|Look at how bad the logo looks... they stopped caring long ago.|
I'm going to try out a new idea for articles, you're all used to my Sermons, now I'm going to inflict my 'Musings' on you too. The idea is simple, rather than write about certain hobby 'hot topics' while they're 'hot' I'm going to wait until Monday morning, while eating my breakfast (scrambled eggs on toast today, brown sauce of course) to collect my thoughts on a topic. You know, let all the heat dissipate out of the topic first. Last weeks really 'hot topic' was Games Workshop yet again wading in with their massive size 11 shoes and stomping all over Faeit 212. Now I'm not going to discuss that, maybe Natfka totally deserved what happened to him, or maybe Games Workshop really did overreact; and as those of us with Blogs on Blogger know, Google always overreact. Moot points, and totally not interesting to me, and never were. Nope, what I want to talk about is Games Workshop finally putting a bullet between the eyes of their Specialist Games.
I guess I ought to declare my 'interests' right off of the bat shouldn't I? I love many of Games Workshops Specialist Games, and some certainly way more then I do any of their core product. It's not just nostalgia either, some of these games remain real gems even to this day. Blood Bowl will always have a place in my heart, no matter what. Epic will always be to me what the 40k universe was about; huge titans and legions upon legions of ant like soldiers being squished to death in the endless wars that tear the galaxy apart. Epic's various incarnations have been some of the most tactical experiences I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. It was also one of the game 'systems' that me and my father would play the most together, so what it represents to me as a lifelong wargamer is very, very personal... good father and son time with my dad. Then their is Battlefleet Gothic, a game I was so good at (until bloody Necrons) people used to fear playing me at it. That was the first game I knew I was really, really good at right after the first game, I just 'got it'.
However, the two games that I have the greatest memories of, and not necessarily because of the games mechanics themselves, have to be Necromunda and Mordheim. True, I never got to play as much Mordheim as I would have liked, but it still served a function similar to Necromunda for me... both were really easy entry points into the hobby for my none nerdy friends. These fabled gateway products I often prattle on about. Like Necromunda before it, Mordheim was a cheap game to get into. Neither demanded too much of a persons time, and both always provided entertaining games. Then there was the narrative elements to them, the RPGesque character development included in the campaign section of their rules. They were fun campaigns to run, and helped build communities of gamers. At the time I really am not sure Games Workshop knew what they had on their hands with these games. Certainly not Mordheim, which they failed to properly evolve into what it could've ultimately become. Thing is I believe they were both vitally important products for Games Workshop, and I've never been sure why it was that Games Workshop's hierarchy couldn't see that.
|Ah... fond memories.|
I guess they must have had their reasons for thinking the way they did, and for choosing to drop their support for Specialist Games all those years ago; I mean I certainly don't have all the pertinent business facts. Because you see, what happened recently wasn't Games Workshop choosing to stop supporting Specialist Games (they did that years and years ago), no, it was them finally allowing them to die after a terribly slow, painful, lingering death. Fans of these games can argue otherwise, but I think it is fair to say that this has been coming for some time, true it needn't have come at all if they'd continued to support Specialist Games... but, after that decision was made, this was sort of inevitable. Viewed in its entirety, from right back to that original fateful decision, my opinion on what Games Workshop have done recently with their Specialist Games is seen by myself as something of a mercy killing. The real tragedy happened as I say years ago, when they decided to stop being a 'games' company and decided to shift towards selling over priced toy soldiers at back straining quantities, and utilize their games as systems for delivering this 'vision'. I guess I never really understood the original decision totally... probably because I'm more of a gamer.
Don't get me wrong, I got the economic arguments at the time they originally dumped Specialist Games. Yes Specialist Games turned a profit, just not a huge one, and Games Workshop looked at the running costs to yields ratio and thought the staffing investment might be better positioned elsewhere within their business empire. Fine. I still feel though that they failed to grasp what these games meant to their particular hobby ecosystem. They kept those of us who had become disillusioned, bored or otherwise none engaged with their two main systems (Fantasy and 40k back then) involved in the Games Workshop hobby. I would personally have never played Necromunda had it not been for my Wood Elves suffering humiliating defeat after humiliating defeat. I was fed up with Warhammer Fantasy and had just finished a huge Blood Bowl league. I was possibly staring at a chosen hobby break or a jump to a new manufacturer entirely. But a store manager asked me if I'd tried Necromunda... The rest as they say is history.
Maybe the senior management did understand all this, and maybe they had KPI's and business critical data that told them that this impact wasn't worth it. Who knows, obviously those who made the decision, but beyond them it's just fervent speculation on our part; and fun though that is at times, it proves ultimately to be a fruitless endeavour. What was less confusing to me at the time was Games Workshop's seemingly gracious decision to allow us all to still buy the miniatures and rulebooks for the games. It was actually a fudge and a bit of a wimpy cop out, that ultimately left the trigger pulling to some other poor schmuck down the line. This was done for two reasons:
- Specialist Games did honestly still make them money, and by cutting running costs, as the theory goes, you increase your profit margins. So their logic was no staff over heads equals 'result!!!'
- They really, really wanted to avoid the bad press and negative vibes that pulling their support for these products completely would have generated. At the time the games designers still engaged openly with the community, it would have made life difficult for them.
I think the strongest motivator though was clearly not wanting to quickly pull the plaster off, and to take all of the pain in one hit. Totally understandable to me, if not their shrewdest tactical move, it did at least placate many at the time... because you know, back then many wanted to be duped, I guess a bit like today really. Those who love their games are desperate to cling on to any glimmer of hope that proves their love and devotion to their product of choice is justified. We're all emotional creators after all.
|Ah I remember this artwork fondly from the dog eared boxed game. Happy days!|
Still I think Games Workshop expected their Specialist Games to die significantly quicker than they did. They have however endured, and stubbornly refused to die. Now depending on your viewpoint either this is indicative of just how brilliant these products were / are, or just how pig headed and intransigent our community can be at times. I guess it is probably more a heady mixture of the two, stubborn geeks and games with much love. But regardless, these Specialist Games have proved remarkably durable despite the outrageous misfortunes their creators have foisted upon them, they simply will not die. Part of me took some twisted pleasure in that fact, nothing like a bit of schadenfreude to warm the cockles of a cynics heart! I knew just how many staff back at Games Workshop HQ, and indeed in their retail network were perpetually perturbed by this situation. So yeah, it made me smile. But these tough little games days were always numbered. They were dead games walking, although maybe 'stumbling' or 'crawling' would be more apt word to use.
When Games Workshop announced their move over to Finecast, what seems like many moons ago now, I knew that it would mean the ultimate demise of Specialist Games. Their was no way of Earth they would EVER make new latex, Finecast moulds for these games miniatures. Their move to Finecast confirmed they were through with metal too. Nope, that was an expense and effort too far for them as a company. You know what though... I'm not quite as enraged and angry about this last 'indignity' as some others. I get it. The damage was done long ago by Games Workshop, a mortal blow delivered, it's just the bleed out time was... erm... more protracted than was initially expected. Did we really expect them to transfer masters of miniatures that were designed for metal for some really, really niche games over to resin? If so, we're we really being reasonable and realistic? If we did expect it, then I think not. Clearly the fact that the meagre stores they had of these items in their warehouse have taken so long to finally sell out, should be indicative of just how popular these games really truly were. Do I need to spell it out? Not very.
|Giant big stompy robots are cool. End of!|
If I really tried hard, perhaps I could've mustered or feigned some faux outrage over it all... but that's not me, and I can't really see the point in expelling the energy over it all. Don't get me wrong, I'm critical of the way the death of the miniature lines were communicated to their fans, well, lack of communication really; however, are any of us really all that surprised about this state of affairs, coming as it does from this company? Communication with their customer base is hardly Games Workshops strong suit now is it? I guess for me, if this had happened a couple of weeks, or indeed months after the initial release of Finecast, there would be more of an argument, or justification for being annoyed about it all. If they'd sold out of stock that fast it'd have shown us all these games were still viable products, and by extension viable games, but that didn't happen. These games have become nothing more that quirky curios for the wider gaming community, and I really don't mean that to be insulting to those of you who still play these games regularly, and for whom they are an important staple of your gaming diet.
I know what this sort of blow does to you, I was a Battletech player when FASA decided to call it a day, ditto Rackham and Confrontation, Heck even Games Workshop and Man o' War, they never supported that as a Specialist Game. It's a right kick in the bahoogies, and you have my sympathies, you really do. Especially over the lack of communication, that really sucks. However, I'm kinda betting most of you who still engage with these games will have the majority of the miniatures and rules you wanted any way. So it is really up to these communities now to keep these games alive if they want to. Lets face facts, it has been these communities that have kept them going all this time anyway. It's not like Games Workshop have actually offered you any real, or tacit support is it? I guess the best example would be Blood Bowl, a game that has thrived and become so much more than it was under Games Workshops stewardship, and indeed despite Games Workshop themselves being such anal control freaks. It's a success story in many respects and a model for how other Specialist Games communities should do things. Although I acknowledge that not all Specialist Games had the popularity Blood Bowl enjoyed.
|Another fond father son game.|
The question I think needs asking is, what is it that has actually, really truly changed for these communities, if anything? Well I guess it is now that little bit harder for newcomers to start to engage with these systems. If there aren't the miniatures or rulebooks it's tough to recruit. I know that. However, in terms of the communities that still exist, if you have been playing these games that means you have the rules, you have the miniatures and you clearly have the opponents to continue playing them. From that perspective what have Games Workshop really changed? Nothing! They supplied you with the miniatures and the rules to some games you really love. Sure it might hurt that 'your' game is no longer part of their plans, or the Games Workshop fraternity... but realistically it's only a symbolic, and some might say shambolic severance of the ties that bind. These games had already been left to spin in the wind, so to speak, so what they have done is just make it more official. So what?
In many respects this move should be looked at positively, as an opportunity to be grasped by those still engaged with these games. Please hear me out before you send me letter bombs, and put Fatwa's out on my head, I've had enough of that to last me a life time already! Games Workshop have finally relinquished all claims and control of these systems. They have in effect confirmed that these games are no longer big enough, economically, for them to be concerned about. They have relinquished all control of the reigns. They've set them free. This leaves these communities, if they exist in big enough numbers, to fill this void that Games Workshop have vacated. If it is viable for others to do so, what is to stop other companies springing up to provide alternative miniatures for these games now? Games Workshops C&D hammer just got a hell of a lot weaker, as they are no longer providing product, and can therefore no longer honestly, or convincingly claim economic damage by such actions. If companies are careful trademark and IP infringements could also be mitigated.
What I'm saying is don't be down about it. Be positive. Things might have just got a whole lot better. Lets face it, some of these Specialist Games have had some really crappy miniatures that are well past their sell by dates. If you look around at what other firms have achieved with the sculpting and casting processes available nowadays, quite frankly many cottage industries should be able to wipe the floor, in terms of quality, with what Games Workshop have provided for these games for years. If the marketplace for these games is really as viable as the Internet outrage at these actions would have us believe then it is only a matter of time before some enterprising individuals start making suitable replacements. It'll happen if the market demands it, mark my words. If there is profit and a living to be made someone, somewhere will do it. If not... then the question has to be asked, are these games communities actually viable long-term?
|Infinity is really worth a look.|
If not then there's the other positive thing to consider; the wider market effects. Look, not wanting to harp on about this too much, but some of these Specialist Games have actually been surpassed long ago by products provided by other companies. Perhaps this is the universes way of telling us all we need to move on. Get with the program, and accept that change happens. The fact Games Workshop all but abdicated responsibility for these products has allowed other firms to come into being, and indeed to thrive. Hawk Wargames have provided a smaller scale of war, as have others at the 6mm scale of sci-fi games. Spartan Games provide naval and space combat games that have thrived, others such as Mongoose also provide product. For me personally, Infinity provides much of the same 'hit' that Necromunda once did, but it does it with a stylish flare and elan that Games Workshop's venerable beast never achieved. What I'm saying is that there are options out there for you if you are willing to look and embrace things. So Games Workshop are dicks, but we already knew that didn't we? Peace out!