Thursday, February 14, 2008

Warmachine 40K

Us game store owners compare notes sometimes. If it's in an online forum, it usually devolves into posturing and flaming, while the best venue seems to be in a bar. If you ever want to learn about what really happens in this industry, forget a comprehensive business plan (well, do that too), just find out who to drink with at the Gama Trade Show. Money well spent.

Anyway, in a spasm of productive comparisons, we we're looking at why there was so much enthusiasm for Warmachine while Warhammer 40K sales were so tremendously better. There were various factors that each of us had that didn't correlate with the others, such as my observation that the 40K player base was much wider, comprising a lot of kids with constant allowances. Some people were getting lots of kids into Warmachine, so that didn't correlate. What we agreed on as the common factor was that Games Workshop encourages customers to expand their army and engage in a hobby, while Privateer Press encourages customers to improve their army and play a game.

Take my Warhammer Fantasy Ogre Kingdoms army, for example. In other games, there might be an optimal way to play your selected warband. Perhaps lots of big ogres charging is the best way. In Warhammer Fantasy, there are many good army builds. There's an army build that's good against undead, one that's good against flyers or shooters, and any of these builds can be yours, for the low, low, price of yet another box or two of plastic figures. In my case, I have a completely painted ogre army, yet I still drool over the various options I have yet to explore. I wonder if the scraplauncher really as as difficult as they say to put together. I wonder if I could find someone to paint a horde of pesky gnoblars for me for store credit.

Warmachine, on the other hand, has more set army lists. They come out with improved version of characters, epics, and the like, rather than lots of add ons and options. You're often not expanding your army as much as you are replacing and upgrading your army. This tends to really piss off those who cut their teeth on Warhammer. Why did I bother painting (let alone purchase) Sorscha when there's now an epic left-handed Sorscha? Warmachine also portrays itself more as a game than a hobby. All stores report silverfish, unpainted models, at Warmachine events. There is no incentive in game terms to paint, while Games Workshop official tournaments award prizes and points for painting. You'll see many partially painted armies at GW in-store events, but it's often practice for the real events, and you'll see those armies painted over time as the event draws near. So with Warmachine, you essentially have a game that might as well be a pre-painted plastic game, rather than paintable miniatures.


  1. You can't discount the "I'm through with GW" factor - among both customers and merchants who have suffered through some of the past horrors of GW corporate planning. There was a time when GW demanded high minimum orders, din't provide very god support to retailers, and gave one of the lowest margins in the business.
    Yes, they are doing better now, but some people hold grudges, and others fear that history will repeat itself.

  2. Agreed, and the last couple of years saw an explosion of new miniature games that emerged to take advantage of that. Of the various games, Privateer Press is the only one that has does well. The others have either died off or have lost their way. However, some players have found the grass isn't necessarily any greener and they're now going back to Games Workshop.

  3. That may have been true up until recently, but now there's a lot of "I told you so"s coming from the anti-GW crowd after the cancellation of BI and the Bitz program.

    Customers never saw the improvements that GW made in its dealings with retailers, they only see GW up to its old tricks of screwing the customer by canceling a good game, or messing with stuff that's important to the veteran gamer.

    For a lot of people, history is repeating itself when it comes to GW right now.

  4. I can't believe I'm defending Games Workshop, but....

    Yes, they're reorganizing their bitz program and you won't be able to get individual body parts, etc., which was great, but I always found difficult to comprehend how it could be profitable. And yes, the timing of the Black Industries closure announcement was baffling and seemed a detached, high level corporate financial decision.

    However.... and this is what differentiates them from other floundering miniature games .... they still product good core product that everyone wants.

    Both Privateer Press and Battlefront are putting out releases that are being ignored (mercenaries and Canadians). Meanwhile, I have to whipe the drool off the counter when customers see the new Vampire Counts codex. The recently re-done Chaos Space Marines continue to sell in droves. Nodoby cried when Privateer Press cancelled Iron Kingdoms RPG or when Rackham cancelled Cadwallen, because nobody cared; we're sold out of Dark Heresy after selling 26 copies.

    Maybe I've just giving them the benefit of the doubt. I haven't been treated poorly by them as a store owner and as a player, there's only ever been one version of Warhammer Fantasy Battles.

  5. The current version of WHFB is something like 7th or 8th edition.

  6. Correct, but for *me* I've only experienced one version and no alienation over being left behind with a new rulebook.

  7. Unfortunately, what also separates them from other miniatures companies is that they are publicly traded and their stock is doing very poorly.

    Also, I have to correct your statement on their core products. They produce two core products that everyone wants, and one that no one wants, but which they appear to be contractually obligated to continue to support.

    If there's one thing that they could do to improve their bottom line, it would have to be ditching the Lord of the Rings license, yet they haven't done it.

    Instead they are cutting profitable lines and creating more ill-will amongst their customer base in the process.

    I am not one of these people who think that GW dying would be a good thing (especially not for BDG!), but for the first time since I started paying attention to the company, I'm really starting to wonder if there will be a 30th anniversary of Warhammer Fantasy at this rate.

  8. They could also revamp the LOTR game so that it suits their marketing strategy.

    GW marketing strategy = mass combat games that allow GW to continue releasing items so that customers are always changing, modifying, and expanding their armies. This provides lots of follow on sales once the customer begins playing.

    LOTR rules = small scale skirmish game that only works well for a small group of heroes to engage in small scale battles with a slightly larger group of less powerful foes, or against one very powerful foe.

    The Mines of Moria version of the starter set works pretty nicely as a game, but doesn't really require much else before it becomes unwieldy and unplayable.

    GW has refused suggestions and offers to restructure the core rules to make it more effective and playable as a mass combat game like WHFB or 40k. They have also decided not to make it into more of an RPG/skirmish set (probably due to licensing restrictions).

    I'm not sure if it's contractual obligations to New Line and the Tolkien estate (they have two separate licenses, iirc), or just a desire to get back enough from their investment, that keeps them invested so heavily into the LOTR line. It may well be that the line is profitable, just not as profitable as predicted/desired - this can hurt stock prices due to speculation.

    The need for a "third major system" is an unquestionable pillar of faith in the GW corporate mentality. Personally, I would love to see the return of some of the "smaller" and more self contained games from GW - games that served as entry games for new customers, and also allowed customers to continue to enjoy GW games even when they no longer have the time to be fully committed to the "lifestyle games" (WHFB and 40K). Games like Space Hulk (with injection molded plastic floor pieces - they could even sell them as expansion packs), Warhammer Quest, Battlefleet Gothic, Mordheim, Necromunda, Talisman, and Blood Bowl are all good games, and fit the business model of many other game companies (Fantasy Flight or Days of Wonder, for example) who sell a game and one or two expansion sets, returning it to production when demand builds up.

  9. "It may well be that the line is profitable, just not as profitable as predicted/desired"

    That alone can't be it, or they would cancel it like they did the RPGs. That combined with the desire to recoup the costs of the licensing fees that you mentioned, whether or not they can get out of continuing to pay them, may be what's going on. Regardless, it's currently a tar baby that is causing them to make poor choices in other areas of their business.

    If they were to consider other options for a third "core game" they might want to look back at Man O' War. It's still the highest rated GW game on BGG (#2 miniature game behind Warmachine), and has lots of options for expansions, yet it's not even supported by Specialist Games.

    The fact that it's a naval game means that it supplements the other two Warhammer core games, rather than competing with them as yet another land-battle game as LotR does.

  10. Yes, Man O'War should also have been on my list of "semi-stand-alone"* games that GW could reintroduce.

    *semi-stand-alone meaning that it would be a game with a few boxed expansions, but no full line of books and miniatures.