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.