If you're new to this blog, this is merely rehashing old news. However, if like me many readers have avoided GW stuff for years an occasional "update" might be of interest. (Actually I think it's a year since my last GW-related article, so one is due...) Also, who doesn't enjoy poking fun at GW's expense?
When looking over the 40K wannabes Maelstrom, Warpath, Beyond the Gates of Antares (as usual, 40K clones by ex 40K designers) and to a lesser extent, Deadzone (which is more skirmish) I was thinking over a few things - "defining skirmish gaming" (which I've already covered); the classic "make 40K better" (which we probably all did as teens but Mantic and Warlord et al are doing at a professional level). I wondered where GW's games would be at now if 10 years ago they had let their more creative game designers have more latitude like they now have, since they moved on to work for other companies.
Further, as a PC gamer I've noticed the upcoming release of Warhammer: Total War. Mix the excellent Total War series (well,
it was great until Rome II) with the fantasy lore and magic of Warhammer -
should be a winner. Maybe it could boost their sales - you know, people
play the PC game, then realize there are models allowing you to play it
on the tabletop. But wait.... that game - Warhammer Fantasy - is being pushed back - behind Age of Sigmar... I shook my head.
Morbily curious as to what GW have been up to lately, I came across this article (by a shareholder, not a neckbeard):
Here's the bits that stood out to me:
The company’s attitude towards customers is as clinical as its attitude
towards staff. If you don’t like what it’s selling. You’re not a
If you don't like what we're doing - you're not a customer. And we don't care.
The company believes only a fraction of the population are
potential hobbyists, and it’s not interested in the others. The move to
one-man stores has reduced the number of customers, sometimes by 30%,
but the stores are profitable now.
They also state only 20% of their customers are gamers - yet they do no market research*, so I am curious how they arrive at this figure.
*From their 2014 Investor Report: "Our market is a niche market made up
of people who want to collect our miniatures. They tend to be male,
middle-class, discerning teenagers and adults. We do no demographic
research, we have no focus groups, we do not ask the market what it
wants. These things are otiose in a niche"
(I find it weird a major company does no research and weirder still to be proud of it.)
If the rules aren't important - why is X Wing so popular? Wizards of
the Coast produced prepainted Star Wars stuff for years and I don't
recall them making waves like X Wing. Heck, I tend to find most people I played GW games with didn't even bother to paint their armies (this is anecdotal, but hey, it's as scientific as GW's "market research.") (I think they claim in their 2015 Financial Report, their main audience is teenagers, then claim hobbyists/collectors are their biggest fanbase. I mean, they aren't mutually exclusive but it's a tad inconsistent)
If their business model is primarily collectors, not gamers, then Age of Sigmar is in a weird place - because it seems designed specifically to be easier for gamers to get involved with. You'd think gamers would also buy more product. Collectors don't buy 6 Eldar tanks because they are flavour-of-the-month/OP. Gamers do. I wonder if the "it's all about collectors" is a smokescreen to cover up mistakes. Normally I assume big businesses know what they are doing because they have access to stats and research I don't. But since they don't do research, and stats can be interpreted as you wish (and given GW's "lalalalala fingers-in-my-ears" approach, I bet they do), I reckon my guess is as good as theirs.
Games Workshop has willingly vacated genres. Why willingly give up market share? Mordheim, Necromunda, Space Hulk, Blood Bowl, Epic dominated their respective spheres. I can't think of a 6mm sci fi game more recognizable than Epic. Bloodbowl and Space Hulk still stand above the pretenders. Necromunda and Mordhiem still get playtime even in the crowded skirmish gaming market, despite being completely unsupported. "Unprofitable" Battlefleet Gothic was replaced by Firestorm Armada while its seat was still warm.
You'd think this market share is important, as one of the "pulls" of 40K/WFB is "all your friends have it" and it's "easy to get a game." Well, when Age of Sigmar
landed I was curious and tried to "have a game" at the local store. No one had it. Only a few had tried it. The
local hobby shop stocks only a small shelf - it is dwarfed by X-Wing,
Warmachine, Malifaux and Infinity. Even 40K is way down the pecking order. Without the player base it once had, GW will increasingly get judged on its miniatures, rules and pricing. And they've got big issues with the last two.
I wonder how a re-release of Mordheim would have been received compared to the rather "mixed" response to Age of Sigmar. That was your cheaper, entry-level game for Warhammer Fantasy. I'm not sure a complete reboot was required. I also find it strange that they pretty much completely abandoned their IP. Yes, rebadging everything makes them more "copyrightable" but GW always seemed pretty on top of things when it came to protecting copyright. (<--Understatement of the year nominee)
Along with other games like FoW, X-Wing and Infinity, some companies like Mantic have deliberately and methodically moved into the breach, replacing many of these on a 1:1 basis aka Dreadball, Deadzone, Dwarf King's Hold. Kings of War has outright replaced Warhammer Fantasy in many places including some official "Fantasy" tournaments. (I thought it was quite canny that Mantic allow GW armies in their game system - that's a real "jump ship" invitation)
Now it seems Game Workshop has finally "woken up" and Specialist Games is being rebooted along with all the old favourites. It seemed so sensible I thought it was a hoax. But have they let their competitors gain too much of a lead? (Also, unsurprisingly, LOTR/Hobbit is being scaled back... hope I can score cheap minis on eBay again) (thought #2 - I wonder what would happen if FFG got the LOTR IP....?)
It's like... duh. I imagine they had a meeting that went like this.
"We're losing market share to X-Wing and Armada. We need our own space game!"
"Umm. We had one. It was called Battlefleet Gothic."
"Really? Also, something to compete with Infinity and Malifaux in the skirmish gaming market."
"Mordheim and Necromunda?"
"And there's this game called Dreadball, a sports board game. We have a PC game called Bloodbowl that's similar - can't we do it as a boardgame too?"
"And I see this Dropzone Commander is popular. Can't we do a small scale game in 6mm or 10mm but set it in our 40K world?"
Finally, in a world where social media is king, and viral promotion is desirable and twitter likes = money, Games Workshop's resolute avoidance to interact with its consumer base is... ...anachronistic.
(Actually antagonistic is probably a better word - I bet any social media accounts would overflow with toxic comments - and why is that?) I had a browse on their website the other day but it wasn't really a website - just a splash page with new releases on it. Now I think about it, for a company whose "magazines" and "website" are just giant ads, they (at least in Australia) do no meaningful advertising.
Talking about communication, I also recently read an article about TSR's demise and how Wizards revived the D&D franchise. When Wizards were trying to figure out where it all went wrong, why inexplicably decisions were made....
In all my research into TSR's business, across all the ledgers,
notebooks, computer files, and other sources of data, there was one
thing I never found - one gaping hole in the mass of data we had
No customer profiling information. No feedback. No surveys. No
"voice of the customer". TSR, it seems, knew nothing about the people
who kept it alive. The management of the company made decisions based on
instinct and gut feelings; not data. They didn't know how to listen -
as an institution, listening to customers was considered something that
other companies had to do - TSR lead, everyone else followed.
I know now what killed TSR. It wasn't trading card games. It wasn't
Dragon Dice. It wasn't the success of other companies. It was a near
total inability to listen to its customers, hear what they were saying,
and make changes to make those customers happy. TSR died because it was
Does this sound eerily familiar?
I'm curious - if Games Workshop started its business 5 years ago - or even, say, at the same time as Privateer Press (2003) would it still be in the same financial position? Would it still be solvent?
Finally, if you want an amusing explanation of GW, visit 4chan - that site of all that is noble and good. I especially like their scholarly and well-researched history, which begins with:
The original Games Workshop was established several hundred years BC,
originating in China. However, when the Emperor placed a commission for
thousands of life sized soldiers, this predecessor began to collapse, as
with all production geared to the creation of these soldiers, they were
unable to introduce price rises. As one, their board of directors
resolved that they must fall into hibernation, to wait out the storm,
screaming defiance at the one man who ever defeated them.
In fact, I think I will leave the wags at 4chan with the T;DR
This attitude towards one's IP, company history, and misunderstanding of
one's own consumer base is now known as the "Games Workshop handstand",
or the "fecally incontinent handstand".
It is the 3rd Millennium. For more than a hundred months Games
Workshop has sat immobile on the Golden Throne of Nottingham. It is the
foremost of wargames by the will of the neckbeards, and master of a
million tabletops by the might of their inexhaustible wallets. It is a
rotting carcass writhing invisibly with business strategies from the
early Industrial Revolution Age. It is the Carrion Lord of the wargaming
scene for whom a thousand veteran players are sacrificed every day, so
that it may never truly die.
Yet even in its deathless state, GW continues its eternal
vigilance. Mighty battleforce starter-sets cross the
online-store-infested miasma of the internet, the only route between
distant countries, their way lit by a draconian retail trade-agreement,
the legal manifestation of the GW's will. Vast armies of lawyers give
battle in GW's name on uncounted websites. Greatest amongst its soldiers
are the Guardians of the IP, the Legal Team, bio-engineered
super-assholes. Their comrades in arms are legion: the writing team and
countless untested rulebooks, the ever vigilant redshirts, and the
writers of White Dwarf, to name only a few. But for all their
multitudes, they are barely enough to hold off the ever-present threat
from other games, their own incompetence, Based Chinaman - and worse.
To support Games Workshop in such times is to spend untold
billions. It is to support the cruelest and most dickish company
imaginable. These are the tales of those times. Forget the power of
sales discounts and Warhammer Fantasy Battle, for so much has been
dropped, never to be re-published again. Forget the promise of cheaper
digital content and caring about the fanbase, for in the GW HQ there is
only profit-seeking, Space Marines and Sigmarines. There is no fun
amongst the hobby shops, only an eternity of raging and spending, and
the laughter of former employees who left GW to join better companies.