Tuesday 5 January 2016

My Yearly Games Workshop Rant

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 customer. 

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 available.
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 deaf.

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.


  1. As always, a well thought out and well articulated article. So sad. I enjoyed their games once upon a time.

    1. I admit I find the drama interesting, but am personally not invested.

      I no longer play any GW games outside the occasional LOTR, and have not for years (5th ed 40K?)

      ....Although the new direction of AoS interested me, the game seems meh and I'm (perhaps mean-spiritedly) hoping for an AoS implosion as I can then pick up cheap fantasy minis on eBay (annoyingly, the Hobbit release upped eBay prices before I could get all the LOTR I wanted).

      I must say there is a certain soap opera (perhaps train wreck?) vibe about everything GW and the internet is certainly not "neutral" on the subject - it's kinda fun reading about it....

    2. I feel like the fact that you're a wee bit out of the loop weakens your arguments about the game and how the rules work. I get the impression that a lot of other people who soured on the game in the 4th and 5th editions are likewise under-informed about how the game works in 7th, and who might enjoy it if they tried (not suggesting you spend money on it, but you can find the rules online and play it with card bases if you're that way inclined).

    3. "....weakens your arguments about the game and how the rules work"

      Huh? How am I talking about the rules? Did you even read the post?

      -New PC game links to game being phased out
      -If you don't like what we do, you're not a customer
      -No market research and proud of it
      -Erroneous/contradictory assumptions about customers
      (collectors not gamers, teens OR 30s)
      -Market share + specialist games
      -Social media, communication, and the eerie similarities to TSR
      -Amusing 4chan comments paying out on GW

    4. Hmmm. I just re-read that. Apologies for the snarky response...

      ....I quit posting on TMP because the inevitable "didn't-read-the-post-but-here's-a-random-opinion-anyway" replies....

      ...so perhaps I'm a bit oversensitive. Apologies again!

  2. They still have the best plastics though. Mantic, GOA & other wannabes may have better rules, I can't bring myself to buy their miniatures. Of course, I tend to play with only 10-20 miniatures (both sides together) so that makes cost less important.

    1. I'm curious - what current GW game uses 5-10 minis per side?

    2. Not a GW game! :-p I play using GW miniatures & non-GW rules. But that still means I spend more money with GW than with any competitor.

    3. They look nice, and I look at them from time to time in the shops, but they are so expensive. I can get hordes figures for a fraction of the cost, and while they might not be as good, I think they look pretty nice once painted. As a bonus, I'm not giving money to GW.

    4. Warhammer 40k can be played with 5-10 miniatures per side.

    5. Pooh, for a moment there I was excited thinking Specialist Games was up and running already!

  3. I have armies of Epic and Warmaster and still play with them a few games every year, together with Mordheim. I love Epic.
    In my view, GW has turned from a hobby company into a toys company, with very expensive toys btw. Their figures now are ugly but I think it is because they are toys and not miniatures, and I'm not a child anymore.
    My eleven year old son loves their catalogue of fantasy and sci-fi monsters, and doesn't understand me when I try to explain him the difference between the GW's metal miniatures from the eighties and the current plastic ones.

    1. I don't know what it's like where you live, but for example Australia used to be twice the price of UK. Back when the Australian dollar was equal to an American dollar, we paid $65 for a 10-man SM tactical squad.

      I wonder if price rises have been used to offset declining quantity of sales. Surely not as many people buy minis at $6.50 each as $2 each.

      A X-Wing box at $50 is an Xmas present. A Warhammer starter at $170 is a day's wage.

      There's a point (perhaps not reached yet) where price vs sales becomes unsustainable. I.e.
      Sales vs Cost = Profit
      1000 x $2 = $2000
      1000 x $3 = $3000
      800 x $4 = $3200
      600 x $5 = $3000
      500 x $6 = $3000 <--I guess GW is here at the moment
      400 x $7 = $2800
      300 x $8 = $2400

      This is speculation, but I doubt they can be selling a higher quantity of minis at those prices. Though perhaps there is enough fanatics/fans they can jack up their prices and sell only 100 for $30 each...

      In more recent Warhammer news, the neckbeards strike again:

  4. To be honest I'm loving 7th edition 40k. My circle of 40k opponents has recently reformed itself as a league, and now there's 15 of us up from 6 last year.

    1. Are they still using IGOUGO to activate?

    2. Yup. Game Turns are divided into two Player Turns. Player turns are divided into phases. Opponents get reactions in all phases though. The movement phase, for example, includes leadership checks, and options to interfere with ramming. The psychic phase features an opponent dispelling magic, and leadership checks. The shooting phase features going to ground, leadership checks, and casualty removal. The assault phase has the charging sub-phase including overwatch, and the fight sub-phase including piling in before and after combat is resolved. My only complaint would be that I don't have time anymore to wander off for a drink.

  5. The unnamed author of the investor report at least deserves credit for using the word 'otiose', even if the otiosity in question is somewhat debatable in this instance.

    1. Heh. I thought it meant "lazy" which in the circumstances might be apt.

  6. Unnecessary or redundant, as they lazily - and arrogantly - claim knowing their customers' wishes and interests to be, presumably as they feel it is their right to dictate them.

    Another word I long to see more of is atrabilious, but - perhaps unsurprisingly - it never happens. (Clue, if required: it applies to this post).

    1. "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."

      -----This is an accurate a description of GW as I've heard, rather than that of the(now bankrupt) TSR.

    2. To be fair the community is hugely diverse when it comes to opinions on what GW should do, and what they should produce. The more I read of those opinions, diverse it gets!

    3. To veer a little off topic, I'd say most of the community agrees
      (a) minis are overpriced
      (b) GW DOES need to focus on making good GAMES, it's not just "collectors" who buy their minis
      (c) closing Specialist Games was a sad day
      (d) GW DOES need to actually listen to its community/interact with them like every other company
      (e) playtesting/balancing might benefit from more care/or "open beta" etc like Warmachine etc uses

      The GW fanboys are a weird and rabid bunch (like the guys I linked who "occupied" a store re: rules changes!)

  7. Still love my old SG ranges - Epic, Blood Bowl and Space Hulk.
    Thats all I've played for 2 decades though, and the first two are supported by a passionate and dedicated fan base that has made GW irrelevant except for the odd Copyright acknowledgement.

  8. When SPI was a big deal in board and paper wargaming In the 1970s and early 80s, its leadership under Jim Dunnigan put a ton of effort into customer feedback. Their product development cycle was driven in part by polling of the readership of their in-house magazine, Strategy and Tactics, which was a product in itself and not a glossary advertisement like White Dwarf. Problem with SPI - hi development costs, limited growth potential to its customer base, and changing tastes - they weren't positioned to survive the coming of computer games. That plus many of their gaming titles were about WW3 and then the Cold War ended.
    Today it's interesting to look at board and paper gaming companies that have succeeded SPI - GMT Games, for example, have their P500 series which acts as an in-house Kickstarter - they won't develop a product until they have a minimum 500 preorders. Other small publishers (Richard Clarke, Sam Mustafa) are closely connected with their fan bases.
    GW is an anomaly in the hobby because it is publicly traded, and once you get to that level, you aren't interested in your customers or their desires nearly as much as you are interested in your shareholders.

    1. I expect GW to be interested in shareholders and profit.
      I do find the total disinterest in their customer base, the way it surrendered market share, vacating established WFB IP,lack of leveraging IP re: videogames/movies* etc seems to fly in the face of what most other businesses do.

      *Yes, I know there ARE videogames but they are in spite of GW, rather than because of it. They have one of the most marketable franchises outside of Star Wars (probably because they stole the cool tropes from Alien, Terminator, and every other cliche under the sun) but don't do much with it....

    2. They're working on that, it seems. The thing is, what makes a good movie and a good game are kind of polar opposites. You can see this dichotomy being handled at Blizzard, where they're making Warcraft-derived products, and a Warcraft movie. The point of games like Warcraft and World of Warcraft is that they're about the players, and have a player-shaped hole in them. I think it's a tension between people wanting to replay the stories told the get the background across, and the people wanting to tell their own stories. 40k is super-generic, and successful because of it, because that helps players find a world in which to play their story.

  9. My favorite part was the line about thinking corporations know what they are doing because they have access to data. As a wage slave of the managerial caste inside many corporations that notion had me chortling with laughter. Thank you!

    1. Heh. I'm in education, and everything is results/growth-orientated, driven by student data.

      I assumed with $$$ at stake it'd be even more serious than mere education.... ...the GW "we'll decide what the customer wants, and if you don't want it, you're not a customer" seems madness...

    2. It's more common than you think. I work for a company that frequently loses bids because (potential and former) customers consider us too expensive compared to our competitors. Everyone from high to low is aware of this. And still, every year prices go up above inflation. Sometimes twice a year.

    3. I worked at a financial institution that sold financial products at a considerably higher price than its competitors. The managers told us, the sales force, to sell on value rather than price. Apparently it's a successful strategy. Not so much for me, as I quit and moved on, but the company is still there and its profits put GW's to shame.

  10. Interesting article. GW always strikes me as thin-skinned babies.

    I've never been too interested in GW games (rules just seem to daunting, and expensive with the books and models).

    If I was going to play a game like that (ground skirmish minis game), i'd probably be war machine/hordes which I played a demo of and looks pretty neat, but I'm already deep into X-wing, and pretty happy with that and don't want to be starting collecting another game.

  11. A bit of GW bashing is always therapeutic. Reading it almost equally so. My own GW history is much the same as many here and it is from the sidelines only that I view the potential demise of a great empire.

    As to how long that demise will take is hard to say without the numbers. And talk of it has been rife for well over a decade. But history tells us that all empires die in the end by their very nature. Mostly.

    Thanks for the therapy.

    1. Due to the Aussie dollar plummeting, now EVERYTHING is outragrously expensive.

      AoS box = $75 for ?Stormclad Externals?
      A starter box is $180

      ....but now the others are catching up.....

      Warmachine = $60 for a unit box, $60 for a starter (4-5 minis)

      X-Wing = $55 for starter box (3 minis!!!!), $20 per extra mini

      DzC = $70 starter box

      Only Infinity has remained stable (but it was pricey to start with) at $50 for a starter and $10 per mini.

      ....Add +$10 to all those prices if in store, rather than online....

  12. Familiar. When in my teens and getting in to the hobby ( early-mid 80s) I lived as an expat in the Middle East. The hobby had ZERO presence there and shipping was astounding. A few of the figures I have from then literally cost their weight in gold ��