Thursday, 6 February 2014

Why bother about Games Workshop? Because it matters!

Every time somebody mentions Games Workshop anywhere, it is likely to spark a lively discussion. This article is not going to end those discussions. I'm just trying to figure out what it is that is driving those discussions. What do wargamers expect of GW, and what bothers them so much?

A nice example of some GW-love to be found on the net

First of all, everyone agrees about what makes GW special: high quality miniatures (let’s see failcast as an short term aberration), well developed and engaging mythos and mostly innovative games. Although this applies more to the ‘specialist games’ than to Warhammer.

Second, I don’t think it’s about prices. What is acceptable is an individual consideration. I feel awkward at spending more than 3 pounds on a 28mm miniature, while others will gladly smack down a tenner for a superior sculpt. So almost all GW stuff I own I got second hand or remaindered. I was tempted but didn’t even buy the LOTR Nazghul set at half price. Many people have no such inhibitions. But generally people will not get worked up over this much, especially now there are reasonable alternatives.

Where GW lost the plot is in the peripheral shenanigans: gamesdays, White Dwarf, intellectual property, its treatment of its own shops and independent traders and most of all the players. In the last five years we've seen GW's heavy handed approach towards fansites that where keeping alive the interesting in older games, like BloodBowl. And the policy that favoured the online store over independent brick and mortar shops. Then the end of the specialist games. Or the new model for the games days, which was less show, more shop. And now the demise of the monthly White Dwarf in favour of a weekly plus a monthly glossy. In all, it looks like GW is sacrificing its community for the quick buck. 

The point is why non-GW wargamers bother about that at all? I mean, apart from the enjoyment of sticking  it to 'the Man'. My guess is that it is the notion that Warhammer is the portal for young kids to start wargaming. We want more opponents to play against, and somehow expect GW to deliver generation upon generation of fresh blood. 

Of course, Non-GW players realise that the things they value in a lively hobby are not always the same as those of a stock marketed company. GW is in the money making business and has no interest whatsoever in providing clientele to its competition. Not for nothing does it expressly ignore other forms of wargaming by declaring itself The Hobby. No wonder wargamers feel irked by that, but GW have no obligation to anyone other than their shareholders.

An relevant question is whether GW actually serves as the gateway to wargaming. As someone who delved directly into historical wargaming, I have no personal experience, but a comment on one of the Masterminis GW blogs made a big impression on me. A former GW European mainland employee remarked that after the first year about 40% of GW 'kids' quit wargaming altogether, 30% stay in The Hobby and the other 30% move on to clubs or play in their own circle. Which kind of proves the point that we have a real stake in GW's success.

So, with this in mind, many wargamers are torn on the issue of whether they’d like to see The Evil Empire fall or fear the disappearance of those young lads from wargaming forever and see the hobby die out. In fact, knowing those 40% of kids disappearing after GW has ransacked their (parents') wallets breaks our hearts. And we have a sense that if GW pisses of more people, they will not turn to other games and manufacturers, but disappear from wargaming for ever.

So wargamers have good reasons to worry about GW's recent attempts to antagonise their community. The sense of powerlessness only makes it worse.  


  1. I think you sum up this aspect very well.

  2. Every time I think I've seen it all they pull another, bigger and weirder stunt. The reason I'm still with them are my kids, my local GW store manager and the pizza place around the corner (I can only explain this in person but I assure you it is slightly outside the average parent-gets-badgered-by-kids model). Let's say I have a multi-personality disorder relationship with The Hobby (tm) but not with the actual hobby, of which, despite GW's presentation of things, The Hobby (tm) is but a part. I will always have this hobby, The Hobby (tm) notwithstanding.

    1. You don't have to excuse yourself for buying GW products. They probable made money out of me through licensed products and I was glad to pay. I don't think many wargamers still look down upon GW players


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