Tuesday, September 2, 2008

In praise of lead hoarding

I have noticed in a few occasions that wargamers tend to chuckle and be dismissive about their hoarding of lead in the closet, i.e. the large amount of unpainted miniatures we keep in storage, waiting for the elusive hour in which action will actually take place on a long dreamt-after project. Recently, during an exchange in the "Old School" yahoo group, I even read the recommendation to donate part of our inventories to lure "new blood" into the hobby.

Well, here's a case in which my professional training kicks in. Let me offer a case about the desirability and "efficiency" of holding unpainted lead in the closet. I will argue in the negative:

You should NOT hold unpainted miniatures if, in the future, you expect
  1. better cast miniatures;

  2. wider ranges;

  3. higher personal wages and salaries;

  4. to be very disciplined in the execution of your wargaming projects.

I think point 1 marginally holds: contemporary miniatures seem to be technically better than they used to be 20 years ago; nevertheless, many of us are more than happy with classics like Minifigs. In average, I think 1. is a weak argument.
Unfortunately, experiences teaches that ranges currently available may not remain available in the future. Just three examples for the 15mm scale, out of my personal interests: the excellent Boxer Rebellion miniatures by Frontier Miniature; Alphacast's Balkan Wars figures; MJ's Falkland miniatures. Definitely, point 2 does not hold.
On point 3, evidence is mixed. If we really believe in the thesis that the hobby is "greying," increasing expected incomes may not be a reasonable assumption. I would rate the point as weak. The reason why future income matters is that the opportunity cost of miniatures today, in terms of foregone consumption alternatives, may exceeds the opportunity costs of the same amount of miniatures tomorrow, when higher income may accommodate both for miniatures and for more alternative spending. Sometimes, it just makes sense to wait for the future.
Finally, point 4 is just a subjective characteristics, and I would rate it as inconclusive. If you are an "impulsive painter", the assumption is clearly incorrect, bt some of us may actually muster the strength to "stay on mission" despite the several temptations that always linger around the hobby.
By and large, I would argue that the case against hoarding lead in the closet is not substantiated, and under fairly reasonable assumptions may in fact be optimal to add to our collection of unpainted miniatures.

I would add a fifth, strong point in favor of hoarding. When you buy and hold unpainted lead, what you actually buy is an option - the option to go to the closet on the spur of the moment, and start painting whatever you feel in the mood to paint. What is the value of such an option? It is the present value of the money spent in the past on the miniature now being painted, plus the cumulative cost of storage - which, likely, is very little for most of us. I would argue that the cost of the option is greater than zero, but still lower than the benefit associated with the opportunity to paint whatever you want, whenever you want.

The bottom line of tonight's "Freakonomic" musings: go out, buy miniatures, and if they will rest for more a decade in your closet as it happens to me, don't feel bad about. It is probably the "economic efficient" thing to do.


Bluebear Jeff said...

You left out the most compelling argument . . . one many gamers subscribe to (at least jestingly) . . . that if you run out of unpainted lead, you die.

-- Jeff

MurdocK said...

Yes Jeff, the unpainted lead 'insurance policy'

You also neglected to take into account the growing trend of casting ones own miniatures.

Along with self sculpting.

The advantage to having many good basic minis in an unpainted condition cannot be exaggerated.