Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What is Wrong With Game's Workshop?

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.


Tom said...

Good article, if you had a "tweet this" link, or whatever it's called, I would click it.

I will say that for every person that says 8th edition is killing the game, there's another saying it revitalizes it. I have no idea, I play with mostly with 1 buddy so I can't comment either way.

Chicago Terrain Factory said...

People have been complaining about GW for years, but this is the first time I've seen people take action. Dakka is full of posts from people moving to anyone of a dozen games.

GW does have an obsession with quality - it's all part of their premium pricing model. However, as you point out, the quality of their game and their figures is dropping. And GW hasn't seemed to have noticed yet.

PS - It's amazing how polarizing 8th ed WFB is - I'm in the "can't stand it" camp & don't see how anyone could be so excited by the changes.

Robert said...

I think that price is an important part of the issue but not the most important. I believe that MOST GW customers will deal with the price as long as they are getting an excellent product and GW agrees. The porblem is they don't see the rules as a product worthy of the same quality focus. THis is hurting their business WAY more than any price increase.

BigLee said...

To quote your words above "It was the models that got me hooked but the rules that lost me."... that is so true of me and my whole gaming group.

We started playing WFB over 20 years ago, then it was WH40k & Epic. But we all found the rules less inspiring than the models. And the regular release no new rules editions that left models obsolete eventually drove us away.

I don't play GW games any more. I still buy their models occasionally, but not in the quantities I would If I played a particular game system. My hard earned cash [and that of my mates] has moved elsewhere.

Scottswargaming said...

A great post with many points I agree with. In terms of the collector and painter, but gamer too... what frustrated me was, you gradually bought an army, started painting and playing with it, asways looking forward to it being fully painted and looking splendid on table top when finished, but while you painted it... they change the rules and codexes, and dump half the units from the game.... Stuff it I thought... I'd bought squats and they never made it to the rules officially (this really pissed me off - a lot of time and money spent for nothing), I stayed loyal and switched to Orks, got them almost done and they changed the rules and my savage boar boys dissappeared over night... Same with aspects of WFB. I'm done with it, never again. Shame is I see my young boy growing up, looking at my old models and in the window of GW, but I won't be buying any for him nor encouraging him, except for LOTR, but FinecOst may have put paid to that too now...

Muskie said...

Ever since the success of the 4th Edition Warhammer and 2nd Edition 40,000 and things like Necromunda to a lesser extent. The rules have existed to sell the game. The competitive tournament player is a small minority. The people who only play with fully painted minis is a small minority. A lot of people buy stuff, put it together, play with it for a while and get bored and move on. These people and more especially their mothers is who GW markets too in their retail stores. Some of them are like daycares. The movies and video games have brought in new older players, but I think the people who buy the most product are the kids and the wealthy dudes that pay other people to paint their models, people with little golden daemon trophies for instance. ;-) The person who does it all themselves and sticks with the same models/army etc for a decade or so are not GW's preferred customers. They want people to buy the flavor of the month. That is why the codices seem to get better as an edition goes on, that is why they make another Space Marine chapter, space marines sell, people always say I'm never going to collect another space marine army, then they do... So many used space marine models are out there, but GW keeps making fancier and fancier new releases, even the FineCast is an example of that. Sure I have that model, but I don't have it in ultra detailed resin...

I'm too old and too slow and generally too busy real world issues to worry much anymore. I slowly fill up my display cases with models I rarely game with, people are starting to get desperate to lure me to events and game nights. I just have bigger issues right now, so the models sit there, I can see a couple 100 painted models from here, they were too much work for me to ever sell. No idea what I'll do with them if I ever die or get married and can't have a miniature collection take up a wall in my apartment. ;-)

Flekkzo said...

Very good point. They don't seem to bother proofing nor writing the rules clear enough that there aren't three different interpretations for everything.

I want quality in fluff, rules, and miniatures. Some can do without quality some of those, but I can't. I agree that GW is having issues as they aren't liked by their customers. Big issue indeed.

Mundar said...

After 22 years, I have moved on. And while this is a common number of years for the grizzled gamer, bear in mind I started GW when I was 8 years old. This is something I grew up with as a child, played with as a teenager, and played competitively as an adult.

I have owned and painted more armies for 40k than I can remember. I have played every edition of 40k, and half of the Fantasy editions. I have endured every price hike. Necromunda, Gorka Morka, Blood Bowl, Mordheim, Gothic, Inquisitor.. I've played them all. I have put a paintbrush to a model nearly every day for the last 22 years.

And in recent months, it just seems to be one thing after another from this company. I can't stick up for them anymore. I really can't justify their prices or attitude for their customers. It's like we should be ever so greatful for being spit on with sloppy rules, zero tournament support, miscasts and insane pricing. It really boggles me as to why I would want to support a company that not only thinks I'm an idiot, but will treat me like one too.

So I like many local gamers have moved on to Privateer Press. If I want to check out a new faction, I don't have to drop several hundreds of dollars on it. The rules are clean and clear with little room for "friendly debates". There is a standard tournament format that most organizers use (so there are no surprises or guessing how a tournament will be judged). PP also shows up in force to any major event or convention. That isn't something GW does. How many GW employees are at adepticon? gencon? etc? few, if any at all.

On one hand, it feels like losing an old friend (and that is only because I've been a customer for most of my life). But on the other, it feels like breaking up with an abusive spouse.

Vitor said...

Couldn't agree with you more, I was hooked by the models and lost by the rules 8th ed Fantasy to be exact. Lucky for GW I moved to 40k.

Jobu said...

Here is my perspective, not to disagree/agree, more of an addendum. This is a direction I think GW is trying to go.
The creation of IP ( intellectual property, i.e. fluff ), which they can then sell to other companies, which will then lead to new players. The miniatures and rules are just advertising this IP. With the exception being LoTR, for which they have much less control ( ok, none essentially) over the IP. I believe this to really be one of the driving forces behind GW's lawyers shutting down so many websites a couple of years ago. GW thinks the sale of IP to be a great way to increase income, not only through miniature sales to vets but will get NEW players interested who are GW real targets. IMHO we have already seen this with Dawn of War, the space marine movie etc. Just look at what the HALO universe has done for Bungie/Microsoft. Imagine if this new kill team game takes off, how many people will begin to get interested in the 40K universe, then discover Fantasy and maybe, maybe LoTR.
Sorry if this is a bit fragmented my head is killing me.

Imaginary Wars said...

Wasn't it in last year's end-of-the-year financial report that Tom Kirby (Mark Wells?) said that Games Workshop was a company that produced miniatures, first and foremost?

My memory is a little foggy about the exact wording of that bit in the report, but the slap in the face to all their loyal GAMING customers was there, plain as day.

I've been seeing the same exodus (though, to be fair, "exodus" might be a bit grand of a term right now) of players going to other systems round my area as well--more with 40k than with WFB.

It's creepy right now how lcoal tournaments over sell their Warhammer spots and have a harder time filling their 40k spots. A friend of mine was lamenting his finishing his 2,000-point Tyranid army as no one he like playing with now plays 40k: they've all moved on to Warhammer 8th, War Machine or Flames of War.

The interesting bit with WFB 8th Edition is that sales of models are still just as stagnant as they've always been the last few years (I worked in a game store, so my finger was very much on the pulse, and the only thing Warhammer could say to feel good about itself was that at least it wasn't Lord of the Rings).

I think GW has been slowly losing customers--almost imperceptibly--over the last few years, but this year's price increase, coupled with the monthly price rises a-la FineCast[TM] has been doing much to make other games feel a tad more palatable.

Lonnie Jordan said...

Very well written...

Not to sound like a yes man here but I do agree with you on almost all points.