If any of you out there in Internet-land are like me, not only is the world doomed, but when you first got into miniatures there was really only one place you could go. I was introduced to the hobby through my Dad, I remember being taken into the stores and looking at all the stuff on display, two Rhinos for £5 and the like. I understand that there were other miniature games around, a million different sets of historical rules for every period following Adam and Eve’s departure from the Garden of Eden for example.
However, it was the high street presence of the Sherriff’s crew that was likely the reason that many of us first engaged with the imaginary worlds crafted b Priestley and co. I spent most of my youth (and money) on things like Necromunda, Warhammer 40,000 and a few bits here and there for fantasy, I bought every issue of White Dwarf that came out and had models for nearly every system going.
Much is made on public forums about the Sherriff’s business model of raising taxes on us poor folks, odd isn’t it how our oft-used metaphor actually fits in quite well with English mythology? I remember a time when you could get a box of plastic troops, entirely the same of course, for a few coins, of course you’d end up with a unit looking exactly the same but for the time this really wasn’t an issue. Metal models were around £3 each and most units came in blister packs rather than the regiment sets we are used to in more modern times. The quality of the models has of course increased dramatically and we get optional extras galore with the newer plastic kits. However, now more than ever people complain about consistent increases in prices.
I was reminiscing with friends over the weekend about how you used to get vouchers in White Dwarf for sales and store re-openings. You’d be able to get 3 for 2 on boxed sets and blister packs, £5 off the boxed games etc… they even had sales to shift old stock. None of this is carried over into the same high street stores that carry the legacy of my childhood spent in the hobby. OK, I have more disposable income now and I understand the principles of inflation, but when you have 10 plastic miniatures for £25 you have to consider how you spend. I know there are a lot of customers who only purchase through eBay or discount stores and I don’t blame them. GW haven’t done themselves any favours, but they do tend to have a loyal fan base that may decry price rises and yet still throw money at the same company.
What we need is a Robin Hood to rescue us from the evil of overpriced toys. The problem is that we still enjoy these games and with GW still having that high street presence, even if it is one guy on minimum wage staffing it full-time, you have an advantage there over the competition.
While looking for that Robin Hood the fact that GW has a long-established legacy in the market also means that it has a dominant position. Now, over the past decade or so that dominant position has begun to erode. I remember early in the noughties when I got into Confrontation it was something of a revelation. I’d had my eyes opened that there were other games out there with models that simply blew away what GW were making at the time (I imagine their dominant market position had led to laziness for pushing the boundaries on what they made). Skirmish was something I was wholly unfamiliar with, the exception being Necromunda which is still probably my favourite GW game ever. Yet Confrontation had a lot going for it,, it is unfortunate that bad management and poor decisions have since led to their demise.
Not all was lost however, Privateer Press came on the scene and stomped into the gaming arena with an amazing system that was a joy to play. Setting up your force was easy and you got the basic rules in the starter boxes so could play right away with what you picked up in the store. Something very hard to do with any of GWs products without heavy investment in the starter boxes and even then, the armies weren’t really balanced to fight with. PP grew out of their success and capitalised on taking players off GW, this led to games and eventually an updating of the rules. However, Warmachine is now not a cheap game to get into with all the different options and factions available. Plus there are a lot of big, expensive metal models now. I’d still consider it a game worth playing though.
Then there are the other skirmish games. True, no-one quite does large-scale battles like GW does, but then you’re looking at spending a lot more money to play it. In an age of austerity such as we are now entering I wonder about the long-term future of GW and its model. Now really is the time of the smaller games, where you don’t need to drop 100 models to play at the point the rules were designed for. It is quite possible to get a game right now where the investment is less than £50 and you have a fully playable army to the normal level for that game. Many of these are not as full of glaring writing errors and special rules abuses. A lot of games also present the rules for free online as a download rather than in a disgustingly over-priced tome.
You might wonder why I am writing such a GW bashing post, well, I certainly don’t want to be seen as a GW basher. I’ve enjoyed their products over the years and still do. I have a 3000pts Fantasy army and a lot of stuff for War of the Ring and bits now for 40k. With my circumstances about to change forever though I look at the amount of money it would cost me to finish my Dark Eldar, then look at the current feelings and trends of my play group and it looks more and more likely that I would get next to no use out of them. I may have been waiting a long time for the new models but after having spent the better part of £100 and needing to spend around the same again to complete the army it doesn’t look like it will happen.
Following on from my earlier post about skirmish games there are some out there where the layout is like I said earlier. For £50-£60 you can have a pretty large force with options for swapping around or playing larger games now and again. It may then be that through unplanned and organic means I’ll never play 40k again, I still have some stuff to shift on eBay that may result in me finishing the army, at the moment though it is just going to be a painting project on the side.
The landscape of gaming has changed and will continue to do so for sure. I’ll have my War of the Ring and Warhammer for the big game fixes but I can see the fact that being on a tighter budget will drive how much I consume more now than ever and the skirmish market seems by far the best way of getting my fix.
The more people cotton on to this the slimmer the Sherriff’s market will become. While I don’t want to see the company fold, there must be a threshold whereby the constant increases in prices plateaus. While GW customers do tend to have a pretty good disposable income I know that there are a lot of people who have been forced to stop because they can no longer afford what they’d like to buy. Then there is the morality of continuing to fund an organisation that seems blind to its customers.
I’m looking forward to seeing how our playing goes this year. We’ll have to set up a weekend again soon and go at it, 6 Inch Move style. Having a foreknowledge of some of the projects that may spring up this year, certainly should be interesting here on the blog!