Monday, May 6, 2013

Why pulling Specialst Games is the wrong decision and how to "save" the "Hobby"


Let me vent first then I will begin my logical discussion on how I believe, despite any immediate financial sense it may make, closing the doors and pulling all support (except Blood Bowl I believe) for Specialist Games is a TERRIBLE IDEA. My complaint is I did not hear or see any formal anouncement, nor receive a newsletter stating this. No, I find out through the blogosphere (BoLS). Now, I am looking at making some last minute purchases before things go away and they are already not available. Now part of my collection is incomplete and possibly ruined. And if they were keep that little of inventory on many of these products to begin with, I don't see how maintianing SG was a waste of money. But I am just more pissed that I can't get what I need now that I know it will be gone and GW didn't have the guts to tell me themselves.


Okay, first you should all know I have a long LONG history of advocating Specialist Games. See the following links to previous blog posts if you'd like. If you don't care to read them in their entirety (though I hope someone from GW does) then rest assured, I am going to make several of the points again here.
Nov, 2012 "The problem with the Hobbit"
Sep, 2012 "Dark Vengeance, Chaos and Necromunda... OH MY!"
Aug, 2010 "Why I think Specialist Games need more support"
Aug, 2010 "Why I think Specialist Games need more support PART TWO"
Sep, 2009 "Wishlist: What I'd like to see GW make/do"- see bullet 5
Apr, 2009 "BFG Fanatic: My Lego Lunar Class Cruiser"

Let me now re-begin by saying I don't know the full story behind GW financials right now. I don't know why their CEO stepped down or the full consequences of their ongoing legal battles. What I do know though is they are doing a bang up job of giving their already roughshod reputation a black eye.

Now why do I say they have a roughshod reputation. Well, their hobbyists have for a long time now had a very love-hate relationship with GW, and every year it seems to become more and more polarizing. A large part of this is price driven. But alot of it comes down to other decisions made over the years (in no particular order)
1- Killing SG and GW forums
2- Revamping the website to just be a store
3- Removing bits
4- Shutting down fan projects
5- Prohibbiting online sales by 3rd party stores
6- Shutting down your bitz/sprue sales, which have thankfully come back somewhat but in such a limited way, it really doesn't support a "Hobby" of miniatures
7- Making WD a catalog and killing Black Gobbo

I probably could go on but I don't think there is much need to. Really the point is that GW has made clear moves over the years to make itself the supplier of a product rather than a hobby, and that is really what it should be about, and if that is what is is about, then the money will flow as players will stay engaged for years and years.

So how does this tie into Specialist Games. Well as I have said in the past, Specialist Games are of the GW brand, whereas LotR is not. I would love to see the Hobbit sales figures, but I imagine they are not nearly what the initial LotR figures were and are not what GW hoped for. And I also imagine that it is a very expensive license to maintain AND competes with their own fantasy line. My point is that Specialist Games can be a tool to make a complete hobby, and are the inspiration for much of what is currently in the game, such as Titans and Gargants. Or they are the inspiration for many of your beloved BL novels, drawing on elements like Arbites, Battlefleets, Hive Cities, and the Inquisition. They can be tools to enhance your own brand, the Warhammer and 40k universes. These diverse and wonderful worlds that are yours to do with as you like, and fortunately this to me is the one place you have a fairly good track record and probably thanks in large to Black Library and the enthusiastic and passionate authors over there.

What you need to realise is those Authors and your game developers and much like the hobbyists out here. They are passionate about Warhammer. I don't see many LotR blogs out there, nor coverage by the major blogs like BoLS. Warhammer Ancients had more events at Adepticon this year (although smaller, I am sure) than LotR, and there were several other SG events there as well. My point once again being that Warhammer is YOUR BRAND. Support it and you will see it grow and blossom. You are not a Video Game company. You should not be looking for the quick sell. It should all be about the long term commitment. It takes people YEARS to collect, build and paint their armies and terrain. Keep that in mind and keep their interest in your hobby.

What getting rid of Specialist Games says to me and everyone else out on the internet is that the hobby doesn't matter. There is the 3 pillars and the money they generate, and that is all. And I get it, you are a business. You need to make money. BUT you sell a lifestyle, a commitment, not just a box of plastic. Specialist Games were the embodiment of that. They were the flare in the relationship of a veteran. And not only that, I would say that every SG game I have played has better fundamental rules as a game than your flagship games. They are more advanced yes, but as a whole, just well written, thought out games with some of the most characterful and/or iconic minis of the universe.

Take this image for instance:
Most people probably couldn't tell you that was the lid to the BFG box set. BUT they instantly know that that is 40k, even though a Lunar Class cruiser never appears on their table. It just is one of the single greatest and iconic images of the 40k universe.

So to me, killing SG is just another step in killing the hobby of warhammer. It is diminishing your own brand, when it should be enhancing it. Now other companies have the opportunity to grow.

How do you do that. Well my thoughts are as follows
1- Encourage certain fan projects. Thank you for doing this with Lord Inquisitor. Ultramarines was obviously made for a quick buck and I think you had Dan Abnett just slap together a rough draft and hired some graduates of ITT Tech to make the film. But that just makes you look BAD. You want quality to attract and hold attention. If you are going to make a movie, don't half ass it. Same with a video game (Nokia N-Gage).
2- Allow companies like chapter house studios to exist. Don't worry, we won't swich off buying you products, but enhancing your products with outside bitz only diversifies my force and makes it more fun to collect. The average player can only do so much with the Space Marine parts provided and a limited budget and skill. But having an easy way to make their force more appealing to them encourages them to stick with the game. Think of it like after market add ons for a car. I still bought your car, I am just now enhancing it.
3- Support and tie in your specialist games. The reason you see no sales is because no one is told or knows about these games. And many of them are highly unique and there are several new popular games with the same premise that probably couldn't have even have survived had you not left the gap for them. Would people play Dystopian Wars if BFG had been huge? Would Dreadball have taken off if BB was popular? Would Flames of War been as great a success if Epic was still big? Maybe so (and most likely with Flames, WWII has its own appeal I will admit) BUT there is obviously a market for these types of games.  And you could excusibly slow down main releases to a more affordable rate by filling the void with small limited SG releases (even shifting old metal models to finecast).  As for possibly "saving" specialist games, why not endorse player run comittees or leagues to keep the rules and game fresh. As for the models, switch over to finecast. Keep an article about each different game in WD.
4- More industry presence. I know Privateer Press and Malifaux show up at third party cons and such and support their brand. Why does GW not do this. It would be like Nintendo not showing up at E3 or Marvel skipping Comic-con because they feel they are too good for it. You are still the big kid on the block, but that doesn't mean you are above everyone else. Yes, it isn't the GW fest that gamesday was, but that was minimized because it cost too much and wasn't profitable. But these cons are obviously able to make money, and the risk is minimized because some one else is running them. I am sure they would KILL to have a GW/FW booth and a 'eavy Metal painter and BL author show up. Maybe use events like this to announce new products or releases, or premiere a trailer for the next IA volume or codex.
5- Tournament support. I am not even really a tournament player but saying "OUR GAME IS FOR THE NARRATIVE PLAY- BLEH!" is ignoring a large part of the player base. Actively acknowledging and supporting tournament circuits, possibly as a tie in for number 4 above, would be seen as a sign that you care about your players rather than just their money.
6- Dump LotR already. It may be a gateway drug, but I think that if you really pump up your own brand, that it is uneeded. Black Library and video games are your real gateway into the hobby these days anyway. And while there are people that get into the hobby via LotR, possibly pictching Necromunda as a $50 commitement and you are playing a mini-version of 40k would be just as succcessful. Once they get a taste of the mechanics, and a deep fascination with the fluff of YOUR BRAND they will likely bite on 40k. Do the same with Mordhiem for fantasy. Heck, even make they use the same minis for the most part, maybe except for a character here and there or a small faction or two.
7- Make your website a site for the hobby, not just a store. You see how popular the blogs out here are. You may have a little blog on your site, but it is really meh. Even older WD how to paint and convert guides would be great.

And finally SELL A HOBBY. The whole kit and caboodle. Make people want to convert and expand and collect, even if that means having to allow them get a little help from elsewhere. They still need to buy your product to add those parts. I am doing a sanguinary terminator conversion because of Chapterhouse preheresy shoulder pads and eagle shields. I spent like $20 on Chapterhouse. I then bought an assault terminator squad and sanguinary guard squad and some grey knight terminator heads. That is two boxed sets from you and then parts from another boxed set that someone else had to buy from you. That is $133 in your pocket because I bought $20 of stuff from another company. Had I not been able to get those pads or shields, I would have been happy with the 5 plain assault terminators I had and never spent the money.

Support our creativity, don't push it away. Participate alongside us. Maybe a 'eavy Metal Vlog and tutorial videos online on cool projects or ideas. Interviews with the winners of Golden Daemons. COOL STUFF. Make me excited. And make me excited about your universe and all the games in it. Once upon a time all those games did well. They can sell. But you have to SELL them to me to make them sell. Letting them sit upon the warehouse shelf doesn't do that. And they may not be the best profit margins or your games, but they keep me loyal and playing more, and likely will do that long enough for a new army, revised codex, cool expansion or new edition to come out and then I, the veteran, jump right back into the main core game.

If you read all that, bravo. I am sorry it is so long. I just had to get this off my chest (again). Very stream of consciousness, so if I wandered or lost you at times, I apologize. I just hope someone from GW reads this. If all I do is make at least one person there fo "hmm" and care just that much more about the hobby in general, even without change, I will be happy.