Saturday, 4 July 2015

Warhammer Fantasy: A Fate As Old As Time

Well that's unexpected...Well actually it's not unexpected, the rumours regarding Warhammer: Fantasy have been doing the rounds for quite some time and as it turns out quite a number of those rumours appear to have been correct, at least in the short term anyway:

  • Round bases, in fact any bases you like, are in.
  • Ranks and files are out, if you want them to be.
  • Points are out.
  • force organisation as we know it is out.
  • Free rules, at least for the time being, are in.
And a whole lot more besides and do you know what, as someone that's dabbled, expensively (no, I don't mean extensively) with WH:F over the last 13+ years I can safely say that Warhammer is actually something that's piquing my interest again.

When I was 19/20 I spent a small period of time as a full-timer at my local GW and in amongst the maelstrom I learnt a few things about the products I was selling:

  • 40k was number one seller, by a country mile.
  • Lord of the Rings was number two
  • Fantasy was languishing in third 
  • and finally came the myriad of specialist games ranges
Yes, they weren't far from deaths door but specialist games were still a thing. It bears remembering that this was not too long after the release of The Return of the King and shortly before the release of WotR. Lord of the Rings, whatever it's perceived faults by 40k fans, was still riding a high and it had made GW an awful lot of money. From the horses mouths at the time (though you probably wont have seen this in any financial statement) 'the popularity of SBG completely masked a slight overall decline in GWs core customer market. We were making an awful lot of money, we didn't quite understand why and we made a few mistakes as a result [...] like putting an additional member of staff in to every shop.'

And then the bubble burst. Boy did it burst. It led to the large amount of restructuring including the rise (or return) of the one man store and I'd say is the probable root cause of the current price inflation strategy which has seen single blister heroes rise from £4-8 to anything up to £30 over the last 6 years.

In that time WH:F undoubtedly returned to spot number two but in my opinion the rot had already set in and as far as I was concerned the writing was on the wall, at least as far as my local was concerned. LotR was dead and Fantasy was not all that far behind. Though anecdotal and not at all necessarily representative of every store, in my part of the UK at least, 40k was outstripping fantasy sales considerably (my estimate would be £10:1 if not more).

And If you want my opinion, and presumably if you've made it this far then you are at least a little interested, it was by and large down to price. 7th Edition compounded it and 8th literally threw all sense of reason out of the window.

I had my introduction to WH:F when I was half the height and half the age I am now. Back then it was feasible for someone of my age to buy a box of 16-20 models with my £15 pocket money a month, each box would be a whole unit, and within 6-10 months I'd have a decent sized 1-1.5k point army of say 7 regiments and a few bits of fun thrown in and the total cost? Around £150. If I was lucky I could cover a 3rd or even half of that cost with Birthday or Christmas money.

Fast forward 13 years and five things have happened:
  • price per box went up
  • models per box went down
  • expected models per regiment went up
  • average game size increased
  • average points cost per model decreased
Most regiment boxes now cost upwards of £18-20, Most regiment boxes now contain 10 men or less and most regiments are no longer seen in blocks of 16-20, often 20 is the minimum. It is absolutely impossible now for a child to buy an effective regiment each month with their pocket money and have a 2000 point army within 6-10 months without parents with very, very, deep pockets.

oh and the rulebook/armybook is(/now 'was' I guess...) no longer an inconvenience that would cost you two months of pocket money, now they'll run you double if not triple.

Those children, who can no longer afford to buy in to the game, are Games Workshop's core market (especially since they've done everything they could, it seems, to alienate the older, and therefore more miserable among us (myself included)). As someone who's studying accountancy If I were working for a company whose core market could not afford the products my company were selling I'd be doing two things:

  • Looking for a new job for when they folded
  • Advising them that if they didn't do something to make their products 'cheaper' they wouldn't be in a position to make those products for much longer.
I use the word 'cheaper' in inverted commas because actually the models aren't too expensive, £20-£25 a box is pocket money price by today's standard, certainly for a box a month (which was my original example). So if they're not too expensive how do you create the perception that they're cheaper?

I, or rather Games Workshop, give you:

Free basic rules (for now at least) no points (play what you have - great for kids) and once again a box can be an effective regiment

I haven't played fantasy since the earliest days of the Island of Blood and I haven't owned a fantasy army since I sold my Skaven to buy a car (literally, my Fantasy army cost enough to buy a car) but I've been looking with soft, doe eyes at lizardmen recently and new rules, or more precisely this new take on the game itself, has got me very interested.

I think the fact that It's going to scale seamlessly from a hero and a handful of regiment boxes (£50?) to anything you like is absolutely crucial for Games Workshop as children (and importantly parents) with any interest in anything other than instant gratification are rapidly decreasing. The fact you can play a game, a proper game, from the starter set is MASSIVE and it's been missing from GW's repertoire since the likes of Mordheim, Necromunda, Gorka Morka and the Lord of the Rings SBG et al got brushed under the rug of history.

I know GW is receiving a lot of flak on the WWW for this decision and I can see there being a number of disaffected people due to the, frankly, drastic direction shift but when I look at the majority of the people complaining and stating that they'll vote with their wallet, well they were the ones saying the same about 8th edition, and probably 7th and maybe even 6th edition. Presumably if they've been voting with their wallet for all this time then I don't think Games Workshop's going to miss them that much.

I can't say I'll be playing or buying any any time soon, I think bar Lord of the Rings (and I'm running out of stuff I want/need for that) GW's ship has sailed for me, I've long since been disaffected primarily by their 'price' and you know what, that's fine by me, it's a business, not a charity, and they're entitled to 'price' how they like, they're the ones that have to live with the consequences of ever diminishing returns, not me.

Like my Dad who took his son to Games Workshop at the age of 8 to buy a monster compendium for D&D and was probably disappointed to find they no longer catered for him I imagine my experience will be the same when I introduce my son to GW. Games Workshop has changed a lot from the days of my miss-spent youth. I'm more interested in historicals where Warlord and Perry miniatures in particular can provide a box, literally bulging, with miniatures for £20. Still I hope that they do well out of this change of direction because I would like to take my son to a Games Workshop one day in 8 or so years time. It was, sad as it sounds, an integral part of my childhood.

If you've made it this far what your thoughts on the passing of GW's iconic game?

The King is dead. Long live The King.

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