And I'm talking about this on my hobby blog because...?
Ah, well, if it wasn't for White Dwarf Magazine I can say with honestly I would not be in this hobby. When I was introduced to Warhammer 40,000 it was during it's 1st edition, before Kirby, before the corporatization. At this point, late '88 early '89, White Dwarf played a vital support role for all of it's games. It was prior to this point a general hobby magazine, with RPG reviews and support. It even had a book review section (Critical Mass) by a great reviewer that rated Sci-Fi and Fantasy genre books that they thought would appeal to gamers (in fact, for the sake of trivia, the last Critical Mass reviewed a book by David Zindell titled 'Neverness'- read it if you can find it!). And let's not forget Thrud! But, even at this point, GW was concentrating on their games and support for them. And we were NOT complaining! Back then we were living in the growth and evolution of 40K. The game was truly young, and each month the 40K universe grew a little with each White Dwarf. Tony Cottrel's amazing conversion kits for the modeler who wanted more variety out of their Rhino and Landraider kits (in the case of the Spartan, a hybrid of each!) or instructions for scrap building Ork tanks and in one issue a Baneblade were just amazing. These issues of White Dwarf introduced a wealth of background material that continued to evolve the game and the game's iconic back-story. Hive Worlds were explored in great depth with the experimental rules for Confrontation (this later became a stream-lined, less RPG-oriented product known as Necromunda). This was an exciting time to be following this hobby for sure, and I was hooked.
Even back then White Dwarf had sections (literal pages) straight out of new releases, as sort of a teaser sample. Pages from Realm of Chaos, Waaagh The Orks, Freebooters, etc. And still they premiered unique lists (The Eldar) and experimental rules (the rules that would become the Vehicle Manual and the Battle Manual). This show-case of pages out of new releases continued really strong with the launch of 2nd edition, with pages pulled straight our of rulebooks and codex releases forming the foundation of each issue, end-capped by a battle-report, which had become quite popular by this point. Unique rules exclusive to WD started to lesson, but it still existed. Although background material certainly began to decline.
With a change of editors (Robin Dews for Jake Thorton) saw the introduction to the FAT Dwarf! White Dwarf magazine ballooned in size and practically dripped with content. I would say that this period was certainly White Dwarf's most appealing era. The Battle reports were even more exciting, the content was unique and useful, the painting and scenery article remained useful as well, even the collecting articles were pleasant to read (usually). Back then both 40k and WHFB games (and even the specialist games) used a lot of card stock for templates, spell cards, psychic cards, vehicle cards, wargear, treasure, etc., and the Fat White Dwarf was providing pre-perforated card stock components for these games. White Dwarf may have been calling itself a catalogue at this point, but you HAD to have it to play these games! Also during this time, another reason to have it was the FAQ support.
I think the generosity of this product began to be cost prohibitive, and the 'Dwarf shrunk back down in size by the time 40K 3rd edition was launched. However we still saw a lot content, and even experimental rules (BFG, Mordheim, the retro editioned Necron rules (I interviewed Rick Priestly at Games Day '99 where he told us that the Necrons were created for 3rd edition, and that it was a real challenge to retro-fit them back into 2nd edition for those articles, but I digress). During the 3rd edition period White Dwarf continued to evolve, but continued to be useful. The 3rd edtion FAQs (now Chapter Approved articles, which made the old vets like me swoon with pride!) continued to be vital. Just ask anyone who messed around with the VDR and you'll hear some fun stories! Eventually White Dwarf was used as a support vehicle for GW's LotR line, and it was harshly divided into three sections. Lord of the Rinds, Warhammer, and Warhammer 40,000. Specialist game support disappeared entirely, but these games had their own support magazines (which were quite nice! I loved Town Cryer for Mordheim the most!). Lots of painting and hobby articles usually with content unique to the content that it was now being printed on (GW US, GW Australia, etc) with some of it unique to that country.
GW reeled all this in right around 4th edition (2004) and to be quite honest, White Dwarf has remained a sort of sterile entity ever since. The new releases are very much heavily featured (the sprue break-downs are nice to reference) but there is little in the way of tangible content. In 2011, not much has changed. White Dwarf doesn't even pull pages from new releases any more! It's even unfair to call it a catalog, since even they don't put prices anymore (probably due to it being published in pretty much one country and circulated throughout the English-speaking world, but this is just my guess). The writers comments on new product are OK to read, and the occasional tasty rules article comes out, but for the most part, I just look at the pretty pictures before nodding off to sleep at night. White Dwarf is no longer vital.
I hope I illustrated why people tend to complain about the current state of White Dwarf: it's because the older issues truly had content and at one point you had to have White Dwarf. And those of us who remember it, miss that. I cling to it more out of hope that it will improve, but I still enjoy it. But I don't thirst for it like I did just a few years ago.
This went on longer than I thought, so next time I will plot out what White Dwarf would be like if I could control it. it's a fantasy, sure, but if my hopes and these 'changes' are anywhere close to similar, than I'll be a happy guy!