I don't think this is meant to be ironic, but...
Now I'm probably not the first person to have thought the Imperium could be a metaphor for Games Workshop itself, and I'll probably not be the last. Hell, I'm probably not the first person to commit the idea to paper or the Internet, however I am a lazy bastard at times and I can't be bothered to go search around the place looking at other people's thoughts on the topic, especially when I have so many of my own opinions, thoughts and yes, my own brain dump to achieve. Yeah, I'm sorry this is going to be another one of my "its in my head and it needs to come out" posts, so if you're one of my readers who couldn't give a flying feck about what I think, you may as well go do some painting or something...
|Blood Bowl by Yogh-art - Here|
So why has this idea of the Imperium being a metaphor for Games Workshop suddenly occurred to me? Well, it hasn't; I first thought it might become some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy right about the time the British Higher Education system and I finally got bored of each other and we decided to go our separate ways around 2002. I looked around at the gaming landscape here in the UK and I saw this big, supremely bloated organisation, Games Workshop, dominating the wargaming landscape. They'd crushed out all independents, pretty much, in exactly the same way the Emperor's Crusade had united the known human galaxy (by dubious means of course - he's an emperor not a UN Peace Envoy). Games Workshop had managed to unite wargaming with some of their own questionable methods, primarily buying up exclusive rights to importing products and then... not stocking them. They also at various times stopped independents selling Games Workshop stock and opened their own stores where independents appeared to be doing well... but lets not go into the details too much!!!
|If you don't know who is responsible for this... well... I give up!!!|
|Stagnation by empatia - here|
The irony though, is that the ultimate goal of any private business in a capitalistic system, whether stated or not, is to destroy all the competition. Why? Well, think about it; that competition means that you are making yourself or trying to make yourself better than the other guys so people spend their money with you rather than them. Yeah, that's right, Games Workshop destroyed the competition by offering a more compelling product or better service than others out there, or perhaps just by creating a monopoly. Nobody knows for sure, because the victor gets to rewrite history. Besides, it's a moot point and one that's not really important because again, much like the Imperium they created, they were now the ultimate power in the galaxy. Perhaps in the early days they were too good? It's a distinct possibility. So, like the Emperor, all competition was crushed and one singular truth remained. And that truth would ultimately stagnate because times change, and if companies or empires stand still, they quickly become irrelevant and die.
|Ian on the left and Lara Croft on the rig... no... wait that's wrong...|
|Gotcha by Steven6 -Here|
|Space Wolf by Juddski - Here|
The games you see have started to falter of late. Randomhammer has caused ructions in the community and it's now at the point where I can say hand on heart I only know two of my vast network of close gaming buddies who are still playing it, when previously almost all did. It's old, it's stagnant, and quite frankly needs an entire overhaul from top to bottom. The core mechanics are 30 years old now and the game we have now is far larger in scale than the one Rick Priestly originally envisaged. Warhammer 40k too has actually grown and then grown some more, to itself be a beast it was never intended to be. Why? Because to support their greatest asset, the stores, they needed us all to by ever-increasing numbers of miniatures. It's got to the stage where the various offices of the Imperium (or departments of Games Workshop), are actively hindering each other and slowly killing themselves off with a toxic cycle of a business plan that really requires some radical thinking, which I'll cover tomorrow. For now though, it's the vitally important High Street presence that should concern them the most.
However, this high street presence could still work for them IF the stores were properly staffed and were able to be the 'hobby centers' they used to be when I worked there... but they're not. They're single-man stores where the staff are driven into the ground by a never ending stream of bureaucratic nonsense and corporate speak. Where we as hobbyists can no longer just turn up and learn how to paint or put together a miniature. Where we as gamers are no longer encouraged to come and play their games. Oh no, they want us buy a 'Realm of Battle' board and play at home, or to set up our own gaming clubs. That's fine by me. Why? Because if we have our own gaming clubs it's far easier to show fellow gamers the delightful temptations on offer from other people's products and convince them the Imperium isn't the only show in town. Yep, they're trying to maintain a monopoly while pushing people away. Nothing they do seems to make any clear business sense anymore. They focus on the micro, the details, without looking at the systemic problems they face as a whole, the macro.
|Its Mars Approved by astronomicon - here|
Mark Wells CEO and Tom Kirby Chairman - Games Workshop
Even after Mantic Games showed them the true truth behind why they started making plastics in the first place (cheap army fillers - because all the miniatures are really to gamers is wound tokens), they blindly forge forward, forgetting to actually ask customers whether we want to go with them. You see, the early Games Workshop was successful because they created and imported a shed load of product. They stuck with what we liked and got rid of what we didn't. They listened, albeit to the ringing of the tills, but they listened. The current Games Workshop has stuck its metaphorical head in the sand like an ostrich. They think they're the only show in town... still. Going to Warhammer World and hearing how genuinely blissfully ignorant many of their head office staff are of the outside world is scary. Some have heard of Privateer Press and the odd one or two of Infinity but beyond that they don't have a clue and seem so out of kilter with what hobbyists are up to that it should terrify their senior management staff. One particular youngster asked me who Mike McVey was. I thought he was kidding at first. He wasn't.
More for less money? Yes please Mantic!!!
This attitude extends into quite frankly piss poor customer service. Not from their shops staff I might add, who are on the whole pretty damn good in my area, but from their corporate head quarters. Games Workshop still think its OK to take up to three weeks to send me a product that has been in production for 10 years. Meanwhile a small one-man cottage industry called Kingdom Death run by an enthusiast of a former Games Workshop product, Warhammer Quest, can get an order of two fine resin-cast miniatures in under half the time from the USA to me here in the UK. Now my geography might not be the best but even I know Nottingham is closer. Although given the speed of delivery you would swear New York was way closer. You'd also probably on the standard of service alone say the one-man show Kingdom Death was more professional than the overly bloated Games Workshop. Yes, Adam Poots the lone ranger is able to offer a way better service than the industry behemoth.
|FanartBattlesister WH40K by Kamyu - Here|
Warhammer Signs of Faith III by nachomolina - Here
However, the biggest change Games Workshop has seen in its time as a business is the Internet and online retail and indeed the globalisation of commerce and communication. The Internet ruins Games Workshop's STC. Think about it; before the Internet they could dominate all other methods of communication, like the Imperium. Magazines? Well, White Dwarf became the biggest magazine because it was the best and it used to cover everything, and then, when it killed the competition off, it only covered Games Workshop products. The other place that you could get information about the hobby was your local hobby store - oh snap! - that's right, they pretty much drove all the independents out of business, and their High Street presence is astounding even to this day here in the UK. However, they didn't count on the Internet, the multi-headed beast that knows no bounds and lives in the warp (except normals calls it cyberspace). Yes, the Internet is Chaos!!! Fear the Internet!!! Because trust me, the Games Workshop hierarchy fear, loathe and detest the internet...
|Beserk of Khorn by Yogh-art - Here|
|Nurgle Marauder by after-eleven - Here|
|Warhammer Slaanesh by Genzoman - Here|
|Champions of Tzeentch by MajesticChicken - Here|
|As Chaos Advances by Juanico-El-Muertes - Here|
However, much like the Imperium they created in their fluff, this heresy is of their own making. It started internally. Many of the early prophets of Games Workshop, such as the aforementioned Livingston and Jackson, left. So, too, did the Rick Priestly's, Andy Chambers and Mike McVey's, as did many others after them - people like Jake Thornton, Alessio Cavatore and many, many more besides. All fell to the lure of heresy and new things, or were purged from the Imperium by the Inquisition. Some went on to help form new companies like Privateer Press, Avatars of War or, most recently, Mantic Games, and yes, I do think Ronnie Renton is on to something. These guys are like us they're gamers and enthusiasts. The pain for Games Workshop though is that these 'heretics' actually knew a time before Games Workshop's monoculture. They know different things. They are 'gamers' in the broader sense and they have a wealth of experience that they can draw on. Hell yeah, sure, Games Workshop has probably taught them a trick or two as well, but they have fresh and new ideas because they weren't brainwashed by the propaganda.
So there we have it, the Imperium is a metaphor for Games Workshop I believe. You see, we now have an Imperium beset on all sides by Xenos, heretics and well... nerds (let's pretend I said 'Nids'). You see, Games Workshop is the monolithic empire stagnating, bereft of fresh ideas and leadership, while all around their enemies stalk them. We have Privateer Press and Battlefront cast as the forces of Chaos, turning Games Workshop's own methods on them, doing things slightly differently but in an ever-so-familiar way. We have Malifaux and games of that ilk rampaging around having a laugh and bashing Games Workshop over the head with a fun hammer as the Orks. We have Infinity as the elegant and advanced Eldar, hell, maybe even the Dark Eldar and Tau to boot. Then there is Mantic Games, the new comer to the galaxy, aiming to devour much of the Games Workshop's DNA and repurpose it into a leaner, meaner fighting machine (yeah they're the Nids). So is the Imperium doomed? Well that's partly up to them and mostly up to you its loyal citizens: with Xenos and Chaos at the doors offering their temptations, do you still want to resist? I don't...
|Death Company by Scebiqu - Here|