Ok beardlings… sit down and put another log on the fire…
The company that you all know as GW originally was two very distinct businesses working out of Nottingham. Games workshop was a games importer, and Citadel was a miniatures manufacturer.
They stayed that way for some time, TSR already had a foothold in the Uk and Dungoens and Dragons was doing well. Gamma world was their stab at sci-fi but it didn’t do as well as their core product.
The other big players at the time were Chaosium who were producing Runequest and Call of Cthulhu and miniature wise there were several but the main competitor was Ral Partha and Grenadier.
Now, tabletop wargaming at the time was very much confined to the historical gamers. There was nobody really doing a wargame for fantasy gaming at the time. TSR had tried with a product called Chainmail and later Battle System but they didn’t really work very well or integrate with the D&D rulesets at the time.
With the model lines rising and with the vision of people like Tony Ackland, Brian Ansell, Rick Priestley and John Blanche, the miniatures and their backgrounds started taking on a character and life of their own. Warhammer came into existence and Harry the hammer was born smashing a skeleton to pieces on the cover of warhammer 1st edition.
There was talk back then of doing a game set in the far future called Rogue Trader. But we wouldn’t see that materialise into reality for many many years to come.
In the pages of white dwarf we’d find scenarios we could play and storylines to follow, and of course there were the published stuff like Terror of the Lichmaster, Bloodbath and Orc’s drift and MacDeath. This was the age of parody, ripping off ideas in popular culture and having fun- the words IP and lawsuit didn’t exist then - they were far more innocent and different times.
Warhammer 2nd edition came, and with it an army book called Ravening hordes not the thing with the goblins on the cover but an amazing piece of art by Chris Achilleos - you lot think nothing of codexes and battletomes now, but back them this was revolutionary - like opening the lost ark. We as players had a structure to build an army, and themed armies.
Warhammer third edition landed not long after, and with it Warhammer fantasy role play. At this point we started to see the old world fleshed out and given form. This was the beginning of the warhammer many of you remember.
We also saw a new game, Warhammer 40,000 : Rogue Trader. A far cry from the original concept of expeditionary privateers in space, we see the 40k universe unfold. And what a universe it was - a truly unique vision, but to every warhammer player, familiar as all our favourite races were in there with great new twists.
There was a fluidity back then, new stuff was announced in white dwarf with rules and fluff and we set about playing to them right away..
Bearing in mind that we didn’t have stores other than local indi stores and WD was available at every newsagents stand.
Inevitable small companies grow with success and with that success comes changes. The small company can’t behave as it once did and a more business orientated mindset comes in. Over the years this translates as a tighter grip on the strategy and lines. It’s no longer about guys in a shed having fun. The good ol’ boys are also having to tow the line in a different manner.
Nobody could have foreseen just how popular 40k would become. It was fluid, it was fun it was skirmishy. You could play it with a couple of boxes of RTB01 marines or orks.
Fantasy was still strong but was stuck in the world of ranks and flanks, it still stuck fast to the historical war game paradigm. Popular culture was changing as well, fantasy in film and media was falling out of favour and giving way to sci-fi. It would take decades before this balance was addressed.
If GW ever had a problem with specialist games it was that of support and continuity. Its two main product lines had emerged and with the limited resources they had, it was obvious specialist games would be a niche affair. Any company at this point in time asks one question - is it making us money?
So now we wind the clock on a decade or two. GW is strong. It’s survived huge upheaval in the marketplace. TSR is long dead, but their demise was to echo through the ages and GW almost take on a dark parody of it. Chaosium, Runequest, etc all gone to the dust. There was a new way of doing things, CCG’s, video games, and other new ways of doing thing. Even fantasy had changed in outlook and aesthetic with WoW and their ilk.
The new warhammer gamer (both systems) was becoming a competitive animal. A far cry from some guys deciding that if you have that, and I have this, then we’ll play it like this and this is the story.
If fantasy was struggling to attract new blood, to seduce them to swords and sorcery rather than las guns and bolt pistols, then it wasn’t helping itself in the way it was wanting you to do things.
Your army in fantasy had to have a minimum amount of it’s army’s points in core troops - the predecessor of battleline if you will.
In a 2000 point game that was 500 points. back in 3rd ed, the points cost per model were high, the model count still low. But wind that clock on the 7th / 8th ed and you’re talking eye watering cost - especially if you played a traditionally small point per model army like greenskins or skaven.
20 chaos warriors did you - two boxes, well one and a bit as they contained 16 models - a throwback to 7th ed. But a skaven player would be buying up five or more boxes of slaves to make up his numbers, he’d launched 100 pounds straight away without getting started.
By comparison 40k said minimum units, and guess what - a unit was a box of models. great. Little Johnny just buys some marines and he’s good.
Age of Kirby.
Lots of stuff said about this bloke, and probably held in as much disgust as Matt Ward.
If there was one overriding fault that typifies his reign it was xenophobia.
No press releases until release, no official information channels other than white dwarf, and eschewing the new media that was web and social media.
They did have a forum many years ago, but it got trolled so hard that they thought nuts to this and shut it down.
Now remember what I said about TSR? - well that was GW right there. Telling you that it was their way or no way and you should be grateful to buy the same thing twice over with the only difference being a new cover. And it was dying in the same way.
I don’t doubt that he tried to pull GW back as best he could, but in reality he didn’t appear to understand this new world. It had given him the tools he needed to make things right but he didn’t know how to use them.
They’d also sunk a metric ton of cash in New Line Cinema’s way for the LoTR licence. The return was in fairness quite pitiful. There was no assistance on New Line’s part to market the game for GW, or assist them. But why would they? they were used to dealing with the Mattel and parker of the world, huge commercial corporate entities with their own vast advertising budgets and knowledge of tv commercial slots. GW didn’t have that knowledge or money to make it happen even if they had, not on the global scale that say a batman toy gets pumped across the globe.
Giving computer game houses et al. licence to thrill was great, but unfortunately it didn’t have the desired effect of pulling custom the other way as much as GW would have liked. I’d like to see just how many people started to play 40k off the back of Dawn of War for example.
By now fantasy on top of everything else had issues whereby it was sitting stagnant in a four yearly cycle. The problem was that with each edition the story never really got advanced, merely re-written or retconned. Armies which didn’t sell got left by the wayside with only loyal followers saving them from (eventual) extinction. this was further compounded by the fact that models were not released quickly enough to support a new release.
Beastmen were a prime example. the book came out in 7th ed. It was a full 6 months till the gorghon/cygor came out. By then people had converted giants etc. Sales were poor. Of course they were.
And when there was no model to support something, then third parties stepped in and filled the void.
8th edition culminated with end times. The rules were nothing more than rehashed storm of chaos rules but the story was beautiful as were the books. We were all looking to the golden dawn of 9th edition. Rumour was that the starter box would be brets and beasts and I for one was uber excited as I had promised myself a bret army as the next project to sit diametrically opposed to my Warriors of Chaos.
It was also noted the aesthetic direction the new models in 8th edition were taking. They had a very different design direction to the previous stuff. It was far more high fantasy than before. A precursor to AoS hidden in plain sight.
With the Xenophobia on code red at the mothership, understandably when End times er.. Ended we were all left with a full on WTF.
No news. No communication. No nothing. Just blackout.
Hastings on Warseer was already talking about combined stats. The forums lit up. All anyone had reference to was the fantasy battle rules. much gnashing of teeth about how broken things would be etc etc.
Then news came that brets were going to be like space marines the rules being 4 pages long and the web lit up some more.
Still there was silence.
Age Of Sigmar.
The silence was broken, and the next thing we see is Khorgos Ghul on one side of the window display and a mighty stormcast Prosecutor on the other.
There was typical “You will like it” fanfare. but the damage was done. We’d been left in the dark and now what we were given was something none of us knew or could relate too.
“We’re a model company first…”
I think this will go down in history as one of those comments which probably never came out with the intent that it was meant to.
We all heard it, read it and took it the same way, but now standing back, I think what it was trying to say was that it was the models which made the company, not the rules that made the models. We buy into stuff with our eyes and our imagination, not because words on paper are the driving key.
We talk of how awesome the models are and then we say yea that’s a great faction, I’ll start that.
It’s few people that may look at a faction and say yes, great looks but their scrolls are rubbish. nah, not touching them.
It also dawned on the mothership that to protect yourself from third parties essentially you had to do only what you already produced. No model, no rules. simples.
"Bring your fake moustache and a cheeky insult while standing on one leg..”
When AoS landed, the early faq’s leading up to it said that:
Your old army was still playable
Your old arrny would no longer be developed or supported
New factions would come to the fore and these would be those that were built on - they failed to mention that many of these “no longer supported” models would actually come back with a new name and new lore, thus becoming a new faction.
To bridge the gap till the new lore was forged, GW put out the compendiums. Like many we thought some of the stuff in there was a real slap in the face. It was supposed to be light hearted and humorous but in reality it offended people’s sensibilities, especially after the massive long silence that had proceeded it, and now we get this BS.
I can understand that perhaps the origins of what was to become known as open play were based on trying to get people to play and enjoy the interaction of just playing for playing sake, but the reality was that was going to work on a very small minority when taken at face value.
We old role player long beards were not plentiful anymore. I would never take six nagashes because I could, it made perfect sense to me he was unique, but many didn’t see it that way.
The statement also alienated the competitive community, and they needed structure and frameworks to be able to do their thing. There were none, and for a company like GW to allow third party comp to come up with its own ideas was deplorable.
I genuinely believe that AoS was probably on the cards concurrently with 9th Edition WFB. Only sales figures were going to swing the pendulum in the favour of one or the other. With Fantasy sales low, the decision was made as we know. But I think also we need to look at a different angle.
Gameplay was more fluid in the looser 40k style. You had more creative freedom with the models as you didn’t have to worry about ranking up on a movement tray, and story wise, perhaps the old world had grown too small, too quaint to handle the imagination and ambition of the writers and where the developers wanted to take the game and the model lines.
The mortal realms allowed the writers to introduce factions and things in new and exciting ways, rather than waiting for the next big armybook update and retconning the lore so that "the new model has always existed, what are you talking about?!”
With their plans for the future, its inevitable they looked to the future, and decided to call it a day with certain models and factions. And without this getting to be a war of words about chapterhouse and IP, things like brets died because the early script writers backed them into a corner and nobody knew how to pull them out of it. personally I really think they could have worked as a narnia mashup, and worked as a far more gritty darker aspect of their former selves. But that’s another rant for another thread.
The Age of Rowntree
If there was one overriding word that typifies his reign it is communication.
From being enemy number one, GW transforms itself into our best friend. It’s showing us what’s coming up, asking us what we think, and encouraging us to share our thoughts. It walks the journey with us, asking if it tastes ok, rather than holding us by the throat and telling us we’re going to have to like it.
I firmly believe that had Rowntree and his team been in charge at the time of End times, we would have had a very slick and well received roll out of AoS much like the 8th edition 40k rollout.
Communication is key. Imagine a malign portents style buildup to get people used to the idea of the mortal realms as the old world was crumbling, and the interplay between them. Imagine just teasing snippet rules such as battleshock to replace morale checks, and changes to running and charging for instance.
Sure, lets not mince words, it’s a business that’s there to take your money, and the only good customer is one that keeps spending. They don’t give a frig if you’ve been collecting for twenty years and have ten thousand points of chaos warriors alone - if you’re not spending NOW. You’re not paying their bills or turning their cogs. You’ll still dance to their tune but this time you feel you’re the one deciding and willing to do it rather than being forced.
And that’s no different to anyone else. Apple loves you all the while you keep upgrading that iphone and mac. It doesn’t care that your old mac book is still going strong after 10 years. Next year’s software release will sort that out. Then it’s up to you if you’re still up for taking the cookie or want to eat elsewhere.
So it is with GW.
So…. back to the beginning..
The changes were needed, and the financials spoke for themselves.
If damage was done it was the silence, and that damage was greatest insofar that it made people actively look for alternatives and realise that there were great systems and games out there.
There was only one man who's head rolled and that was Kirby's. Times had moved and he hadn't moved with it, and was unwilling to see or accept that.
He ultimately failed to direct the business in a manner which kept profitability and customer satisfaction high, and as such paid the price. I'm sure the paying his wife's web development company several million pounds for a substandard website didn't help but that's conjecture at this point.
Sorry for the ramble. I'll shut up now. The embers are dying low on the fire anyways.