Corporate Opacity

Gamers and games designers: it shouldn't be like this.

Ah Games Workshop.  They’re a strange beast whose ways are arcane and incomprehensible to the likes of us.  Or maybe they just blunder around with no clue and no rationale behind their actions at all.

Who can say?

I read this on Faeit212 last week and it shocked me:

” . . . They have also said that there will be more info on the 16th of May. Until then, anything else is just redshirt talk. They get fired for leaking the truth.”

If this is true (and let’s face it, it’s on the internet ;)) I want to know why.  Why are GW employees threatened with dismissal for “leaking the truth?”  Why do we even use the word “leaking?”  We aren’t talking about international espionage and the security of nations here.  We’re talking about people who love their silly, trivial gaming hobby wanting to know what the design studio is working on at the moment so that they can plan their purchases.

Again on Faeit212, we see a post about a possible Sisters of Battle PDF and unsubstantiated news that Blood of Kittens (the source of the rumour) as well as several other sites have been threatened with legal action and taken down.  This just raises the questions again.  Why would a games company need to conceal what they are working on?  Here are just a few reasons I can think of, and here are reasons why these reasons are invalid or needlessly exploit the customer.

The company wants to build anticipation.  OK, seems fair enough, but this is actually very counter-intuitive.  You can’t anticipate something if you don’t know it’s coming.  Anticipation requires transparency.  Next!

The company understands that the hobby they sell is expensive, time consuming and involves a long term commitment.  They therefore wish to take away the power of their customers to effectively plan purchases.  That’s a good reason for corporate opacity if you’re a Games Workshop shareholder.  Bad news if you’re a customer.  Oh, and here’s a little word to the wise for the Games Workshop shareholders: people these days are not generally fools when it comes to consumption.  They know what you’re doing.  Even if they’re wrong, this is what it seems to them that you are doing, so it’s only a matter of time before this suspicion damages your financial return.  Next!

Other companies might steal your idea before you can make it.  Right, well, all I have to say to this is that in the games industry, any company that blatantly steals your idea is not really a competitor, they are a parasite.  They only exist because your company has such an enormous cache with consumers.  Not only that, there are laws against IP theft and big companies have lawyers, as we all know.  You have all the power, really.  What you should be afraid of is other companies coming up with different ideas that people like and that compete with yours.  Other companies that work with their community of customers rather than against them.  Next!

And finally, what if you want to go back on what you previously said?  What if, say, you started work on something, announced it, and then changed tack?  Well, so what?  Just be honest.  Say “this is what we’re running with right now” instead of “this is set in stone.”  You’ll build good feelings towards your company for being honest.  If there really is a backlash, apologize!  You’ll get respect.  But there won’t be a backlash if you’ve kept people informed.

Really, corporate opacity in the hobby industry bugs the hell out of me.  It is a hopelessly outdated stance to adopt in the world of instant information transfer and social networking.  People love trading information, not gossip and speculation.  They only trade gossip when there’s no information to be had.  Building a community that includes your customers as well as your employees and designers is what’s important for continued success in the modern world, not some adversarial 1960s advertising model that tries to trick the stupid lemmings.  Withholding information of hobby releases is exploitative of the consumer, simple as that, and we know it.  Modern consumers have been proven to shift their purchases away from companies that are perceived as being exploitative of the environment, the poor, minorities or just their customers.  Want to avoid this happening to your company?  Don’t do things that make people feel like you are withholding information from them.

This has been a problem with Games Workshop’s approach for as long as I can remember.  Many companies have forums or message boards where players and designers can interact.  Not Games Workshop.  We all know that printed magazines are an outdated medium, but even Dragon and Dungeon magazines (may they rest in peace) included letters pages where players could communicate openly with designers and company reps.  White Dwarf has never allowed this, to my knowledge.  It’s seriously one of the only magazines I can think of with no letters page.  It’s behind the times for a magazine, a medium that is itself all but dead!

Stop hiding, Game Workshop, and treat your customers with respect.  You’re only hurting yourselves, and I don’t want you to be hurt – I love the hobby you sell and I don’t want it to die out.  Keeping secrets is a bad idea.  If you have a consultant who’s telling you otherwise, don’t listen to him.  I’m one of your customers, and I’m smarter than he is.

11 responses to “Corporate Opacity

  • #2501

    The last White Dwarf only codex was Blood Angels, if I recall, and eventually they got one of the best -loved codexes out there. Maybe can we expect the same for our beloved girls in armor?


  • James S

    Yeah, the keyword there is eventually!

    I don’t understand why they can’t just tell us what’s going on. Why punish their employees and customers for uncovering something that doesn’t even need to be a secret?

  • Capn Stoogey

    White Dwarf did used to have a letters page, going back years and years, who knows why they canned it?

    I personally think transparency would garner them more sales, simply through building excitement about a given kit.

    With regard to planning purchases, opacity makes them jerks. Take the long hinted at Thunderhawk for example.

    I know if it actually happens I’ll be first in line to buy one, or two.. Or three… (from Maelstrom however…) Though if they just came out and said “Yes, it’s on the way” I could plan to save for it over a few months, rather than just racking up another few hundred on the bloody credit card!

    They really have plugged the leaks fairly well over the last year or so. I really don’t understand why they feel the need to hide future releases from us when all I can see transparency doing is generating positive buzz, not to mention greatly improving their “Overlord in the Ivory tower” reputation!


  • Thor

    Doh, sorry if I sent my comment more than once. I think maybe it’s being held for moderation or something and not realizing that I submitted it 2-3 times.

  • Thor

    Man, you really got to get set up with Disqus 😛

    My comment which appears to not have shown up simple said, “Great article!”.

  • James S

    @Thor, yeah, tell me about it! It’s not just me though, I’ve had trouble commenting on Musings of a Metal Mind, A Gentleman’s Ones, and Game Over in the last few weeks. I’ll type this huge post, sign in with Google, and then blogspot will return an error 😦

    Disqus seems to be the only stable discussion platform at the moment.

    Oh and thanks for the compliment 🙂

  • James S

    @Capn Stoogey, that must have been ages ago that WD had a letters page. Imagine what would happen if they allowed customers to engage them in dialogue now, after 20+ years of resentment against not being able to communicate with them directly!

    It would be a sight to see 😀

  • kaptainvon

    The letters page in White Dwarf appeared while I was in my GW gaming prime, so I’m guessing it to have been somewhere between twelve and seven years ago. Their forums were only shut down within the last five years, and I believe Jervis used to do the rounds on Warseer a while back, occasionally surfacing to resolve issues like Why GW Cancelled The Squats.

  • James S

    @kaptainvon, all that must have happened in the ten or so years between 2nd and the end of 4th edition when I stopped playing 40k and just painted the odd miniature.

    I wonder why they stopped interacting with the customers? It must have been a deliberate decision.

  • Alex

    I worked as a red shirt for about a year around 2003. Neither myself or my coworkers were threatened with getting fired if leaked any info to customers. We also weren’t told a hell of a lot about upcoming releases anyways (although I did get to see pictures of the Lizardmen several months before their 6th edition release but that was because the manager knew I collected them).

  • James S

    @Alex, I thought it sounded a little far-fetched, but you never know with secretive organizations 😉

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