Monday, 28 October 2019

Deliberate Purchasing of Miniatures

For several years now, I’ve struggled when it came to miniature painting. I found it harder and harder to motivate myself, and it seemed that too many of my painting sessions were ending in frustration. Don’t get me wrong, I was still pleased with a lot of my output, but I just wasn’t enjoying it as much as I knew was possible.

The problem was, I couldn’t figure out why.

The last time this happened, it was because I needed glasses, but I didn’t believe there was any physical issue this time around. So, I pondered. I do a lot of pondering. It’s practically a hobby in itself. I thought back to the times when I was happiest painting miniatures.

Eventually, I discovered the problem. I owned too many unpainted miniatures.

In this hobby we have an unfortunate tendency to glorify our hoard. Sure, we laugh it off, with jokes about ‘The Lead Mountain’ or the ‘Shelf of Shame (or Opportunity!)’, and yet we also revel in it, like Smaug on his pile of gold. We post photographs on social media, showing off our shelf that has more unopened boxes of miniatures than the local gaming store. We back Kickstarters that contain more miniatures than it is possible to paint before we die. And then we back another one. We spend more time lusting after the new and shiny than we do concentrating on and appreciating the miniature in our hands…

And that, I realized, was the root of the problem. I wasn’t concentrating on the miniature in my hands. Every time I picked up a miniature to paint, I would feel the weight of all of the unpainted ones behind it. I would paint fast, so I could get this miniature done and move onto the next one. I wasn’t an artist enjoying his craft; I was a human treadmill attempting to pump out painted miniatures as fast as I could. I wasn’t even painting the miniatures so I could play with them anymore. I was painting to remove the weight. 

In my pondering, I realized that I have been happiest painting miniatures when I had the least miniatures to paint. If I only owned a handful, then I would take my time on each one. I would savour them, doing my best to paint each one to my highest standard. When I finished, I would feel proud of my work, instead of relieved to tick another one off the list.

So I took drastic action. I counted the number of unpainted miniatures I owned. It was many hundreds. I then chose the 50 I most wanted to paint. I didn’t worry about what game they were from, what I would use them for, or even how much they cost. The only criteria was how much I desired to sit and paint them. Then I got rid of the rest of them. Sold or given away.

I’ve come up with a new system. I only buy miniatures if I plan to paint those miniatures RIGHT NOW. Seriously, if they aren’t going to be the next miniatures to come across my painting desk, then I’m not going to buy them. I’ll pick them up later, or not. In addition, I’m not going to buy more than 6 miniatures at a time (or one box if the box contains more than 6), and I am not allowed to buy any more until I finish painting those.

Does this sound like a harsh regime? It’s really not. Since I now buy miniatures in such small batches, I actually get to buy miniatures more often! Does it mean I spend a bit more on shipping? Sure, I guess, on a per-miniature basis – but actually since it so severely cuts down on miniatures I buy and never paint, I suspect I’m saving money in the long run. Am I missing opportunities for limited-edition miniatures? I guess, if that miniature is part of some huge kickstarter that comes with 100 other miniatures… but how much of an opportunity is that? Besides, there are so many new miniatures coming out, there is always something new and cool available.

I’m now down to thirty-something unpainted miniatures. My plan is get it below twenty and keep it there. I think twenty is a good number to keep in reserve, in case of a long winter storm (seriously, that’s about the only reason I can think of to keep any in reserve at all), especially if those twenty are all thoughtfully chosen so that I know I really want to paint them.

I am currently enjoying painting miniature more than I have in years, and I think my output on this blog kind of speaks for itself. In fact, ironically, since I'm painting more, I'm actually buying more.

Look, I make my living in the wargaming industry, and a small, but important part of my income comes from the sale of miniatures. People buying miniatures is good for me financially, both directly and indirectly. But I don’t believe that binge-buying miniatures is ultimately good for anyone. The cost in money is obvious, the other costs are harder to see, but just as real.

Each of us gamers needs to work out our own appropriate level of miniature buying. I mean, obviously, if you enjoy ‘Big Battle’ wargames, you are going to need to buy more, also if you want to play more games that have required miniatures. But, if you are spending more time thinking about which minis to buy, than you are enjoying the ones you have, then there is unhealthy disconnect, and it is probably time to step back and re-examine your hobby.

Most of us got into this hobby because we love the sight of painted miniatures on the table. Maybe it was a lone warrior holding a bridge against some orcs, or maybe it was a massive army of rat men and their associated death machines. These are the things that fire our imaginations!

None of us got into this hobby because we admired a shelf-full of unpainted, unassembled piles of plastic or lead. So why should we hold such things in value now?

24 comments:

  1. Excellent material. I've had similar thought when I wrote a text about what minis you actually need. I simply asked GM's what minis they actually needed when playing instead of what the had bought. Suffice to say the number of dragons and beholders owned had no relation to what they put on the table. Mostly goblins, gnolls and bugbears

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  2. I didn't have the courage to get rid of the stuff I own but I also have switched to a regimin of only buying stuff I know I want to paint and have motivation to paint. The amount of time I have too paint is too scarce thses days spend any of it in anxest over what I should be painting.

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    1. I actually made the 'getting rid of' sound a lot easier there than it was. It took several tries and could be a blog post buy itself. In truth, that's 'past mistakes' though. It is more important to focus on moving forward. Yeah, you've got to enjoy that painting time as you get older or what's the point!

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  3. I'm currently trying to do similar, but the selling is taking time due to quite how bad I've let it get. Some of my gamer friends were a bit horrified when I mentioned quite how much my new purchases were being funded by selling the old stuff...

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    1. I don't think it is something you have to rush. As long as you are heading in the right direction, you'll get there eventually.

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  4. For me, the reason I have so darned many minis is because I bought them at a stupid good price. I do want to paint them all. Now I've been buying minis for only games I play (specifically Frostgrave ;-) ) and I'm enjoying finding that perfect mini to match the text and my Egyptian flavoured game. So I won't stop hoarding minis, but I do so quite selectively

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    1. I think that mini buying becomes a problem when it reaches a case of, "Not hoarding, but drowning".

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  5. As many of my opponents have had kids recently, I have drastically reduced opportunities to play, and I'm having a kid of my own soon, so my hordes are now very much long term personal projects, and the main focus of my hobby. I hope to play with all of them at some point, but the building and painting is what will keep me active and entertained in my down time for the foreseeable future.

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  6. I developed a serious Kickstarter problem a few years back, and have only weaned myself off of it recently. I agree that there is a level of Stuff that is emotionally paralysing. I quickly passed that, and have felt unhappy for a while.

    I am now starting to sell stuff on ebay. My plan is to get shot of pretty much everything and to hopefully enjoy what I have got left.

    I have realized that what I really enjoy doing is kitbashing and conversion and thinking up fluff for my minis. Hopefully this is where I'll be able to concentrate (along with some terrain making).

    Oddly, the games that now interest me all seem to be written by some chap called Joseph A. McCullough.

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    1. Kickstater is both a boon and a curse!

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    2. I went thru the kickstarter fever as well.

      Now I am trying to sell all the ones I have purchased for the mini count and only keeping those that I do want to play.

      But I have come to the conclusion that I am never going to paint these minis, just play the game. I am thinking of the minis as upgraded meeples.

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  7. Funny, I wrote essentially the very same article back in Feburary of last year: https://www.hotdiceminiatures.com/blog/2018/2/10/being-energized-by-your-collection

    It seems most of us go through this transformation after enough self reflection. I ditched a ton of miniatures (mostly already painted, some not) and radically changed my purchasing habits. I'm proud to say that I'm still excited about every miniature in my unpainted column. I think the numbers will be different for everyone, but ultimately what's important is being excited about what's coming.

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  8. 99% of the blogosphere is presumably feeling very attacked right now, haha!
    Jokes aside, it’s an interesting idea - my issue tends to be having too much half-finished stuff, leading to option paralysis when it comes to painting...

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  9. Terrific post Joe. I've spent a lifetime collecting more unpainted minis than I will ever get the chance to paint. It's part of the addictive personality of so many wargamers. And it does weigh on you -- as any "unfinished business" does. Hope this spurs me to get the gumption to start selling things to folks who can get some joy out of them, rather than having them languish on a shelf for another 20 years.

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  10. Good post. I think a lot of this comes from companies generating hype to sell their products. I started downsizing early last year, and it has been immensely satisfying both finanically and in terms of releaving stress!). Part of it is rationalising the number of games I play. I have fully painted forces that alow me to play all the games that I am currently interested in to a good level. Once that happens the pressure to get things done is lifted and painting becomes a much more relaxing way to spend your time.

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    1. I agree that the hype machine has a lot to do with it, but then, how else are companies supposed to sell there stuff? I think you make the good point about playing the games you love. Once you have the basic stuff, you can add stuff slower. The problem is we keep adding games!

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  11. This is the article I needed, Joe! I started purging a large portion of my minis/game collection about 4 years ago. I immediately felt the weight off my shoulders. But my minis collection has remained quite mighty. In fact, the weight has began to build again.

    This tactic may not be for everyone, but it's definitely what I need to bring joy back into my hobby and free my mind to enjoy the games and minis I'll actually play with.

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    1. Glad it could help! It's so, so easy to over-buy, and everyone's comfort level will be different, but I'm sure there is a connection between focus and fun.

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  12. Good on you.

    Back when I was playing Warhammer 40,000, I was splashing out disposable income on more and more models for multiple armies. Most of them never got painted. Apocalypse was the worst idea, for my wallet and my lead mountain, that GW ever had.

    Frostgrave and Dragon Rampant saved me from that, because I started focusing on small, fun armies made up entirely of models I liked, rather than big, sprawling hordes with way too many compulsory-but-boring troops. I can finally say that I hardly ever field an army that's not fully painted.

    Since I've started collecting models specifically for the sci-fi version of Dragon Rampant that I'm working on, I've bitten the bullet and sold off a lot of my old models on eBay. I'm about £2500 up in a few months, and am getting to the point where, for a while at least, I might be able to fund my hobby by selling off the surplus, which will make my mortgage happy as well.

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    1. I managed to use a bit of the sell-off money to take a small bite out of the mortgage! And yeah, nothing is worth that buying models for a game because you feel you have to...

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  13. I have been contemplating this very issue for the past few months. Especially now that GW has gone nuts with scale creep and "miniaturized" my 20 year old collection.
    Also, I don't want to play 8th edition. I have complete sets of 1-4, the core books for 7 but I've never even played it.
    Wow. Writing this out here has helped me make up my mind.

    Auction time on Tues!

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  14. This was a great, honest read, and one that helped me pause over that checkout button on a few websites just long enough to remember I have enough minis to paint already and don't need any more right now.

    I like the idea of selling off a bunch to clear away that pressure of minis in waiting, and only painting ones you really want to paint. I'm getting close to having a purge of my own.

    Keep to the self imposed buying restrictions! I will follow suit I think.

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  15. i=m in that right point, right now. Too many miniatures to paint, little to no time to paint...
    And need of money for the "other part" of my life, where my wife and my children belong.
    So I plan to do the hard step to "get rid off" my less wanted minis. BUt, I agree, is a really hard step.

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