A few days ago I made a post about the much derided business model of the Sherriff and his gang. Following on from that I thought it would be interesting to hypothesise about the future of gaming as well as also take note of the past. Now I am in the fourth decade (think about it) of my life I’d like to think I have enough experience to comment on these kinds of things without being declared a fanboi or whatever is the current term for a detractor towards any of the companies in my hobby. I mean, I even managed to find a completely related image to start the post with, I was going to go with a simple question mark but then I found a dice with question marks on… my google-fu is strong today!
Anyway, I mentioned before that I started out with Games Workshop and I imagine that this may well ring true today as the high street presence of GW is superior to a local games store that has a more diverse range. When I started the hobby the competition was nearly non-existent and GW certainly had a much better product than anything else I came across. Pen and Paper RPGs were de rigueur and anything else was Magic: The Gathering. At least, that is how it was perceived through the eyes of a 12-year-old when I started looking around.
I personally got started with second edition 40k and have fond memories of the truly disgustingly unbalanced armies my teenage brain came up with. Despite friends falling by the wayside as we grew up I still kept going with my hobby and the ever-increasing expenditure required to keep it up. It wasn’t really until the early part of the 21st century that I really started to see viable alternatives show up on my radar. I saw Warmachine and was bowled over, they had some really nice models that were totally different to anything I’d encountered through Games Workshop and you could get a box of metal troops for like £12-14, the same as a basic 10 man plastic set from the Sherriff. While never bringing it to my play group I’d also gotten some pieces for Confrontation. Rackham produced some of the finest (literally and figuratively) metal models that I have EVER come across.
It was these that really began to open my eyes to the increasing level of competition to Games Workshop. By the time this was happening GW had changed from the company I had known in my youth. Gone were the sales and offers in White Dwarf, the magazine itself having gone downhill in quality over the years too. There were online stores that offered all kinds of things I’d never seen nor heard of and with these new games I only needed a handful of models to play. Confrontation minis came with a small rulebook in the blister allowing you to play without purchasing a rulebook, same with Warmachine, the basic rules were included in the starter sets. I don’t think GW could ever do this considering the length and complexity of some of their rules. I know of some games that have more complex rules but condense them into much smaller books than GW puts out and they are often much clearer, even when translated out of the non-English language they start out in.
However, the new market of competition has not been without its winners and losers, nor has it been static. While I think GW has struggled with this competition (something it has not been used to in the past considering its dominant market position) in the past few years we’ve seen a marked improvement in the quality of what has been released I feel. Unfortunately they still seem committed to their rather draconian price increases. You have to commend GW because even in the face of this they are still going strong while others have fallen. I speak of course of Rackham, the French company that was at one point going strong with Confrontation. They had amazing minis, I still have a few of them lying around. The version 3 rule set was interesting even with the dodgy translation to English and considering the updates they made for 3.5. However, the company scrapped the line and decided to go pre-painted (that’s a very short version of a whole host of events that could make a post on its own) and people voted with their wallets. Late last year the company finally ceased to be and we lost what could have been something much greater.
Privateer Press have done well with Warmachine and Hordes, however, they are not without issue themselves. Even with the new Mk2 platform Warmachine is not as cheap to get into as it used to be. Sure you don’t need to pick up the large number of books there were for Mk1 but PP have raised their prices too and come of the newer kits really are pricey. While GW will charge you £25 for 10 plastic models in some cases you can get 10 much chunkier metals from PP for a fiver more. I know that the denizens of the floating citadel love their plastics but I know of many that favour the solidity of cold, hard alloy.
Both games that I have mentioned however are also very different to Games Workshop, they are more skirmish games than army games, although with large-scale Warmachine games you do need a lot of figures and I know that Rackham had Ragnarok when Conf 3 was out, and that would cost you more than a GW army to build too. However, predominantly you’d need very few models to play. Over the years there are a vast array of skirmish games that have come to the market, some have kept going while others have failed, each trying to carve a niche in a pretty saturated marketplace. We’ve got games that work off dice and those that try to innovate through card decks or other more abstract systems.
We’ve even got a company made of ex-GW employees trying to do an army size game (there are others out there besides Mantic I know). What I see these days is that the juggernaut that is GW keeps rolling, like that big wheeled thing at the start of the second Transformers movie;
Many of the newer games seem like those NEST dudes or the other Auto-bots trying to take it down and grab some glory for themselves. I don’t think we’ve yet seen any company being the metaphorical Optimus Prime that’s going to be the final nail in the coffin of GW though. Obviously as long as there are players willing to spend money our games will continue to evolve. There are such a great set of options out there for anyone starting the hobby, GW are doing people a favour on one hand by getting people into the hobby and I like educating people about cheaper alternatives. I don’t think we will see a dominance of army games against skirmish games, nor vice versa, after all it’s the pricing point that becomes the important part of those equations.
For years the competition has been these skirmish style games, fewer miniatures but of a really high quality. An army game won’t match this in my opinion considering how many more models you generally need. But people also like those big sweeping battles and I see more new releases in this genre now we have so many skirmish games.
I don’t know if the market is going to go one way or the other. I know that personally I’m in favour of the skirmish offerings, especially now I am in the position of being really careful with my cashflow. A figure here and there is all I need to expand rather than having to boost or buy new regiments completely. Will GW survive with so many other snapping at their heels? The recent financials show increased profits against reduced sales, I reckon the way they have treated their customers will come back to haunt them at some point. You can only turn the screw so much on people and the screws are currently coming from a lot of directions for many.
How do you see the market developing? Is there something you see that I’ve missed? Are GW doomed and on a slow decline into real trouble? Is there a potential heir to the Sherriff’s thrown?