Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Rant and Ramble About Games Workshop

I'm still trying to find background music for my next video (although odds are it may end up music-free), so in the meantime I thought I'd do this up to fulfil the "Ramble" half of the blog's title.

Now; I'm going to be blunt - I am not a fan of Games Workshop as a company.  I like their two main Warhammer settings (moreso 40k than Fantasy, but the latter is growing on me), I like many of the more recent video games based on those franchises and I'm keen to try out two that'll be coming later this year or something next year.  But GW themselves are screwing themselves faster than a Slaaneshi Cultist who mutated a bunch of rather-sensitive tentacles.

The Darkness Crawls Forth
Some of the earlier stuff had people disappointed, but in hindsight they were a sign of things to come - closing down the official forums is never a good sign from a company but people migrated to various fan and community sites like Warseer, it was annoying but nothing too bad in the overall scheme of things.  Support for the Specialist Games died off as well (these were a bit before my time, so to speak, so I'm not sure what order most of this occurred in); Mordheim, Inquisitor, Battlefleet Gothic, even Blood Bowl were now no longer directly supported by GW and that whole section of the website was eventually removed entirely.  Now this was a bigger thing; fans managed to keep Blood Bowl updating somewhat and websites like FUMBBL kept it alive.  How well the others were maintained varies; Inquisitor got a few fan-supplements I saw and I wouldn't be surprised if Mordheim and Necromunda got some of the same.

Then thing started going downhill in regards to their pricing.  Models were getting more expensive each year and when they claimed that they didn't raise the price on something they were only technically true - when they said that the Dire Avengers kit wouldn't change price, for example, they were telling the truth, they just glossed over the fact that they halved the number of models in the kit so you'd have to buy two of them to field a full ten-man unit of them.  They also had some aggressive changes to their trade agreements that raised the price even further, then ham-strung online retailers by forcing anyone wanting to sell their products to also sell them in a brick-and-mortar store.  Needless to say; most online retailers don't have physical stores and just work from home.  And a lot of their income at the time would have been from selling GW products.

But of course, things were going to get a lot worse.

Daemons of Intellectual Property Rise
Then there was Damnatus.  Now as annoying as this next bit was; I don't blame GW for this, I'd have done the same in their position, but explaining it is a bit of a pre-req for the next big mistake.  Now, Damnatus was going to be a live-action fan-movie of Warhammer 40k, dealing with a handful of people co-opted by the Inquisition to investigate rumours of heresy on a Hive World.  Production stills, trailers and behind-the-scenes photos all looked promising and I was a big fan of the Tech Priest character's costume (amazing what you can do with a bunch of old mobile phones, a VCR, a gas mask and a whole lot of glue and duct-tape - even if the poor guy using it nearly fainted from how damn hot the robes made it).  The film was all done and ready for release when a particular clause in German copyright law (which Damnatus fell under due to being a German creation) came up and GW had to do something fans hated, but that any company would have done the same thing.

The clause, basically, stated that an artist has irrevocable rights to their work.  Solves a fair few issues; makes it a damn-sight harder for someone to steal an artist's work but, as Damnatus unwittingly showed, raises hell for fan-works.  Had GW let the film be released, then the 40k intellectual property would've essentially become public domain in Germany, meaning anybody in Germany could make anything for it and wouldn't have to pay a cent in licensing.  Not sure how that would've affected the rulebooks for the tabletop but I wouldn't be surprised if it would let people print and publish their own copies of the rulebooks and codices for free.  Either way; GW canned the movie and added a clause to their IP that said people couldn't make any fan-movies of their work.

So how does that tie in with the next big screw-up by the wargaming behemoth?  Well, this issue got them to suddenly take a closer look at their IP regulations - going from relatively lax about it to outright draconian.  They started going after any and every website displaying their images (their logo, publicity photos of their models - I think photos of your own models got a pass since you'd have painted them yourself, and so-on), with many websites getting shutdown all together.  All this came to a head when they tried to get a book taken down from Amazon by claiming that it infringed on their trademark.  That book was Spots the Space Marine by M.C.A. Hogarth.  They claimed that the book infringed on their European trademark on 'space marine'.  GW appear to have dropped the claim as the book went back up on Amazon not long after and they may have dropped it due to the massive internet backlash against them for the move.  Figures like Cory Doctorow and the digital rights group, Electronic Frontier Federation, questioned GW's right to trademark a term as generic as 'space marine', something that dates back to a story published in an American sci-fi magazine from the early 1930s.  Wikipedia has a big list of where the term's been used and when a military unit in a story has fit the archetype but been called something else.

After that, GW's been somewhat less... zealous... when it comes to protecting their IPs (part of that could have been due to them getting ChapterHouse Studios shut down - which I'm not too familiar with so use that link to see what the hell I'm talking about).  And after THQ went under, they became a lot more free in who they let license the video game rights to their products.  TotalBiscuit did a video on this - The Codex Astartes Does Not Support This Game - and he explains it far better than I can.  But whatever benefits this might have is dwarfed by the absolute bone-headedness of their next decision.

The end of Warhammer Fantasy Battles.

The Death of an Ancient Land
This was their biggest mistake, in my book. Their oldest wargame, the giant that put their name on the map - if someone hears the name of their company they'll think of either 40k or Fantasy. Even their biggest spin-off game, Blood Bowl, uses the Fantasy setting. When they started releasing books for 8th Edition Fantasy under the heading The End Times, I don't think anyone actually thought they'd be the end of the setting.

Replacing a game with another one isn't too bad, but replacing a wargame with a framework for competitive play with one that both lacks that framework and adds a bunch of 'silly' rules is another thing entirely!  And the latter is exactly what GW's done - replacing Warhammer Fantasy with Age of Sigmar.  See; AoS doesn't have a point system for building your army.  This means there's no reason to take the cheaper, cannon-fodder units anymore.  See; in Warhammer Fantasy, a Skaven player would take units of Clanrats as cheap, expendable troops to bog down the enemy elite troops or otherwise act as a screen for their more expensive units.  In Age of Sigmar; there is now no reason to take Clanrats as everything they can do, Stormvermin can do better.  That's just one example, but it basically makes the cheap, rank-and-file troops you used to take only because they're cheap now serve absolutely no purpose.

As for what I meant by silly rules; here are the ones quoted on Wikipedia.
"If, during your entire hero phase, you can maintain a dignified (even arrogant) composure and not smile, smirk or laugh regardless of your opponent's antics, you may re-roll all hit rolls of 1 made for models in a Dragon Host until your next hero phase. (Dragon Host, High Elves, page 28)"
"You can re-roll any failed hit rolls when attacking with the Runefang so long as you have a bigger and more impressive moustache than your opponent. (Kurt Helborg, The Empire, page 4)"
And so-on.  Now I have nothing against this style of game (doubly-so if you can get a suitably-impressive false moustache and do your best General Melchett impression - BAAAAAHHH!), but I do have issue with them using such a style of game to replace one designed for competitive play and that could support balanced tournaments (whether the game itself was actually balanced or not is another story, of course).

Sadly; there is one more nail for GW's coffin - probably not the last but it's gotta be in the last handful - and its one that explains a hell of a lot of GW's business practices over the last several years.  A news post appeared on an investment website from someone who had shares in GW and attended their annual general meeting.  Over the course of the AGM, the person who posted it realised that GW's priorities are far from what tabletop gamers would want.  The article - Games Workshop AGM: A Relentless Profit Machine - can be boiled down to a few salient points.
  • GW does not conduct market research
  • They assume that just 20% of their customers are actually interested in playing their games and that the rest are just in it for the models
  • They won't go making games like X-Wing, with pre-built and pre-painted models because then they would be a toy company, not a hobby company.
  • Whatever they make from licensed products (mainly the video games but I expect that other games, like the RPGs from Fantasy Flight) is inconsequential because such gamers don't become modellers.
You can read the full article for more details, but I think those get the general point across.  They genuinely and quite literally no longer care about the people actually playing their games.  People have been joking and suspecting this of them for years but getting actual confirmation of it is... well let's just say that faith in the company is probably going to nosedive eventually.

My Predictions
Games Workshop's days are numbered.  Or at least; the days of them actually designing rules are numbered.  It would not surprise me at all if they suddenly change their name to Citadel or Forge World or the like and just become a pure model-making company and we'd have to rely on licensed products or the Black Library to keep their settings alive.

Some of the actual gamers (the speculated '20%', a number I personally call bullshit on, that GW is ignoring) are probably going to start migrating over to Mantic Games - it's basically becoming Games Workshop if it weren't run by profit-mongering assholes (a description that I think holds a lot more water after that article above).  Their two wargames - the fantasy-based Kings of War and the sci-fi Warpath - seem just as good from what I've heard, have some rather interesting gameplay mechanics and the models are a damn-sight cheaper.  Okay; they have a lot less gothic filigree, but that's a personal preference thing and nobody at Mantic's stupid enough to poke the copyright-and-trademark bear.  And Fantasy players can still use their models for Kings of War (40k players might be able to do the same for Warpath, but the factions don't line up as well).  Plus Warpath hasn't killed off its space-dwarves, so there's that.

Most of the other wargames on the market that I know of would be incompatible with the existing GW models.  Sure; you could use them, but in some cases it might feel off and in others they could mess with the gameplay mechanics (ie; Warmachine and Hordes have all of their movement, special attack and line-of-sight rules keyed off the size of the model's base and have four specific sizes - WFB's square bases just wouldn't cut it).  But for those willing to shell out money for a whole new game; there's no lack of them out there.  The aforementioned Warmachine and Hordes, Corvus Belli's Infinity, Malifaux from Wyrd Games, Dropship Commander from Hawk Wargames - those are all just off the top of my head, too.

And aside from that, there's always going to be those Warhammer veterans who keep WFB alive - still running games in their local clubs as long as they can still get models (which, worst-case scenario, they have to start buying off Mantic once GW fully stops production of their WFB minis).

So that's my view of the situation but the big thing that annoys me about AoS replacing Fantasy is that we're finally getting a Warhammer Fantasy video game people have been clamouring for for the last decade but only after the game it's based on has been discontinued.

Anyway; now that all that's out of the way, time to go back to my search for fitting background music for the next video.

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