Is FOMO The New Business Model of Games Workshop? And Does It Matter?
Long before the days of Indomitus and Cursed City, there was the Disney Vault. Disney released movies, left them in theaters for a little while, held them back, then opened up the Disney Vault for a limited time in which they sold those movies on VHS and DVD, always with the fear that soon the vault would be closed again and you could no longer get Cinderella or Pinocchio or The Little Mermaid. They were locked up and completely unavailable on the retail market.
Of course, this was done away with in 2019 when the released Disney+ and suddenly all Disney movies (with a few notable exceptions) were at your fingertips.
This concept is called "artificial scarcity" and it happens when a company makes a product either in quantities too small to meet demand, or only available for a limited window.
The normal--and generally accepted as perfectly fine--way to do this is to have a special item in conjunction with an event. For example, I just purchased a Nissan Rogue, and in 2017 the Rogue was marketed together with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. There was a Limited Edition Nissan Rogue with Star Wars iconography, and if you bought it you also got a free Death Trooper helmet. This is a common marketing tactic, and no one really bats an eye at it: you buy something on a limited release, you get something special.
Games Workshop has been doing this for a long time with individual models, where you could only get a certain model at WarhammerFest, or at GenCon, or on a specific day, in-person at a Warhammer Store. Usually it was an interesting character model, but nothing really necessary to play the game. Yes, you could get a special Primaris Lieutenant at the Warhammer Store if you went on their special day, but that lieutenant didn't have any special rules that would break the game if you didn't have it. You wouldn't win a competition because you had the special release and your opponent didn't.
But now... if FOMO becoming Games Workshop's business model? Are they creating artificial scarcity to scare you into preordering as soon as the clock ticks over.
I remember a few years ago I was on a business trip, driving on a highway in the middle of nowhere, and I pulled over to the side of the road, watched the time closely on my phone, and then pounced on the Sisters of Battle limited release boxed set. It was that important to me at the time that I had planned my whole morning around it and counted down the minutes until I could order it.
I tried the same thing with Indomitus, but was too slow to get it. And with Cursed City I was lucky enough that my FLGS was allocated two copies and I pre-ordered one through them. (They let me pre-order three days before you could pre-order online, so that was nice.)
But the question is: is this where Games Workshop is going with their models? Yes, there will always be some models that exist forever, but is every boxed game going to be limited run--on purpose?
The "on purpose" part is what I'm wondering about. With Indomitus, it didn't seem to be on purpose, because they almost immediately said that they would start a print-on-demand service for everyone who didn't get one. But Cursed City raised a million red flags. I'm still not sure if the Cursed City was the marketing team's fault or the supply chain team's or if it was all due to Brexit and tarriffs. But it makes you wonder.
And it makes you wonder because: now does anyone believe that any given model will last longer than 15 minutes online? The one I'm thinking about at the moment is Gaunt's Ghosts: yes, they've said that it will hang around for a while, but they said that with Cursed City, too. Will Gaunt's fans and other Imperial Guard players dare to let the pre-order day pass them by with the expectation that the box will be one store shelves eventually?
I don't think they will. And while I can see that this is a good thing for Games Workshop in the short term--they're going to sell a lot of product very fast--is it a good idea for Games Workshop in the long run? Are people going to get fed up with this tactic?
Now, we have to look at this from a realistic point of view. Games Workshop hasn't always been the most transparent company--not by a long shot. For a long time there has been a large contingent of people who love Warhammer Fantasy, Age of Sigmar, and Warhammer 40k in spite of Games Workshop, not because of Games Workshop. Games Workshop has often seemed to be that irritating piece of the hobby that must be tolerated to be able to play the game.
And that seems completely backward. It's hard to imagine any other entity that people love so much yet hate where it comes from. When people love Disney, they LOVE Disney. They listen to the music, they go the parks as often as they can, they watch behind-the-scenes specials. You would be hard-pressed to find a Disney-phile who spends the bulk of their expendable money on Disney products and devotes multiple hours a week to Disney to hating the company that produces all of those things. But that's just what seems to be happening with Games Workshop.
Granted, it's not all of fandom. And I'm by no means defending Games Workshop's every business practice. I just think that it's weird that there is a group of ardent Warhammer fans who have nothing good to say about the company that produces the game they love.
But back to FOMO: the Dominion Age of Sigmar box is going to be available for pre-order in a few weeks, and I'm going to be calling my FLGS to secure my copy. But Games Workshop has already said that the box is only going to be limited. Will it be AS limited as Cursed City? Will it have print-on-demand like Indomitus? It's hard to say.
Obviously, I can see the business perspective of releasing a special box that is a great deal. The total cost of the contents of that box are going to be much higher than they're charging for Dominion, just as it was with Indomitus. Why should we expect a company to run promotional deals all the time? No sale lasts forever.
The reason that we (and Games Workshop) should care is this: because we are losing our faith in Games Workshop. Because if we get to a point where the best models are ONLY available in limited edition runs and never again (as seems to be the case with Cursed City) then we'll begin to lose interest in the game.
Because think about it: Warhammer Quest has been a franchise that's been around through several iterations over the years, but the limited run of Cursed City has, for all intents and purposes, killed Warhammer Quest. No one is going to touch the game now if they try to launch a new one.
Disclaimer: I bought Cursed City 100% for the models, and I imagine that many other people did, too, so a Warhammer Quest box filled with neat models might sell, but the game of Warhammer Quest is gone--because the trust of the public is gone.
Now, this is not intended as a rant against Games Workshop. This is, if anything, meant as a caution against a dangerous business practice. People love Warhammer. they love Age of Sigmar and they love 40k. But FOMO becomes standard operating procedure for Games Workshop's product launch marketing, I think they're slipping down a slope that ends in a lack of trust.
Back to the Disney Vault idea: Disney has cracked that vault wide open and has not only released every single movie, but every single movie on streaming for under ten dollars. And they've continued to rake in the cash.
I think that the business strategy of false scarcity is played out.