Thursday, February 25, 2016
The Beginning is literally the hardest part of anything you will ever do.
In war games, the beginning starts with the decision to even play the game. This alone is 90% of why we do not even have an expanding pool of players as one would think you would, for a game as fun as Warhammer 40,000, Flames of War, War Machine and the like. That isn’t to say we’re not picking up new players, but how many net new players? Far less than the hobby deserves. There are literally infinite ways to spend ones leisure time, however and barring something pretty impressive, most people will stay the course they are on with their entertainment dollars. And so the hobby suffers an extremely slow growth rate now.
Once you make that decision, the next is what faction to play. Here again, the paralysis that can be caused by this choice does much to discourage the beginning of the journey.
Many times, the faction you love is the reason you’re even going to try it so assuming you’re over that, the next beginning is the realization that these things cost money. Not just money, but in some cases, a ton of money. Now veterans of the process recognize that this is mostly true at the front end and the hundreds and thousands of hours of entertainment more than pay you back. But it ins’t untrue that some games are expensive enough to make a person buy their first HQ and two troops choices…and quit, filled with despair over ever competing against the collections the likes of mine and others. It isn’t that they need to compete against this pile of stuff we own.. it’s just that they feel like they do and what they feel overrides all logic in most humans, most of the time.
Assuming you make it past this precipice, you are told that the figures come unassembled. They come unprimered and unpainted. They come detached from the bases… which ideally are primered and painted! Then they are shown pictures of paint jobs they can never compete with and told that they will be investing about $40 to $100 in order to paint what they have purchased. Assembling them is yet another question altogether.
Surely anyone reading this would agree that just beginning a hobby as engrossing as ours simply cannot happen for many people. For others it won’t happen. And for many it will start and abruptly end.
Understanding these obstacles, it is incumbent on the companies that make these products to do their utmost to widen the audience they are seeking to sell their plastic to. At one time, Games Workshop understood that and did indeed write FAQ’s. They ran tournaments. As things progressed they added Grand Tournaments, ‘Ard Boyz events and they were, in a word, involved in the growth aspect of the hobby.
I think it is time for Games Workshop to find a board and a president who will listen to sound advice: a business model based on this kind of adversity is going to have to take a breath from time to time and recognize that while the internet thing is certainly making their products available to more people in more places than ever, their growth curve is now a FRACTION of what it could be.
X-Wing eliminated an enormous amount of all this concern and look at how it has taken off! Before someone says “Well it says Star Wars on the package” realize that numerous products with that name on the package have failed! Card games? Failed. Cardboard ship game? Failed. Star Wars isn’t an auto-win. But when they introduced painted miniatures, with everything on the base that you needed? Instant hit. They recognized what the roadblocks were and acted. Same with Heroclix.
Similar things are seen in other games. War Machine models came more or less assembled and were big hunks of metal. Sure they could have been more artfully made, but they looked GREAT and could be played very quickly. They were played in small enough numbers that once you had the warcaster and a few guys you could play a whole game. Games Workshop used to invest some time into the smaller end of games to get more widespread appeal, but they did it without utilizing larger distribution partners and with predictable results. They could mass sell their product in the form of Blood Bowl at Target, Walmart and any other major retail chain they wanted and probably would have enormous success with it there, as a gateway to the other more boutique type things like Warhammer 40,000.
Games-Workshop is also suffering under an impression that the expanded demand they have seen is actually some kind of indicator that they are right. That mostly comes from more widespread availability through their website and the distribution channels increasing after the 2008 debacle of the economy. The percentage of potential sales vs. the actualized ones is pathetically small. When 50% of the population (roughly) is children you ought to be enjoying a lot more penetration, not just increased sales.
The really unfortunate truth is that other companies are laying bare how much more it is to deal with Games Workshop products. I wanted to get a friend interested in Flames of War and so we had a chat about what kind of forces he might enjoy. We narrowed it down and narrowed it down until his preference was definite. Then we built the list that way and the total cost of his army was $170 plus tax.
Let that sink in. His entire army. An army large enough to play at any tournament. $170. This wasn’t even an attempt to min/max that number. This was a guy knowing nothing about the game answering my questions until we found the perfect three choices and then he picked one. All were around $200 regardless of his choice.
I know a lot of dad’s who can afford that. A lot of single moms who can too, especially when it can be purchased in chunks, painted and purchased again. Games-Workshop cannot possibly compete with that cost point. They won’t try, and frankly I want them to keep producing highest quality models so I do hope they charge a little more to help pay artists well. There is a line however. When an army costs 10 times its competitor, it’s not that hard to imagine what dad and mom will say.
I am a huge fan of Warhammer 40,000 and I do hope Games Workshop will decide to return to their roots and yes, be less profitable for a couple of years in order to strengthen their long term growth curve. At this stage the amount they can penetrate markets is severely limited, yet they have a product that is highly desirable and would sell if they did some of these other things.
Hating Games Workshop, who creates a ton of fun for all of us isn’t the answer. Online the hate is palpable from players. It’s amazing how fantastic and far from the truth peoples statements will go on some forums. I definitely am not in the camp that hates Games Workshop. Everything I have said is in the spirit of wanting Games Workshop to stop losing to these other and frankly inferior games in many cases. The fact that Wings of War has become a major thing just because they slapped the words Star Wars on the box is amazing but it’s not as if the game is superior, nor the models better than anything GW makes. Yet ask those Star Wars players if they are planning to come back to the GW fold. I'm pretty sure I can guess.
That is a shame, one that I hope Games Workshop reverses. It is literally never too late to do the smart thing. Pride has no place in business. Reform and people will love Games Workshop again, plus or minus the bitter curmudgeons who will never be satisfied.