Sunday 20 January 2013

Damned if you do, Damned if you don't

I have stumbled across this rather interesting interview with Rick Priestly on the Realms of Chaos blog. It's short but well worth a read as he is very candid.

It also contains a couple of gems of information I didn't know about. Specifically that Warhammer 4th edition was put together on the cheap. This seemed odd because 4th edition always felt to me to be the point at which Games Workshop shifted from being quite anarchic and random, to much more organised. I have written before about how hard it was for new players to start, something which changed notably during 4th edition.

Thinking about it though, it does make a lot of sense. It was certainly the point at which the number of artists and writers working on Games Workshop products decreased and, if you don't have a pot to piss in, you have to be organised. There isn't the money around to throw at any old project the studio comes up with because you have to get a decent return.

The really interesting comment comes in answer a question about 3rd edition being the least playable version of Warhammer. He equivocates a bit, but generally agrees that it was very sluggish, a comment I can certainly agree with, but it is a throwaway remark that is most interesting to me.

The next edition [4th]was way more energetic and actually got people playing Warhammer again (sales had really slumped prior to that).

The revelation that sales of Warhammer had slumped in 3rd edition certainly fits with my experience. 3rd edition was current when I started playing and the interests of my friends and I was focused firstly on Warhammer 40,000, secondly on Epic and thirdly on some the other games GW produced at the time (such as Space Hulk and Advanced HeroQuest). Warhammer was not on our radar until 4th edition came along and we all started collecting Warhammer armies (I actually had looked at Warhammer prior to this and had the rule books but hadn't persuaded any of my friends to take an interest).

However, I am not sure the reason for Warhammer's poor sales prior to 4th edition had much to do with the rules. My friends and I had never played a game and had no idea how it played. I think the sales slump can be blamed on the absence of new material for the game and the consequent lack of coverage in White Dwarf.

Amazingly it was a good six months or so of reading White Dwarf before I even registered that such a game as Warhammer existed. This may sound odd, but by the time I started reading White Dwarf in 1990, Warhammer and Warhammer Armies had long been released. The only new Warhammer material was from the forthcoming "Realms of Chaos: the Lost and the Damned" book and these articles were titled "Realms of Chaos" so I was assuming that it was a separate game in its own right. The only other Warhammer material were a few 'Eavy metal images, scenery articles, which were effectively generic, and material for other games set in the Warhammer world like Advanced HeroQuest and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

This did change a little over time. White Dwarf started to run a series of spotlight articles on particular players armies, starting, memorably, with Andy Chamber's skaven in White Dwarf 138. It was these articles that sparked my interest in the game. But when 4th edition came along, White Dwarf was saturated with coverage of new models, new rules (mostly army book previews), background (also from army books) and battle reports, then a relatively new idea that really show cased what a Warhammer army could and should look like. All of this did a lot to encourage us to take an interest in the game and build our collections.

For us, and I suspect for many others, what turned our attention to Warhammer wasn't the rules, but an explosion of new models and content.

If my supposition is correct, then it has some intriguing implications. Games Workshop is often castigated for churning out new rules and new editions endlessly in order to cynically encourage sales and "force" players to update the armies in order to keep up with rules changes. In fact Rick Priestly says as much in the interview when he describes the current design studio as "the promotions department of a toy company". But if sales drop when rules and models are not constantly being updated then the question is 'what else are they to do?' To keep up sales you need new material which means, once a game has reached a certain maturity you need endless revisions. Games Workshop are caught between a rock and hard place, castigated for releasing new material, ignored if they don't.

Not that this excuses every bit of bad behaviour from the evil corporate behemoth, but it does make me consider their position in a slightly different, and maybe more sympathetic, light.

1 comment:

  1. You raise some interesting points in your discussion, and indeed you are correct in stating that GW made little effort to work on Warhammer after the release of Third Edition, bar a few new miniature releases. But then, they didn't need to! Rogue Trader had been a massive, and somewhat unexpected, success, the big box games were being developed and released and millions of miniatures were being sold every month. Warhammer and fantasy had been 'The Game' through most of the early and mid '80s but the company focused on its runaway success.

    One point you have not made is that pre 4th edition Warhammer GW was a privately owned company. Ansell sold up (as he had always been planning to) and GW owed £10 million plus after the buyout. They needed every brand and product they needed to get out of the red... hence the re-release, and re-development, of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 to their largest market, children. Anyone into GW games in the late 80s would have owned Warhammer 3 and its supplements and I expect sales had reached saturation point.