Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Games Workshop ARE the fun Police

This is a bit of a personal Blog about the on off love affair most wargamers my age will have had with the Games Workshop. However I hope it doesn't come across as bitter or even anti-Games Workshop as that's not my intention I just want to cover why it is that they have almost certainly lost me as a customer, pretty much forever!!!

The beginning

I'm told its a sensible place to start! I'm sure I've mentioned I was indoctrinated into the wargaming universe by a parental unit that was also addicted to toy soldiers, and if I ever sire any offspring I'll be sure to do the same!!! But you see this was at a time when there were more than just Games Workshop games dominating the gaming universe. I used to get really excited when my dad or somebody would bring back a board game or something new, it was almost every month and it was great. Sure some were less than good and some were outright shit, but others were real gems. I remember Battletech as fondly as I do my initial fumblings with Warhammer Fantasy.

However then came the monopoly and Games Workshops decision to stop selling other people's product, I remember the dissatisfaction at this from the adults around me at the time. It is probably the first point in my gaming career where even at my early (read very early) age that I had a gripe with the Games Workshop, I was you see slowly collecting the God awful Ral Partha baby dragon range and all of a sudden I was unable to complete my collection... sure they were shit but these bitches were my Pokemon and the fucks took that away from me... I'm actually surprised at how much this still annoys me after all these years.

The games

However to me at my young age it really wasn't that bad because I just loved my skellies and my fantasy stuff and the two lines that the Games Workshop stocked, Marauder and Citadel weren't too bad and kept me from Jonesing for new mini's. I was also starting my love affair with Warhammer Fantasy and unlike the parental unit, it turned out I was more than happy to focus on only a few things at a time rather than always having to have the latest new game.

Warhammer became my default go to game, and for a time life was good. I played rogue trader although to be fair I thought it was a bit poo... fun, but poo. The Games Workshop offered various iterations of Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Rogue Trader became 40k. However given my propensity to bore quite easily I am surprised at how of much of my hobby time, when I think back to it, has been devoted to their products. They did however deploy some further cunning tactics!!! They released other cool little games, games that were birthday and Christmas present priced, things like:

  • Space Hulk
  • Blood Bowl
  • Necromunda
  • Epic (or its various name sakes Space Marine, Armageddon etc. etc.)

These were the games that actually stopped me looking outside of the Games Workshop, even though my dad every now and then dragged me into looking outside of it.

But what did they do with these games? They fecking killed them, that's what they did with them!!! You see by now the accountants and cretins running the company decided that what would be really profitable would be only really having two game systems to support and maybe just the one specialist game at a time, which after initially milking it they could butcher it to death. I remember very well being told by a store manager that me and a friend could no longer play Epic in the store, even though the week before my friend had brought his Eldar army, from that very store.

But it was the small board games, Blood Bowl and Space Hulk and Skirmish games like Necromunda and Mordheim that baffled me. Here were the perfect products for entry point into the hobby. Cost wise they weren't prohibitive and as a n00b to the hobby you could get to grips with some basic principles of wargaming. They were also really good fun and quick to play, my after school gaming wasn't Warhammer anymore it was Blood Bowl or Necromunda because me and my friends could squeeze those games in on a kitchen table. So after creating some of my favourite games, the bastards went and killed them off. Don't even get me started on Man O War or Battlefleet Gothic!!! These all probably amounted to many minor fallings out with the Games Workshop, but together they probably amount to one HUGE one.

The monopoly

Maybe none UK based gamers won't get this one because I really don't think its quite the same anywhere else in the world. During my years of solid Games Workshop gaming, the years I refer to as the 'years of general ignorance' the Games Workshop had been up to some pretty savvy and well quite naughty business practices. Sound familiar? It should do because they've been playing silly buggers ever since. You see for a period they stopped their product being supplied by independents, then they didn't, then they did. They used sales data, quite wisely, to open up Games Workshops stores where independents were doing quite well. They killed many independents off with their antics and in doing so also killed off many of the places that sold competing game systems. It snuck up on many people, it did me, and while it made me angry it still wasn't a deal breaker. I suppose the more upsetting thing was that this 'development' killed my dads hobby pretty much dead... that I won't forgive them for.

The (de)evolution of their main games

I need to be clear that through all of this I forgave them because of Warhammer Fantasy. It was still the only ever present in my wargaming hobby, other games came and went, but Warhammer was always there like my bestest buddy. Even when the armies started to jump up in price and size, which compounded the price problems. Even through the abortive magic expansions, even when they started producing their plastic kits, even through Herohammer. It didn't matter it was a fun game with a tactical challenge. The same can not be said for its stable mate.

Now 40k still is and maybe always was the more popular game, I have to be honest and say I never quite got why. Second edition, although insanely complex was a damn fine system and an enjoyable game if played at the right size. But the right size didn't sell enough miniatures. We shouldn't kid ourselves that the Games Workshop changed to 3rd edition 40k to help us gamers out, oh no. The biggest leap in 40k wasn't what the rules did for making the game easier to play, it was the effect it had on the size of the armies...

It was truly the first time I saw the cynical 'up-scaling' of a game system simply to sell more figures... and tanks. Although I and many others saw it, we accepted it because the game was actually quite fun to play. But then came 4th and 5th and by then I'd lost my interest. With every subsequent version of 40k from 2nd ed it has been undeniably dumbed down. To the point where a retarded gibbon would probably be able to give you a 'good game' although to do that all they need to do is take any one of the increasingly common toughness 4, 3+ armour save armies out there. I've never been impressed by simply rolling lots of dice, I've never felt the tactical element of a game should start and end with writing an army list... and for those reasons 40k doesn't get played by me. Its anathema to me, its like anti-gaming.

So by this time my hobby was retracting ever more towards Warhammer Fantasy and although there were other games I played outside of Games Workshop these were with an ever decreasing select bunch of friends. However at least I'd always have Warhammer Fantasy... right?

8th Edition

Lets get this out of the way now, I still think that 6th and 7th editions of Warhammer were fine game systems. They were ruined by another of Games Workshops cynical sales ploys known colloquially as 'power-creep' or 'codex-creep'. Up until 6th edition, I'd always felt that the new army is the best syndrome was kind of a lame gamers way of excusing poor performance against a new army they didn't quite understand yet. However around the time of 6th edition I started to not be able to offer counter arguments to many of those accusations about newer armies being demonstrably better than older ones... but 7th edition was a whole new ball game!!! It really was something else altogether and totally indefensible, the mere mention of Dark Elves and hydra's or Chaos Daemons is enough to bring most competitive gamers out in hives. I'm not going to explain why, because I'm sure we all already know why, they're broken simple as that and quite frankly I think we all feel they were broken by design.

This power-creep was designed to force those of us who actually wanted to win games to buy the latest armies with the shiniest baubles... well I said fuck that. 7th edition started my trawl of 'alternative game systems' again (still hate that phrase), but 8th edition caused the full-on migration of my gaming habits. I remember well in the lead up to 8th hoping against hope that it'd contain things to balance out the armies, it bloody well didn't, well it kind of did but making things more random is a really piss poor way of balancing things out. Thing is it fecking nerfed half of the decent units in the older army books and actually helped out the already too bloody powerful armies. Mounted cavalry, the mainstay of many a fantasy story shafted in the ass with no lube, pointless in this version, unless we're talking Blood Knights or Chaos Knights. Tactics like well... moving and positioning not needed... yay... just throw huge blocks of boring identikit fecking plastic core troops at each other over random fecking charges... and throw lots and lots of dice.

Yep Warhammer Fantasy has become 40k with square dancing units, except its not as slick. All those ejitts who love rolling lots and lots of dice have suddenly cottoned onto the fact that in Warhammer Fantasy you now roll even more dice than you do in 40k... w00t. Its not for me. So here's the proverbial last straw that broke this camels back, they fecked up the one game I've been playing since I was 7. More importantly for them, that mounted Bretonnian army I always wanted to buy and paint will now never happen. My copy of 8th edition has been used as a door stop, a cats scratching post, a paper weight and now a dust collector. This wasn't a rage quit as has been the case with many... no it was acceptance of my fate, Games Workshop doesn't want intelligent people in their stores anymore, it doesn't want hobby veterans like me and that's fine... but in the last 18 months I've spent (after some careful addition) £4000 on other peoples products. I'm not so sure they'll be happy they missed out on that.

The end

To explain the title of this article, when growing up my dad used to joke that people who killed 'the fun' were the 'fun police'. My Grand Parents were the fun police, my teachers were the fun police and even at times my mom was the fun police!!! I brought the phrase with me to school, college, university and work when I worked in the Games Workshop on Corporation Street, Birmingham and let the staff know what it meant. It soon stuck as the nick name for a ginger haired manager, who never knew we were taking the piss out of him because he stopped the customers having fun, because it 'wasn't profitable' apparently. He strangely thought it was some kind of compliment... he's now a senior manager at the Games Workshop so I hear... you see the fun police are now ruining it for everyone. Peace out!


  1. I saw the power creep as far back as 3rd Edition, each new Codex was an abomination of ideas (pretty much) set out to screw up the previous codices - making players want more or new or better stuff so they could win! Privateer Press do this too - but they're stuff just looks better. Hence my love of Infinity & AE-WWII such tactics and policies don't exist - they just seem to want to put out stuff that's cool!

  2. Is that 3rd ed WFB or 40k? I thought until 5th ed WFB it was pretty well balanced, 6th and 7th kinda yeah I saw the creep. If its 3rd ed 40k then you're right. As for PP's games I have to say I think Hordes and Warmachine since MK.II hasn't had a power-creep thing because of the fact the books came out so close together. The problem with HoMachine is every army has things it just can't deal with.

  3. A friend Ben explained the design rational very well of 40k here
    In essence the younger you are the more the random line up and fight list building game of 40k appeals. And guess what the GW target market is...
    Indeed though I stopped playing after the end of 2nd edition I confess I am interested in how people spend so long building lists and the effect it has on games (massive).

    But I will never understand the lack of two gateway games, one for 40k and one for fantasy. It just does not make sense. Surely they can see that a game in a box, with I think an accompanying mobile app is a no brainer? Hell, most people would say in a flash Warhammer Quest and Space hulk are those games, with a quest app coming out on the iphone. The starter box sets for each simply do not meet this requirement.

    There are now plenty of good gateway games, but they simply aren't known about.

    1. Wow!!! Talking abut dragging up old news!!!

      This was only the 9th article on my fledgling Blog, and was written only 4 days into my blossoming blogging career.

      I really haven't looked back at it since then. I know only too well who GW market, but I know they are making the same mistake they made around the time of Pokemon in thinking that they could always count on the kids market. They can't, it's the most fickle market there is. They shouldn't ignore their long standing fans in the way they do.

      As to gateway products... boy. Since writing this article almost 18 months ago now I must have covered that specific topic multiple times. Like you I'm constantly aghast that they no longer produce a Warhammer Quest a space hulk, or even a Necromunda or Mordheim. That they fail to see the value in such products totally baffles me.

    2. Well, I came to the blog late...

      But yes I fail to see any rational reason why you would not hve 2 gateway games. Utterly mad.

      (I also fail to see why they can't licence Epic out to a company who will simple make mini 40k models and stop people doing it themselves, as they are, still from those that have tried to get the licence they have got nowhere... Likewise warmaster - it is not like either game canabalises sales and without the gw retail exposure it is unlikely to poach their target market)

    3. One thing that occurs is perhaps the gateway isn't attractive to GW. It would hook people, but would they lose a large number to other companies? Perhaps that is used to happen, the sales didn't translate into 40k/fantasy sales? Better to sell an incomplete product in the form of the core box sets than something that is complete and merely makes you an to play more (or infinitity, hordes etc).

      However going the other way, what stops GW having an advanced ruleset for each game? Aimed at adults and tourneys, download or mail order only. Something to get the adult pound as it were. Do they lack the game design ability now? Why not just do 32mm 40k version of Epic A and 32mm fantasy version of warmaster in that case?

    4. Firstly Chris I have no problem with anyone chatting away on old posts. I not a thredromancy-nazi if somebody finds something I've written interesting and wants to comment on it I'm more than willing.

      As to Epic, its a threat to people buying large apocalypse armies... or that's how Games Workshop see it. In effect it was a cheap 40k on a grander scale, now who wouldn't be happy with that? Oh yeah, share holders. :P

      As to your second comment, no that isn't the reason they got shot of gateway product. Games workshop always feared that people wouldn't want to move beyond them. That for most Space Hulk, Blood Bowl, Mordheim, Warhammer Quest and Necromunda were not big enough games to sustain the company. They might very well be right.

      But that is a very defeatist attitude. I'd argue that it should just encourage them to make a more compelling product to convince people the step up is right. I'm not quite sure what you are hinting at with having an 'advanced' set of rules for each game. I don't think that is what's needed at all. They need a clean crisp set of rules that allows the players to dictate the level the game is played at rather than the crass, bang, fizzle-plop they serve up now.

      In many respects Epic and Warmaster were simpler rulesets that WFB and 40k have ever been, but the scale and scope of the game meant they posed a very cerebral tactical challenge to gamers. It's why so many fondly remember them. So a 32mm version of either wouldn't work... besides GW would say that's what Apocalypse is for.

    5. Well, I am slowly working my way through your site, oh the hell of being unemployed...

      I do wonder how many long term gamers there are from the era post the GW 'game in a box'. I already liked games but hooked by those GW boxes. Most of those I know are the same. Has there been a change in retention given the other distractions one has and the incomplete nature of many kids experiences before they toss everything away? (GW - biodegradable plastic, you know you want to, paint or watch the model die! Control second hand sales! :) ).

      One thing my friend Ben convinced me of is the GW target market doesn't want tactical games. They are after all hard. But games revolving around a mass of special rules...

      He lays it out very well here.

      So I have up in the loft back in the UK a pile of GW models gathering dust. Now I confess I am unlikely to ever use them again, or more importantly add to the collection with more GW product (unless it is from a perverse desire to turn up to a warhammer world tourney with an army of beaky plastic marines backed up with space crusade squads) because I love many other games and prefer smaller scales (either model count or size) and the rules are utterly dire. As you have said snore-ageddon.

      As you say above you stopped playing the mainstream games but I suspect like me you retain a certain amount of nostalgia. Now if there was Infinity:40k (well, I get the impression you quite like the look of infinity, but in essence a better game system paired with the background IP) would you be more inclined to get the odd release, play the odd game? If there was a modern, decent, tactical game by GW, an advanced game as it were, that started being played at the club GW would at least have a chance of getting me to become a customer again.

      Now these rules should not be sold in shops, they should not be hawked to the target market as it would just confuse them. I would say perhaps digital only. But now you have a way of at least making a stab at getting veterans cash.

      What would you say of a three tiered approach? The game in a box introduction which would need more purchases to fully flesh out, leading to the main game, which would then lead to the online world, different more tactical rules to keep the interest for longer. Taking 40k that could be a version of spacehulk with say 5 terminators, maybe a few power armour marines, bunch of genestealers. Rules in white dwarf (perk up your sales there) for expansions with more terminators, different weapon types, a hero leader, big genestealer boss etc. Now you are well on the way to getting a 40k army, so you are suckered into getting the 40k starter box, further increasing the marine/model count, happy with that for a while and then at some point down the line start wanting more and finding GW still have a product that interests you with a more tactical, less special rule heavy game.
      I think in the past the other games didn't work enough around GWs core model range to make the bean counters happy, this could sate them.

      Still it fail to address the devastation of 3d printing 5 years down the road, but that is a whole different kettle of fish…

      I am getting better at the prove you are not a robot posting test.

    6. Your friend Ben has made a blisteringly painful mistake. I'm actually a pretty experienced social researcher, and I would never assume that demographics has such a blisteringly simple relationship with product design or desires. Here, let me explain further.

      The whole idea that Games Workshop are targeting specific demographics based purely on young / old is one that has been disproved by a number of marketers. There is a dissonance at the heart of their product lines. One they are actually struggling with right now.

      To go back to Epic, as somebody who played the game from the start, and who had a good range of opponents I'll tell you now, Epic was originally played by younger people more than it was older people. Early teens mainly. It was a pocket money game. Kids didn't need permission off of mommy or daddy to buy a company of space marines.

      I could write an equally compelling, and fatuous argument that states Epic was for young kids and 40k is for adults. He's also got the whole terms of strategy and tactics muddled up, but I understand where he is coming from. With his assertions, I just think they're a little simplistic.

      there is no doubt that from an aesthetic point of view Games Workshop has started to design there 'toys' at the tastes of younger demographics. I'd contest that isn't so in terms of the rules actually. I wrote an article about input complexity and output complexity and the Locus of control, that I think has a better way of appreciating where certain companies products fit into the marketplace:


      There are plenty of adults who are experienced wargamers who don't want, in your friends words 'tactically complex games'.

      As to a smaller more detailed version of 40k, a different ruleset if you will for experts... nope. I wouldn't play it, for a myriad of reasons. Games Workshop wouldn't be wise to develop it either as it would serve to fracture the core strength of their product, the size of its community focused around just two core products. I'd argue that although a good proportion of their community remains solidly unhappy with some aspect of the hobby, the fact the community is so large and unified for many outweighs any negatives of the game system.

      As I've said before, and elsewhere in other articles, Games Workshop don't need products that are in effect competing with themselves. Warhammer Quest wouldn't compete with Warhammer, and they could create profiles for every monster or special character they produce for WFB for use in games of Warhammer Quest. That would mean there was another game to use those models in and give the large miniatures line some fresh turnover. A similar product could be developed for the 40k universe I'm sure.