is wasting time and effort that could be put to better use working on 'their' game.
Ultimately, I'll make no apologies here. Making a huge profit will help 'their' game, as that's money that goes to pay the wages of more writers, sculptors and for newer equipment and techniques. Beyond that, I'll state again, those drawn in by 'The Hobbit' usually stay to play the other games too, giving those players opponents in the future.
But will we see a Fantasy renaissance? Will 'The Hobbit' in the cinemas reconnect a generation with worlds of imagination? Will it manage to pull those children away from their latest rehash of Halo, or the latest bucket of milk from the Star Wars universe? Only time will tell.