The creative ingenuity of Sean Patten's works have really headlined the whole calibre and breadth of optional settings within a unique aesthetic that the creations coming from the fanbase of the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universes were coming to define themselves as exuding. With many of the highly detailed GW terrain kits being spread across a crafter's entire collection, options for great interactive table sets of terrain become huge with considerations for modularity and layout diversity by design.
These sorts of modelling options have been the longtime backbone of terrain building, maximized in such a terrain dense setting as the underhive of Necromunda, but the modern hobby industry - benefiting from all the computer magic of the internet - has many options that showcase these sorts of kitbashing options for not just terrain builds but the very miniatures themselves. As exemplified in the Alternative Miniatures Sources threads on YakTribe (which has individual offerings for Necromunda, Gorkamorka, and Mordheim), there are now an excellent spread of miniatures manufacturers who sell conversion compatible bits from webstores that really let hobbyists expand the detail and character of their skirmish factions, warbands, gangs, and mobs to a degree that has never before been so easily achieved.
Of all these companies, never has there been such a grassroots support and customer interaction experience as that brought by Steve Stodden of Mad Robot Miniatures. Originally hailing from the Chicago area (a place that is a veritable hot bed for the miniatures hobby industry and even acts as host city for Adepticon) but now residing in sunny Arizona, Steve's sculpting work reflects his tenured experience within the hobby and his unprecedented community involvement have meant that the miniatures range from Mad Robot has been built off the input of the hobby community, with many fellow Yaks having helped define the offered scope of the company's product range.
"I very much fell backwards into doing this miniatures thing as a business. I like to think that allows me an unconventional approach to how I make them. Most of my gaming experience was when I was much younger... [with] D&D, Vampire the Masquerade, Champions, plus a host of other RPGs are where most of my gaming time was spent. We played these games with books and dice only, no real minis to speak of. I think that forced me to rely on my own imagination to provide the visuals and that still plays a huge part in how I approach conceptualizing projects to this day, Creatively, I was a musician through most of my high school years and ended up with a degree in Sound Engineering from Columbia College in Chicago".
As with most musicians I have ever met, the gigs of the rock and roll lifestyle doesn't seem to pay all the bills and so Steve found work outside of music - in his case retail management - and when stumbling back into the hobby he would wind up with other forms of employment within the industry before tapping into his inner rockstar with the launch of Mad Robot Miniatures:
"After "growing up" and getting a job, I happened to walk by a Games Workshop in the mall and a seed was sown. The 3rd edition IG codex pretty much serves as the single reason I became interested in all of this again. I jumped in and bought paints and lots of figures, from Citadel and other companies as well. Early on I realized that the hobby portion of miniature gaming was all I was interested in; building and painting little guys and all their supporting gear. I have played only a handful of actual games since then and the first day I started designing and selling parts was the last day I ever painted anything..."
"After leaving the day to day crap of retail management, I tried my hand at selling bits with a company I called Battlefront Games. To be blunt, I sucked at it and I soon had to make a decision about what to do next. I decided that instead of selling bits from another company, I would try and make my own. It was a long, self-taught learning process and I stumbled more than a few times but each setback served to feed my determination. I eventually came out on the other side much wiser for all the time and money that was spent. Converting minis was always something I enjoyed doing. I took pride in that any squad I built never had 100% "vanilla" parts; kit bashing was the only way to go. Since then, my sole focus has been creating parts and figures for people who want a little more".
From that desire to provide more in depth customization to hobbyists collecting within the Warhammer 40,000 and 28mm miniatures range, Steve began bringing conversion bits from Mad Robot to expand on the diversity of the forces of humanity within the futuristic 40K setting, with everything from unique sculpts for head swaps, to full on multi part customizable forces that allowed players to transport the styles of other quintessential science fiction fighters and armies to the larger vogue of the 40K universe.
"At that point I was literally with no other option but to throw everything into Mad Robot so that's what I did; the strategy was to build the catalogue quickly and then slowly increase sales over the long term. I have always gone back and forth between making things spur-of-the-moment and adhering to a set release schedule. There are advantages to both but I much prefer the off-the-cuff way of doing things. It allows me to stay more creative and stay more in touch with what my customers want to see next.... [As far as figuring out what sort of product to bring to the market], there were some good kits from the fantasy side of things that always seemed to have good head swaps, pistoliers for example; a number of the empire kits if I remember correctly. I did buy some of the old Warzone metals, also there were a few companies that had head swaps for sale, Pig Iron and some of the stuff from Westwind. Initially, I wasn't all that keen on making my version of an existing part, it was more a case of saying to myself "damn, I wish someone made heads wearing berets, or wearing some sci-fi helmets." I just picked berets and those were the very product in the 28mm catalogue... the biggest jump for Mad Robot came with the initial release of our Colonial Defence Forces(CDF). Since that line first came out, it has consistently been the most viewed out of the entire catalogue. I mean, after all, who doesn't like a good bug hunt?".
While the company's initial landmark offering gifted hobbyists with the more pop culturally classic science fiction way of squishing xenos, the alternative choices for custom miniatures brought by Mad Robot was far from game over, man...
With options to bring variance and accentuation to the forces of the Imperium, a setting like Necromunda and the game surrounding it's lowest caste of denizens duking it out across derelict wastes was matched by Steve's own hard fought grassroots approach to bringing something fresh to the industry. A member of YakTribe since early 2015 under the handle @Mad Robot, Steve has been able to maximize the marketability of an independent miniatures production company by addressing the heart of the Necromunda gaming scene in the most personal of manners. Tapping into the YakTribe community's experience of what bits and kit bashing options would flesh out a no longer supported miniatures range (where proxied miniatures has almost become the standard by requirement), Steve was able to push production runs of some exceptionally underhive flavoured modelling parts with direct turnaround within discussions on the forum:
"I was aware of [Necromunda] on the surface but I never really understood it's appeal until I discovered the online community known as YakTribe. I came across them as part of my research into possibly producing some post apoc skirmish rules. I realized that there was this thriving community for a game that was long out of print. Upon further inspection, I also found a community of gamers and hobbyists who are as passionate about creating cool shit as I am. There was a ton of converting going on and as soon as I saw that, I knew I had to try and somehow be a part of it. I look at Necromunda primarily as a post apoc setting and I find that allows for a huge swath of concepts to all exist at the same time. My own contribution [to the setting] had been rather limited up until then but that would change quickly, and a large part of Mad Robot's focus will ultimately be shifting to post apoc parts..."
"[As far as the grassroots approach], reaching out in small ways to hobby communities seems to be most effective for me. Direct input from people is such a huge help in how I do things. Apart from Facebook, I have no real plans to do convention booths or crowd-funding projects. Those are useful for bigger companies that can afford it; booths can be expensive and the required extra work needed to bring a bunch of stuff to sell just isn't feasible for me. Mad Robot is a one-man company and will probably stay that way for a while. I would like to find other ways to connect with more customers but for right now, forums, Facebook, and emails will have to do. I have done a few custom t-shirts that I wear while casting, you may just see something like that become available soon".
With a shirt-off-his-back take on rubbing shoulders with the very people he helps bring a heightened modelling experience to, Mad Robot Miniatures brings a refreshing take to customer service in an industry that has before dipped to a widely regarded unsavoury disconnect by some of the more major companies in the business.
The interaction between manufacturer and the customer base has not always been something worthy of praise within the wargaming industry, and the modern surge of a more customer oriented business practice for Games Workshop comes in the wake of many years where hobbyists who played games made by the company were seemingly swept aside in lieu of profiteering and shareholder interests. Coinciding with the approximate time frame of the Living Rulebook's release, Games Workshop began pulling much of their customer interactions from their business plan.
From a company wide standpoint, the web forum that was utilized for staying rooted and in touch with the hobby base was shut down leaving a communication void that reflected the abandonment of the Necromunda game system as a focal project for GW. With intent for the LRB to be the culmination of rules amendments, supplementary rules articles from White Dwarf, and the learnings of playtest experience from in store campaigns, the end product reflects a mid-stroke pivoting to fiscal cuts and monetary redirection to focus on the two flagship games.
Where dabblings in social media presence didn't last long and were mired by disabled comment sections and a lack of response turnaround, the company's business approach has began turning heads and spotlighting discussions amongst many veteran gamers as becoming a far more interactive and approachable platform than what had previously been policy. Where store management was informed in practice one week prior to releases of upcoming products, the rumour mills of online forums very often preceded the in store knowledge that GW employees possessed, which acted in defining the disconnect between the pulse of the hobby community and the supply source. For a business approach to be so directed at this hobby core so used to being in a pseudo excommunication status, Mad Robot Miniatures quickly found likeability with its refreshing approach.
While the catered experience on YakTribe has led to some great post apocalyptic style head sprues, weapons, accessories, torso and leg options (which can certainly be mixed amongst themselves to create unique options), it is that they had been crafted and produced in the niche void within available bits ranges to satisfy what many sought after but were unable to find which makes the offerings of Mad Robot Miniatures so unique. Bits that were made specifically because they were what people asked for. And Steve Stodden knows this because he actually went out and asked people what they wanted him to make. It is certainly a pretty cool feeling to think that YakTribe has had a direct influence on the industry market for creating Necromunda appropriate parts. But the work at Mad Robot Miniatures isn't all glorious underhive filth; the full science fiction spectrum can be achieved from parts made by the company with a wide range of infantry squads stylized to allow for some great alternative Guardsmen, as well as tanks, motorcycles, and even lots of planned new goodies:
"I have a new regiment coming soon that will address a slightly different crowd than I normally would. It's part of an attempt to reach out to different genres and see what's possible. Folks can expect lots of additional parts for their gangers, including some very interesting takes on classic concepts. I am also planning some new post apoc things that involve powered suits of armour".
And while Steve wasn't able to directly comment on how awesome all the weapons offerings from the company are, I can only imagine some childish glee towards the veritable arsenal along the lines of what his Colonial Defence Force Troopers can get their hands on: "Check it out! Independently targeting particle beam phalanx. Vwap! Fry half a city with this puppy. We got tactical smart missiles, phased plasma pulse rifles, RPGs, we got sonic electronic ball breakers! We got nukes, we got knives, sharp sticks..."A Tribal Renegade of Ratskins springs an ambush on some unsuspecting Delaque gangers. Photo credit: @cardyfreak