Do GW games expect too much of the player?

A small Empire patrol ready for a minor skirmish.

I bet that headline is something you don’t read every day, but I don’t mean “too much” intellectually or tactically or whatever.  This is just something I’ve been thinking about recently.  The GW flagship games are expecting more and more from the hobbyist in terms of commitment.  As discussed in this article about scale, they attempt to mash together a skirmish-game level of detail with squad-level game scale.  Historically this is because they started as skirmish games, but some bright spark noticed that skirmish games inherently limit how many models you need to buy.

Nowadays the “standard” game of a GW game is going to involve several hours, probably close to or more than a hundred models on each side (give or take; depending on the factions being fielded) and all of these models are supposed to be assembled from multi-part kits and painted.  This is all fine I suppose.  It’s traditionally how it’s been done in toy soldier wargaming.  But is the modern gamer really capable of committing this much energy to one game?  I definitely don’t think so, based on my experience.  Now that gaming has stopped being a sporadic activity and become a way of life for many, the number and sorts of games available have exploded.  You can either try and keep up, or stop calling yourself a gamer, because you can be damn sure there’ll be plenty of people out there ready to tell you that you lack the gamer cred to even have an opinion unless gaming takes up a significant amount of your time.

But are companies like GW expecting too much from us?  I can see at least two ways of looking at this.

Yes, they are operating on an old-fashioned model from before the “gamer revolution”.  Modern gamers (most of whom, statistically, are adults) just don’t have the time to commit the amount of energy these games demand without exluding other games they want to play.  There are many other games with an equal, though different measure of depth and player satisfaction that don’t expect anything like the creative energy and sheer monetary cost.  Video games for example, as Fulgrim discusses here on Tears of Istvaan.  GW and companies like them need to adapt or die.

No.  Games Workshop games and other mixed-scale miniature games are for kids.  The company is assuming you are obsessive, play only their game, and have plenty of free time because you are a kid: You aren’t out drinking, or working overtime, or at a party, or playing another game because it’s better suited to pick up and play and you only have an hour.  The company only seems to be expecting too much because you’ve made the mistake of thinking that you, as an adult, can successfully balance the demands of their game with the rest of your life.  It’s not meant to be like that.  You’re meant to play Warhammer as a gateway to adult games.  That’s their niche, and the ridiculous scale and cost in time and money is the signal that sensible grown-ups shouldn’t be playing.

I don’t think it’s that easy to tell which (if either) of these is the right answer to the question.  I’m leaning towards no, I have to say.

9 responses to “Do GW games expect too much of the player?

  • sinsynn

    I’m on the fence on this one.

    On one hand, the leap to higher point values in 40k, combined with the lack of terrain the game uses and it’s 28mm scale means that games boil down to shooting galleries/meatgrinders, where attrition is more of a factor than any actual tactics in determining a winner.

    I’ve found that the 15mm scale of Flames of War, combined with the copious amounts of terrain the game uses provides me with an abundance of strategic/tactical options that 40k just…doesn’t.
    Suddenly, the 6×4′ table is HUGE, and 24 inches is two turns of movement away at least….it’s 4 turns for infantry on foot, in fact!

    I’m an old-school strategy/tactical gamer. I still play hex-based PC games (been loving Panzer Corps lately).
    I really prefer 1500 to 1750 point games of 40k as I feel that both makes ‘list building’ more interesting, and actually leaves some room on the table for maneuver.

    GW is all about selling models, however, so I fully expect the rumored addition of Super Heavies to standard games, and maybe ‘Ard Boys point levels as well.

    GW seems to be on a ‘bigger is better’ trip in the last few years (8th edition Fantasy, and Planetstrike and Apoc), and I don’t see them slowing down.

  • Natfka

    I think Warhammer is meant for adult and or young adult players. Its cost and extensive rules limit the number of younger players able to handle the game.

    Also do not forget that this is more than just a game, it is a hobby. A hobby is treated differently than a simple game. Ask those that collect sports cards, or are involved in any other hobby, time is a requirement of the hobby. It doesnt matter how much or how little, there are different levels of dedication that people can give or want to give.

    As for the game points increasing over-all, I think this is not only a Games Workshop push, but push by us. Many of us have been in the hobby for years and have increasingly larger numbers of models (espeically now that they are mostly plastic instead of the old expensive metal armies. We also want games that are more dynamic, with multiple pushes and tactics all happening at the same time.

    Its not the same game as the old days of the hobby, nor are they the same models. Armies back in the day were all metal, and even more expensive than they are now. With plastic, we are getting more models.

  • Frontline Gamer

    James S I’ve been in the hobby as you know for 27 years, and played WFB from day one with the 1st edition. Although admittedly it was more my dad at that time humouring me and starting me off in the hobby. Things have changed very slowly with WFB at first. Second Ed was rapidly released after 1st ed and corrected minor and some major quibbles from what I can remember. But it was still the same game. WFB 3rd ed, then came out and was arguably the best version of WFB ever. Detailed rules, way more detailed than what we’ve got today and a myriad of options.

    If you want to see where the break happened and where GW started going after bigger and bigger games, you need to look at the switch from 3rd edition WFB to 4th edition. That change was something to witness. Up until that point I struggled as a child with WFB and required my dad or one of his friends to play with me to help me out. 4th ed came along and suddenly I had plastic High Elves and was able to play the game unaided. Literally over night I could play WFB.

    I thought it was great, my dad and his friends did not. I started noticing a few years later that more and more kids were trundling into GWs and actually playing games, rather than being told by staff that they weren’t toys, or weren’t for kids. That shift was a palpable change. They were going after the kids market by dumbing down their games, and the ratcheting of the scale of the game was partly to do with the simplifying of the rules but also the requirement to shift greater quantities of toys with a larger profit margin to keep the company afloat.

    Notice that nothing I have said has been about making the best game possible. Having worked for the company and still knowing many who do at all levels it is this shift, the same shift that happened from 2nd 40k to 3rd ed 40k that denotes a shift and change in the companies attitude and approach. I’m not knocking them for it. However, I think your article has hit on something I’ve been writing up, and indeed have hinted at in other articles. That I’m not too sure GW have a strategic direction anymore. They seem to be floundering and flailing around trying desperately to make money. All the time forgetting if they just made games we wanted to play they’d be OK.

  • Fulgrim

    Hi James,

    Thanks for the link. Naturally, I’m inclined to agree that GW do expect too much from their players these days – and I think it’s to their detriment. As is mentioned above, there’s been a marked shift in who GW target their games at (younger players, casual gamers) yet this has been coupled with an increased sophistication and complexity in their miniatures (which are invariably targeted towards more experienced modelers and painters – even the basic plastic space marine consists of 10+ parts. These two factors are proving to be unhappy bedfellows for one another: the time and sophistication of one isn’t leading to fruitful and enjoyable play in the other.

    GW has been losing market share and has a seriously declining number of customers (as evidenced year on year by their financial reports): however, they need to make money, which I can’t imagine anyone seriously begrudges. To increase income from a dwindling number of customers two things have happened: prices have risen, but more significantly the individual components of each game have been devalued in gaming terms so people are encouraged to buy more. The expected number of miniatures per army is now huge – almost prohibitively so. I help run a gaming club in London, and whilst this evidence is only anecdotal, the number of GW games being played each week has absolutely nosedived over the last eighteen months: in part because of the lack of comparative sophistication the games offer to adult gamers, but also because most players are sick of lugging the vast quantity of miniatures required through London rush-hour on the way to and from work (we commencing gaming straight after most people have finished work). Instead people have shifted en masse to several other systems – it’s interesting that the most popular games over the past year at the club have been Infinity, Malifaux and Warmachine – skirmish level, complex games.

    Ironically, gamers at the club aren’t spending less on gaming, in fact most are spending more: the interesting fact about skirmish games with a vast range of different types of available miniatures is that people will want to purchase every single miniature available for their faction to continually try new combinations and lists. Perversely, though, this feels like an affordable past-time as miniatures can be bought individually and introduced as and when the player decides. The individual miniatures are almost always pitched at an adult ‘pocket-money’ impulse purchase price point, too, so those passing a gaming store will be inclined to pop in, buy a single blister and then at some point add it to their faction list. This is now impossible to do with GW games: most of the GW miniature range (barring a few glaring examples) are not unreasonably priced per miniature, but the fact that they have to be purchased en masse, and utilised en masse makes the act of buying a new unit, or even worse, trying a new army or a new system, prohibitively expensive. Coupled with this, there are next to no available blisters in store for less than £10 now, making a fly-by purchase highly unlikely for most.

    There’s a peculiar economy of scale at work in GW policy at present, and if I’m being cynical, then this seems to be down to the fact that the company now has a smaller customer base to try and procure ever-increasing overheads from. There’s no official way to buy a squad box as an initial purchase and then play a game with that box – GW’s skirmish games having been relegated to the status of company lepers some time ago. It’s extremely frustrating as the Necromunda and Mordheim systems are still some of the best skirmish games around, and the GW IP is still one of the strongest and most well realised settings and deserves promotion. There just seems to be such a level of disconnect between the complexity of miniature production and the simplification of the games system, and a fatal misunderstanding of just how much work customers are prepared to do before they can even get a game on the table: these are games for children, utilising miniatures for adults, priced beyond many adult price-brackets, requiring the equivalent time of a part-time job just in preparation to then play a two hour long game. It’s a sad state of affairs.

  • Frontline Gamer

    @James S, I’d also like to thank you for the link to Fulgrims site.

    @Fulgrim, anecdotal or not, I can confirm that here within the West Midlands at 4 of the gaming clubs I frequent we’re witnessing the exact same trend as you are down in London. I’m in contact with many club chairmen all over the world as well and I’m getting similar feedback. Sometimes some of the games are different, Anima Tactics, Heavy Gear Blitz, Hell Dorado or the 3 Spartan Games systems, etc. However. the reasoning is pretty much always the same as those you’ve listed, and I’ve written about. You only have to hobby blog surf now to see that we’re not alone in thinking this. What started as a minor ripple about 24 months ago for me, has now become a surge. It really does feel like times are changing, certainly attitudes are. I’ve always played non-GW games and usually struggled to get games in… but now I’d honestly struggle to find someone willing to play me at WFB and although I think I coud get a game of 40k in, it’d be against, in the main, people I wouldn’t want to play against and there are too few opponents to keep me interested long term. That’s a HUGE shift!!!

  • Von

    I think more variety in the clubs is good. My local has people playing Warmachine, people playing WFB, usually a table or two of 40K, a couple of tables of historicals, a lot of board games and a few RPG groups tucked away in the quieter side rooms. This pleases me.

    I think the start-up cost of GW games has definitely become more forbidding, to me, than it was the last time I started up (2000). However, to be fair, I’ve changed since then as well. I have more financial responsibilities, and everything’s more expensive, not just models. I’m more concerned with building an effective army rather than just muddling through.

    People are less inclined to play small games when starting out, too: I’ve noticed that, in 2000, I could easily persuade people into a Border Patrol with my tiny Army of Sylvania, whereas these days I struggle to get anything below 1500 out of people, and I think that’s partly because the Border Patrol and Skirmish rules have vanished, and because there’s no Mordheim providing an excuse to make cool character models and then build an army for them.

    All that said, I still like Warhammer. I don’t feel that it’s been significantly dumbed down – people like to think that randomness makes for a ‘stupid’ game rather than making for a game where you have to think about insurance against the randomness. I do think that steps have been taken to make it more expensive and to encourage the ‘everything’s Official’ (and marked-up) approach… but that’s why I started contributing to the Frugal blog. Good games for cheap, that’s what I’m all about, and Warhammer is still essentially a good fun narrative-driven wargame with an emphasis on managing the vagaries of random chance. It doesn’t mean that I don’t also play complicated rules-mongering games where one brain-fart will cost you the day, just that I don’t always want to… and it doesn’t mean I buy everything that companies try to sell to me. If nothing else I’ve just found a sixth edition rulebook. Maybe I’ll try and get some WFB Skirmish goin’ on…

  • Frontline Gamer

    Heya Von, it’s not the randomness that I personally disagree with 6th ed. In fact I personally think when you look at how magic works, and at rules like Steadfast I personally think it’s significantly less random. However, if you’re enjoying it good luck to you and anyone else who is. And yep, I do genuinely mean that. lol. I too don’t always want to play detailed games all of the time, but the reality is now that their are so many bloody good options out there that I can easily find something to sate whatever gaming hunger I have without pretty much resorting to GW games. Now in the past that certainly wasn’t the case.

  • James S

    Wow great discussion! I logged in to reply to everyone this morning and the comments had nearly doubled 🙂 I was going to reply individually as you all have interesting points, but I think I’ll just say a couple of things.

    Natfka, that’s a good point about the players being partially responsible for the drive to larger and larger games, although I have to say I have never wanted larger games, and it seems Von at least agrees with me. I do have a regular opponent who is much more of a collector than me, and I can see why he would actually want to use all his awesome titans and tanks and whatnot in a game. That’s what Apocalypse and Storm of Magic are for though right?

    I have to say I’m jealous of all the diversity in the UK you guys are mentioning. GW is still pretty much king in Australia unless you’re keen for historical gaming. The price gouging has affected us though, so I’m sad to say TT gaming has taken a real hit down here.

    SinSynn, I reckon 15mm would be a good scale for warhammer and 40k for the sorts of battles people expect these days. It would open up a lot more flexibility and make the games faster. A hundred individual guys with complex stat-lines does not make for an elegant game.

    Fulgrim, couldn’t have said it better myself. Particularly this bit: “These are games for children, utilising miniatures for adults, priced beyond many adult price-brackets, requiring the equivalent time of a part-time job just in preparation to then play a two hour long game. It’s a sad state of affairs.”

    I was talking to one of my regular opponents last night and he said he’s been winding back his 40k hobby in the last few months, because he realized it was monopolizing his leisure time. And no-one wants that.

    So even though there are no real alternatives in Oz yet, the winds of change are blowing here too . . .

  • Fulgrim

    My over-riding concern at the moment is how long it will take for GW to realise that these winds are blowing: the company is like an enormous liner and takes a long time to change course. I fear that when someone does realise, then it may well be too late.

    I’m very critical of GW – I don’t think unfairly, but critical nonetheless: that being said, I don’t want the company to fail, I’m critical because I genuinely care about the products and the IP – I want the company to endure and to thrive, although I want things to be better.

    Last week, the company released a notice informing shareholders that income from licensing will this year be much higher than anticipated (I’m assuming from THQ and FFG) – so again, we’ll have another year whereby some of the more pressing structural issues (declining sales and revenue) will be masked by external factors and the company will bumble on. We’ve yet to see the impact of the trade embargo and the finecast debacle as yet, though, I suppose. Either way, the next investor report should make for interesting reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: