09/08/2009

GW, a question of value...

So, I wanted to talk today about Games Workshop. Not focussing on a single product, but on the whole GW ecosystem.

First let me give you a bit of background. I am a long time fan of GW; I've been playing their games since i was 6 years old (some 23 years ago now!). I've played all of their major games systems and owned most of them, as well as building large armies for both 40K and fantasy. I also kept up with all of the smaller systems that they produced (with the notable exception of Dark Future - if anyone has a copy they want to sell me for a reasonable price, please email me). I'm also an ex-staffer of GW, I worked for several years at the Manchester store, then the Warrington store and finally the London Ealing store. I had a lot of fun working at GW, and I've always felt (whether as a customer or an employee) that GW was basically a company that i respected.

Recently though, I've been feeling more and more that I'm no longer the target base for Games workshop, and that the money gouging has got to be too much. I can fully understand why GW has moved over to having plastic armies, in many ways its utterly sensible - no more replication of models, easier to assemble and with the improvements in the plastic moulding process the models have become a lot better than the ones I remember from my youth (anyone else remember the plastic gretchin from the 3rd edition of 40K?). However, in my mind I've always felt that the plastic kits should be a lot cheaper than they actually are. For example the new Cadian squad box has had its price reduced to £11.75, but the number of models in the box has also been reduced, by half - but the price has not been reduced by half (It used to be a box of 20 models). And worse still, to make a full squad with proper weaponry (i.e. without the rubbish grenade launchers!) you still have to go out and buy a special weapons pack at £7.85. So a total cost £19.60 for a single squad. And you need 3 to for a single troop choice.

I also have a bit of a problem with their armour models. For example the new Leman Russ is quite a nice model. But its £30! Now given the cost, I would actually expect that the moulding and construction would be a lot better than what i saw in the store the other day. For example the image to the left - notice that the glacis doesn't fit properly and the two halves of the gun barrel don't join properly. When you compare this to (for example) some of the recent Tamiya models that are roughly the same price, you start to wonder what exactly your £30 is going on. For example, the Tamiya kits generally include etched brass, some include turned brass barrels and many also feature bonus figures or accessories. I understand that there is an issue of scale here (as in I assume Tamiya sell a lot more kits that GW), but even so, I do feel that the value in the Tamiya kits is much higher per £1 spent.

Now don't get me wrong, GW still produce some products that i think are very well priced and worth their cost. Black Library produce some excellent fiction works and Forge World (whilst pricey) sells products that, for me, correspond in quality to the price charged (well, some of the models do. The Titans and a few other things are ridiculous prices!). Some of the paints (washes / foundation) are excellent as well and well worth the money, I just feel that the vast majority of GW's products have lost their value, or rather the price has increased to the point where the cost out weighs the quality.

As a more detailed example, I wanted to talk about the new brushes that GW have started producing. Its been a long time since I purchased GW brushes. I always found that they split, mainly due to the fact that they were synthetics. Over time i found other manufacturers that used Kolinsky sable (such as the Prince August brushes, Windsor and Newton and my favourites em4). However, when I was in the store the other day, the staff told me about their new "hand tied, Kolinksy brushes", which he promised me wouldn't split. I took a look and they looked like reasonable brushes, so I purchased a few to test with. Its a lot easier for me to nip in to GW when i need a new brush rather than the usual internet order, so I really wanted them to be good quality. Again, they are more expensive that the competitors. I got home and started to work on the new McVey miniature. Twenty minutes in, and what do you know, I've got a split brush! Now I'm a painter who takes very good care of my brushes. This brush had had very light usage and already its starting to fray. Given the cost, I would expect better.

Now I'm sure that a lot of people are going to be saying "Well if you don't like the cost, don't buy the products". And I would agree, that's a sensible position to take, and where possible, I try to buy from other companies. But I do fear for the future of GW when it scares away players with 20+ years of gaming experience. Surely we are the lifeblood of the gaming scene? Sure, the hobby needs the younger players coming in, but not at the expense of the old players. I also worry that GW has finally given up any pretence of actually caring about its games, and its all about "the bottom line" these days. It probably sounds very cynical, but I definitely noticed a change at GW when it was floated on the stock market; and that change seems to have continued the drive to the bottom of quality over the years.

Maybe I've just grown out of the GW spoon fed ecosystem and have realised that i can get better quality at a cheaper price elsewhere? Maybe GW has actually changed? I'm really not sure, but i do know that GW will now be getting less of my disposable income, which is a shame as they are a company that i have had a long association with.

As always comments are welcome! I'm really interested to see what other people think on this subject. Am I just becoming a grumpy old man?

PS - Just wanted to add this small point. I think a great example of the GW "rush to the bottom" is White Dwarf magazine. When I started buying White Dwarf (around issue 100) it had a lot of articles about gaming in general, there were small games published (Confrontation anyone?) and was generally an interesting read. Now WD seems to be nothing more than a catalogue that i pay £4 for. I can read it in a single tube journey back from work, and with the exception of Jervis' Standard Bearer article has little of interest. The main focus seems to be selling you more plastics now, and I for one, find this a real shame


23 comments:

Admiral Drax said...

I try not to be a grumpy old man, but I am inclined to agree, and your point about the Cadian plastics is the perfect example. That's a disappointment about their new brushes, too.

Also, I have to agree with you about White Dwarf. I don't object to their self-promotion (it's what I buy into, after all) but it'd be wonderful if they made the content more interesting and extensive. There's a wealth of writing talent there, and some of the editors can even proofread: why not have more articles? More editorials? More columns?

Mind you, at least the format's settled down for a bit. Over the last three years they've tried countless new formats and features - most of which sank with neither trace nor explanation.

Hmmm. It's a shame that prices are hiked so rapidly. It's a shame that whilst the quality of the kits improves the prices skyrocket; and ultimately, it's a real shame that all the nice little bitz and extras (like tank accessory sprues) are no longer a given. Way to kick the veterans.

GW-by-numbers, anyone?

RonSaikowski said...

Personally I buy mostly non-GW stuff when it comes to modeling/painting supplies.

I've only got one real army because of the cost associated with buying models these days.

And as far as White Dwarf, I like the pictures but it's not more else for me.

Shrink to Fit said...

The example of price gouging I would like to share with the group can be found on the square-basing side of the hobby in the form of the Empire Greatswords.

This kit is a wonderful kit (from what I've seen in White Dwarf and online). It comes with all sorts of different pieces. In fact it is a 132-piece kit that includes 13 different heads, 12 different arms wielding two-handed swords, six variant bodies, and five different sets of legs. Amazing, huh? This is a perfect kit to customize your unit.

Now, the box set makes 10 models. It costs $41.25/£24.45... for 10 plastic models! Additionally, you want at least 20 of these guys per unit. So that plastic unit costs $82.50/£48.90.

I'm excited that the advances in plastic sprue technology allows for so many bits to be included in box sets. But I don't think that should drive the prices up to ridiculous levels.

When I finally start an Empire army, I'm going to want to include a unit of Greatswords, but chances are I won't due to the cost. If I do, you can be sure that it won't come from a direct GW purchase, or from a purchase from my local hobby store--it will be from an online discount store, or from eBay.

Raptor1313 said...

I have to agree with you.

Prices have gone up on some things...now, to an extent, I know prices go up over time because of inflation and ECN 101.

On the other hand, the price for something like the Russ went up about $10 (or it's 125% what it was) and they pulled out the accessory sprue.

I have to agree with Drax on White Dwarf. It's essentially a hefty advertising rag. Ok, self-promotion is good, but there's not much other than pretty pictures in it, and the odd apocalypse datasheet.

I'm also with Ron on the hobby supplies. I can drop the same money on acrylics and get 2-3x the product. I'm not surprised that GW brushes go splort either.

Jonathan said...

I've been steadily disappointed with what I see as nothing more than money-grubbing on GW's part. When I first got into the hobby in 2000, many things were different: White Dwarf was worth reading and cost half as much; a squad box was 50% less in price; and Games Workshop supported the hobby with a 2-day Games Day, worldwide GTs, and a Summer Battle Tour with a Bitz Wagon.


Many people will site the number of options and bitz that you get in their new kits as something worth the higher price. My point is that the $50 Leman Russ still makes only one tank. Sure, options are great, but the fact remains that your army doesn't get 25% larger with the 25% increased cost.

I think GW has made a cost-benefit analysis to abandon veteran gamers. Maybe they think when the current economic climate blows over, we'll all come back in a few years when they start to re-introduce the stuff that's fallen by the wayside. I think they've made a terrible mistake.

Capitola Family said...

I think you, me and most of the other bloggers have to just accept that we have outgrown GW. I love the modeling part but never really play anymore. The game is extremely flawed and doesn't ever create a nice evening with friends. Much more fun to organize a hobby night instead of a game night. My approach to the hobby is to read the fluff and model around in that realm, everything else is just what it is: selling plastic.
Mike at Santa Cruz Warhammer

ps: my next project will be to resurrect some 1st ed metal space orks and give them the royal treatment, just for fun!

Admiral Drax said...

Mike at Santa Cruz makes an interesting point.

In reality, I probably only actually play an actual game 3-4 times a year - entirely due to my rural location and lack of local gaming friends since moving here.

I've scarcely bought any GW stuff for almost two years, and not only has that not really diminished my enjoyment of the hobby, it's also refocused my efforts.

Now I'm in the position where - for the first time - a painted end is actualy within sight: gone is the deire to keep expanding and expanding my Guard armies, and that works very nicely in the wake of the sheer expense of the hobby these days.

As for my consumer 'demographic' - well, like Paul, I'm 29, and like everyone I don't have much spare cash at the moment. I consider myself a veteran of GW stuff, but 85% of my model buying was done between about 2003 and 2007: I'd hate to be on the cusp now of going from new gamer to expansive veteran: that's cost an absolute fortune!

Paul Chana said...

I have to say I'm quite stunned by the responses! I was fuly expecting to be berated by everyone for my views, but it seems that my position is a fairly common one.

The problem that i find is that 40K has now enetered a price point that I dont think i can commit to, especially with my army of choice being Guard and hence very expensive.

I still play a lot of blood bowl, but again I've stopped buying the GW models, especially since i can get equivalent models by other producers at less than half price (check out tritex games, great prices, great models).

Its just a shame that GW is driving us away...

eriochrome said...

I have a copy of dark future but it is not on the market. I think a lot of use agree with you on many points. One thing you forgot to mention was that the squads were getting more expensive in dollar terms this is being magnified by them being less expensive in game terms. So this makes army building cost increase essential as the square. Your units are 25% more and you need 25% more so your armies are is 56% more. Pretty crappy.

As an adult I also only get out to play once every month or so(not including my new blood bowl league) so my army does not see that much action. I have been working on a second amry but since I barely use my first I have found that with the unit and build options in the SM codex I do not really need a second army.

Paul Chana said...

You make a very good point about the "Codex cost" of units eriochrome, and one that i hadnt really considered properly before. Yet more gouging. It does make me wonder if the cost design is being influenced by the "price point" they want to make the product at.

And if you change your mind about Dark Future, let me know :)

Oh, it's you, Bob... said...

I've just started playing/modeling after being coerced by friends for a number of years. Doing a bit of research, I bought almost my entire army of ebay for all the reasons you've already covered. I have taken the approach that I don't care if some of those models are from 1991 (yeah, I got some old IG for my kids really cheap). They are painted nicely and I'm playing for fun. I can see the price on the models going up more in the near future because everyone I play against locally plays a used or mostly used army. If more folks start dropping away for whatever reason, and more folks start picking up the used pieces, GW will see a noticeable drop in retail sales. That almost always causes a company to raise the prices. It's funny this forum topic should pop up. I was just shopping for alternate model sources in the correct scale that could be used. Sad state of affairs...

Chicago Terrain Factory said...

GW is going to be in for a shock when the finally realized that other companies have caught up to them in plastics production. The pricing of the Great Swords at $4+ per fig is not going to stand up to $1 per fig from Wargames Factory/Warlord Games. I give it another 2-3 years & GW will face multiple competitors selling products of equal quality at half the price.

oni said...

I too am a veteran. I started right at the time 2nd edition was released ('93-'94). The game has always been expensive and inflation has only made it worse, but IMO as time went on the quality of models and product offerings got better.

The one topic that no one here has discussed or even bothered to mention is the UK government and the massive taxes it imposes and has raised excessively over the years. I find it hard to believe that GW raises their prices to be greedy, I do however believe they raise prices because they have no other choice to stay in business.

Companies don't arbitrarily raise prices, there's always a reason. Increased cost of production, increased minimum labor wages, tax increases, to name a few. There's a larger picture that is not being looked at and we all unfortunately place the blame on GW.

Paul Chana said...

Hi oni,

I take your point about inflation increasing prices, but i also think that GW have in general increased a lot above inflation. I mean for a start just take the example of the cadian box set as discussed earlier. Then you can compare to competitors - for example AT43, Infinity, Hordes / Warmachine are all cheaper and (IMHO) of better quality that GW's current output.
Remember we are in a recession and that inflation is currently negative (dont know about you, but i dont get any interest on my savings anymore, well nothing that can be counted as proper interest!)

There is also the small fact that GW's profits rose 580% this year...
Read more here http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard-business/article-23724787-details/Games+Workshop+Rings+up+a+profit/article.do

(and yes, I know that quoting the LES is not a good source, but if you google, you will see that there are plenty of other places posting the same info).

The key things are when Mark Wells says:
“There are no silver bullets for growing sales. It requires a consistent focus on the basics of recruiting new hobbyists and using our games to teach them how to buy, build, paint and collect ever-larger armies of miniatures.”

Translation: "We dont give a shit about the old guys, just the kids coming in and gouging their parents.

Admiral Drax said...

Also, Oni,

Whilst I see your point about our high taxes, to us in the UK it's all relative, and the taxes (which have always been high anyway) are the same across the whole consumer spectrum. Ultimately, I guess savings come in elsewhere for us.

I don't mean that as a 'screw you, Johnnie Foreigner' either, as I hope you can appreciate(!) - if anything it serves to reinforce your point. I suspect a US-based splinter company of GW would adjust amicably to your lower taxes, but I don't know how well it could function separately in this global market...

Of course, I know nothing at all about economics...So feel free to shoot me down, but I'm punching above my weight.

And mixing my metaphors.

Chicago Terrain Factory said...

Is Hordes/Warmachine any cheaper? Their plastics seem to be in the $5 per figure range. Or does the price reflect that the figures are rather large?

http://privateerpress.com/hordes/gallery/trollbloods/units/fennblade-unit

Paul Chana said...

Its not that they are individually cheaper, but you dont need many of them and they are bigger / better cast and generally of a higher quality

Gotthammer said...

I'm not selling my set but you can download the Dark Future rules and a bunch of expansions in one PDF for the GW site:

http://www.games-workshop.com/gws/content/article.jsp?catId=cat1290025&categoryId=1100014&section=&aId=5300012

They don't have the road sections or templates, but I do have a copy of the game and a scanner if you're interested.

Paul Chana said...

@Gotthammer, thanks for the link! I'd not noticed that before.

Its a very kind offer about scanning the roads. If its not a total hastle I would really love a scan of the roads / templates etc :)

Thanks
Paul

Gotthammer said...

It may take some time for me to get around to it, but shoot me your email thru my profile and I'll send em to you when I get to it.

Raptor1313 said...

I think part of the reason GW showed profits was that they slashed a lot of expenditures.

Your total profit = total revenue - total costs. So, you max profit (amusingly represented as 'pi' in Economics class) by slashing costs or increasing revenues.

My understanding is that they've contracted as a company, which is a short-term strategy. I mean, sure, if they don't have to deal with so many GTs or stores, it's less operating expense. On the other hand, it's pretty much akin to falling back; you don't win a war by retreating.

I do believe, though, that they're actually encountering competition for the first time. As folks have cited, there's AT-43, there's Warmachine, and it seems that you can build an army for cheaper. It might be smaller, but you can game faster.

And that's the other thing I've seen as a theme: time. It takes 2-3 hours to get a round in.

Back in the day when I played the (now-defunct) Wizkids Mechwarrior game, we'd get 3 games completed in 3.5ish hours, one evening during the week. (Granted, I came to hate the 'collectible' nature of the game, as it drove the price up, but the minis WERE pre-painted reasonably well).

I'd like to see GW also hit the rules up and take better care of them. Lots of the problems (and I assume what makes some gaming evenings not-so-fun) can be fixed by just carefully writing the rules in the codices and big rule book.

GW seems to have the attitude of "We sell models; the game is just incidental." Well, if other people sell neat models and a tighter gaming system, aren't you in trouble?

I can't speak for the other games from personal experience, but I'm given to understand that Warmachine requires a FAQ and errat set the size of a small novel (or 2 inch thick binder) to run, but they might tighten it up. But, again, if they streamline the rules system...

And the other thing that baffles me about GW models...some of their strategy is just wonky.

You raise the price of Terminators to $60 for a box of 5...and then sell the Assault on Black Reach boxed set for $75. Even raised to $75, the AoBR set is a BARGAIN. Considering that you can bits-order assault termiantor arms from GW, and/or the weapon options for regular terminators, why would you ever buy a box of regular terminators? Or a regular dreadnought, or even a tactical squad box? Seriously.

And then we've got codices that have languished for decades, like the Dark Eldar, and codices that have serious issues in the new edition (IE: Necrons, 'nids). I think the 5th ed ruleset is good, but they could still be clearer on some things, and they could at least look into the old codices and see if there's a need to update them, and clear up the rules.

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dwez said...

Just come across your blog and I can't agree more. What surprises me is that you're only understanding this now. The defining moment when I began to realise, as a child, that Games Workshop is, and always will be, about money [and not hobbyists as they like to clal them]: is when the plastic skeleton box set was split. Gone was the ability to buy enough for say 24 skeleton warriors, 9 cavalry and 1 chariot for about £12. They split it up so you had 8 warriors for £5, 3 cavalry for £5 and 1 Chariot for £5. A total rip-off. Gone was the buf=dget army you could buy in one go.

I've just started to feel the urge to fall off the wagon after a good few years gaming-sober and the price of plastic is obscene. Discussing it the other day I was asked do they not do a budget range? That's what Imperial Guard used to be the cheap option now there's nothing.

As for White Dwarf it's always been an advert although I've come across a few adverts for Grand Openings where there were some very real discounts to be had when places openened.

Anyway I valued my current collection of Space Marines at around £370 so if I persue this renewed interest I'm all set but I'm still looking at £30 on paints and bits which is a stretch from the get go... Still I saw 40K in an independent retailers for £40, better than getting from source!