Let me start of by saying this is not just some 'I hate GW' rant. I am a long time customer of GW and I am a fan of most of the stuff they do. Having said that I am starting to see a major shift not just in what GW is doing but also how the local gamers are responding.
As I said I am a long time GW customer. I started with Necromunda in about 1997 and then gradually moved into Warhammer 40,000. With the release of the first Lord of the Rings box set in 2001 I jumped into that game. I have never been what GW might consider the ideal customer and I have never been part of their target demographic (I started with GW games in my 30's). I have generally been a gamer who has been on a tight budget and so I have had to be creative about how I acquire new models and items for my collections. I buy new or used. I buy from local stores, GW stores, eBay sellers and online retailers. I also purchase from local gamers. Even with the frugal approach I figure I have spent thousands of dollars on new product in the last 14 years. I don't feel I am an unusual GW customer but I am they type that GW feels is not worth their time to make happy. Oh well.
During the entire time I have been a 'GW Hobbyist' a few things have remained constant:
1. New versions of core games get released every few years
2. New versions of the rules spawn new codex releases
3. New codices make units or models obsolete and new models and units are released
4. Prices are increased just about every year
For the most part this business model has never really concerned me. I hate price increases just like everyone else but the fact is since I started playing GW games I have never been able to afford to do all my gaming purchases for full retail. This is true even though I make more than three times as much money as I did in 1997. GW prices have kept ahead of my wage increases which means I still buy used and trade as much as ever. Oh well.
It seems that this business model has been working just fine for GW and certainly the last few years have seen huge increases in their growth. But something does not seem right to me. I have been thinking that GW has been making some huge mistakes for the last year or so. I recently looked over the financial statement, like most gamers, trying to find a clue as to what is bothering me. I will not try and go into the details of the report as much more knowledgeable people have already done some good work with this. I did see a couple of things; one was pretty obvious. Revenues and profits are down but not a lot. The other thing I noticed, and the thing that is really the point of the post, is that GW seems to be obsessed with quality.
Now this is a good thing right? There is tons of talk in the financial report pointing out that GW makes the best figures in the industry. How FineCast models will revolutionize....something. The report is full of this stuff and you know they are right. Game's Workshop makes the best game models out there. What was missing was any reference to making the best GAMES in the industry. Strange, the name of the company is Game's Workshop but they are being run the company as if the their name is Citadel Miniatures.
Several people have written articles on their blogs about different types of gamers. You know the ones 'there are x types of gamers and they are...' They generally point out there are people who like the games, people who like the models and people who like to build and paint them. Why is this important? Well, it seems that GW has decided that the model collector and painter is their target. These are the folks GW thinks are the primary consumers of their products. I see myself as a collector and a painter first but I do love the games. This is where I think GW is making their huge mistake.
I believe the game is the most important product GW makes. Without the game there is nothing to drive the sales of the models no matter how cool they are. Without the game a collector would not need more than a couple of Space Marines. Without the game who would need more than one or two Minotaurs? Without the game how many Ring Wraiths do I really need? As further proof of this idea consider my attempts to get into Warhammer Fantasy Battles. I had been collecting Beastmen for some time and had the WHFB 7th edition rules and codex. I had never played and then 8th edition came out. I spent more money on a new rulebook and codex. Then I discovered that 8th edition was generally hated and that players were jumping to Warmachine. I had no one to play against. So instead of continuing to purchase the cool new Beastmen models and continue to paint what I had collected I sold the entire collection and moved on. It was the models that got me hooked but the rules that lost me.
In the local game community this has happened dozens of times. Long time WHFB players are getting out of the game and selling off huge collections so that they can play a better game (or at least a game that they enjoy more). For the first time I can remember GW has real competition for the gamer and they don't even know that they are a game company. For additional proof of this remember that most of the best game designers for GW are now gone and most are still writing game rules for companies that are going straight for GW's market. And these game designers are doing good work.
So what does all this mean? First I think it means that people who claim that GW manipulates the rules to drive sales may be giving them too much credit (or are taking a very simplistic view). Second, if you think that GW cares about the quality of the game-play you are mistaken. To GW the rules are very similar to the White Dwarf - an advertising tool.
I do not think that any of this means that GW is on the way out but I do think that things may be changing. They have competition and they seem to be losing customers. This will force them rethink their business model. Hopefully, they will realize that the game is the main product and they will work to improve the quality of the rules to match the quality of the models and the richness of the background.
Oh well...time will tell I guess.
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