When Madness Reigns

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In this article I am going to editorialize which is something I generally try to avoid doing here.  Games Workshop has rewritten their Trade Agreements with their retailers again, and as a consequence this happened.  As I go forward, I am going to touch on most of the points that Matt raises in that video, but I don’t want to beat a dead horse either.

So for me, the beginning was a little over 17 years ago when some friends of mine introduced me to Warhammer 40,000.  I was still in high school at the time, I had played Battletech and Dungeons and Dragons, and Warhammer was by far the coolest thing I had ever seen.  Within a few days I was hooked, and spending all of my meager income on little toy soldiers.

chaosMy first army was Chaos, back in the day when you played out of the black and white book in the second edition boxed set.  Chaos probably would not have been my first choice, but I came late to the party and if I didn’t want to play the same thing someone else did, my options were limited.  Back in those days, we piled into the car and drove over an hour to the small shop where we bought our models.  I remember the first models I bought were the Khorne Berserkers.  Six men in a box, all the same pose for $12.50.

I took them home, painted them (badly) and had them on the table by the end of the weekend.  That was the bliss of 2nd edition.  One squad of berserkers, and a borrowed model and we were ready to play.

A couple years went by.  I built a gaming area in my parent’s basement.  I started collecting terrain.  I felt the absolute joy of getting my hands on my first codex when it was released.  And felt the pain of realizing my chosen army was never going to play the way I wanted it to.

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Painted by James Wappel http://wappellious.blogspot.com/

Around this time, I left for college.  I made the decision I was going to stop playing Chaos and switched over to Eldar.  I still picked my models up from a local shop, although this one was a 40 minute walk away.  This was still the era where models came two in a blister, and each blister was less that the cost of a single metal Chaos Marine.  Oh the good old days.  Eventually I had collected just about everything in the Eldar range, including a Wave Serpent back in the day you had to convert it from a Falcon.

I moved back home, got some new people playing the game, mostly by vectoring them through Necromunda.  Eventually we graduated to 3rd edition, but we took side trips through almost all of the so called Specialist Game Line.

Our game group dwindled down to three people, one playing Blood Angels and the other my old Chaos Marines along with myself.  This revealed a terrible truth about the Eldar.  They had a lot of very specialized troops, and if you always took the ones that were good at killing Space Marines, you almost always won those games.  About a third of my army saw regular use, and the rest languished on the shelf.  I got bored.

I wanted a new army, and I spent some time looking around.  I had a few strong contenders, but in the end it was the cover of the old Rogue Trader book that convinced me I needed to play Space Marines of the Crimson Fists chapter.  So I did.  This was the first time I ever ordered from an online retailer, New Wave Games before they became a customer service disaster.  I dropped about $350 dollars and got almost everything available at the time shipped to me in one big box.  I still have most of it all these years later, and some of it is even painted.  Suffice to say, this was an era where I was able to buy an entire army in a single go, and I did.  And a couple weeks later when we were at our local shop again, I was picking up odds and ends that I still needed.

At one point I gathered all the Necromunda models I could find and put together a penal legion of Imperial Guard.

A few years later I picked up a Tau army in much the same way, because the models looked cool.

I inherited half a Sisters of Battle army when one of our new players moved away, and I expanded it at the possibility my wife would play.  She never did.

Over the years I have taught a dozen or more people to play, and brought many of them into miniature wargaming as a result.  I went to tournaments.  I ran demos.  Over the years I cannot imagine the money I have spent on Games Workshop product.  And now, I cannot in good conscience recommend them to anyone else.

So what happened?  Let’s make a list.

First, as I mentioned above, my first army didn’t work the way I wanted it to.  Sure part of that was a bad choice on my part, but it wasn’t like I was asking it to be broken in my favor.  I just wanted ranged support options.  Back in the day, Chaos pretty much ran forward and stomped face.  No finesse at all.  The worst part is a few editions later, it did work the way I wanted it to, and I almost went back.

Second, I have to call Games Workshop out for edition breakdown.  The sixth edition of Warhammer 40,00 just came out last year, and once again players existing armies needed to be massively retooled to accommodate the new rules.  I get it, things change, but stop removing a bunch of units that existed once, and coming up with new ones.  It isn’t too much to ask.

Third, and while we are talking about edition breakdown, those players who did not play Space Marines were never guaranteed to get updated rules along with the new editions.  For a miniatures company that only releases new models when new rules come out to go ten years between rulebooks for an army while going 4 years between editions of the game can be crushing.

Fourth, and this one is personal.  They killed my gaming store.  Not mine like I owned it, but mine like I was close enough to the owner to pay his rent for a month to keep him open.  We don’t get many successful hobby shops in the middle of nowhere where I live, too far away from any centralized population, and in general too poor.  So how did they kill my store?  They increased his minimum order size.  He wasn’t moving enough product, couldn’t get the new stuff in house, and dwindled away.  Why impose a minimum order size on any retailer.

Fifth, staying on the theme of buying things and starting to meander back towards the video I started this with, they limited online retailers’ discounts.  Nobody was allowed to offer more than 20% off on Games Workshop product.  This was the first poke in the eye for people buying armies.

Sixth, they then began the annual price hikes.  Every June like clockwork prices went up.  And up.  And up.  So much so that models that released at $19.99 are $37.50 now, and they have not changed one bit.  As an engineer who has worked in the plastics industry, I have a solid idea of what molds cost and about production costs as well.  There has not been nearly 100% inflation in that market sector.

gw-40K-50-12Seventh, back to the online retailers.  No company may display Games Workshop art on their website, you know like the boxes their models come in, so you cannot have an online catalog of Games Workshop models.

Eighth, making that last one okay is the fact that Games Workshop found a way to ban adding their products to an online shopping cart as well.  Effectively killing all online says except for their own website in the US.  As Matt says in the video, they just expanded this to all of North America.

Ninth, is the restriction to domestic only sales.  Again this now applies to North America, but it was originally instituted for the European market.  Strangely enough the hardest hit was Australia and New Zealand where players saw their prices almost double because they couldn’t order from European discounters anymore.  This was instead of setting a single trade value for their models, and riding the currency exchange like everyone else.

Tenth is shutting down all means of direct feedback.  Games Workshop’s forums were never great, but shutting them down removed the centralized place where people talked about their game.  Now they post videos on YouTube with the comments disabled.  Apparently Games Workshop is afraid people might say negative things about them.  Like this article perhaps.

Eleventh, and at eleven isn’t this getting ridiculous, is the Cease and Desist blitz.  Games Workshop’s legal department sent out an unknown number of Cease and Desist letters to a variety of podcasts, fan sites, and other internet entities.  Let’s take our most loyal and active fans and shut down the websites they are using to promote our games for free.  As a result of this I dropped the idea for a podcast I was putting together to cover the 40k roleplaying series from Fantasy Flight Games.  I just could not promote it even through Fantasy Flight, which I otherwise love.

Seriously? People were going to be confused?

Seriously? People were going to be confused?

Twelfth, and this one is quite recent, is the Space Marine debacle.  Games Workshop feels they now own the trademark on the phrase Space Marine in all forms of media, ever.  They showed this by requesting that Amazon remove a book title Spots the Space Marine from their site.  This book did not infringe on the Warhammer universe in any way, just had Space Marine in the title.  Apparently nobody can use that term anymore.

Thirteenth, and finally, is this most recent batch of edicts from on high.  Between the changes in the Trade Agreement, and the policy changes for Direct Sales products (both covered in detail in Matt’s video) they are literally driving retailers out of business.  Sure miniwargaming.com is not the biggest retailer out there, but taking actions which make a business untenable when they are selling your product is insane.

So what are these most recent changes, for the people who aren’t watching Matt’s video.  Well first, as mentioned above, the prohibition from online sales and international shipping now apply through all of North America.  Second, any company who sells individual bits out of the box will be violating the trade agreement and will not be able to buy from Games Workshop.  Third are some minor changes to sales policies, and such.  And finally not in the most recent change, but rolled out a few months ago is the limitation to no more than $500 per month of Direct Sales product.  Combined with the policy changes of what is Direct Sales product, this serves to prevent any retailers online or otherwise from stocking certain items.

So what effect will this all have?  Well so far it is closing an online retailer.  And that online retailer has made many hours of hobby videos available which have helped the market grow.  Who knows what else will come of it.

Oh, I won’t be buying any more Games Workshop products.

And I am going to write this, and put it on the internet:

Dear Games Workshop,

Please reconsider just about every major business decision you have made in the last twenty years.  The world has changed radically since your company was founded.  The internet exists now and needs to be wholeheartedly embraced.  You cannot mislead, attack, antagonize, belittle, or hide from your audience in any way.  You will fail.

Furthermore, you are no longer the only fish in the pond.  New miniature war games are starting all the time.  Companies like Privateer Press, Spartan Games, Wyrd Miniatures, Mantic Games, and Warlord Games among many others are all producing high quality games.

Worse for you directly is that you have actively created some of that competition.  Companies are being started by or hiring Games Workshop alumni like Rick Priestly, Andy Chambers, and Alessio Cavatore.  The very people you touted as being the best in the industry a few years ago are now your competition.

For many years your products, and the imaginary universe they help bring to life has brought me hours of enjoyment.  Until now I happily shared that world with my closest friends, but I can no longer do so.

The actions you have taken are not the well thought out and long term strategies of an industry leader.  They are short sighted, reactionary, and harmful to your business.  They are what happens When Madness Reigns.

Sincerely,

Us

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