Sooo… I’ve ranted about Games Workshop a few times before, because as I get older and grumpier, I find that I, as a customer, am less and less willing to put up the GW’s business practices and policies. Now don’t get me wrong; I utterly adore the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 lore and backstory and yes, the models; it’s why I eagerly await nearly every new release from Black Library, and why I still have GW’s main site in my favourites so that I can browse through their models and entertain fleeting thoughts of getting back into the hobby… and then reason kicks in, and tells me “No! Play Warmachine from Privateer Press! Wait for Deadzone in 2014 from Mantic!”
This saddens me, because I had great times playing 40k with friends at my old gaming club about seven years ago. I had decent-sized Space Marines, Chaos, and Ork armies, and used them all, and loved playing them. We also used to play Necromunda (in my opinion, the best game GW has ever made), and even dabbled in Battlefleet Gothic and Mordheim, both of which are excellent games. Never got round to Blood Bowl or Epic though, which is unfortunate, but the point stands; Games Workshop is how I’ve bonded with people, made new friends, and made the friendships that already existed even stronger. So please understand, I’m not blindly raging for the sake of raging, my frustration at GW these days is founded on that oldest of neckbeard/grognard issues; that I was a loyal and dedicated customer of a company that continued to let me down until I couldn’t take any more. I’ve seen White Dwarf go from a genuine hobby and gaming supplement to a glorified catalogue, I’ve seen a decent and robust game system be ripped apart and stapled back together, I’ve seen price hike after price hike after price hike.
One conversation topic that always comes up these days when I sit down for a good old geeky chat with Ian or Other Gareth (he of Dave Danger fame) is what we would do if we were somehow handed the reins. What would we do if we ran GW? What would we do differently? Well, I’ll tell you. Below are the five priority things I would do if I was given full control over GW. For sake of argument, assume “full control” means exactly that; game design, marketing, product design, sales, advertising, the whole she-bang.
1. IN WITH THE NEW, OUT WITH ALL THE OLD
This is the most important thing, in my opinion. At the moment, 40k and Fantasy are messes of conflicting editions. For example, up until the recent release of the new SPESS MAHREEN Codex, Black Templars were using a Codex designed for 4th edition, two whole editions out of date! The same goes for Sisters of Battle and Orks. This results in armies who simply lack the equipment to deal with the tricks a new edition throws at them. Oh, sorry Tyranids, looks like you don’t have any real anti-air option to combat all the fliers in the game now! Well, shut up and wait for your new Codex. When will that be released? Pfff, fucked if I know. Oh, but you can use stuff from one of the Forgeworld books, but again that might be something designed with 4th or 5th edition in mind and might need errata to use in a 6th edition game! When is that errata going to get done? Please see above for my answer.
AAARGH. I’ve said it before, but it’s this kind of inconsistency that makes GW looks incompetent. Here’s my suggestion; say 7th edition comes out for 40k. This is what you do; say that all Codexes prior to that are now invalid. “But Gareth!” you wail, “How will players use their models?” Well, that’s when you do a Privateer Press. Y’see, when PP updated Warmachine to 2nd edition, they said “Yep, all the old books and cards aren’t really compatible anymore, but you can download PDFs of the new updated cards and rules for free from the website.”
Basically I’m suggesting that GW repeats what they did when they launched 40k 3rd edition, or Fantasy 6th edition. With 40k 3rd, the main rulebook had “get you by” army lists for every army. For Fantasy 6th, a free supplement called Ravening Hordes was provided in White Dwarf; again, contained army lists for every army to “get you by” until a real Army Book came out for your dudes. Genius.
On the subject of army books and Codexes…
2. SIMULTANEOUS CODEX RELEASES
So, you have a new edition of 40k, and the starter box comes with your two equally-matched armies (find me one person who says that the Dark Vengeance forces are balanced and I will show you a liar) and your rulebook and “get you by” army lists, so new players can look through that “get you by” list and say “ooo, I like the look of Orks/Eldar/Tentacle-Beasts of Graxiplon Alpha, I want their full Codex with all the shiny options and advanced rules!” But Codexes at the moment are a total rip; £30 for rules for only one army? Pfff. How about £20 for rules for five armies?
I’m suggesting that 40k would have four Codexes; Codex Imperium (army lists for Marines, Guard, Sisters, the Inquisition, and Adeptus Mechanicus), Codex Chaos (Daemons, Traitor Legions, Renegade Marines, Lost and the Damned, Dark Mechanicus), Codex Eldar (Craftworld Eldar, Dark Eldar, Exodites, Corsairs, Harlequins) and Codex Xenos (Orks, Tau Empire, Tyranids, Necrons, The Cabal). All of these would be released at the same time, written by a single team of R&D staff (so no more of the “Codex writer lottery” wishes) to ensure that every army is, ultimately, balanced. “But I want special rules for my Blood Angels/Biel-Tan/Feral Orks!” you might say. No problem! How do cheap (say £3) downloadable and print-on-demand supplement Codexes sound? As for Fantasy, you got me there; the Army Books I guess could be Elves (Wood Elves, Dark Elves, High Elves), Defenders of Order (Empire, Bretonnia, Dwarfs, Lizardmen), Forces of Chaos (Warriors, Beasts, Daemons, Chaos Dwarfs), Ravening Hordes (Undead, Ogres, Skaven, Orcs) and Dogs of War (Mercenaries).
3. THE COMMUNITY
GW has a tendency to stick their fingers in their ears and go “lalalala” when it comes to stuff like customer feedback. It’s why you aren’t able to comment on their Youtube videos, and it’s why the forums on their official site were closed down only a few months after they’d opened. Their website used to have cool articles, even if they were just rehashed from White Dwarf. The American GW site had absolutely amazing little e-zine called Black Gobbo which had excellent modelling and gaming articles, but now there’s nothing.
Compare this to Wizards of the Coast’s Magic the Gathering website. Every day, there’s two new articles from members of their design team, talking about how they designed the latest set, offering insight into the creative process, and (gasp!) sometimes admitting to mistakes they’ve made, and asking for customer feedback via poll! They also maintain forums where users can (and do) bitch and moan and snipe. But that’s so much better than just shunning the fanbase altogether! Let them vent, and you might learn something about your target audience, and how you can improve your product!
I’d do away with White Dwarf altogether. I’d revamp the entire GW site, have daily articles about game tactics, background fluff, painting and modelling from whoever’s on the WD team these days, set up forums… the whole nine yards.
4. ACCESSIBILITY FOR NEW PLAYERS
Quick, what do Mantic, Corvus Belli, Wyrd Miniatures, and Privateer Press do that GW doesn’t? Time’s up! Didn’t guess? I’ll tell you. They offer free PDF downloads of the “quick-start” rules for their respective games, so you can try the game out and decide if you like it before you commit to buy it. Oh sure, GW runs demo games in-store, but let’s assume that you don’t have a local GW or other gaming store, what do you do then? Fork out a ton of cash for a game whose mechanics you might not enjoy or understand?
That’s the thing really; if someone came to me and said that they wanted to get into 40k, I’d have to say “don’t do it.” Why? Because you’d need £30.00 for the rulebook and £30.00 for your army’s Codex. We’ll assume that paints and terrain aren’t essential, you can get plastic glue from a normal model shop for about £3, and you can grab some dice from some old boardgames, so minimal costs there. But then as for your army, you’re looking at… what? £60 to £90 maybe, depending on your army, for a bare minimum 500 pt army. That’s a hell of an investment for a game you may not even like.
For Warmachine and Hordes, Privateer Press do starter boxes, which gives you a small but legal army, complete with quick-start rules and rules for the models in the box. I know GW does their battleforce/battalion boxes, but these run the range from “army out of the box” to “aaah, just throw some random crap in there.” Actually, I’ve noticed they’re starting to quietly do away with battleforce and battalion boxes for 1-click “bundle” deals, some of which actually seem to be decent value, but you’re looking at over £100 then.
Every army needs a cheap box with which you can make an HQ, two Troops, and then an Elite, Fast Attack, or Heavy Support, all of it coming to 500 points, complete with “quick-start” rules in the box, and stats for using the models in the box.
Of course, I say cheap, and this all comes to the final point…
5. HOLY CRAP, LOWER PRICES
This is the other big one, and it’s the reason that I and several other people I know eventually dropped out of the hobby; it’s just too damn expensive. GW seems to think that they still have a monopoly on the miniature wargaming market and can thus charge whatever the hell they want, which is, of course, utterly wrong.
Compare; Mantic sells 20 sci-fi “Corporation Marines” for £24.99; still not cheap, I’ll grant you that, but a better deal than £18.00 for 10 Imperial Guard infantry. Oh by the way, those GW Imperial Guard? You’re probably going to need at least 40 of them, and that’s before you get to fun stuff like officers, tanks, and elite units. Yes, you can argue that the GW models are nicer than those Mantic ones, and I’d be hard-pressed to disagree; remember, I like the GW models! If the new plastic Sternguard were even £10 cheaper, I’d go buy a box tomorrow and have tons of fun sticking them together and painting them, because I think they’re gorgeous. But at £30 a box, I find it incredibly hard to justify.
Now, I’m not a business graduate, but this seems simple to me; higher prices put more people off, and thus stops new people getting into the hobby, meaning you don’t make as much money. Lower prices means that people are likely to stay in the hobby for longer, because it’s cheaper to keep playing, and thus they’ll buy more products, Maybe I’m being stupid, but it seems so obvious to me. I know that GW products are a luxury item, no-one’s forcing me to buy them, blah blah, and all those other defences that the fanboys throw out, but GW should be making me want to buy their products, and believe me, I do, but the cost to play is just so off-putting. I’d love to play Mordheim or Necromunda, because those games are cheaper, being skirmish-level games, but those games aren’t really supported anymore, precisely because they’re cheaper and don’t make GW as much money (despite the fact that if those games were properly supported, more people would buy models for them. Moderate sales are better than no sales at all…)
I could rant for ages about all this, but those are the five main things I’d change if I ran GW. I honestly hope that one day they do change their policies or strategies or whatever, because as much as I’m frustrated and disappointed with them, I’d hate to see them self-destruct and fail as more loyal customers like me leave them for the competition. Games Workshop and their products have helped shape me into the person I am today, and for that, I have to cut them some slack.