I’ve been pretty heavily invested in the worlds that Games Workshop create for over twenty five years now and I love their background. It’s one of the things that stopped me from jumping ship to another company during the too long period when they seemed to be going out of their way to alienate everybody over the age of fifteen.
They’ve had some pretty strange ideas over the years, ideas that often seemed to run pretty contrary to common sense, but the one that always boggled my mind the most was their attitude to the internet.
Before I get stuck into this, I would like to say that Games Workshop over the past year or two has felt like almost an entirely different company and for the most part I’m pretty happy with the direction things seem to be going in. There was a substantial slice of time though when this was not the case.
The internet; I think we can all agree that short of a Mad Max type Apocalypse, it’s not going anywhere and that most of us probably wouldn’t want it to. No internet would certainly make blogging a bit tricky.
There was a fairly substantial slice of time when Games Workshop treated the internet like it was a passing fad that was going to fade away if they ignored it long enough. This all seemed to stem from a forum they ran for a while some time ago.
It was a reasonably interesting place for a time. If you’ve been into the hobby for a while you may even have experience of it yourself, but it started to become overloaded with people who were going there to launch personal attacks on the company. Did the company deserve this and did a lot of these people’s opinions have merit? Up to a point, yes. However the forum was there to discuss the hobby side of the hobby and not the business side, so it was never going to end well.
Instead of attempting to address the situation rationally, they threw their toys out of the pram, closed the forum and almost entirely withdrew from the internet. Sure, they still had the webstore, but I imagine even they could see that closing that would have been akin to company suicide.
Over the next few years they rolled back their online presence more and more, even abandoning a pretty popular Twitter feed. I don’t pretend to know a great deal about business and the only thing I know about their profits is what I’ve read on hobby forums. For a while at least making a profit seemed to be problematic for them and part of the reason for this may well have been as a result of them closing themselves off from their fanbase and taking us for granted.
As a company they had been in a bit of a downward spiral for quite a while, at least as far as their reputation was concerned and the internet thing was by no means the first bad decision they made; nor was it their last.
You’d probably get a hundred different answers from a hundred different people if you asked them to tell you what their problem was with the company a few years ago, but most of them probably would have agreed on two points. The Finecast debacle and the botched Age of Sigmar launch.
Finecast. It was a cool idea in principal. Replace the range of metal miniatures with the same models, but cast in resin. Lighter, cheaper and more detailed. They were definitely lighter.
There was no difference in price people paid between the metal models and their resin counterparts and in some cases the prices even went up. As far as the detail was concerned; it was indeed better, if you could get one that wasn’t faulty and that was the problem.
I don’t know how true this is but I heard of independent retailers who found more than half of their stock to be faulty, at least in the initial run. I have no way of knowing how accurate this is, but from my experience with the early Finecast range, it certainly feels right.
The range must have been rushed out before it was ready and Games Workshop as a company must surely have paid a high price for their haste. I will say that as far as I know, they accepted returns from people and offered refunds, or replacements to anyone who got in touch with regarding a faulty model. In my experience, this is one area that they have always excelled in.
Finecast as a brand is so toxic that even Games Workshop have ditched the name now. They still sell resin models and they seem to be, whilst still not perfect, at least usable in most cases now. I’ve painted a few on commission, but for my own collection, unless there’s no alternative I wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole. This is no comment on Forgeworld’s resin, they have a pretty splendid reputation as far as I’m aware.
As far as Age of Sigmar is concerned, I believe it’s quite an enjoyable game, with a well-rounded ruleset now and it certainly has a lot of beautiful miniatures. Although I’ve perused the rules, I’ve never played it; I just haven’t been able to work up the enthusiasm for it so far.
When it was released, it replaced the much-loved Warhammer Fantasy Battle; a game that had been around for an epic amount of time. It offered an entirely different experience to Warhammer 40,000 gameplay wise and had a rich, well developed background.
While it is true that it wasn’t selling as well as it had, this could have been addressed without killing the whole system and all the background.
Part of the problem with regards to the decline of Warhammer Fantasy, is the uneven coverage it got in White Dwarf, Games Workshop’s hobby magazine. The coverage often seemed skewed towards the more popular Warhammer 40,000 and while this is my favourite system, it always seemed a little unfair.
Also, as unintentional as it presumably was, when they acquired the licence for Lord of the Rings, from a fantasy perspective they went into competition with themselves. By having two totally different fantasy ranges competing for the same slice of the pie, they were setting one of them up for a fall.
Whereas Warhammer Fantasy kept a lot of the gamers it already had, Games Workshop didn’t really give itself an outlet to pick up very many new gamers for the system.
It seemed to me though, that Games Workshop grabbed the wrong end of the stick and decided that the reason Warhammer Fantasy wasn’t selling, was that it wasn’t enough like Warhammer 40,000, so along came Age of Sigmar.
As I said earlier Age of Sigmar seems to be perfectly fine now it’s bedded in and things have been rounded off. On release however, it seemed very bare bones and everything that was there was entirely new. Quite simply, it may not have been that there was anything particularly wrong with it, but that it had big shoes to fill and on release it struggled to do so.
Despite all the turbulent times, they really seem to have turned over a new leaf. While I don’t think they’re quite at the stage they were at in what I consider to be the glory days, they do seem to be trying; it’s also a little bit possible that to some extent I may be looking at the past through rose tinted glasses.
They’ve even got their sense of humour back and the ability to have a laugh at your own expense is never a bad thing.