Hello, TechRaptor readers. As one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory finally comes to a close and a new year begins, I’d like to take a look back at what can only be seen as a wonderful, and long overdue transformation that took place over the year in Nottingham. Over the last year, Games Workshop has worked tirelessly to put the company back on the right track and correct the many mistakes and bad business practices made by the previous CEO.
2016 started out rough for the company. Profits fell by 15% due to customers simply not buying as many miniatures or books. The company’s saving grace was from royalty incomes from licensing out their properties to video game developers. Nottingham’s neglect in getting new blood into the hobby was also causing problems as well, with many a longtime veteran writing the game and company off after years of silence, poor planning, and ever-increasing prices. The introduction of Warhammer Age of Sigmar and the killing off of Warhammer Fantasy was also a major issue, with plenty of former customers loudly and angrily jumping ship, and letting everyone else on the Internet know about it.
At the time it was announced that Tom Kirby would be stepping down as CEO of Games Workshop, there was an air of cautious optimism among the Warhammer community. Many current and former fans at the time were not too happy with the current leadership, specifically with Tom Kirby’s rather arrogant and myopic views of the business as a whole. His policies of utterly refusing to interact with the customer base at a company level, refusing to do any sort of advertisement or market research, and “minis first, game second” mentality made him seem more like an ostrich with its head in the sand than a savvy business executive. With games like Warmachine and Infinity gaining popularity and nipping at their heels, Games Workshop decide the best course of action was to simply stay the course and ignore the gigantic iceberg dead ahead.
The new CEO, Kevin Rountree, has proven to be the breath of fresh air the company has needed for a long time. 2016 has seen sweeping changes come to the company, and every major change has been greeted with a mixture of surprise and joy from the Warhammer playerbase as a whole. From actual interaction with its customers to reviving White Dwarf to the launch of Warhammer TV both on YouTube and Twitch, it appears the company has jerked the wheel over and avoided financial disaster.
We got the first inklings of what was to come back in 2014, with the release of Warhammer Fantasy: The End Times campaigns and the first videos detailing how to assemble and paint the impressive new Nagash model. The video series proved to be wildly popular, and soon veteran painter Duncan Rhodes was featured in many more painting tutorial videos showcasing everything from the towering Imperial Knights to a humble Cadian Guardsman. When Kevin Rountree took the helm, we saw the video series expand to cover not only painting tutorials for the new releases but also shorter videos showing off quick and easy techniques requested by viewers. While ultimately a small thing overall, it showed that the company was willing to have an actual discussion with its customers.
The company has apparently fully embraced the Internet, not only with its painting videos and tutorials, but with the launch of the Warhammer TV Twitch channel as well, offering everything from Warhammer 40K and Age of Sigmar games played at Warhammer World.
We also saw the reopening of the company’s Facebook pages for both Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer: Age of Sigmar after being closed for nearly two years following a small portion of the playerbase taking the opportunity to vent their frustrations with the company directly. Rather than simply stick with one or two Facebook pages, the company expanded their social media presence to include pages for Forge World, Black Library, and Warhammer TV as well. Games Workshop used their newfound link with the player base to not only ask for rules related questions for upcoming FAQs, but to release FAQ drafts for additional feedback as well. Previous FAQs have often times missed important rules issues and questions, leading many people to theorize just how the company decided what questions were important enough to rate an FAQ response and how those questions were generated. With the new system of player input and feedback, the process is a great deal more transparent and helpful for everyone.
The revamping of White Dwarf was also a cause for celebration among GW fans as well. The company switched to a weekly release back in 2014 to mixed reviews that ultimately turned sour after it became apparent that the new format was more of a catalog rather than a magazine. While it did alleviate the issue of excluding nearly half the subscription base every month depending on whether or not the issue was focused on either Warhammer 40K or Warhammer Fantasy, the switch to a weekly issue necessitated the gutting of the magazine simply to ensure there was enough time to write and print it. The September relaunch of the monthly version was widely praised by fans around the globe, seeing it as a return to form. The first issue came with not only a free Warhammer Age of Sigmar miniature but extra rules and missions for every single boxed game the company has released, with promises of more free content and updates in future issues as well.
And while we’re on the topic, let’s talk about the boxed games. Games Workshop has released board games and spinoffs in the past with such well-loved entries like Space Hulk, Blood Bowl and Gorkamorka. 2016 saw a resurgence in these games with Imperial Knight: Renegade (flyer boxed game), Gorechosen Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower, and of course the re-release of Blood Bowl just a short time ago. The company has also expanded its boxed game offerings with The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth and The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero, which also gave Games Workshop a chance to gauge interest in possibly making a selection of its Horus Heresy line produced by Forge World available in plastic. Based on how quickly both games have sold and the fact that Forge World also offers upgrade kits to allow players to easily customize their plastic Horus Heresy Space Marines to fit their favorite legion shows that the company is paying attention to what their customers want.
Speaking of what the customers want, let’s talk a bit about prices. Games Workshop has, in the past, proudly stated that they “don’t do sales," believing themselves to be a high-end product that simply doesn’t need to stoop to doing promotions or lowering prices. This arrogance has cost the company a great deal of goodwill and players over the years, as companies such as Privateer Press, Corvus Belli, and Mantic Games have used this to take rather hefty chunks out of the Warhammer playerbase.
While the company hasn’t starting running any sales yet, they have started offering bundles that provide significant savings. The Start Collecting! boxes for various factions are all sold at a significant savings when compared to purchasing each model or unit individually. The Start Collecting! boxes generally retail for about $85 USD, and after doing the math, customers are basically getting one model or unit for free when compared to buying the contents of the box separately. The newer boxed games also offer a significant discount on miniatures as well. Take a look at Gorechosen, for example. The game itself sells for $60 USD and includes four Khornate character models. If you were to purchase these models individually, the total cost would be $118 USD. So while not a traditional sale per se, the boxed games do offer some nice savings on quickly bulking up your current forces while giving you the option of a smaller game to play as well, possibly as a way to entice board gamers into taking a second look at Games Workshop.
So far, however, the biggest improvement Games Workshop has made this year has been with the General’s Handbook for Warhammer Age of Sigmar. Many Warhammer Fantasy players bemoaned the lack of a points system for the game, making tournaments a headache to try figuring out. It also left the door wide open for min-maxers and “That Guy” to abuse the spirit of the game in order to simply win. Many tournament organizers and early adopters of the game did their best to hammer out various points systems to help the tournament scene from completely falling apart to varying degrees of success. The release of the General’s Handbook, however, finally brought some much-needed structure to the game while still allowing players who preferred the more free-form aspects the ability to still enjoy Age of Sigmar. The book contains additional rules for everything from open play (bring whatever you have) to narrative play (recreating various battles and events in the Mortal Realms) to matched play (tournament rules and points systems). And while some sections like Path to Glory still need a bit of refining for certain factions, the book was seen as a much needed addition and has helped bring in not only new Age of Sigmar players, but veterans who had previously dropped the game and company after its release.
With all of that being said, however, there are still some areas Games Workshop needs to improve on in 2017. Arguably, they’ve already handled the easy issues and left the more difficult problems for later on. The biggest remaining issue is the current balance of power for Warhammer 40K. As it stands now, the various factions vary widely in overall power and balance. Currently, the Tau and Eldar are sitting pretty at the top of the heap, while Tyranid, Chaos Space Marine, and Dark Eldar players are woefully underpowered. These balance issues have persisted for years within the game primarily due to the fact that Games Workshop has always seen itself as a miniatures company first and a games company second. At times players have felt almost as if the sole reason Warhammer 40K and Warhammer Fantasy existed in the first place was simply to sell models. With the increased number of miniature games and players combined with smaller games gaining more of a foothold, Games Workshop needs to take a serious, critical look at the state of the game overall and start making some big adjustments in order to level the playing field and keep the industry upstarts from siphoning off any more customers.
Pricing is also another major issue the company is facing. Let’s be honest for a moment: miniature wargaming is an expensive hobby no matter what. Sure, you can always find ways to cut corners and save your pennies, but at the end of the day it’s a luxury hobby. However, this doesn’t mean that companies like Games Workshop can continue its current pricing strategy. The company is simply going to have to start finding ways to reduce the prices of its products or risk continuing to lose customers to less expensive tabletop games.
Kevin Rountree may very well be considered by many to be the savior of Games Workshop, but the company isn’t in the clear just yet. They’ve managed to avoid the giant iceberg everyone with vision slightly better than Mr. Magoo was able to see, but there are still hazards lurking below the surface that need to be avoided. Whether or not this happens in 2017 remains to be seen.