7 Ways Games Workshop Can Win Back Customers
DISCLAIMER: Games Workshop gets an awful lot of money from me, so I freely admit that they are definitely doing a lot of things very right. Even though I'm writing this article I don't consider myself to be a hater. I'm not trying to drag Games Workshop through the mud, just make some suggestions that could really improve their relationship with fans which seems, at present, to be a little strained.
That said, let's look at some ways that Games Workshop could improve the way that they do business. In each of these topics I'm going to discuss how this will be good for the fans, but also good for Games Workshop.
#1. Transparency in Releases
At the time of writing, we're in the death spasms after the bungled release of Cursed City. I was fortunate enough to get a box through my FLGS, and I was even lucky enough to get it early. I had most of the set painted before the game even was delivered to many people. I loved the models--I still love the models--and I loved the board and rules.
But what on earth happened to the game? I have gone on the record as saying that I am optimistic that the models will eventually show up for sale, because the problem was likely one with supply chain and tariffs, probably due to Brexit, China, and/or the Suez Canal. I knew that the models were too good to disappear completely after Games Workshop had invested so much money into them. So I predicted that within 4 to 6 months we would see all of the models back up for sale in some form or another.
Well, it's started to come true. Just this week we saw the announcement of Radukar's Court, which releases nine of the hostile models. Soulblight Gravelords is releasing zombies and skeletons which look a lot like the zombies and skeletons from Cursed City (though admittedly only siblings, not the actual models themselves). I fully expect that we'll see the release of the hero characters eventually.
The question is: why did it have to be this way?
I know the standard answer that many people are giving: that Games Workshop can't reveal their flubs because of scaring their shareholders. That kind of holds water with me and it kind of doesn't. Yes, if you were announcing that there was a major rift with trade partners or suppliers that would effect product ranges down the line, then I could see how you'd want to keep that from your shareholders.
But could you not simply out an official statement that said "Cursed City was a limited run item, but we are going to do everything in our power to make sure that the models you love will be available to purchase as soon as we can."
Yes, it would upset people who wanted the board game for the board game. There's no way you're not going to upset some people. But it would at least be SOME form of official communication saying that they acknowledge the problem and that they are doing their best to make customers as happy as they can be.
Because if the problem truly is a China supply chain issue, then that doesn't affect the models made in Nottingham. So release the models made in Nottingham, and do it quickly.
Games Workshop needs to make official statements, not just about Cursed City, but about any release that goes sideways.
Why this is good for customers: Transparency is good for customers because then they know what to expect, will be happy with the product that they ARE able to get (even if it's not the product that they wanted in the first place) and they'll be able to make more confident decisions in the future.
Why this is good for Games Workshop: Transparency is good for Games Workshop because the next time that Games Workshop tries to release a game like Cursed City or Blackstone Fortress (or even just release any models) their customers will not be as gun shy about buying them, thinking these games will disappear and never be supported.
#2. Rules as an Enhanced eBook
Warhammer rules change and change often. With all of the rulebooks, Codexes, Errata, and Chapter Approveds, there are a lot of rules to deal with. It is an archaic system to require players to refer to five different books to play a single game--especially when some of those rule tweaks show up in White Dwarf or in limited-edition books.
The rules for Warhammer 40k should be an app, possibly an enhanced ebook. We know they have the technology to do this, as enhanced ebooks have been around for ten years. This rule app should be comprehensive: all rules in one place. All Codexes, all Errata, everything.
And when the rules change, there is merely an update to the enhanced ebook. You push a button, download the update as you would a software patch, and now you have the rules changed. Your books literally change the text on the page. When you want to know how a unit operates, you simply look at that unit; you don't need to look at that unit and then flip to the rules update in the Errata and the new Codex and the latest edition of the rules. It's all there, in one place.
Why this is good for customers: Because it will simplify the rules process, which means a lower barrier to entry. It will give them access to everything, all in one place. It will make it easier to try new armies because they'll have all the lists for everything.
Why this is good for Games Workshop: For the same reason--it lowers the barrier to entry. Yes, I know that Games Workshop probably makes a lot of money off of rulebooks, and there's no denying that this would cut down on rulebook money. But imagine how many people would eagerly pay $80 to $100 for an enhanced ebook that had EVERYTHING in it? Games Workshop could still get their money, plus more people would be willing to try out new armies because they already have the rules right there.
#3. Sell STL Files of Discontinued Models
This idea comes partly from the astute video from Guy on Midwinter Minis discussing the practice of recasting miniatures. Many, many people said that they are against recasting--except when it comes to out-of-print miniatures. Doesn't it make sense for Games Workshop to make those out-of-print miniatures available for sale? Turns out there's a really easy way for them to do it: print on demand.
Most, if not all, of Games Workshop's figures these days are digitally sculpted, so they exist within a computer. We're not talking about having to scan minis from twenty years ago (though they could make some money if they did it). This is simply an issue of looking at all of the endless "temporarily out of stock" models on the Games Workshop webstore and thinking "Would Games Workshop be better served if no one ever got this model again? Or would they be better served if people could buy an STL file of it for $15?"
The answer seems pretty clear to me. Granted, Games Workshop wants to protect their IP, and I get that. They don't want these STL files being pirated and sold by third parties. But is that danger really any different from recasting? At least in the STL file version, Games Workshop could set the price and earn some of the money.
Why this is good for customers: Because customers will have access to models that have gone out of stock. They will be happier, and that's a good thing.
Why this is good for Games Workshop: Because it will dry up the recasting industry, and it will put some money in their own pockets. They'll be able to set a fair price that the market will tolerate, and they'll be able to sell more miniatures.
#4. Don't Force Us to Buy A Set We Don't Want
There have been two situations in recent months where Games Workshop has kinda (in one case) and definitely (in the other case) forced customers to buy a large product that they don't want in order to get a small product that they do want.
The first is with Pariah Nexus. Whether you were a Space Marine player who really wanted those Heavy Intercessors, or whether you were a Necron player who really wanted the Chronomancer and the (gorgeous) Flayed Ones, you knew that you had to buy a big box that--let's admit it--nobody wanted. Part of the problem was that Pariah Nexus was a bad box, value-wise. The other part was that the models were only available there.
The second instance of this happening, which is worse, is the Soulblight Gravelords Start Collecting Box, which is the ONLY place where you can purchase a Wight King. Everything else in that box not only is available separately, but has been available for a while and is possibly already in the armies of Soulblight collectors.
Games Workshop should stop forcing customers to buy things that they don't want, just to get the prize inside the cereal box.
Why this is good for customers: they get the thing that they want without having to fork over the money for a product that they don't want or need.
Why this is good for Games Workshop: they can sell more Wight Kings (probably for $35 a pop or more anyway). Will it hurt the sales of the Start Collecting Boxes? Will it hurt the sales of the Pariah Nexus boxes? Maybe it will teach Games Workshop that they have to make those boxes actually good values, not blackmail tools.
#5. Just Give Us the Updates We've Been Begging For
Look, I know that Games Workshop can only produce models at a certain rate. I also know that they are well-served if they turn out only the models that the market can handle at a certain time: if they started releasing three new armies all on the same day, those sales would cannibalize each other. I get that. This is business.
But when we see new releases come out all the time for certain armies (Space Marines...) and we are still playing with ancient Imperial Guard, or even more ancient Aeldari, something fishy is going on.
Do I realize that Space Marines are going to sell better than Imperial Guard or Aeldari? Yes, of course. Does that make it right that these product lines are completely neglected? No.
Think of the buzz there would be if Games Workshop dropped a new Aeldari army, fully updated, all new models. It would be huge. I'm not saying we need to re-release the T'au (they're not that old) or re-release the Genestealer Cult (neither are they) but just look at how huge the Sisters of Battle release was? After decades of NOTHING, then great marketing hype and buildup, and now an army that sells like gangbusters.
Now--and this may be stretching--imagine bringing back the Squats. Think it can't be done? They brought back the Harlequins after a long period of silence and they did just fine. They introduced Custodes and they do just fine. What's to stop Games Workshop from releasing an army that has a base of die hard fans clamoring to get their hands on it. Games Workshop is nothing if not great at building hype.
Why this is good for customers: it gives them models that they've been begging for for years.
Why this is good for Games Workshop: it gives them something really big and newsworthy to release that would sell like hotcakes.
#6. Get Rid of Exclusive Models
Games Workshop has a habit--which I have not been able to parse--of selling some models as Games Workshop exclusives. There is obviously business reasons to do this: it creates scarcity and allows them to charge a premium for special items.
The problem, in customers' mind is: it creates scarcity and allows Games Workshop to charge a premium.
Now I'm not going to say this is a terrible practice by Games Workshop. They clearly have the right to make money on exclusive products. The question is whether they're doing more harm than good.
Why this would help customers: it would make it easier to get product from their FLGS at a better price.
Why this would help Games Workshop: it would create goodwill between not only GW and their customers but also GW and the FLGSs.
#7. Support the Games that You Make, or Officially End Them
Now you think that I'm going to talk about Cursed City here, and I would, but there's a bigger game on my mind right now. Two years ago, everything with Games Workshop was geared toward Kill Team. Kill Team was very successful, and seemingly profitable, and, most of all, a great gateway game to get people into the hobby. But Kill Team has all but disappeared.
Okay, yes, we got Pariah Nexus, but has any release seemed as half-hearted as Pariah Nexus? There have been no yearly rule updates for 2021, and Pariah Nexus seemed more like an outlet for them to sell their new Space Marine and Necron models than a game unto itself (it appears that VERY little thought went into the creation of the board or terrain).
If Games Workshop is going to create a game, they should support that game. And if they have decided that they're not going to support that game, they should officially end that game. Instead, we're getting what we used to call (back when I was dating) "the old fadeout", where you started calling someone less and less until you never called them anymore.
Why this would be good for customers: customers who are loyal to the game would be happy to get the continual updates but, more importantly, they wouldn't feel left out in the cold by the old fadeout.
Why this would be good for Games Workshop: they would continue selling product for games that people liked, and when people stopped liking those games enough for the games to be profitable, Games Workshop could officially wash their hands of them and move on.
So that's what I think Games Workshop ought to do to improve. What do you think? Do these ideas sound good to you? Why or why not?