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GWS 2020: What makes you like plastic (or metal)?

Last time (see The future is plastic), we identified that hard plastic was the preferred figure material from the 2020 survey. From those results, hard plastic beat out metal as the top choice by ten percentage points (48% to 38%). Survey responses suggest that the choice between hard plastic and metal changes with age. That is, younger gamers pick hard plastics as a first choice while older gamers pick metals. The result of hard plastic overcoming metal figures was a surprise to me but not for many of those responding on this blog, or on social media. Of course, my perspective may very well be biased by my own age. While many voiced an opinion that metal was their preferred choice, the top ranking for hard plastic was no surprise.

This time, I plan to examine preferred material choice more closely by considering primary material preference (respondent's Ranking #1) by the factors that may contribute to that choice. The factors or attributes to study are:

  • Gamer's Location
  • Gamer's Preferred Genre (Historical, Fantasy/Sci-fi, or a Mix)
  • Figure Scale (or Size)
  • Gaming Era

Note that these analyses rely upon the assumption that a respondent's preferred material choice corresponds to the respondent's preferred figure size and gaming era. I will address each attribute individually and then summarize the findings.

Gamer's Location

Does a respondent's location have a bearing on preferred material choice? Is the mix of gamers and their material preferences distributed across the globe similarly? When considering first choice between either hard plastic or metal, it is interesting that Continental Europe/Scandinavia prefer hard plastic to metal about two-to-one while USA/Canada prefer hard plastic over metal at about a three-to-two rate. The UK/Ireland and Australia/New Zealand are about evenly split between choosing hard plastic and metal.

Gamer's Preferred Genre (Primary Interest)

Responses to this question on the survey were recoded to make a distinction between Historical and Fantasy/Sci-Fi gamers. To that end, the recoding was,

  • If the response was either 0 or 1 then the respondent was classified as “Historical.”
  • If the response was either 5 or 6 then the respondent was classified as “Fantasy/Sci-Fi.”
  • Otherwise (2,3,4 responses), the respondent was classified as “Mixed” suggesting that both historical and fantasy games were considered rather than exclusively one end of the spectrum.

What do the data suggest? Well, fantasy/sci-fi gamers overwhelmingly pick hard plastic as their material of choice. Historical gamers prefer metal more than two-to-one. Hard plastic is given the edge by those gamers enjoying both historical and fantasy/sci-fi gaming. Seeing earlier results that younger age cohorts prefer hard plastic and that these same groups lean toward fantasy/sci-fi, no surprise that hard plastic is the preferred choice for fantasy/sci-fi. Similarly, the older age cohorts tend toward historical gaming and historical gaming tends toward metal as a preference. Again, the results seem reasonable.

Figure Scale (Size)

Matching up first choice of material with first choice of figure scale produces the count distribution shown in the graph below.

By total counts of respondent first choice by figure size, 25-28mm size is the most popular followed by 28mm Heroics, and then 15-18mm. When the breakdown of material preference between these top three categories with respect to material choice, 28mm Heroics are dominated by hard plastic over metal by almost four-to-one. 25-28mm figure size is about evenly split between hard plastic and metal. For figure sizes between 6mm and 18mm, metal is preferred.

Gaming Era

With so many gaming periods to choose from, it is no surprise that wargaming has something of interest to everyone. The most popular periods are hardly a surprise. WWII takes the top spot with Warhammer40k in at number two. 'Other' Sci-Fi and fantasy come in at three and four.

Hard plastic dominates Warhammer 40k and shows a comfortable lead over metal in fantasy and sci-fi. WWII, the top gaming choice, is about evenly split between hard plastic and metal. With this even split in WWII materials, I would expect the smaller figure sizes to tend toward metal with 25-28mm showing an increase toward hard plastic as more figures become available.

While past surveys suggested that WWII gaming was popular, without ranking it was difficult to judge the popularity of this period. With rank added into the 2020 survey, the popularity of WWII gaming is evident. To me, a surprising result although a global conflict ought to hold a global and lasting appeal.

The other historical periods of Napoleonics, Ancients, and 18th Century tend toward metal figures. Besides the overwhelming popularity of WWII and Warhammer 40k, another surprise, to me, was the relatively few numbers of respondents listing ACW as a first choice. I suppose ACW gaming may have a national or regional appeal, perhaps, similar to Pike & Shot gaming?

18 thoughts on “GWS 2020: What makes you like plastic (or metal)?”

  • Craig Welter

    It seens like the more plastics are available fir a period, the more the people who play it prefer plastic. So it seems like almost everyone would prefer plastic if it were available in good quality for their preferred period.

  • Pat G

    While the frequency counts are interesting in their own right, the differences in category would be better brought out using the per material percentage for each for each criteria in each attribute. This would also make the data for small criteria like Pirates or WWI accessible to the reader.

  • Jonathan Freitag

    Craig, perhaps supply creates its own demand? That and advertising with glossy photos of gorgeously painted figures.

  • Jonathan Freitag

    Pat, you make a good point. However, my purpose in presenting these two graphics in this form was to highlight the stark differences between the popularity of some periods/figure sizes over others. If you are interested in the actual counts of these less frequently picked attributes, the data are available.

  • Nigel

    Perhaps another major factor here is cost. Presumably, on average, younger gamers have less money to spend on figures than their older counterparts.

  • Christopher G.

    I can't say I'm shocked by the lack of interest in ACW gaming. I've tried it a few times and didn't like the company. From podcasts and talking to others, I've found that there's both a generational divide on it, and a perception of the types of people who play ACW that isn't flattering.

  • Jim Lucas

    Whilst valid analysis, separate comparison of availability and market content need to be considered. Consider 40K, the bulk of units are only available in plastic with small numbers of metal figures for officers, leaders etc. ACW has seen a swing to plastic, but there are a lot of options for rank and file and commanders in metal, how many manufactures offer metal, plastic, or both? How loyal are customers, or is cost the leading factor? You may opt for 60 plastic union/confederate on cost, but can you find a plastic Grant or Lee? 100% of Grant and Lee's will be metal and an army only needs one, but it may be your pride and joy.

  • Benedict

    Older gamers with established historical miniature collections may have less need for plastics. If you already have a perfectly good (and painted) army, why replace it? (Especially when you can start another period instead)

  • Jonathan Freitag
    Jonathan Freitag October 1, 2020 at 1:18 am

    Nigel, cost could certainly be a driver in the decision for hard plastic vs metal but is it the primary decision maker? We see that younger age groups prefer hard plastic to metal. Is this preference driven by cost, game played, figure availability, or a combination of all of theses factors plus more?

  • Jonathan Freitag
    Jonathan Freitag October 1, 2020 at 1:23 am

    Christopher G., regarding ACW gaming, I was surprised this period did not have more adherents in the top spot. Perhaps more respondents chose ACW gaming but not as a first choice? Perhaps ACW is a regional/national gaming period? Perhaps it is age group driven? I plan to dig into the data more to see if I can tease out more inferences. I am curious about your claim on the perception of ACW gamers. Care to expand on this? Thanks for your insights.

  • Jonathan Freitag
    Jonathan Freitag October 1, 2020 at 1:31 am

    Jim, thank you for your comments. It is no surprise that WH40K is dominated by hard plastic. As for ACW manufacturers, I think we are in the land of plenty. A gamer can pick various figures sizes, sculpting styles, and material. My own ACW collections are in 10mm and 25mm and each has a particular purpose.

  • Jonathan Freitag
    Jonathan Freitag October 1, 2020 at 1:33 am

    Benedict, sound advice on using your energies for starting a new project over replacing an existing one.

  • Robin G

    Benedict makes an interesting point about older gamers' collections, but it also works the other way around. As a teenager, I started collecting 1/72 (20 mm) soft-plastic Napoleonics (Airfix, ESCI, later HäT etc) and have built up a large collection of some 1,800 painted figures. Now I am in my 50s, I look at them with happy memories, but some sadness too, as their quality is somewhat lacking, but there's no way I could afford - time or money - to re-paint in another scale, metal or plastic. So, I have expanded periods and scales: PSC 15 mm WW2, 28 mm metal Dark Ages, 15 mm metal Medieval, 28 mm metal Samurai etc, and am enjoying the variety. An eclectic mix that is hard to capture in your excellent survey. Thank you.

  • Jonathan Freitag
    Jonathan Freitag October 1, 2020 at 5:29 pm

    Robin, you have an eclectic mix of periods and figure sizes, for sure. You are not alone, though. My hunch is that many of us in your age cohort or older began with Airfix 1/72nd plastics. I know I did. My hobby evolution has been very similar to your experience.

    If you are interested in following commentary on these topics from others in your age demographic with similar experiences and insights, please visit my blog, Palouse Wargaming Journal at:

    You will quickly see that you are not alone in beginning with plastics.

  • Hudson

    Jonathan, Regarding the ranking of ACW was the 1, 2, 3, etc. choices collected in the survey? Perhaps there is a ranked choice number that can be compiled from the survey as well?

  • Peter

    I think supply is a big factor. The wide range of GW plastics means you are going to 'prefer' plastics because that is largely all you have, plus there is the emphasis on (and attraction/freedom of) customisation using the wealth of parts. I also think the (relatively) low number of figures needed for say Kill Team, or even WH40K, mean you are not too worried about building 20 Space MArines say. On the other hand I have read many blog posts about how some gamers are put off by the fiddly assembly of multi-part plastics and the consequent time taken. I game WW2 in 20mm (some plastics, but nothing close to say AB Figures in terms of quality), and Moderns in 20mm (no plastics at all), so it is metal for me.

    Also aesthetics are a factor for me - I much prefer the look of say Footsore Miniatures Romano-British compared to the Gripping Beast plastics, or Gripping Beast's metal Vikings compared to their plastic ones. I wonder if that might be a factor?

  • Jonathan Freitag
    Jonathan Freitag October 2, 2020 at 1:41 am

    Hudson, numerical rankings are present by gaming period. My plan is to dig into the question regarding popularity of ACW in more depth to see what I turn up.

  • Jonathan Freitag
    Jonathan Freitag October 2, 2020 at 9:23 am

    Peter, this may, indeed, be a situation where supply creates its own demand. With low numbers of figures needed by many of these games, no wonder skirmish gaming seems more popular than ever. We must read many of the same blogs since discussions on the difficulty of assembling multipart plastics is a common theme.

    Our hobby is one of aesthetics and tactility. We each have our own likes, dislikes, and preferences. This diversity in tastes allows many different niche manufacturers and periods. Like your 20mm WWII plastics that may not remain state of the art in either sculpting or style, I have collections that may be out of favor but still offer much charm to me.

    Good stuff, Peter!

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