Thursday, May 26, 2011

[Adept Zero] TLDR, or You are not going to like this.

I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to write this, but with the basic tenor of the discussions over GW’s recent business decisions getting so strident, I think it’s important for someone, for better or worse, to chime in with a different perspective. I’m pretty sure this may become both my most popular (infamous?) post and the one that makes me a pariah in the 40k metaverse.

You see, it’s easy to Monday-morning quarterback (sorry, I don’t have the correct European analog to this very American expression), and it’s also very easy to criticize an action simply on the basis of how it affects a very narrow subset of people without considering all ramifications. It’s also very easy to anthropomorphize corporate entities and assign them human traits. What is hard, however, is to try to objectively see how an action that may negatively affect you may be the best course of action for someone or something else.
There seems to three real pain points and two major misunderstandings that are swirling around the 40k blogs and discussion boards, and I’d like to address each one. The opinions herein are mine and mine alone, and they should not be attached to MWC whatsoever.

Real Pain Point One: Price Hikes
So this is the biggie, right? No one wants to pay an extra dollar, pound, peso, won, etc, for an item just because it’s June and not May. Why should the same, impossible to assemble Zoanthrope in the same packaging at the same FLGS cost me more money? Price adjustments are never met with much positive enthusiasm, and they definitely cause the most noise from a company’s squeakiest wheels, the hardcore consumer.

This is really the only point in the entire topic where you can draw analogies from other industries and even other sectors. Think of gasoline on one hand and Apple Computer on the other. Every time gas prices spike, the media goes insane, people blame it on everything under the sun, and there are articles about reducing our dependence on Big Oil.  Every time Apple puts out new models with or without a price hike, the eternal religious war flares up once again, debating closed systems, style over substance, and relative value.
So what do these two situations have in common with each other and with GW’s price hikes? In all three cases, all the white noise does NOTHING to affect long term sales in the slightest. iPhones (despite productions problems, worker suicides, and the fact that unless you are willing to jailbreak one, it is a closed system) are experiencing incredible sales. Oil companies measure their quarterly net profit in billions of dollars. Really think about that for a second; the magnitude, if you can even wrap your mind around it, is truly stupendous. Games Workshop, although obviously not in the same league as Big Oil or Apple, shares in that same odd process: raise prices, endure complaints, profit, repeat.

But knowing that GW is in good corporate company is hardly comforting to you, is it? I know it’s not for me. Looking at the U.S. price changes, one of the more extreme hikes is the Chaos Space Marine Battleforce at 22%. That’s a pretty steep increase for a product that is arguably in decline, but it may reflect the low amount of stock they have left and the low motivation to do another production run. Whatever the reason and its ethical justification, I think we can all agree that higher prices are never welcomed by consumers. I know this is a pretty flippin’ obvious conclusion after 500 words, but bear with me, I have a point.

Real Pain Point Two: The “Embargo”
It’s not really an embargo, is it? If anything, it’s a reverse embargo. You can read the official wording, along with just about everyone’s opinion, on just about every blog that has anything to do with little plastic figures and dice, but essentially Games Workshop has changed the terms of service for European retailers that limits their sales to the EU. Again, I will weigh in on this at the end, but I want to acknowledge that for many retail giants in this hobby, this does not bode well for their bottom line. Also, for Aussies and New Zealanders, this means that their discount options are more severely limited over other countries. It’s definitely a legitimate issue for stores, and I do not envy them, especially the ones that make the bulk of their revenue through the mail.

Real Pain Point Three: GW’s Release Schedule
This one probably affects the least number of GW customers although it’s probably the most discussed. I think this problem is unique to GW in a lot of ways because of its longevity. You really need three or four rulebook editions to really mess up the viability of various faction books released at various points of each editions life cycle. I mean, how could the Witch Hunter Codex possibly be balanced against, let’s say, Dark Eldar’s? From my point of view, it’s crazy to introduce something like a Tervigon and not have a kit for it on the day of the codex’s release. This type of rule/model disconnect, along with a sluggish response to issues that end up in errata or FAQs, creates the perception of a communications moat around Nottingham. This, understandably, is unacceptable to the most vocal members of our community.

So these three issues, Price Hikes, Trade Restrictions, and Certain Release Practices, have led to a real maelstrom of negative energy towards Games Workshop on the Internet. We’ve heard from all the major players in the blogosphere, of course, but we’ve also learned a great deal from comments to these articles. Those comments are pretty galvanized - so much so that one would be tempted to conclude that there is a consensus among wargamers.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Look, I am a firm believer in the tenet that everyone has a right to their own opinion, but the Internet is not a good platform for debate. It’s usually best to just keep quiet about things that are messed up. Like the “fact” that there’s a supposed rift between tournament players and casual players. Like the “fact” that a codex is “broken”. Like the “fact” that the authors of the CSM codex have the collective IQ of a rock. So let’s look at the assertions that are being made in this case.

Major Misunderstanding One: Games Workshop is Greedy and Evil
So let’s see here. This is an easy one, right? A big, greedy corporation is ripping the allowance money out of tiny, impoverished hands … a bunch of fat cats (or cackling nerds) laughing as they raise prices to fund their drunken binges and big yachts. Greedy, greedy, greedy.

Are you kidding me? Have you seen their annual report? I’m sorry; no one is getting rich quickly. But let’s not go there yet. Instead, let’s talk about why people think GW is greedy. I think it’s safe to say that the accusations of avarice are due to pain points 1 and 2, and on the surface, if you know very little about retail distribution, it would seem correct. But is it really? People seem to connect retail price with materials and labor. Smarter folks factor in the overhead: HR, advertising, leases, shipping, customer service, etc.

This is still wrong though. There is only one thing that sets the price of an item: opportunity cost. And it works from both sides. GW, if it’s like any other commercial entity that knows what it’s doing, will weigh the cost of creating and selling an item against not creating and selling it.

Simplistic example: Let’s say that the ingredients for making a cookie cost 5 cents per unit, and you can make 200 per hour and you can sell them out of your house for 1 dollar each, and it takes you about 4 hours to sell them all. That’s $190.00 net gain over 5 hours, right? If you are working solo, you’ve made $38.00 per hour. Is that good? If you are making minimum wage, maybe it is. What if you are a programmer, though, and you could have been making $120.00/hr instead of sitting there pretending you’re Mrs. Fields. You’ve effectively LOST $410.00 in 4 hours. So again, if GW knows what it’s doing, it’s carefully predicting and measuring the price breakpoint to maximize profit. They try to measure YOUR opportunity cost – at what point is owning the CSM Battleforce worth slogging through Ebay or Bartertown over just biting the bullet and getting it from Wayland or wherever, and is that point high enough to warrant getting the molds out to make more of them? This is pretty simplistic; there are a lot more factors involved, but greed isn’t one of them. GW has to constantly evaluate their prices to maximize value for their shareholders, it’s their mandate. While GW’s officers and shareholders may possess the personal characteristic known as greed, this, like the cost of materials, has nothing to do with the price of Finecast, Forgeworld, or anything they make.

And evil? Do we really want to bandy that word about like it means nothing? I know the term has been trivialized by Darth Vader, Microsoft and the like, but using an invective like evil when describing a company is silly at best. The anthropomorphism that I alluded to is really short-sighted here.  This is a company of gamers, artists, and writers that makes or sells nothing but books, art supplies and miniature representations of things. You want to lump them in with people who knowingly sell tainted formula to third world countries or market cigarettes and alcohol to children? The problem with the word “evil” is that there’s nowhere to go from there. You’ve initiated Conversation Exterminatus, and it makes you seem overdramatic. “Poorly managed” or “Misguided” or “Out of touch” seem more appropriate, although I would disagree with you. At least that degree of rancor seems more justified.

Now, let’s look at that little change to their trade agreement with EU companies. I am frankly surprised that this hadn’t occurred earlier. For years prior to the advent of the Internet, it was de rigeur to set up sales territories, and it’s still in effect today for 99% of consumable goods. It’s a way for a manufacturer to try to maintain overall margins (since they can’t really control selling price) for their retailers and to protect their brand. The rise of online retailers has caught a few industries unprepared, and I think this is what is happening here. The same thing happened in musical instrument retail. Gibson Guitars didn’t like that the prices of their guitars were starting to drop due to competition between their brick and mortar resellers and resellers from other territories that had an online presence. So they pulled their product line from any retailer selling online except for one. This created some serious backlash and animosity, but here we are, seven years later, and Gibson is back in stock at most online stores, and their prices are higher than ever.

I don’t know why it’s so expensive to buy GW’s stuff in Australia and New Zealand. I imagine it’s a combination of customer density, lack of market penetration, local taxation and licensure issues, and startup costs in terms of their stores. Or it may be none of those reasons. But GW is not the first manufacturer to do this, nor are they in the wrong for wanting to protect their burgeoning investment in the South Pacific region. I personally don’t think this can last, but then again, I don’t have visibility into GW’s long term projections and plans.

Major Misunderstanding Two: Games Workshop Owes Their User Base Something
There are actually two different ideas here. First is the notion that GW literally owes a nod of gratitude to their legions of faithful users – users so rabid that they refuse to even consider buying non-GW storm shields and lash whips. The second is that GW should give poor gamers a “break” from overpriced models because they are cash-strapped or because GW makes “enough” as it is.

I would agree that GW certainly could do a better job communicating their appreciation for their customers who have spent significant portions of their income on gaming products.  I think, though, that the best demonstration of appreciation would be for GW to take the risk of temporary saturation and balance the “current” codices and release the remaining ones en masse. It will never happen, but it would be so cool to have a completely current game. Of course there would be balancing issues and errata, but it would be a start. And before they do that, I don’t think I’d want them to waste time with giveaways or any other marketing stuff.

That leaves those of you (us) who think that GW is overpriced and that they should not raise their prices. And as I’ve said, you who think that are certainly the most vocal on the web. However, you may not be a majority within GW’s total user base. There are MANY of us who have no problem paying full retail for GW stuff. Does that make me non-frugal? In this instance, it might. Does it make me stupid? I should hope you are all mature and smart enough not to think that.

After several years of trying to find a place for myself within local gaming circles, I was sort of at a loss. They were all nice enough peeps, but I was older than the youngest guy in the group by more than double. And that’s absolutely fine. All the people I’ve met locally and at Adepticon have been good-natured and generous with their time. It’s just that since I don’t party so hard anymore, and since my favorite social pastime is not ripping on GW, there is a bit of disconnect with the younger generation in a few aspects. I was lucky enough to find other gamers like me recently, gamers who are older and have a million family commitments. We understand the impossibility of going to the FLGS for a Planetary Empires campaign that goes for 3 days straight or spending 6 hours a day Mathammering each other on BOLs or Dakka (both of which I love). Additionally, we take this concept of opportunity cost very seriously. Should I spend a few hours (or days) to find all the components of the CSM Battleforce on Dakka or Bartertown or Ebay or Craigslist and save $40.00? Or should I bite the bullet on that $40.00 and buy it from MWG, GW or The Warstore, etc, in a 15 minute transaction and spend that extra time with my kids, my wife, gaming, watching a movie or sleeping? At some point in your life, some things just aren’t going to be worth it compared to the relative savings in cash you will receive. Like washing your own car or landscaping, if lowballing for miniatures is something that you don’t inherently enjoy, it simply isn’t worth it.

Ad Nauseum
So what’s my point? It’s this: there are a lot of us like this. We don’t care that AoBR is 10% higher than last month. If I need it, I will buy it and not think twice about it. And, if GW’s annual report is to be believed, there are a lot of people who share my outlook on GW pricing. Everyone has a threshold, and everyone’s is different. I am personally still struggling with the Realm of Battle. I intellectually know that in the long run (including ALL factors), it’s a good deal, but I’m trying to figure out if I could derive more enjoyment from building my table from absolute scratch instead and whether it’s worth the time over just getting the RoB board. I would welcome some feedback on it. I am just as much a participant in the GW community as anyone else, and I really enjoy 90% of the stuff I read from all of you, commenters and bloggers alike. But please try to remember that there are many of us, maybe most of us, who play 40k that are not incensed over the price increases and just want to get back to arguing about point costs and non-metallic metals. And I am not the one to say that if you don’t like GW, move on to PP et al. Please don’t do that. You’ve made a significant investment and the community would be worse without you in it.

Games Workshop is not evil, but it’s also not looking out for your best interests. It just is. It’s up to you to make it what you want, but bitching about it online is going to get you zero results because you will have no momentum. If you buy most of your stuff used, then there’s nothing you can really do. You never really affected GW’s bottom line anyway. I think the best course of action would be to keep the lines of communication open and keep an eye on GW’s moves. You are all good at that, and that’s why I love this community.


  1. Refreshing is the word that springs to mind. Refreshing. Nice to read someone posting on these issues with a bit of common sense.

    I was thinking of posting something very similar on my blog but decided to wait til after the tournament I'm running had passed before I made myself unpopular.

    GW is a business, they don't care about you, they care about your money. As soon as you accept it you can get on with your hobby and stop whining about how much it costs. There are cheaper hobbies, there are more expensive ones. Yours got more expensive. You aren't going to quit. You aren't going to change the world.

    GW have run this way for years, they're still in business (whether insanely profitable or not) and therefore they're doing something right. They still produce the best minatures in the world so until someone can compete on that score they're going to stay in business.

    Thank you Zero for whining at the whiners!

  2. Oh and on the RoB score. I built my own and had great fun doing it. It will be more personal to your requirements and won't have skull pits (unless for some reason you want them). Oh and I spent £40 making my 8'x4' board which perfect for my needs.

  3. These are the same straw man arguments people have been parroting on the web for a long time. If you're fine with being suckered then more power to you.

  4. "Mathammering each other on BOLs or Dakka (both of which I love)"
    Translation: "I define 'fun' as how little effort I have to put into steamrolling my opponent."

  5. I may not like everything that GW does, but they have outlasted a lot of their competition. If they go out of business, the hobby is for the worse.

  6. Well written, I may not agree with all that you have said but yours has been one of the better posts I have read on the recent events at GW. keep it up

  7. Good post. Nice to hear a sane voice.

  8. I may not agree with the conclusions, but the use of sane, rational arguments is a refreshing change from the "What I think is FACT" style posts of late.

    Well done sir.

  9. excelent post which clearly articulates your point of view. if i were in your position (family, financial security, many other commitments etc) i would draw the same conclusions.

    the problem for me is that while i have many other commitments (full time job), i do not yet have a family (though i do have a gf who requires significant time), i do not have any financial security, despite said job.

    therefore the price rises really DO hurt my and my ability to enjoy this hobby.

    my point is actually the same as one of your early points. it really IS hard to see the point of view of others (in this case the company itself) when the only one that really matters to me, is my own. after all, if i can no longer afford to do the hobby, it doesnt matter all that much to me who else can!

    once again, thanks for a really thoughtful and insightful post, keep it up.

  10. This is a very good post, can I link it... well, everywhere? :D

  11. FromtheFang said it best:"Refreshing is the word that springs to mind. Refreshing. Nice to read someone posting on these issues with a bit of common sense."