An Open Letter to Games Workshop…

Posted: November 1, 2011 in game comments

An Open Letter to Games Workshop…

Please Note… I stopped buying Games Workshop products a long time ago as it was clearly becoming too expensive and I really took umbrage to their treatment of the GW gaming community on Boardgamegeek so I don’t really have anything good to say about them as a business other than I did enjoy playing their games back in the day. But I couldn’t in good conscience recommend them to anyone I know, particularly because their target market are young boys who will hound their foolish parents for a LOT of cash to feed their hobby and these kids will quickly drop away from gaming when their parents wake up and they have to fork out for themselves.

Here I have posted an open letter from a rather angry and frustrated friend, Chris O’Regan of the Super Happy Fun Time Show who has decided to throw down the gauntlet and start a campaign, not to put GW out of business but to save them from  themselves.

Please feel free to post your views here for Chris to respond to. All I ask is that you keep it clean guys, no matter how angry you are or I will have to delete the comment. I’m happy to let the discussion begin here…

Dear Sirs,
I recently purchased a copy of Dread Fleet, the limited edition stand alone board game you recently released from my local Games Workshop store. While there I began to browse the shelves for figures. I was doing so to see if I could use any of them for the Skaven Blood Bowl team I am currently building. As I did so I was dismayed at the price of the collections of plastic miniatures you had on sale. To say they were excessive is an understatement. I can see little justification to charge £25 for a collection of plastic models, especially when the same set would have cost a fraction of that a few years ago. I also noted the total lack of metal pewter figurines on display and the fact that only Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000 and Lord of the Rings products were on sale.

I spoke to many of my table top gaming loving peers about my experience and observations at the store and they all said the same thing; ‘I stopped playing Warhammer because it’s far too expensive now’.

This led me to carry out some research on the history of your company and how you came to be in the state you’re in now. In the late 1970’s you were once a pioneering company that brought niche, hobbyist games into Europe, most notably Dungeons and Dragons. After getting the sole rights to European distribution of Dungeons and Dragons from TSR games did Games Workshop became a profit making business, all thanks to an act of altruism which was driven by a belief in a product that you did not make, but wanted to share with others.
From that single distribution deal with TSR Games, stores started to open up nationwide and sold a variety of games, none of which were available from other retailers. After this Games Workshop had cornered the market and ushered in a new era of tabletop gaming. You published celebrated RPGs such as Call of Cthulu, Traveller and Runequest. You even started to make your own games in the form of Warhammer, Talisman, Blood Bowl, Fury of Dracula, Warrior Knights to name but a few.

It was all going so great until one day a fateful decision was made following a management buyout that would seal the fate of Games Workshop. You dropped the board games and distribution rights to products made by others and poured all of your efforts into selling Citadel Miniatures for Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 tabletop fantasy and sci-fi war-games. You even went so far as to sell off your rights of board games you made previously to Fantasy Flight Games and then refuse to sell them in your own stores. From these actions you demonstrated that you stopped caring about games and focussed on profit, to the exclusion of everything else.
Over the years you have abandoned your roots as an innovator and instead became a pariah of the tabletop gaming world. You are now universally reviled throughout the tabletop gaming fraternity. I say this for I struggle to encounter much in the way of supportive words of Games Workshop’s recent actions from within those circles. Instead I hear tales of overpricing, exploitation and worse of all; bullying. For your actions against Board Game Geek tabletop gaming web forum in May 2009 by demanding they purge all game-play aids for games on their site that you no longer produce, was an abhorrent act that sends a single message to everyone; you care for naught except profit. The irony is that ultimately this will likely lead to your undoing.

But then of course you have continued to commit even worse acts than what I have described above. For your school based events that you run to encourage new players to take up Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 is nothing short of exploitation. You catch young impressionable children and get them hooked onto your products and then have their parents pay out the extortionate prices you place upon them. As these children grow up they abandon the game thanks to fact they need to pay for the products themselves and can no longer afford to. To overcome this, you simply replace the last generation of children with another via these school based events, and so the cycle continues. If that isn’t a cynical and abhorrent act of profiteering via grooming, I don’t know what is.

The fact is that you are no longer the sole provider of fantasy based table top game warfare products. War Machine and Horde are both taking a significant amount of market share from you and also cost a great deal less. Then there is Infinity, a skirmish based combat game that requires less than 15 miniatures to play. This game also costs a tiny fraction of what you charge for the same number of models and is actually a better game than Warhammer, in many respects thanks to its innovative rule set.

So how do you turn things around? I suspect that you don’t believe you need to ‘turn things around’ at all. Indeed, in your arrogance you probably have long since ascertained that placing a ridiculous premium on your products while pursing the contents of the parents of young teenagers’ bank accounts is actually a sound business model and one that will stand the company in good stead for many years to come. You are very much mistaken. For becoming a publically owned company was terrible mistake you made, as you now have to answer to shareholders and thus profit has become your sole modus operandi. As a result, any acts by you that do not lead to an immediate increase in profit, no matter how small, are rejected.

In essence, you have lost the sense of altruism that gave birth to your company in the first place. Games Workshop came into being thanks to the desire to share a weird and wonderful game from North America with others. I challenge you that you would carry out such an act now. The mere suggestion that you would champion a game that is made by someone else and agree to distribute it would likely result in your entire directorship receiving a vote of no confidence by your shareholders.

So what’s the point of the above litany? Well I’m getting to that. You see after carrying out my research and seeing what has become of Games Workshop, I have decided to launch a campaign to bring you to your senses. Games Workshop has to be saved from itself if it is to survive, as I contest that your business model is both morally bankrupt and unsustainable. You continue to cater to an ever shrinking market that is being strangled by your insistence to place an obscenely high premium on your products. If ever there was a case for diminishing returns for the sake of an immediate yet moderate profit, then Games Workshop is a perfect case study. Nintendo found this out after the failure of the GameCube and broke free of this way of thinking by developing the Wii and broadening its audience many fold. Games Workshop could do the same, if it were to simply look to its past.

So how do I plan to do this? Well I will centre my campaign on a charter. This charter will be signed by game fans across the world and presented to you. The Table Top Gamers Charter, as it will be known, will be a list of demands made by the players of table top games to you. Akin to the Magna Carter of old, its aim is to make you see sense and embrace the hobby of table top games in all their forms as you once did and prevent your inevitable slide into oblivion. For as much as I despise your current business practices, I certainly don’t want you to cease to be.

The charter is attached to this letter and has been sent to you by way of a declaration that will be endorsed and presented with signatures at a later date. How you respond to this declaration will dictate my actions following it. Know that if the Charter is rejected wholesale by you, such a response will be regarded as evidence of your distain for your audience and the hobby you claim to support. It will also cast light onto your obsession with the pursuit of short term profit and you will be brought to account.

I certainly hope it does not come to that. For it is my belief that there are those amongst you that have a love for games and can see the benefit of thinking holistically about the hobby and not see it purely as a means to extract money from the parents of teenage boys.
I thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Chris O’Regan Author, Founder and Caretaker of the Tabletop Gamers Charter

Tabletop Gamers Charter:
1)    All retail prices of models sold within Games Workshop to be reduced by a third for large single models and half for the collection of smaller units and single special characters/units.
2)    Table top games in all their forms, be they board, card or miniature war-games by other publishers to be sold in Games Workshop Stores and via their online store.
3)    Pen and paper RPGs to be sold in Games Workshop stores and via their online store.
4)    Games Workshop is to work with other publishers to create miniatures designed for RPG and board games it does not publish itself.
5)    Games Workshop to hold gaming night events for local groups in their stores for games by other publishers as well as Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000.
6)    Both Space Hulk and Blood Bowl to be re-released and in the case of Blood Bowl have its current price dropped by a third. Blood Bowl team and star player miniatures to also be re-released with a similar price drop.
7)    Games Workshop to sponsor, support and attend consumer based gaming expos such as PAX (Penny Arcade Expo), UK Games Expo, Dragonmeet and Spiel AKA Essen.
8)    Historical fan made game-play aid bans for games no longer published by Games Workshop, to be rescinded along with a formal apology for the original banning.
9)    White Dwarf magazine is to abandon its current remit as a brochure for Citadel Miniatures and instead act as a table top gaming editorial that covers all fantasy/sci-fi war games, RPGs and board games from any publisher. It is also to include a letters page, features and a special section on game play aids and variants for table top games.
10) Games Workshop to cease its policy of running school based events.

Well, I broadly support Chris’ views, particularly because of the insidious way GW goes after young teens. And the schools are in on the act. PARENTS – Don’t let your little boy drag you into a Games Workshop store. Its an insidious trap! There are less expensive and excellent quality game systems with models that won’t cost you a fortune. 

For starters look at -

http://privateerpress.com/

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Comments
  1. Harland says:

    GW doesn’t give a crap about “gamers” as they aren’t GW’s primary customers. GW’s customers are boys 12-18. They’re not bankrupt, either, they’re making money hand over fist. Go to their site and read the financial reports, they back up everything I say.

  2. Jonathan Warren says:

    Agree with this. The posters on the window of my children’s school library advertising lunchtime Warhammer clubs make me angry. At least my children are educated enough in gaming to realise there is more to gaming than GW.

  3. VALIS says:

    Capitalism ruins everything, from the Premier League to Games Workshop. Thatcher and Reagan’s free market in effect. The online Blood Bowl league I run (Fun League) was told by GW that they were happy we didn’t infringe any of their copyright, just out of the blue!

    They’re checking up on us all.

    I agree with the letter, but the fundamentals points within it, specifically the ones about shareholders, will I fear, see this open letter ignored.

    • Bart Fish says:

      Well, Valis, without capitalism you would be too busy working in your fields or in urban poverty to think much about gaming. And in your myopia you have ignored that it was capitalism that has driven democracy and doomed the old authoritarian political order.

  4. Kevin Smith says:

    I think that Mr. O’Regan has some interesting comments but sadly has buried them in amongst some very spurious and subjective claims that weaken his overall argument.

    I support questioning GW’s pricing structure, but I suggest giving them the chance to respond. They have in fact answered many questions on this already citing the price of Tin doubling in the past 5 years and needing to reap back the research costs of their new Finecast miniatures. Their miniature products are superior in quality to much of the competition although that competition is certainly getting better. I think I would like to hear more commentary from them on this.

    I support asking GW to be more involved in the community and offering more sponsorship of Expo’s and Conventions. But again, they need to be able to respond.

    Where I think Mr. O’Regan has hurt his own argument is by claiming the company is morally bankrupt and a pariah, sadly by saying this he has all but guaranteed this litany remains an internet rant, GW won’t respond. You will however spark arguments that will last for days and then be forgotten once someone follows Godwin’s Law and calls someone else a Nazi.

    The argument that GW targeting young boys for advertising is weak, unless Mr. O’Reagan can suggest another demographic that would attract more customers. Calling McDonalds on putting collectable toys in with their food to attract kids I can understand, they are a food company trying to get kids to nag their parents. But GW is a toy company that makes toy soldiers, targeting young boys for advertising is pretty much what they need to do to market their product, taking a full page ad in ‘Knitters Monthly’ is probably not going to pay for itself.

    The Boardgamegeek purge was sad, but necessary, the copyright laws are complex but GW had to do what they did otherwise other companies could start pumping out Warhammer 40K and other GW product knockoffs citing BGG as proof that GW was not protecting its copyright. Again GW have answered this charge reasonably and completely to all who are prepared to listen. Yes, its unfortunate but a suggested solution would be for GW to licence sanctioned web kits and graphics for use by fans, questions around this instead of accusations of bullying would be more constructive in an open letter.

    Overall I think an open letter to GW on the subject of pricing structure, their move to and development of finecast miniatures and their community involvement and how they plan to do more is a fine idea. But in order to work the letter has to be something GW can respond to. Accusations that they are “Grooming” boys will be met with stoney silence and I will support GW in that because they would be wrong to respond to that.

    So Mr. O’Regan, clean up your letter, remove the subjectivity, keep it reasonable and you will have my full support. Without that what we have is yet another internet rant from that all too familiar breed of Fandom, the one who refuses to buy the products and spreads hate about the company.

    Kevin Smith.

  5. Michael Buccheri says:

    I find it funny that someone should tell GW, the only game company I know of who has been doing mostly the same thing for the last 20+ years that they need to change their business model.

    It seems to me that they are priced in a way that they can sustain themselves as a business. I do not recall seeing the owners or really any employee of GW living some lavish lifestyle, I simply see a company who knows that in order to stay in business they need to make money.

    I for one would rather see the great IP that they have continue to be supported than to have cheap mini’s for a few years only to see things like blood bowl and 40k fade away as GW fails as a viable company.

    So yet the models and the hobby cost a fair amount of money, but they also provide a huge value in the amount of pleasure they provide for that investment. If you take into account the time spent building and painting the models, reading the incredible background stories or even novels, let alone playing the games, GW provides a lot of value for the money spent.

    My disposable income has really not changed over the years, and I do not spend as much on GW as I used to, but the money I spend on the hobbies that have replaced it is about the same, and I dare say the level of enjoyment, measured in time spent playing with the product, is much less with my current distractions.

    GW hobbies are all consuming, almost a way of life, there is not much else out there that can even compare to this.

    So my reply to this letter is that if you think that the value provided by GW is not sufficient to the investment, then buy another product, and let GW fail as no one buys their stuff. So far everyone I have seen try this is still waiting for them to go away.

    -Malloc

  6. rivcoach says:

    Interesting responses guys. Thanks. I don’t have an issue with GW making money. That’s business. But my main issue is their targeting of the young audience and as a parent I can appreciate very well the challenge that represents. Its one thing to do it via advertising and marketing. It’s a whole other thing to do it through game clubs in schools. Don’t tell me that they are doing it out of the love of gaming or for altruistic reasons. If they did what Imagination Gaming does here in the UK, I would support it enthusiastically. But it is clearly a ploy to suck in the easily influenced. For me, that is wholly unacceptable.

  7. Steve says:

    You’re now the second person I’ve seen suggesting tha Games Workshop should expand their stock to board games, card games and RPGs:
    (http://thefrontlinegamer.blogspot.com/2011/09/is-it-time-games-workshop-split-itself.html)
    Personally I think this is a bad idea as it would destroy so many friendly independent game shops in the UK as they would never be able to compete with Games Workshops potential buying, supply chain and selling power.

  8. James says:

    Wasn’t this old hat and old news 25 years ago in 1986 after “SOD OFF BRYAN ANSELL” ? I recognise your characterisation of GW and your charter is lovely but more than a little crazy sounding – the company you are appealing to ceased to exist a quarter of a century ago so I’m not sure who you are talking to. Why not send the same charter to ASDA? it would make about as much sense.

  9. I asked Paco Jean from the GMS Magazine to share a post from his website that he wanted to post on the BGG thread but it was rightly locked due to the quite frankly, rude and nasty trolling by some very sad people who clearly need to get a life outside of gaming and learn some social skills as they ruin the community of BGG. I wholly support Paco’s outrage at the horrible behaviour.

    Recently I read this post in the Boardgamegeek website and the comments that it enthused.

    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/718975/an-open-letter-to-games-workshop-let-the-campaign

    How thoroughly disappointing to read some of these comments.

    Let me see if I have made sense of this.

    Someone gets pissed off because they believe (rightly) that Games Workshop are extorting the hobby and hobbyist, and because their practises are less than ethical, decides to write a letter in rage, which he is entitled to, and makes it public.

    Let’s forget about whether the letter has a leg to stand on or not, that’s not what brings me to this point.

    What do people do? Insult, belittle and destructively criticise someone for exercising his right to freedom of speech.

    Apart from the few who have actually contributed congruent and civilised responses (thank you for that guys), exactly what sort of people are you?

    “Nerd rage”. Are we, in this particular website, using the word “nerd” as an insult? Aren’t we nerds and geeks entitled to rage? What sort of idiot calls someone else a nerd as an insult?

    Not to be able to write a detailed response to his letter because you’d get a 24months ban? So what, you can’t write without insulting, laughing or bullying? Your writing skills truly are that limited? You put yourself under a very unflattering light there. Pathetic.

    To complain that someone wants to entice change in a company that needs it is nothing to be insulting about. If you don’t like what he wrote, do offer some alternatives. That’s what thinking people do, you know…

    Quite frankly, and please don’t let me know if this offends you, I truly don’t care, some of you have the puerile attitude of petulant teenagers.

    Shame on you.

  10. AngelofRuin says:

    I like GW games and have played them for over 20 years now. I also play tabletop RPG’s, boardgames and other wargames on a regular basis. I have my own GW collections, that are a little out of date now, but still usable. The products are expensive, I’ll agree with you there, but no more expensive than any other similar games.

    This Charter is madness. What gives anyone the right to dictate to a company how to operate, and what does it matter? Kids enjoy the game and if their parents didn’t buy them GW products they would spend the money on something else instead. It’s not going to do any harm, and GW are not going to jeopardise “The Hobby”.

    I recommend that you stop letting it bother you and get on with playing games that you DO enjoy as this is a total and utter waste of time and effort. life is just too short my friend.

    Happy Gaming!

  11. Matthew says:

    I agree that they’re predatory, unfair to independent retailers, their planned obsolescence business model is very consumer un-friendly, and that they price gouge like crazy, but honestly, i think i’d rather watch them go out of business. Schadenfreude!

  12. Eddie says:

    Yes, the prices are high, but take into consideration that many find a great return on their investment through hours of fun, social interaction, and immersion in a richly detailed and well tailored mythos. GW’s products are aimed for a niche audience who willingly hand over their loot because they love the game that much. Also keep in mind that GW is not a guargantuan megacorp like Wizards. A small market of target customers means that everyone must pay more in order for the company to stay afloat. For those pissing and moaning about how evil and heartless Capitalism is, consider this. If it weren’t for a free market and companies who work to make a profit, you’d be too busy subsistence farming or waiting in line for your weekly bread ration to even worry about gaming in your free time. Businesses exist to make a profit and provide a good or service. You get what you pay for. If you refuse to make the investment, that’s your choice. There are plenty of other options out there. Looking at both sides of the fence though, the BGG incident was a bit dodgy and GW needs to loosen up their stranglehold on vendors a bit. The bottom line is, GW is a business, and a business can’t just throw their products out at bottom dollar and stay afloat. They offer quality product (with the exception of the botched Finecast line) at a price that reflects such. I understand that many are frustrated. The hobby is expensive and can break the bank if one rushes into it impulsively. We would all love it if Citadel product prices were slashed in half (or even more) but we have to look at it objectively and with logic. Not calling anyone dumb, or trying to be condescending but its’ simple economics folks. You have the choice to buy in or look elsewhere for your tabletop gaming addiction. A BMW or Jaguar costs more than a VW or Buick, and for good reason. A product that costs more to produce will ultimately take a bit more out of the consumer’s wallet.

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