Is Games Workshop the "Evil Empire"?; A Short Retrospective on Games Workshop's "No Alternatives Policy"

Guest Article from SM- Opinion


[Note from Shawn: this is an opinion piece! I haven't even read through the whole thing. I'd love to hear what you think]


Many of us would agree that 40k is by far the most prolific wargame to date. With a wide and well established line of miniatures, a large quantity of followers and a renknowed company to back them, 40k has made numerous strides in dominating the market. 40k's popularity is now getting to a point where other forms of media are being employed to bring it to the attention of a broader audience, with the most notable example being the incredibly successful line of video games, a feat which no other wargame has been able to replicate (though Privateer Press did announce they were in the process of producing and releasing a game based on Iron Kingdoms.) Yet for all of its accomplishments, I am left with a bitter taste towards GW's poster child. I love 40k for its qualities as a game, and even more so for its fantastic narrative (well, I like it at least.) Nevertheless, its GW's monopolistic policies that I despise. For several years now GW has focused primarily on the locking the market down, and creating a set of policies governing how their rules can utilized. In this respect, I am primarily focusing on GW's policy of being restricted to Citadel models.


I am by no means a "beardy" player. My time with wargames has been short, but in the course of about two years they have had a profound effect on my life. I was first reeled in, oddly enough, by the Dawn of War games, which lead me to investigate their background. When I came upon 40k, it was love at first sight, and a day after learning about the existence of it I went my nearest FLGS to purchase a copy of Assault on Black Reach, and a week later I had already started purchasing my first army. Many months have passed, as have several armies, and I am currently without any of GW's models (with the exception of the AOBR marines.) Recently, I have been trying to get rid of all of my wargaming stuff, and trying to get on without wargames. But between several youtube channels (cough... BTP and BOW cough cough) I have still maintained ties to 40k. And this has lead me down the dark path of wanting to get back into 40k. Unfortunately, I am on a severely restricted budget, between school and my car and all the myriad expenses that are associated with everyday life. Nevertheless, I have found alternative ranges to be quite economically viable, yet when I present the idea to local gamers, the immediate response is a frown, a sigh and an explanation that I don't care to hear. Perhaps they are to absorbed into their game that they cant see GW's folly.


Perhaps now you have an idea as to why I am so against GW's policies. But there may be some justification to their ideas. From a purely financial point of view, their policy of limiting the market to only incorporate their models gives them unprecedented power. They are essentially guaranteed 100 percent of the profits, due to the fact that they require that people only use their models. And at their price point, GW's models bring in a huge level of profit. After all, more than 90 percent of the sticker price is to account for that oh so wonderful packaging that GW places their sprues in. GW at this point is a huge monopoly (though not in the historical field) and their position of power is unlikely to change. This is especially true when you consider the obstacles that face a new company, between the financial elements (finding the means to actually produce a range is quite difficult) and obtaining the business savvy to keep a company afloat, especially in these troubled times.


The community at large also seems to reflect GW's policies. As I have stated previously, I am not too familiar with GW's past, but I am inclined to believe that at one point they catered more to the players. I have heard that White Dwarf used to be extensively invested in the hobby, with guides on painting, modeling and even producing alternative rule sets to be used by gamers. As GW garnered more and more money, they obviously decided to shift their business model, and are now focused on getting as much money as quickly as possible. This has seemingly been reflected by the people who play the games, as more and more people at my FLGS adopt a snobbish and unwelcoming attitude, as if they are somehow superior. I honestly hope that this is a exceptional case, as I would hate to see this in every store that caters to the hobbyist.


Nevertheless, there does seem to be a possible change in the way wargmes will be played, as Mr. Gately has hinted at in one of his videos. He proposed that there would eventually be a universally accepted rule set, and that models would be designed to be utilized for this rules set, with the player deciding which models to purchase based on several factors (price point, quality etc.) This would replicate the ideas of a free market, in that the individual would decide how to spend their money. I am inclined to agree, as many alternative ranges are starting to adapt this idea. One such company is Wargames Factory. Though their range is incredibly limited at this point (at least in the vein of alternative figures, as they have numerous historical ranges), their models are incredibly crafted and more than reasonably priced (at about a dollar per model, despite the fact that they lack bases.) If you havent heard of them, I would give their models a look (if of course you can find people who will put up with your choice of models.)


Another company, and perhaps a possible contender in the market, is Mantic Games. Their ranges were primarily designed to be used for Warhammer Fantasy, but as more and more people have decided to back the company, they have grown measurably more bold, and are in the process of creating their own rules set. Perhaps they will become akin to Privateer Press, a company whose track record is incredible, with over ten years of experience (which is rare in this business.) I would definitely keep an eye on Mantic and see where time leads them.


But perhaps competition is what gamers need. Should adequate competition arise from the likes of Mantic and Privateer Press, than this would force GW to react, mostly likely by dropping their prices. As we have seen with AOBR and the new IoB, GW is more than capable of producing beautiful models at an extremely adequate price point. But with their current dominace, they are bot required to do anything that would cut into their profit margin. Of course, the only way this will occur is if the community at large decides to back these companies, and stray from their long ingrained passions for GW's games.


As Matt Ward has so admirably stated in the Blood Angels codex , "Only time will tell."

-- SM


I'll take a crack at a comment first (email them to GW does a good job. They produce great models and not necessarily overpriced when all things are considered, namely support over the course of years.

There are no GW police forbidding that local tournaments have GW-figures only. I am a huge fan of using any model I please.


Hmm, i guess I see slightly where this guy is coming from. I am recently out of school so i have an idea about being tight on money, and I do believe that GW's models are a bit overcosted, However, GWs kits have a lot more flexability (in that you build the model how you choose, with extra bits left over for other conversions) so this is a huge advantage when compared to other companies. I also believe that GW probably adjusts prices due to inflation, in that their prices follow the countries inflation rate. What do you think?


I read the opinion article with great interest. As someone who not only plays GW games, but has had a retail account with them for 14 years. I have seen lots of good and bad when it comes to dealing with the company. When I opened my account back in 1996 Games Workshop did a lot of work on building relationships with the retailers. They had a program called Rogue Trader for stores that had accounts in good standing, and provided support in the form of a large binder filled with tips on running various kinds of game scenarios, how to order product to support leagues and tournaments. They would also update those materials on a regular basis. The retailer information was also good and covered topics like inventory restocking, inventory placement and product promotion.

The first time I got a taste of the bad side of Games Workshop was in 1997 when they released Epic. A very small scale version of Warhammer 40K. The rollout for it was impressive and I even went to GAMA in Las Vegas to talk with the representatives there and played a few games with some GW executives. All seemed good and I invested a considerable sum into the game. However, about a year later the game was removed from the companies main line, and the only way I could get the product was in the same way that customers would get it. Leaving me with no way to get any margin out of it. This essentially made Epic a 'dead game' for me, and to top it off the company refused to take back any of the sealed Epic product and would not even entertain the idea of giving me a credit towards other GW product.

This same scenario played out with some other games. Does anyone remember Necromunda, Mordheim, Gorka Morka, Battle Fleet Gothic or Inquistitor. In each case the company would do a lavish launch of the game, tell everyone how wonderful it, was and that it would get support. Then usually in about a year or so the game would quietly fade away, and stores would be unable to order it unless they went through the mail order department. Which is exactly what my customers could do. Again, removing any incentive for me to support the game any longer. After having this happen more times then I like to admit. I decided to only support Warhammer Fantasy and 40K. The only games that have ever gotten constant support from the company for any real length of time. Even though I really love some of the other games it doesn't pay to support them when the creator of those same games will not make the effort to do so.

The relationship hasn't always been a bad one. I remember getting Games Workshop volunteers to help me at many of my store's Warhammer Fantasy and 40K events over the years. As well as getting some really good prize support from GW. Getting my events into the White Dwarf in a timely fashion could be very difficult given that it was published across the pond. But when it did happen it helped my events be successful immensely. Back in the early 2000's GW did something that I really liked. They decided to split the country into very small sections, and have a Manager for each one. This manager would try to visit each of the store's in their area once every three months minimum. During each visit they would lay out what GW had planned for the next three months, look at my store's stock level, and give me ideas on what to order (new releases, restocking, etc.). This was the best support that I got as a retailer, and it lasted for about three years. I was sad to see it go because I thought it might have been a sign that the company was going to improve support for independent retailers over the long term. Sadly the program was cut due to downsizing at GW, at least that is what I was told. Shortly after that GW really started pushing the Battlebunkers and small mall stores all over the country.

A manufacturer deciding that they need to compete with their independent retailers with their own chain of retail stores makes no sense. Its a slap in the face to every independent retailer. We helped make Games Workshop what they are today, and to reward me by directly competing with me is in my mind a terrible blow to any relationship I thought I had with the company. After talking with many retailers at GAMA conventions over the last few years, and seeing examples of what I am hearing from other stores happening in my own area. I am sad to say that Games Workshop is more of an enemy then a friend to retailers. They use the sales figures from independent retailer accounts to help them decide where to put down their Battle Bunkers and smaller mall stores, and it has put many a retailer out of business. Its no wonder that companies like Privateer Press and Mantic Games are doing as well as they are. Independent retailers want alternatives to Games Workshop.




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