Examining the Love/Hate Relationship with Games Workshop

Morning Internet, time to kick off this week with an in-depth look at the ongoing relationship that we, the customers, have with plastic army-men crack peddlers Games Workshop. This has the potential to be a long one, so, if we’re all sitting comfortably, then I shall begin.

I’ve been involved in the Games Workshop hobby proper since the early nineties. We had Space Crusade at home that we played with before I set foot to make a purchase in the store and if we hadn’t gone to a local(ish) Mall a lot that had a Games Workshop store there then I doubt I’d have found the hobby at all. However, my point is that as a thirty-something I’ve been playing with this stuff for the majority of my life now. I’ve seen changes come and go and therefore my credentials here are based on long years of personal experience, hopefully that will lend what I say some credence.

Back when I first started gaming the competition to GW was virtually unheard of, we had a LGS that sold Magic cards and some of the licensed IP games like Battletech, Star Wars and Star Trek. We never set foot in there really other than to get those Magic cards and all the shelves were mainly pen and paper RPGs. The Games Workshop store was where the fun stuff was, there was nothing else that came close to the range of products and the quality of the games. This high street presence has long been the gateway by which people enter the hobby and stood GW apart. Due to this high street presence they therefore dominated the market, at least in the UK, and more than this it also ensures that no matter where you go you have a place to find people to play against and the majority of independent clubs are likely to have a GW playing contingent.

The most basic rule of a capitalist economy is supply and demand. With the recent price hikes we’ve seen GW once again buck the trend of most markets. While I do understand that at times prices need to go up there are few markets whereby prices have gone up so steeply, in my own terms the only one I can think of that jumps as much as GW is the housing market and we know how hugely inflated that is since the eighties. My parents bought their current house in the mid-eighties for around £80,000, as it stands today it would be worth more than three times that in today’s market. Yeah, ridiculous inflation and if you apply that to the fact you used to be able to get a box of metal Marines for £12 in the nineties when I first starting playing Blood Angels and your box is now over £20 for plastic, a supposedly cheaper material. Now I know that inflation itself will cause the cost of something to rise over time and petrol prices certainly have as well but those are much bigger markets that selling toy soldiers. OK, I am no economics major but the consistent large prices rises that GW pushes do not feature in any other equivalent market, especially not a hobby.

Now, I’m not stupid and I know that as long as there are people who are willing to pay those prices then GW will continue to push to see what they can get away with. I’ve seen the nerd rage come out from this latest round of craziness. As many people who are now moving away to the competition (and there is competition these days) there are those that are saying this will not affect their spending. Are we really therefore saying that as a whole the GW customer base are generally happy continuing to pay through their noses with GW shows contempt to their customer base by making things more and more expensive while going through massive cost-saving initiatives themselves. Even things like Petrol do actually fluctuate down at times as raw material costs change, the recent financial crisis that swept the globe reduced house prices. maybe I’m not selecting the ideal comparisons here but GW stuff has never, ever gotten cheaper, the prices only ever go up. You continue to buy it (I don’t know why the box of Kabalite Warriors I bought last month was worth £15.50 and next month will now be £18 for the same items) then GW will see that they can charge more.

Gone are the days when GW used to do the same things an average high street retailer would do, hold sales and re-openings to get people through to door and do a little extra trade. The only GW store I go in these days is the one in Warhammer World and the only time I bought anything from there was when I had a voucher for money off from a Christmas promotion after buying a load of stuff for friends. Even with that offer you had to spend over £100 for a £10 voucher (no, I didn’t just buy them each a pot of paint). I remember White Dwarf having “3 for 2” vouchers in every issue for a store that was being refurbished or a new one opening. I remember picking up games in sales because they were shifting old stock, yet all of this is consigned to history and all we get is the annual or bi-annual June increases at several times the rate of inflation. And we, the customer, continue to fuel this.

I sent details of these price rises to the other denizens of the floating citadel. I’d like to quote you a little from one of the responses;

In addition it [40k] has the added bonus of being a popular longstanding game, in that regardless of how high the prices go people will still play and new stuff will come out. Not many systems have that sort of reliable longevity…

Personally I don’t think I could commit to another system in terms of models and painting stuff up though.

I won’t tell you who that was from and I hope they don’t mind me referencing it here. I completely agree with the first two parts, 40k has been around for a while and most likely will, unless customers finally put their money where their mouth is and stop buying from them, I’ve heard lots of people saying that they will only purchase from discount stores, well, that’s not quite good enough when you consider that all those stores got the products from GW in the first place. Sure they might not be making as much money from it but they will still be making money and yes, new stuff will continue to be released as people ply the Sheriff with money.

Now, the only sticking point for me is the last part of the first section, sure I could pick a few games that I doubt are going to be around for as long as GW has been, I mean, look what happened to Rackham and at the start of the last decade they looked pretty solid until a series of bad decisions crippled the company. Yet, on the flip side of that we have games such as Warmachine that have gone from strength to strength, in fact a lot of the deserters from GW are going to Privateer Press for their gaming itch to be scratched. That is a company I can see being around for a long time. Corvus Belli have a great product in Infinity, started in the mid-2000s now on its second book with some of the best looking models I have ever seen. OK, both of these games requires fewer models than 40k or Warhammer too, now I know that some people like their big battles, I get that, but the rise of lower model count gaming shows that people are very happy without having to sacrifice their first-born to enter the hobby. Mantic games, their longevity has yet to be tested, are showing that you can do large army games with decent models cheaply. Some of the new stuff they are bringing out is really awesome. We also have a much more diverse market place with games like Malifaux and Freebooter’s Fate being diceless.

The advantage of these games is that also you only need a handful of models to paint, thus cheaper to start off with and quicker to get to the table to play. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I really enjoy playing GW games, however, I cannot continue to support a company that abuses its customers on such a consistent basis. I said in a previous post that I’ll be rounding out my Dark Eldar and then move onto other things. While I look forward to continuing to play the games with my friends I’m not envisioning me spending much, if anything at all, on retail GW products in the future. 40k is the game of choice right now in the Floating Citadel and we’re getting a kick out of it, I am even moving (slowly as ever) towards getting all my stuff painted (rough stomach over the weekend didn’t help here). I would like to get a fully painted force of something out on the table at sometime in my life.

Games Workshop really are a conundrum for me, they appear to abuse their position of market dominance to the detriment of their customer/fan base yet their products are pretty good so people continue to take that abuse. However, I think that now, more than ever the customer is genuinely in a good place, there are so many alternatives out there and some of them now having been established for quite some time that if people really did want to move systems, they can do.

While their dominance has been assured for such a long time I think GW may get a shock over the next few years, especially given their tyrannical declaration of EU independent stockists now not being able to sell outside the EU, seeing our antipodean compatriots facing a potential 200% increase in prices themselves.

Voting with your wallet may now happen, although I have a sneaking suspicion that the vocal minority will die down and all those people declaring their abandonment of the Sheriff and crew will be crawling back like Dickensian orphan asking “please sir, can I have some more?”


2 thoughts on “Examining the Love/Hate Relationship with Games Workshop”

  1. Great piece!

    This isn’t the first time the hobby has been in uproar about GW pricing policy. Every time though I wonder whether this is the final straw, and people will actually go and play something else. Maybe this is the time?

    1. One thing that history has shown us is that mankind is doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. While I don’t want to see it happen I almost hope that GW suffers a massive financial blow with people leaving their product in droves. Maybe that might shake-up the powers that be, however, I’d think it more likely they’d try and recover their losses by increasing the prices again. Maybe in the next few years that Land Raider kit will hit £50!

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