GW Online Preview: a Goonhammer Roundtable

This past Saturday saw the first ever online Warhammer Preview, put together and hosted by various members of the studio and the Warhammer Community team. Previews tend to take place at the various larger conventions held around the world, such as the NOVA open and the LVO, and are a chance for those at the event to see various new models and ask questions of the studio members present.

This new online version of the event took place as a consequence of the Coronavirus-inflicted cancellation of Adepticon, where an especially large preview had been due to take place. Rather than just hold off on all of the cool announcements, and with laudable dedication to keeping us drip-fed with exciting news in this challenging time, GW scheduled a pair of online previews to be streamed via their Twitch channel, with the first being on Saturday and the second landing this coming weekend (Saturday 4th April).

Given that it is basically our jobs to be up-to-date on what’s coming soon for all of GW’s games, our editorial team naturally tuned in to this event (joining a group-watch on our Patron discord) to get all the hot details. We had a good time chatting and gawking at the cool (or in the case of Warcry, extremely hot) new models, and thought we’d put together a quick roundtable today about how we thought the format worked, what we enjoyed and anything we’d like to see done slightly differently next time.

If you missed the preview, you can check out the video on Warhammer Community’s Twitch channel, and it’s also linked from the roundup of the previewed stuff that’s on the Community website. We’re mostly going to talk about the preview format rather than the reveals themselves, so if you want to know what was shown then that page is where to look!

The Structure

The preview was split into 15 minute segments, and after an initial introduction from Wade Pryce and Eddie Eccles, the following format was followed starting at each 15-minute interval:

  • A short pre-produced video showing off the new models.
  • A 5-10 minute interview between Wade and one of the team responsible for the content just previewed.
  • A break until the next 15-minute mark.

There were five such sections plus intro/wrap up segments, taking the overall run time to a bit under the two hour mark.

Wings: I’ve been to a couple of real-world studio previews, and this seemed like a broadly sensible way to translate it. Those tend to be broken up in a similar-ish way – a video gets played showing off some new stuff in style, then a studio member takes you through some slides showing off some more details of some of it, as well as talking a bit around the topic. The videos we got here are almost certainly the same ones they would have shown at Adepticon anyway, and the Q&A between Wade and each designer filled what would normally have been a slideshow section.

Knowing that something important would land every 15 minutes was definitely a strength, as it meant you knew when you had a chance to go and fill up your coffee. While the wait at the end of each section sometimes dragged on a bit, the team appeared to be doing the presentation either live or nearly live rather than pre-recording the interviews, so it almost certainly provided an important window to carry out preparations for that, helping things to go pretty seamlessly. The main suggestion I’d make for improving the gaps at the end of each section would be to put up a rotating selection of still of the models just shown instead of the generic titlecard – that would make them more valuable to the viewers and give people watching socially something to get hyped about.

The only real issue coming out of the gaps was the overall length – the format here bulked things out to roughly twice the length they’d normally be, meaning the event took a pretty sizeable chunk out of the day. With that in mind, it might have been worth considering putting up a running order at the start – for a 45min-1hr live event with a Q&A it’s fine to ask everyone to watch all the way through, but for a two hour stream with quite a bit of waiting around letting people drop in on the bits they’re interested in might have helped. Equally, thousands of people tuned in and watched through, including us, so it isn’t like this put anyone off!

Jack: I would’ve liked to see more consistency in the length of the interviews. A couple were much closer to the 5 minute mark than the 10 minute, so we’d end up with close to 10 minutes of dead air (well, a logo with some kicking rad music, but not actual content) between segments. I fully get the need for a short gap between interviews to give a chance to get the next presenter queued up, but a bit more prep on length would’ve made for a more enjoyable watch.

TheChirurgeon: It felt like the NFL draft after they went to five-minute rounds on day 1. Which turned a relatively exciting, if niche interest, event into something of an interminable slog as you just sit around waiting for the next reveal. And that’s a three-hour event with 32 reveals. This was basically five reveals over two hours and I think it was a bit much. They could have cut it by a half hour and still had something pretty great.

Liam: The length was definitely an issue. I didn’t notice to begin with, because as Wings said in the intro we were all in voice chat yelling at each other and that was fun in itself, but I definitely remember a point where I looked at the clock and realised nearly 2 hours had passed. I’m sure there were good technical reasons behind it, and it was probably very challenging to put together behind the scenes when trying to co-ordinate a dozen different people’s work from home set-ups, but I think for the amount of time it took I would have liked a little bit more stuff actually shown off.

If I had to pick on one other thing, it would be the emphasis placed on the “final reveal” which was the availability of the Lt. Amulius model for general sale for a couple of weeks. I love that model and I’m considering picking up a second one for my Blood Angels now that I can, but I don’t think there was such a huge constituency of people who wanted it but hadn’t bothered buying one either at an event in person or on the secondary market that it carried enough weight to be the big deal closing announcement it was positioned as. As an opener it would have been very cool. That said, it’s still a great thing for them to do.

The Content

Wings: The first thing I’d say is that I was tremendously impressed that the interviews appeared to be mostly live, and went off so seamlessly. Cutting between a wide variety of team members with artfully arranged bookshelves heaving with GW minis behind them was a brave choice when the format would have allowed the use of more pre-recorded footage, and the event was stronger for it. The interview also gave more fleshed out takes on each thing that was shown, giving a bit more detail and flavour than you’d normally get at a preview.

The trade off for this is that there was a bit less focus on putting up additional stills of the minis (there were some) or related details. Some past previews have even included a bit of rule detail (something I, naturally, ceaselessly hunger for), and giving us some of that would have been a nice way to whet the appetite of those of us starved for competitive content.

As already suggested, I think a rotating slide deck of mini stills (and maybe a quick summary in text) at the end of each section could have filled this gap without taking too much attention away from the presenters. Keeping the focus on the team while they were on was definitely worth it, but use the space provided by the gaps to insert some of the more static content back in!

Jack: I’m with Wings here, the live interviews were fantastic and I appreciated the chance to hear about models from the perspective of the design team (particularly things like the new Lumineth where I don’t know much about their background). That said, we mostly only got to see the new models for a few moments at the beginning of the segment. I found myself bouncing over to the community website fairly quickly to take a second look at the static previews. Having those same stills ready to go on the stream would’ve been great, and would’ve given the opportunity for the interviewees to point out specific aspects of the minis.

I’ve been seeing some rumblings of complaints that the whole preview stream was content-light, which disappoints me – not only did GW put up a heroic effort swapping over from their plans for live previews to this stream, we got some amazing new reveals between gigantic Lumineth monsters, a badly needed Fabulous Bill resculpt, a gorgeous primarch model, and new Warcry and Middle Earth miniatures. For someone going into it blind, there’s no lack of content there! The only problem is the number of people who weren’t going into it blind – Bile was getting posted all over the internet yesterday, and the Lion a few hours before the preview, so many people already saw two of the biggest reveals. When a third of the reveals aren’t really reveals it takes the wind out of the sails of the whole event, a disappointing outcome for the community team, and frankly disrespectful of the time they put in to make a cool preview. I really hope that the same thing doesn’t occur for next week (and that they learn to not put one of the reveals in the subject line of the email that goes out at the start of the show, though that’s relatively minor compared to the leaked images).

Alfredo: Piling on a bit I was overall very impressed with what GW managed to put together. It’s easy to underestimate what it takes to set up a fully online event like this, particularly for a company that has been slow to embrace the digital age like GW has been. Having Wade MC the whole thing made a lot of sense given his experience with Stormcast/Voxcast and he did a great job of engaging the various interviewees and keeping the content on topic. I’m hopeful they will get more polished as they do more of them and even consider more digital events like this once things go back to “normal”.

TheChirurgeon: I thought the interviews were good, and Wade did a fine job. Though it’s worth noting that the best part of the interviews was the “this person’s camera is shit” overlay. I appreciated what we got, but I think it did end up feeling light. But I also think that’s because it was spread over two hours. It’s a fine line to walk between blowing through everything too quickly and spreading things out too far so it feels like most of your event is waiting.

Liam: I’m going to disagree with Jack a bit here and say that I’m one of the people who thought it was a bit content-light. I don’t believe there’s more than ten people on earth whose hope for a GW preview is a new model for the Middle Earth game – even if it’s a great model! – and the 40k reveal being one model that was already heavily hinted at by GW themselves, even ignoring the leakers, is not exactly earth-shattering. I suspect the reason it panned out this way is the demands of the structure, and I can totally see why they’d look at e.g. a 2-hour Adepticon preview and decide that needed to be two slightly lighter, separately shorter but in total longer events across two Saturdays. We’ll see how that works out next weekend.

TheChirurgeon: Also, the new Fabius Bile model fucking owns and I’m hype for both it and the new Death Guard stuff. I’m pretty happy that I decided to make them my Coronavirus hobby project.

The Community

Wings: There’s obviously two aspects to this – how direct community engagement with the stream was managed, and how communities came together to watch it. I’ll cover the latter bit first – doing a group watch was definitely the best way to enjoy this, and plenty of clubs and groups besides us put together shared chats to enjoy the proceedings. If you found that this one dragged on a bit while watching solo, either join us or your ham social group of choice for the next one.

The other aspect is community involvement in the actual stream, which sadly there wasn’t really any of. Our experts in twitch chat assure me that the mods were doing a heroic job of keeping the chat under control, but no questions were brought in from the floor. People have…mixed opinions on whether the audience Q&A at the end of previews adds much but I tend to quite enjoy it, and it would have been nice to see some questions brought in. In addition, the format would provide some opportunity to curate the questioning and prevent time being eaten up by five different attempts to inquisit which studio member runs the anti-smallmarine conspiracy. I suspect the challenge here is that questions tend to need to be addressed to one or more of the studio members, and cutting back to their live feeds on-demand might have been a technical obstacle. I don’t have an immediate solution for that, but I hope they’ve got their finest minds thinking about it ahead of the next one, because a few well-chosen questions would have added to things.

Jack: I can’t see any real way they could’ve taken questions from the Twitch audience. With over 42,000 viewers at peak, the chat was scrolling far faster than I could read. I have no idea how their moderators were managing to keep even the basic semblance of order, but they were clearly doing a heroic job. As much as I’d like some questions from the audience, it would be hard to pull them out of that feed, plus as we’ve seen from previous previews almost all questions will either be seeking answers for conspiracy theories or be about future launches that the team isn’t able to discuss. I’d rather see the studio team having more time to talk about the stuff they think is cool than fielding questions like those.

Alfredo: I was originally going to be at Adepticon for the Preview and certainly it is impossible to match the sheer energy and excitement of that packed room during a live Preview. That said, the Q&A sections of the Previews are always awful (as Jack alludes to) and I always walk out when it starts anyway, so that wasn’t a big loss for me. Group watching is definitely the way to go here and while it was fun to be in Discord chat for this one, I think something more real-time will help enhance the experience and fill the time when the ‘Coming Up Next’ screen is sitting there.

Liam: I had way more fun talking nonsense and yelling with my friends when cool things came on screen than I ever would have listening to a lame Q&A where someone asks “what can you tell us about the thing you didn’t talk about today” and the Community team grimace and say “we can’t talk about that just yet.” This format is great for that, and better than a live event where it’s y’know rude to start talking through the presentation, so as far as I’m concerned this is an A+ aspect of the online format.

Overall

Wings: Some things to improve, but overall I enjoyed it – and now that they’ve shown it can be done I’d be quite keen to see these done every now and then even once the world returns to a semblance of normality. The schedule of physical previews is inextricably tied to the schedule of the events big enough to host them (generally NOVA, Adepticon, LVO and Blood & Glory), and being able to stick a couple of digital ones into the calendar so we get one every couple of months would be cool. I’m looking forward to this weekend’s, and will be interested in whether they make any immediate tweaks to the format.

Jack: Overall this was great. While imperfect, this was the first time GW has done a preview like this – and they got it put together incredibly quickly. With another one coming up next Saturday I look forward to seeing how they improve it. As much as I like them doing the physical previews at events, I hope they keep these going between events, and make sure to stream the event previews. Being able to see the designers talking about what they’ve been working on is infinitely more interesting than just reading the dry Warhammer Community post, and I want that to continue regardless of what’s going on in the world.

Alfredo: Echoing the others, I am quite positive on the whole thing and thing it was a great first outing. If I were GW, having never done something like this before, I’d look at the first preview as a bit of a “trial run” so that the second one can go more smoothly (someone get Andy Hoare a webcam) and maybe contain some of the more impactful reveals people are expecting? In general, I hope GW continues to get creative in how it stays engaged with us as customers and fans and works to maintain the Warhammer community in these trying times; certainly, Warhammer news is the best kind of news I read these days and I am grateful for it and my friends in the hobby.

TheChirurgeon: It was fun and it had something for everyone. It had rad new Chaos models for me, pointy elves for James, and new feet models for Greg. I’m looking forward to the next one.

Liam: Yeah, I enjoyed myself. I would like a slightly heavier content to time ratio, but when you think that the reason for them doing this is that there’s a global pandemic on, “I didn’t get to see quite as many new Warhammer dolls I can’t even buy for another two months as I would have liked” is pretty low on the list of complaints. Like Wings, I really hope that they embrace this digital format and do it more regularly, because it’s vastly more accessible than the space limited and mostly US-centric seminars that have been the norm in the past.

 

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