Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Games Workshop Was Right to Dump Specialist Games

Yep, they did the right thing if the rumours are true and ye old Specialist Games are going the way of the Man O War / Space Hulk / Dark Future / Chainsaw Warrior and so on.

Let me tell you about my opinions.

Why do I say this?

Well GW is a miniatures company first and foremost - they've said as much and they take (mostly) deserved pride in the quality of their new releases. But Specialist Games were, for the most part, a bit of a blot on that record.

For example, saw you saw one of Forge World's beautiful Warhounds:

But thought "hey, 250 quid is a bit much, but I love Titans so maybe I'll give this Epic game a look..."
Not so much interest now, I'd wager. One of the best looking minis available (not so much anymore) for Epic is the Phantom Titan, who turns 25 this year. Yes, Games Workshop, the leading light of miniatures technology, is selling miniatures it first released over two decades ago. Whether that's a testament to Jes Goodwin's skill and vision, or a sign they've never really known how to move Specialist Games forward, or both, I'll leave up to you.
Similarly there have been more "fantasy football" teams put out by non-GW companies than by GW themselves in the last decade, and the old models do not compare in most cases:

The way I look at it this: Specialist Games figures are the Christmas jumpers of miniature lines. They're too ugly to actually use, but you know your granny will get really upset if you throw it out.

Gee thanks, Grandpa Jervis, it's just what I wanted!

So instead they hang around the joint and you hope when you're showing off your wardrobe to a new squeeze they don't see them and laugh their ass off at you (to clarify this metaphor: you're GW and the girl is a new customer).

Just be honest and chuck 'em out - you never wear it and it's taking up space. The argument is made that the Specialist Games range was still profitable, but barely. That's... not a good argument for a business, especially one that seems to be doing loads of cost cutting in the way GW is (and the whole global economic turbulence thing). Say that one out of every ten casting jobs was for a Specialist Games range - and I'm probably being generous here. If you get rid of that you would, in theory, get a greater than 10% increase in another area as you would have the casting time plus the time needed to change moulds and so on shifted over. That would mean increase in production of the lines that sell well, so you can get them stocked up for their new release and out the door, concentrating then on the next lot.

Some, like Lord Frontline, pictured to the right, have indicated that GW were simply sitting on their stock since the Finecast introduction, and this is merely the last dregs of stock disappearing. But regardless, time taken from the logistics workforce to deal with Specialist Games, as well as just physical space, can now go to stuff that sells.

"But, mighty Gotthammer," I hear you cry as you grovel before my dread throne, "Blood Bowl / Epic / Necromunda still has players! What will become of that once great community now that our support is gone?"

Erm, what support? I guess it was nice of GW to put up the PDF rulebooks, but I've seen in discussion threads about this very topic enquiries about rules directed to go to fan site to get the latest fan-updated editions. As Porky the Wise, that intrepid traveller of the expanse, would say "the game is now totally in our hands. But, of course, it always has been. Also, there is no game, there is only ourselves."
Nothing, short of a DMCA notice *cough*, can stop people playing Blood Bowl or Necromunda. Hell, the Blood Bowl PC game comes with the rules as a PDF.


What should GW do now? I think they have three main options, and I'll address them in what I consider order of least to most likely to happen:

1) Re-release. They'll totally redo all the ranges and re-launch the Specialist Games line with much fanfare and it will be 1995 all over again. I find this unlikely because of the sheer amount of capital required to resculpt / move to finecast and build up stock for what is a gamble that gamers will, in fact, put their money where their mouth is and buy Specialist Games in any volume.
It is more likely that one or two games may be moved, Blood Bowl has been rumoured for some time and has a bit more exposure with the PC game, and Necromunda's miniature line still holds up well (much thanks to Jes again, no doubt).
The success of Space Hulk has shown there is demand, but I understand GW's trepidation to invest so much capital on a risk at a time of economic uncertainty (double given what some of their more... unusual corporate moves of late may indicate).
Also, they may have missed the boat for other titles. In the skirmish stakes Mordheim is effectively superseded my Malifaux, Freebooter's Fate and more; Necromunda by Infinity and Relic Knights to a certain degree. While Epic has been nobbled by Drop Zone Commander and the currently Kickstarting Robotech Battles for small-scale sci-fantasy. And there is, of course, Firestorm Armada taking over BFG's slot.
Had they done this even five years ago when the indies were still in their infancy GW could have potentially cleaned up. Or, like many big corporations reacting to upstarts, it could have lost a boatload of money (see TSR vs Magic the Gathering).
Also costs around four times as much.

2) Licencing. Most likely to Fantasy Flight, but perhaps to a new player. GW has shown they can make a lot of money with their IP through the RPG books and various games. They've also shown savvy by getting paid to let others take the risk for stuff they don't want to do (movies). However none of those have been real miniature games. The closest are Fantasy Flight's board games, and I'm not sure GW would be willing to outsource it's core area, or it would likely be so restrictive / costly for the licensor they may find the going tough.

3) Nothing. Yep, I think GW's likely course of action in the near future will be nothing. They'll let the dust settle long enough for this to all be forgotten or just remembered with a roll of the eyes or a joke like the Squats, and then, when the time is right, maybe bring one or two titles back. Perhaps they're waiting out the expiry of the LotR agreement, and we'll see Specialst Games, or maybe just a singular game, back with a vengeance in three or four years.

So I do think the loss of Specialist Games is sad, and certainly and end of an era, but it is also a positive in that it will no longer be confined to a hellish semi-death for decades on end with no reprieve, and that any activity within GW will now solely be on new products, be they re-imaginings of the forgotten games or simply faster updates of the current generation.

No comments:

Post a Comment