Friday, December 5, 2014

Games Workshop & Focus Change

Earlier in the week one of our local gamers, Rex Foote, posted on his blog concerning his decision to switch away from GW games. The decision was motivated by what Rex saw as a lack of customer commitment by Games Workshop, the company. Well, that's my take on it anyway.

I would say that for anyone who follows Rex's blog that such a decision would not have been a surprise and I believe has been coming all through 2014. There have been numerous posts detailing growing frustration with GW and its "practices".

The blog post elicited a lot of comment from local gamers. To say opinion was divided would be a true understatement.

Rex's main point appears to be that Games Workshop treats its customers very poorly and that that is no acceptable - especially in the hobby based game industry. The counter argument advanced is that Games Workshop is a business and is employing standard business practices to maximise their return to shareholders. And overall the customer service they provide is very good.

Well my point of view, not surprisingly, lies somewhere between the two views.

Overall I think Games Workshop produces fantastic models. Of course there are the odd "fails" but IMO overall the standard is so much higher than other miniature companies that there is no comparison. I'm sure some people will say "Wyrd"-this and "AoW"-that but I think they are kidding themselves (Aside: that's perfectly valid as aesthetics will influence your view). Overall GW are the industry leader in my mind.

Now that comes at a cost. It is far too simplistic to say "GW can't justify charging $100 for a plastic kit". Those arguments are generally based on the narrow view of raw material cost. Feeding into this are the costs of plant and machinery, development of IP (GW Design Studio plus supporting cast e.g. Heavy Metal, White Dwarf etc), distribution network and GW's own real network. I know that the cost of developing a plastic injection mould die was around GBP 300,000 in not an inexpensive process. On top of this as a public company must provide a return to its shareholders through either a dividend stream or an accumulation of Retained Earnings.

So that means there is a significant "cost" to bringing a plastic model to market. I'm not sure everyone always appreciates that.

Against that GW does so many things that annoy the hell out of me. Again a lot of these may be because they are a corporation and require a level of controls that smaller producers can avoid. As an Antipodean, their tax policy gives me the shits. It also acts as the gateway drug to dissatisfaction with GW in this part of the world. As a result of this policy we had the "Rise and Fall of Maelstrom Games" as orders first flooded this purchase mechanism and then were choked off by a change in GW's distribution policy.

However I can live with that because as an internet savvy customer (don't laugh Jack), I can circumvent GW's blunt controls to cauterise the Ends of the Earth levy.

What does annoy me more is the flip/flop nature of some of the Company's decisions. White Dwarf has been an example of this over the last five years. Their web presence is another instance.

Where I do feel they have let me down - and yes I think I have reasonable expectation of entitlement - is ongoing rules support. I believe that  customer support does extend to rules support and that consumers should expect FAQs/Errata where problems are identified. Now the apologists will say that we are given mechanisms (It's a toolbox/Work it out with your opponent) but to me that's lazy. They have enough people within Corporate that have links to the wider community to know problems exist - and that they are a canker. The frustration is that they would take likely less than a day's work to fix. And yes I see it as a Customer Service issue.

All in all I love the GW hobby. I love the rules and the models. Although I have some hesitancies around End Times I'm happy enough to view it as a WIP system which we are part way through. As the other books arrive we'll see the entirety of the system.

What I would say to people like Rex who are shifting their focus. Keep your armies or models that you've piled hours of love into. You can then always come back as circumstances and your view changes - hopefully coupled with your issues being addressed by the company.

And the most important thing to remember is? This is your hobby/your leisure time. It's meant to be fun. When it stops being that, do as you are doing and change focus. This is likely something that will occur periodically over your wargaming life.


  1. Excellent post Pete! A great summary of my own post and the situation as a whole. Your 2nd to last paragraph is great, i am keeping the Wood Elves and will continue to use them and i still love the lore and WHFB which is what made this choice difficult. I owe GW a great deal as it was they who got me into wargaming (a hobby i love) and then provided me with a neigh on excellent fantasy wargame system (fantasy is my favorite genre of entertainment so it was a big deal to find such a fun fantasy wargame). However it got to a stage where my love for WHFB was outweighed by my dislike of GW as a company, and even then it took my some time to reach this point.

    I hope they change back into what they were when i started this hobby (around 10 years ago), if they did i would sing their praises and be fine with buying their stuff, but i dont think it is likely at this stage unless the new CEO does some drastic changes.

  2. Couldn't agree more with your sentiments Pete

  3. good article. I will agree to disagree on FAQs tho' - I don't want any and prefer to sort things out with my gaming group. I dislike rules lawyers and fine print, but enjoy camaraderie and a good debate between competitive (but sporting) opponents. I never liked GW for the rules, but for the models and fun (the Giant's pick up and stuff in pants is a unique rule, but sums up what I like best about Warhammer - zany and funny until it happens to your general!). Even tho' we live on opposite ends of the world - I feel like you'd fit into our gaming group fine and have a helluva time - minus that weird dependency on the FAQ thing [insert smiley face thing here]. I enjoy the blog - keep up the good work

    1. The 'weird dependency on the FAQ thing :-)' is partly, I think, to do with the background of extensive tournament participation against complete strangers here and overseas by the blogger and a lot of his local group.

      A FAQ removes the... awkwardness... when you play a complete stranger (historically often affectionately known as 'the biggest mudskipper in the local puddle') at a tournament who has been interpreting something as a RAI rather than RAW... with their local gaming group. Whose interpretation may differ from your own local gaming group (hey, could happen, apparently people are different).

      You can play it any way you like with your mates... at a tournament defaulting to the official rules is probably the easiest way to have a good time.

    2. Great reply Hagen - and yeah, I do notice the tournament love on the blog. But I would add this - most tournaments already alter rules/comps etc. - it is part of the joys of running a tournament (I mean this both honestly and sarcastically - it is fun, but can be mind-boggling also). Why not just post the way your tournament will handle FAQs. I honestly don't believe there is a right or wrong most times - beyond errata obviously. There is only which path you choose. I don't care if a forest is real line of sight, or 2 inch view from the edge or whatever rule you want - just so long as we all know ahead of time. It is great fun coming up with those rules and debating them. That really is what gaming clubs do anyway isn't it? The best tournaments already do this sort of thing and if GW published a logbook of FAQs they wouldn't get them all anyway. Or answer in a way that truly made you happy. The onus to run a good tournament is on those who run them - not the company that makes toy soldiers. You can argue otherwise - but the more the game angles towards long FAQs, the more it becomes chess, not the roleplayesque platform I believe GW is after (they sell to Golden Demon painters, wargamers, collectors, tournament players, and weekend generals). Too far down any one avenue offputs the others, although some of my pals argue it isn't so. If you want 'standard play' you make standard terrain/standard armies/etc. - and I just think that is stifling personally, and I imagine for a company. If someone told my wargame group they needed to print out volumes of FAQs to 'play it right' they would meet such a ruling with disgust and derision. I don't think the game/hobby was designed as a tournament - which in no way means you can't run an awesome one - but if you will be disappointed if you expect GW, or most companies to make rules for you unless it was designed for such a thing (Magic the gathering will sell cards to anyone, but these days they market towards the tourney players, it is made for collectors/tourney players). Anyhow - sorry to write a book - I really liked your answer - and in a way I agree - but rather than a company provide that structure, I think the gaming group does. My wargames club's post-Xmas Warhammer tournament is awesome - although I don't think the random monsters that turn up on some tables were wholly expected - but I imagine a hungry icewyrm probably is attracted to blood and battle. You can FAQ rules,but not a good time!

      cheers and may you always make your saving throw (and argue as politely as you have!)

  4. Good on Rex for finding new games to enjoy. So GW got the stock levels of End times wrong. They aren't the first company to be taken by surprise and won't be the last. Telecom got the 3G network sales plan wrong and the network failed with much corporate fall out all round.

    Do people still drive round town looking for a book? That sounds so 1930s. They have mobile phones and the internet don't they?

    I purchased both the last two books direct from GW website so I would not run into stock issues. I was too slow to get the magic cards from NZ so had to order them from GW UK and NZ Post want to wrap them in gold foil.

    I did just try to get a copy of the Dystopian wars rules only to be told that version was out of print (after the website accepted my order) so it's not only GW that get stock wrong.

    I think GW make the best monster kits in the gaming industry. For monsters they have no real competition. The closest would be Mierce and their resin beasties. There is some competition for cavalry models and more for infantry models, especially if you want humans and can look at the historical models.

    But no one else makes a Phoenix type monster, certainly not in plastic.

    I remember when GW infantry came in blister packs of 5 for 2.50 GBP. The sculpts all had to be hunched over so there were no undercuts or were flat in a crucifix pose. Conversion possibilities were very limited. Models today are far superior to the old models such that claiming they are the same product is difficult.

    It's a bit like complaining that a model T ford cost less than a BMW.