Why I Don’t HATE Matt Ward

Don’t get me wrong–I have no man crush on the guy (certainly he’s no man’s man…have you seen his renn-fair hair???); however, I think he’s getting a bad rap.

The pure rage you’re likely to witness from other 40k players is amazing when you bring up the name, “Mat Ward.” You don’t need to go much further than Bell of Lost Souls to witness the hate for Mat Ward; it seems the vast majority of 40k players that LOVE tournaments really dislike Mat Ward. Lots of bad is said about the guy—and not all of it is limited to spew on the internet issuing forth from (sadly, very typical) man-child 40k players in nerd-rage mode.

It's like all the internet hates Matt Ward.

All this vitriol for GW’s “supreme” codex-writer du-jour isn’t exclusive to just those who spend considerable effort arguing how all tournament scoring should be based solely on generalship (because, you understand, painting, fair play and good sportsmanship certainly have no place Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer Fantasy …or really any tournaments in the miniature-wargaming hobby); I’ve witnessed the full-on hate in person—in real life, by real people who weren’t hiding behind a safe, anonymous forum persona…though I can’t guarantee they weren’t just typical nerd-raging man-child 40k players. In the realm of 40k players, these guys are fairly well-adjusted guys, AND YET they’d be willing to perch on a rooftop with a gun for a shot at Mr. Ward, if they could.

Anyway.

Like I said, I certainly am not Mat Ward’s biggest fan, but is he as terrible as all the pissers and moaners say he is? I don’t think so.

I originally planned on tackling Mat Ward’s curriculum vitae to bring those who don’t bother keeping tabs on GW’s staff writers up to speed regarding the whole Mat-Ward controversy (due to them having lives). That started feeling like real work; and considering this post–which is simply just me voicing my opinion–has been delayed several times this week and last, I was scared that having to put “real” work into it would cause further, REAL, delays. So as far as his CV is concerned, suffice it to say that Mat Ward’s most recent codex forays are the Space Marines, Blood Angels and the Grey Knights….and he will never be able to wash away what he did with the Daemons Army book for Warhammer Fantasy Battles (and here’s a link to a rough CV for the guy, written with heavy bias…and rage).

With 8th Ed. Warhammer now out, I can forgive the Daemons Army Book. But I CANNOT forgive the Blood Angels Codex cover.

I mean, COME ON!

(Noteworthy as well: he co-wrote both the War of the Ring and Eighth Edition rules for Warhammer Fantasy Battles. An honourable mention should also be extended to Mr. Ward for his mad adjective-wielding skillz displayed in Codex Blood Angels. The Blood Angels have become the Space Marine chapter famous now not for their skilled artisans and the tragic gene-seed flaw which spurs in them the Red Thirst—no, they are now (in)famous and reviled for their overuse of the word “blood” as a standard prefix to the many words they use in their daily lives. “I say, Bloodbattle Brother old blood-chum, could you pass me the blood sugar? The sangui-percolator has just brewed up a fresh pot of blood coffee and I’d like to fill my chalice before we resume our Bloodstrike barrage!)

While I’m (hopefully clearly) not an ardent fan of his, I think my defense of Mat Ward is motivated and informed by two things: the comic-book industry and the old Canadian tee-vee show, SCTV.

Comic Books

I’m no expert on comic books—and less of an expert on how the industry works—but working at comic shops has made me realise one thing:  the crappy-ness of the writing in a comic book is not necessarily due to just the writer. Though there are plenty of hacks writing books these days, a bad editor (or poor editorial focus) can easily make an above-average writer come across as a hack. It’s the editorial policy determines, for the most part, the direction a book takes, and the writer just fleshes out what editorial policy has already decreed (a bit of a broad and generalised explanation, yes, but not too too far off the mark with this summary).

You think a writer is responsible for this many different Deadpool titles in the last 3 years? Uh-uh. That's all editorial and marketing staffs' doing!

SCTV

I’m not going to go through and give an in-depth history of SCTV (that’s what Wikipedia is for); suffice it to say that SCTV was a show made by the Second City sketch comedy troupe beginning in the mid-seventies. It was the show that effectively launched the careers of Harold Ramis, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas. If you don’t know the names, you’d certainly recognize the faces (again, I won’t go too in depth on their careersthat’s what IMDB is for).

I had seen interviews with Joe Flaherty who talked about how even though SCTV started off strong, each successive season the fatigue of the actors (who also wrote the whole show) grew; and keeping the show fresh got increasingly hard for them to pull off. In their fifth year, with the departure of some of the original cast, Martin Short was brought on to SCTV.

Flaherty went on to say how totally energetic and imaginative Short was. He was not only a decent enough actor and funny enough guy; Short had boundless energy and ideas. Most importantly, Martin Short’s enthusiasm was infectious; it revitalised everyone’s acting and writing on the show, and they all performed better when he came on board.

Which brings me back to Mat Ward. I’m willing to believe that he’s the Martin Short of the GW studio right now: one look at the Grey Knights codex shows that there are a million ideas in the book. With the Grey Knight codex, you’re practically playing Rogue-Trader era Warhammer 40,000. This book could not have been written unless the author(s) had tons of ideas and boundless energy. Being that Ward is credited as the sole writer of the codex, I’m willing to believe all that creativity emanates from Matt Ward (as opposed to coming from up top and Ward is tasked with simply writing fluff and naming weapons).

Tho' I'm sure many might argue that Matt Ward is the Ed Grimley of Games Workshop.

Now, with all that praise aside, I also think that the GW studio has some sort of gaming “policy editor” akin to what comic books have. Taking the analogy further, I think Mat Ward more closely resembles the writer of an individual comic than he is the editor who is ultimately in charge. And I think GW has not put serious effort into cultivating good “editorial policy” in that comic-book analogy kind of way. I think they have their eye on some other goal (the cynic in me believes they’re focused on short-term monetary goals rather than the long-term health of their games’ universes); and provided Matt Ward doesn’t do anything too disastrous, they put a lot of trust in him, thus leaving him in control of editing and scrutinizing his own work–not a good or easy thing to do (how often are you able to shoot down your own ideas and convince yourself  they need to be reworked?).

I think Mat Ward needs a serious handler, someone keeping his ideas on a shortened leash ; my ‘Exhibit A’ to back that up is War of the Ring: the game so nice they used its rules twice (easily a third of War of the Ring’s rules were carried over into Warhammer Fantasy Battles’ Eighth Edition rules). While War of the Ring can be brought low by in-game abuse, Warhammer 8th (so far) seems to have dodged that bullet entirely. My theory is Matt Ward had less complete control in WFB8 than he did in WotR; he co-authored War of the Ring with Jeremy Vetock, but his work on Warhammer 8th Edition was co-authored not just by Vetock but by Jervis Johnson and a few more. Like every other writer, Matt Ward’s work excels with collaboration and input from others. (I truly think Mr. Ward’s ideas were more heavily scrutinized in Warhammer than they were in War of the Ring–likely due just from the amount of people working on writing the book.)

Or maybe I’m wrong about everything and Mat Ward is no better a games developer than the Black-Adder hairdo and Scarlet Pimpernell-esque goatee he sports in every photo you see of him.

I'd like to argue that changing his "look" might impact his game writing for the better.

But I don’t think so.

I think he’s one of GW’s best resources right now: a guy who is overflowing with ideas and enthusiasm. Still, when restricted to using only polite words, many express that his rules pave the way for abuse by less-than-scrupulous players; and the way GW’s games-development ideology tends to favour “funner” rules over tightly-written rules in their games, those people aren’t too wrong. The books Mr. Ward writes tend to be boundless in their enthusiasm. For Mat Ward to be truly effective, he needs someone (or a bunch of someones) to scrutinise his ideas, to push him further, challenge him, say ‘no’ to him and most importantly: reign him in. And I think Games Workshop is currently too fixed on short-term gains to do any of this (in any real way) for Mat Ward.

I leave this post fully expecting a lot of flack: just looking up his name for some information on his past works revealed just how many petulant. 40k. man-childs. despise this guy. I’m amazed at just how many 40k players think that Codex: Space Marines is one giant fan-fic codex glorifying Ward’s most favourite chapter: the Ultramarines (‘cause if GW were going to make a basic Marine codex, they wouldn’t include the Sons of Guilliman much at all; and AS IF Mat Ward is calling the shots on which heroes will be in the book and which chapters receive attention…and ultimately which models get made—that sounds more like a marketing department’s forté to me. Sigh.  /rant).

Closing on this, the biggest defense I can offer regarding why Mat Ward doesn’t suck: the Vanilla Marine codex is actually a solid book that really isn’t overpowered or underpowered, and the Blood Angels and Grey Knights codices are the final nails in the coffin of the old minimalist game-design outlook that spawned books like the Chaos Marines codex: Mat Ward is bringing us codices that are teaming with options and flavour–albeit with terribly uncreative names–to the point that Fifth Edition 40k is starting to feel like all the good parts of Second Edition 40k had going for it have come back to our game, namely flavour, personality and choice .

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22 responses to “Why I Don’t HATE Matt Ward

  1. See I think you miss the point of it entirely
    He makes semi decent rules, seems to be the consensus
    Its his god awful fluff that really drives it home for most people, considering that it is why most people play the game, instead of another game which has better written rules

    I think like you said, if he had people constantly challenging him, saying no, then this could be reigned in significantly, but as it stands every character he creates is so outrageously over the top it cheapens the setting of 40k as a whole
    He creates characters who top the Emperor himself and as a result every faction looks like crap in comparison

    Thats where the rage stems from, not the rules.

    • Completely agree with everything in this post. Tourney games don’t hate him, people who give a crap about the fluff do.

      • I have to admit to not ever reading any of Nick Kyme’s stuff…I have no doubts you’re correct (though I am willing to believe that Mat Ward’s prose reads more like fan fiction than GW should allow).

        I actually trust very few of the Black Library writers’ endeavors. I think I’ve always tended to give Abnet a passing grade because he’s pretty true to himself about what it is exactly that he’s doing (writing pulp) and he’s exception at making the pulp he writes come across as smart and (at times) epic.

        Back story: I spent my early adult years working in a comics & games store where Dungeons and Dragons novels featured quite prominently, and my regards towards novels based on gaming has never really recovered from that: I tend to think they’re all crap.

        Me liking GW’s novels was pretty much doomed from the start; still, I gave Black Library several tries, liking (but never getting all the way through) the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, enjoying (for what they were) the Ciaphas Cain novels (which wasn’t, however, engaging or memorable enough for me to read more than two books), and I found most of the five or six Horus Heresy books I’ve read to be really quite good–from a 40k fan’s perspective, the first chapter of ‘Horus Rising’ has to be one of the BEST chapters ever to be written for Games Workshop!

        The only other author I feel has done a decent job is Aaron Dembski-Bowden…but I’m still on the fence with him a little. I read First Heretic and really liked it…but disliked parts of it enough that I considered stopping reading the novel. ‘Flight of the Eisenstein’ also surprised me with how much I enjoyed it.

        I looked over Kyme’s CV at Black Library; I can’t say I’m too surprised his writing comes off as lacking. I think in the hands of a skilled writer that knows his 40k, Marines are a tricky beast to peg and do well–assuming the writer’s aim is to provide readers with something more than explosion-porn populated by cardboard characters posing as Space Marines.

        Kyme has written 3 or 4 books and has done journalism, so he’s clearly better than me. But that still doesn’t mean he’s a good writer for Black Library.

      • Thanks for the input! Yeah, sticking to the canon is NOT Mr. Ward’s forte–though I’ve heard talk on the internet that Codex: Necrons is Mat Ward’s last codex (whether that means he’s leaving GW or leaving 40k remains to be seen). Despite all the awful that’s attributed to books penned by Ward, I reallywonder what books done by his successor will look like…part of me is fearful of what that kind of future will look like.

    • Thanks for checking out my bog!
      (I can’t believe your comment slipped under the radar and it took me this long to catch it!)

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. I think matt ward is like jesus and takes all Games workshop sins on their shoulders. Games Workshop has to grow up every year because it’s the economical law. They took some greedy decisions : change rules and codex every four years to force customers to buy an buy again (exemple : troops becomes elites and vice versa). Every new codex/battle book is “the most powerfull” for better sells. GW fucks the ancient fluff and creates the one they want to justify new “SUPER MOST POWERFULL”releases like dreadkinghts or stormraven etc.

    Matt Ward is just a poor geek who has to follow the guide line of GW products and imagines fluff and rules to make all those stuff together.

    • I have to say I agree with this. So setting aside my pre adolecent man child nerd raging disposition for a moment, honstly I believe that the GW designers are likely underpaid and overworked [in direct compliance to GW corporate policy] and are generally inadequately supported in their endevours. They are the names of a faceless organisation and as a result are often unfairly railed against. GW need to live up to their ‘Rolls Royce’ style image and actually invest and support their best resource, their people.

    • Good catch on the misspelling. I mean CONGRATULATIONS! you passed my trolling “paying attention” test!

      All joking aside, I went back in and (hopefully) corrected all the Matt-with-two-tees spelling mistakes in the post. I’m usually a bit of a stickler for correct spelling, so I’m surprised that slipped past me.
      Thanks for the input !

  3. Pingback: Good by ACCIDENT? Really??? « Imaginary Wars Blog

  4. As someone who works in publishing and knows how the production of entertainment IP works, I have to say that I agree with your theory of who Mat Ward is and the conditions he probably works under. Material like Codexes and such aren’t just one-man efforts, and in a corporation, lots of other people (most likely Sales & Marketing) will stick their fingers in the pie – Ward has to satisfy these parties as well. If Ward works with editorial oversight, a lot can be laid on that person (or persons) who should, as you say, be reigning him in or guiding him along. Good editorial supervision and solid creative direction are key. How much Ward gets of either, and how much meddling the Sales people get up to I have no idea, but that has to be taken into account – the production of a Codex is not a one-man show by an independent creator/publisher.

    • I agree. I think the hate for Mat Ward is merely gamers transferring their frustration with Games Workshop and its games to easily-identified scape goats.

      I am no great fan of some of the ideas he’s put out there–it WAS Mat Ward that invented the story where the Blood Angels and Necrons teamed up for for a battle right? (Am I remembering that correctly?) But I do honestly think he gets to be a patsy for all the nerd rage…..kind of like how Lord of the Rings has the reputation among 40k goons as being solely responsible for the ploddingly slow release schedule of all the 40k codices. (Because that game has taken all the studio staff away from writing 40k to writing LotR–ludicrous!)

      Thanks again for checking out my blog and leaving comments!

    • I like that he’s shaking things up and actually somewhat going against the status quo. Personally, I’m not fond of the outcome that these changes have brought out in the short term (who knew that there were more Grey Knights than all the other Marine Chapters combined???); however, these short-term pains could quite easily be long term gains.

  5. Why do gamers hate Mat Ward? Well it is his fluff, and his breaking editions of games. I am sure you know the Daemons broke WHFB for nearly 2 years before 8th came out and fixed them. Grey Knights are so dumb and over the top with terminators and their standard three grenades… Ungh. The man has no concept that his books have to interact with other armies. GW has never been great at keeping the balance but with Mr. Ward around they just have broken book after broken book, with a few good books interwoven (thank you Phil Kelly). I am all for Mat Ward to be fired as I am tired of broken books with bad fluff. OHH the grey Knights come from the emperor’s gene seed… really? That was a rumor and was better as a rumor. I could go on and on about how bad he is at this job and I would love to replace him but no one wants to read that, I think a mildly retarded monkey could replace him though.

    • I feel like you may have stopped reading the article after reading the title.

      Which is fine.

      But the guy seems to be a font of ideas–which I think GW needs, seeing as how there’s been this exodus away from GW of its original creators, game designers and writers these last few years.

      Don’t misunderstand me: nowhere in this post–not in the title, nor in its body of text–do I say Matt Ward is without flaw; this is simply me choosing to see what good things he brings to the game.

      • Oh no I read the whole thing. I am just not sure you play the games or follow the “fluff”. The SM codex is solid due to a bigger group developed it. he had pretty much free rein on BAngels and GK. You then see he was pulled back on the rules portion with the crons, but not the fluff. Matt Ward loves to have his cake and eat it too when it comes to the rules section. I am not a fan of that. Building an army list should not be a 5 minute plug and play, buy whatever you like in the dex. There should be some toil and sweat that goes into making a list. Also on the SM dex… storm shields… they almost wrecked the game with that change.

        Now on to fluff, Drago, in passing it is mentioned in a two sentence blurt that he wrote his name on the heart of a Primarch. Wait, what?! Yeh, I could be done there but no, he has so much bad fluff with his name on it. I am all for him writing the squeals to Twilight or something like that.

        • I’ve been playing the game since about 1987 and am fairly invested in the back story.

          My point with Matt Ward is that he has brought a lot of excitement and enthusiasm to the game’s design…but he’s also brought lots crap–which could have been easily avoided if he had a “handler” assigned to him to keep the crazy in check (as it were).

          I tried to NOT make this post a love letter to Mr Ward, but rather a post about what good things the guy has brought and still brings to Games Workshop: imagination and enthusiasm. I agree with you that the guy is certainly no fiction writer, and I agree with you that he’s made some unbalanced rules in the codices he’s written (to say the least); but I think I put it pretty plainly that I feel he needs clear and firm direction from a superior editor who will hold him to account and veto anything idiot submitted and demand more refined work from Mr Ward.

          …But we all know that GW doesn’t have the political (financial?) will to spend money revising drafts and playtesting their games beyond a rudimentary level; the company has essentially said they have no interest in making the rules to their games ‘tight’ or ‘well-crafted’ and adopt more of a ‘good enough’ attitude to their games design philosophy (I mean, after all, they ARE, in their words, just a miniatures manufacturing company).

          I would aim my ire less at Matt Ward and more at Games Workshop themselves: if GW didn’t hold contempt for you, me and their entire over-twelve-years-old customer base, they would make Mr Ward perform his job as a games designer properly and make sure he produced only quality material.

          But it’s easier to hate the enthusiastic writer, farting unrefined ideas every direction with apparent little regard for the effect his writing has on the game’s landscape than it is to demand the company who is ultimately responsible for that enthusiastic writer’s material holds said enthusiastic writer to account.

          I actively applaud that GW has someone in their studio who is bringing unconventional thinking to their games’ designs…I just wish that GW would demand nothing less than excellence from Matt Ward. And I feel it’s reprehensible that GW passes off what Matt Ward has already produced as finished, balanced for game play and publishable. But hey, if you’re a giant company who (apparently) thinks everyone who plays their games is physically and/or mentally in their “tween” years, and if everyone keeps eating the crap sandwiches you prepare for them, why would you do anything different?

          Because GW no longer takes the canon of 40k seriously (apart from when copyright infringement is involved), I’m kind of at the point where neither do I. I just play the game because it’s goofy and fun and the setting is pretty one-of-a-kind; but I (grudgingly) accept that GW now writes their games, not just with NOT having balanced tournament play in mind but writes their rules as though tournaments don’t even exist any more…almost like they’re actively trying to make the game stupid and imbalanced. Well, if that’s how they’re going to produce their rules, how can I take their games any other way?

          This is why I like War of the Ring so much: it makes no pretense to being a super-balanced game that’s not easily broken; to play the game, you have to like the people you’re playing with and abide by gentlemens’ rules and play with respect for each other in mind….otherwise everyone will just play asshole lists against each other and everyone will have no fun and everyone will decide to no longer play the game.

          And I think 40k has been creeping towards that style of game for a while now (it would be nice to be wrong about that though).

          Sixth Edition will surely tell, I suspect.

          I feel like I’ve been extra rant-y and tangental; so to summarise where I stand:

          -I highly value Matt Ward’s enthusiasm and the vitality he’s breathed back into the GW games through the unconventional ways he sees the rules.
          -I think virtually everything has written is essentially half-baked: all of it needs revision. Matt Ward also shouldn’t be allowed to produce anything without a dedicated editor–one with a back bone–scrutinizing Ward’s work and demanding nothing short of excellence in rules balance.
          -All the good things I think about Matt Ward have very little application to his abilities with the fiction and ideas for the fiction he has put in his codices. (It’s been a while since I’ve re-read this post, but I don’t think I’ve ever really lauded his ability with prose.)
          -While I dislike what his rules have done and are doing to game play, I don’t blame him–I blame GW’s laziness and the arrogant attitude they hold to us, their players and customer base.
          -I prefer to NEVER refer to it as “fluff” because to me, fluff has connotations of being secondary, a kind of filler and something that ultimately unimportant…or at least very secondary in its importance; and I think the back story in 40k is pretty important and engaging.

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