What’s Next for Games Workshop?

I’ve been musing to myself recently that there has been a noticeable slip in quality from Games Workshop lately. Partly in terms of customer service in some stores – this is anecdotal evidence from various sources, the over emphasis on service towards younger gamers, the poor production standards of the White Dwarf – with fold outs not being properly cut, or not cut at all – and books rife with typos and inconsistencies. This is all after a drop in customers and annual inflation busting increase in prices – which is a traditional and short-sighted reaction to a drop off in trade to artificially inflate the profits of the company, increasing its worth and keeping share holders happy. All the while not tackling the problem.

Which is the customers with disposable income are being driven away by high prices, poor service, indifference, no community support an over emphasis on younger gamers – despite an increasing amount of non-child-friendly material being produced – and the rise of other companies producing good games with models of comparable quality and significantly lower prices.

Then, today, there’s the announcement that Mark Wells has stepped down as CEO of Games Workshop. Now Mark Wells has done some very good things for the business. He took the bull by the horns and made huge cost savings at a time when the business was in real trouble. He saved millions of pounds and made it profitable again with some very sensible and pragmatic decisions and through his leadership grew a niche business in one of the worst recessions in history. He also helped to make the retail arm of the business more cost efficient and far more professional. Compared to how it was when I was staff, anyway.

However, there are war-time leaders and peace time leaders and Mr Wells always very much struck me as the former.

Installing a CEO that is about aggressive saving, lowest cost to operate and maximum ROI into a business that’s struggling is often the thing that saves the company. Leaving him there during ‘peace time’; at a time when the business needs to take those lessons forwards and get back to making the hobby awesome is when things start to go wrong. Even more so when the upper echelons are as commercially focussed as the big boss.

And we can see evidence of it everywhere. Shifting production of print material to China has meant cost savings in some areas but deadlines are tighter because the shipping times dramatically increase. Production quality is poorer and mistakes and typos are more frequent. But the price is now £5.50 an issue. For something that’s poorer and will inevitably – but subtly – get thinner again. There has also been an increasing commercial consideration when armies and army books are revamped. Fewer and fewer models are being included in boxes but prices increase, and a greater emphasis on new kits that are cost-effective to produce but expensive to the customer but in some cases add little to the army other than something ‘whackey’ or big.

The steady lowering if points values also means customers are buying more models, at higher prices, for the same size games. Gaming boards are also having to be made bigger which means more scenery and – if you’ve got the money and no sense – more Realms of Battle boards. Hats off to Wells and his team, they’ve thought it all through. Except for the one point that all the businesses that have gone bust these last few months in the UK have over looked: customers aren’t fucking stupid.

I’m relieved that Tom Kirby is CEO again, even for the short-term because he excelled at keeping the company focussed on making an awesome hobby. He was responsible for what I refer to as the Golden Age of the Games Workshop in which some of the best community focussed events took place, some of the most iconic and enduring shifts in the look and canon of the hobby happened. And the Black Library was launched in its current form.

I’m under no illusions: prices will not come down. Gaunts will not go back to being 20 models for £18 in stead of 12. The retail division will still be populated by wankers with delusions of grandeur and staff members will still have devices implanted in their skulls so if they say anything bad about the company they’ll explode…okay, maybe not the last one… But Mr Kirby was at his best when he was making the Games Workshop hobby awesome and as all the infrastructure now seems to be there he should be able to achieve this like never before.

All we can do is watch and wait to see what happens next but for the first time in a long time I can see light on the horizon for what has been Games Workshop’s very own Old Night.

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19 responses to “What’s Next for Games Workshop?

  1. I so badly wanna get back into Imperial Guard, but just looking at White Dwarf’s price alone, and the prices of the special characters, there’s no way I’m getting back. Even Black Library I’ve noticed have raised their bog standard novels to 8/9 quid! And the ebooks?

  2. A few typos in White Dwarf does not make a dip in quality the miniatures are getting better and better with more innovative multi-kits that piss all over anything anyone else is doing. Yes finecast is very hit and miss but they are getting a lot better and I’ll take it over metal any day. Basically this article is the same old tired argument; less mini’s, more price.

    • Actually, no. The Dark Angels codex, a £30 book, has typos and inconsistencies. That’s not really fair on the customers is it? And I’m sorry but if I’m paying £5.50 for a magazine I expect the pages not to be stuck together and things to be spelt correctly.

      And the fact that Finecast is ‘getting a lot better’ means it wasn’t better to begin with. In fact it was a disaster and even now models pass QC warped and with large air bubbles in. There’s a reason the second hand metal models market has boomed.

      Same old tired comments; GW can do no wrong. Whatever. I’m not attacking the hobby. I’m IN the hobby. But I am saying the company has made some bad decisions and been quite arrogant with it.

  3. Don’t take this the wrong way, but as an English teacher I can’t let this slide. If you are going to complain about typos, make certain your own grammar and spelling are up to scratch. Your second paragraph is a single, long, sentence fragment.
    Also, maybe it’s just me, but there are ALWAYS better words you can choose than curse words. It comes across as immature when you are trying to make intelligent arguments.
    As to your content, I do share your hope for the future of GW, but the previous comments aren’t that far off. You do sound like GW can do no right. I don’t know about the customer service in the local GW because I was turned off by the hard well years ago and don’t ever go there anymore. I found a local game store and can get all of my hobby materials there.
    Finally, if you don’t want people telling you you’re too negative, avoid insulting people in your comments. For example, the comments directed toward people who bought realm of battle boards was not really necessary.
    On the whole, I would have liked the article as it does speak of hope for GW’s future, but it does so in a far too “doom and gloom” way.

    • I’m not a professional writer. I write this blog to give back to the community I love. Not everything I post can or will be positive because it’s not always the case. But I do try to be fair. I don’t always get that balance right. Perhaps I am overly down on GW but it’s not without cause. I don’t accept because I’m slapdash with my own proofing that a team of paid writers are allowed to be as well.

      Like I said in a tweet earlier today; I don’t hate GW. I love GW. But I hate feeling like I’m tolerated for money rather than loved for my passion. I’ve got 2 companies of Ultramarines that cost me hundreds of pounds. I don’t lack commitment. Nor is my gripe with the hobby but the commercially focussed decisions that have made it harder and harder for the average gamer stay in the hobby they love. I speak to people every day who had to walk away because they couldn’t afford the prices any more. And it’s a tragedy. Because the games, models and background are awesome.

      And with the greatest respect, I like the odd curse word and I won’t apologise for using them. I don’t think it makes me less intelligent to use it in the context with which I did as I used it for emphasis.

      • I appreciate your candor, Phil. It’s why I read this blog. You’re a fan but not afraid to call out problems, which has been something that way too many GW fanboys give in to.

        As an adult, one can and should speak out when he or she feels that something is amiss. GW got me into this hobby, and for that I’ll always feel appreciative. That doesn’t mean I won’t call Finecast utter garbage peddled as gold to the willfully ignorant.

  4. Hey scamps,

    In some defence, not in promotion of hate, but in shedding a bit of light on where the angry divide seems to come in, I think it’s perhaps warranted to speak on behalf of ‘marketing wankers’. Or, applying Sturgeon’s Law, marketing anyones. Or anyone wankers. you get the idea.

    That is: whilst marketing should be a pretty evidence and rigorous setup, the inscrutability of the company itself makes it difficult for any armchair commentator, even one with experience and insight to really be sure of what’s going on. Certainly, it’s one of the vague difficulties that surely plague any away-from-the-front-line commentary on things.

    And, at that, even the folks actually making the decisions, the CEOs and everyone down following that vision, might not be as well informed as they hope. It’s simply difficult (or impossible, who knows?) to accurately judge that.

    To that extent, I think what presumably riles most folks (and curiously something Gary & Spirit of Grungni don’t mention, though I’m sure they’d sympathise), is that your second paragraph is outside it’s own remit?

    That’s not to say it’s not a valid thought to entertain – as someone who thinks GW can (and, really, should) be reaping the harvest of their loyal/dedicated/long-term customers like there’s no tomorrow, it’s always baffling to see decisions that, on the face of them, look *obviously* short sighted.

    To put it in your own phrasing: is it peacetime? The short-term approaches are, I suppose, about survival. Where I really think GW should be securing a long-term, easily sustained momentum of mass interest and goodwill (the ‘shut up and take my money!’ kind), something that relies on the customer base not feeling exploited…

    Well, to use another analogy: it’s beekeepers and honey. If the beekeeper arranges things to the ‘ideal’ for the bees, the bees will produce so much honey they wouldn’t have a clue what to do with it. GW can, surely (though this is my own optimistic, not-evidence-based speculation), engineer something along those lines, no?

    The problem therein is there’s no guarantee, for the shift to move from short-term ‘survival’ thinking (and, in some respects, the amateur’s concern is that GW could falter and die at any moment) to something much longer and more sustainable, the idea has to be sound and effective.

    To that end, you loose a lot of confidence in the reader if the suggested, brimming perhaps inadvertent authoritativeness, plan of action happens to resemble the tired old argument that every grognard in every club who has ever left the game has used!

    The problem with recognising and making that association is, unfortunately, that neither the statement (the second paragraph hypothetical) or the rebuttal (see Gary & SoG) has anything to do with whether it’s logically effective and sensible. The opposition, if you will, see an old argument and don’t bother to curiously poke at it, they’re at best saddened to see it again. You, Phil, as a speculator and would-be champion of a better organised and more likeable company are left thinking that what’s obvious to you is, in fact, somehow demonised by others.

    I’d contend that in both respects, it’s neither a demonic hell-suggestion about can’t-do-right/can’t-do-wrong viewpoints, but not quite delving deep enough into the roots of those viewpoints.

    Of course, if someone is entertaining the can’t-do-right/can’t-do-wrong viewpoint and/or isn’t willing to have a bit of a harder think about things… well, yes, tempers will fray and folks’ll get annoyed.

    Me? I try to hope that thinking a bit harder’ll save us all. If the Thousand Sons are anything to go by, however, I really should know better!

    Cheers,
    Frank/Xisor

    • I don’t disagree with Phil on any particular point, and I don’t want to be the “they’re not bad, they’re good!” argument guy either. I do, in fact, agree with his basic opinions. All I really wanted to say get across, though I may have failed miserably, is that Phil sounds extremely bitter, and that’s ok, but it also means you run the gambit of losing 1/2 your audience almost immediately because so many of us have been bombarded by hate filled diatribes and rage quitters throughout the years.
      That’s why you’ll never hear me say, “Well if you don’t like it, find another game.” We don’t want to find another game. I have 11 full and 2 partial fantasy armies and 2 full and 2 partial 40K armies. I’ve invested almost a decade of my life and what must be the approximate value of a car into this hobby (not to mention the value of my time and the cost of tournies and travel and hotels…) and I know what Phil’s feeling.
      I agree, we have to hope GW can find solutions to these valid issues. If they don’t, we are going to be holding thousands of chunks of plastic for a game that no longer exists. I thank Phil for voicing his opinion and pointing out what he feels are shortcomings of our “host” in this hobby, GW.
      I guess I saw what I so often see when grading papers and inadvertently put on my teacher’s cap. I saw a passionate argument that could potentially derail itself in its tone, and that would be a shame because his points were spot on.

      Oh, and I thought your response was a bit of a brain-bender as well! ;)

      • Not bitter, just immensely frustrated at some of the decisions made. I see Tom Kirby’s interm leadership and a new, fresh, mind, when a replacement is found as an opportunity to make it about the hobby again.

  5. As a teacher myself, I can respect when others have conflicting viewpoints from my own. Phil writes from what he believes to be his honest feelings on the manner. To Censor his own writing and cover up Phil’s undying passion for this topic would be unethical and borderline criminal, in my honest opinion.

    Phil may not be a professional writer, but he has a human right to express this article in whatever way he desires. Having talked to Phil at length, I have no doubt in my mind that he is the most Pro-GW person I have ever met, and thats awesome. If you love something and care about it, you need to be able to take a critical eye and ask yourself, “Am I enjoying what I buying” if not it is our duty as consumers to point it out and make change happen.

    I acknowledge your opinion and respect it entirely, because I like to think that people who read the Shellcase are intelligent and resourceful individuals that like culturally relevant articles and information.

  6. While parts of Phil’s tone may be negative, I would argue that he’s actually got a very optimistic view of the future for GW. Tom Kirby may have been CEO during the last pro-hobby period of GW’s existence, but that is no guarantee that the next go-around will be similarly positive.

    GW is a publicly-traded company, which means it’s primary loyalty is to its shareholders, not it’s customers/fans. Mr. Kirby will be under pressure to grow revenues, and he may find it easier to do that by further increasing prices & lower quality versus making better products that are more attractive to gamers. It’s a different global economy now, and disposable incomes are shrinking for the most part. I guess the question is whether GW will choose to go after those dollars/pounds/euros/etc. by taking the easy way out and simply continuing to jack prices up while cutting costs, or if they will actually take longer-term view and make their products better.

    On a related note, the second-hand market for metal figures is booming because finecast is a terrible choice for gaming miniatures… unless you’re a company counting on ham-fisted gamers dropping their miniatures on a regular basis.

  7. Before I start, has anyone here aside from me actually read the filings required of a publicly traded company and listened to any of the annual reports? That is the place to find the company’s official position and outlook.

    When GW turned around in the recent past there were relatively few competitors that attained GW’s level of quality in miniatures and print products. Now the competition at the top end of the market is fierce and GW is no longer a premium product in an average product world. They now produce an average product at a premium price as the average has moved up to meet them. So how do they still command their prices? Momentum? I don’t know. I personally bailed two rulesets ago just because I was tired of mediocre rules that engendered nonsensical tactics.

    40k has been around for over 20 years, building on its universe. No other game has such a fleshed out storyline. I believe this is their competitive advantage. Basically they are the one that all other game companies have to try and beat. I think they understand this more than any other game company in the draconian way their protect their intellectual property, though I do personally believe they’re being a bit excessive (and I hate the fact I can’t use a freakin’ shopping cart at an online store).

    Another factor that is always ignored in discussions about GW’s business model is simple supply and demand and where the most efficient point of intersection is. One can sell a large number of cheap models or a few expensive models and end up with the same revenue. There is one intersection on the supply demand curve where profit is maximized. The prices that lead to that intersection have nothing to do with what the market would like to pay for figures, it has everything to do with what the market will pay for figures.

    I am not a fan of GW as a stock to own, because I don’t think that annoying your customer base and retailers is a good buisness model, and since I didn’t like being their customer I moved onto different games long ago. I do love the story and I do love the minis, so my eyes are always open for a reentry point.

    • I suppose that was part of my point. It’s reached the tipping point where people will no longer pay the prices. And with another price increase on the way it’s only going to tip further.

      • I think that tipping point varies for each gamer, but I do believe it’s there. Several years ago, after a few ruthless price increases, and then the elimination of the Bitz service, I’d finally had it. As someone who typically spent $2,000USD per year on GW products, often ordering directly, and thereby giving them an extra profit padding, I did an inventory of all my stock and realized I’d laid in enough stock to avoid buying anything again.

        As my armies have become irrevocably outdated, I’ve let them go until the point where I’m down to a few core forces. I no longer get White Dwarf and only get a rulebook and new codex when necessary.

        I don’t really spend less, but I have branched off, as have most of the gamers I know personally. A few hundred dollars went to a Napoleonic army and a few hundred more each to Normans, pulp, First World War, FoW, etc. In the end, my gaming life has become richer for it. I can game the American Civil War with old history wonks and Saga with more casual gamers. Gaming meet-ups are about playing what strikes our fancy that day. I would never have discovered that without GW, but now I’m doing so with very little GW.

        More and more, when I meet new gamers, they have interests beyond GW. The historical side has come up significantly in recent years. The rules are better and the figures are often amazing and at prices that get the newbies salivating. As a bonus, the fluff is amazing and written by people who can spell.

        That doesn’t mean I’m anti-GW. I’m always looking for a reason to buy back in. I want them to sell me on the idea that they have the best game in town. They did it before and I desperately want them to do it again. It just ain’t happening right now.

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