Argh! I can’t help it. I should hate them, and jump up and down and scream. Have you seen the prices? But by jiminy, those models are just so fine…
I speak of Games Workshop, the Very Big Hobby Company, for whom I once worked as editor of Fictional Albino Shorty magazine, and for whose publishing arm I now write books (this is my disclaimer, so you can add your own bias to the following musing, like that sachet of soy sauce to a pot noodle. I reckon these posts have around the same nutritional content). I’ve been playing GW fantasy and science fiction wargames since I was very, very young. I’ve grown up on its worlds, which led me on to many other things. I’m a devotee, you might say.
Gaming was cheaper then. This was a time when a fantasy skeleton warrior made of toxic lead alloy cost you less than ten pence. Models in those days came in a plastic bag, not dissimilar to those that are often used to house drugs (this is a measured analogy), stapled to a piece of card. I’m sure there are many old bearded males even balder and grumpier than I who feel that “Those were the days”.
Back then, the range of models to be had was quite small, and if you ever did get to put an army together, it weighed so much you needed to buy a donkey or similar pack animal to carry it to a friend’s house. Said friend had to be a very good friend, because you’d be staying there for two weeks, the average duration of a wargame. Now, the games are fast and furious, the models genuine works of art (and light as feathers).
The reason I’m writing this is that this very evening I put together a battlescape for Warhammer 40,000 – for those of you not in the club of sad old dice rollers, never mind. It’s a piece of decoration for a battlefield. This piece, not even a toy soldier, you understand, is so awesome it made me do a little giggle putting it together.
It was also £15.40. That’s cheap in this world, bub.
10p doesn’t buy you much any more, the average model is well over a pound whatever it is made out of – and there aren’t a great many models in GW’s many ranges that deserve the label “average”. There have been an endless series of price hikes that have sent elements of the hobby community hopping mad, not least the last.
This last came in the wake of the company replacing their last metal models (long made of a tough, modelling unfriendly, yet non-toxic, alloy) with a cold-cast plastic resin dubbed by GW’s miniatures brand Citadel as “Finecast”. That this stuff is almost certainly cheaper to buy than metal is neither here nor there, the opportunity arose to put up the prices again, and so they did.
Why do they do this? It drives some of us mental. But let’s look at it objectively. The boom times of The Lord of The Rings movie releases, that brought a lot of money in to GW, are long gone (I saw some unwise choices made there toward the end, but that it was a bubble, and that it was difficult to capitalise because of its transient nature, is undeniable). Their attempt to turn their niche hobby into one that appealed to a mass market was a noble failure. They’ve got to make their money somewhere, and looking in from the outside it looks suspiciously to me like GW is repositioning itself as a business that deals in a niche, high-cost hobby that sells to a small group of customers. Like it used to be, in fact.
Apart from the high cost bit.
Yet £10-20 pounds for a SINGLE character model? Come on! The sad fact is that Warhammer and its sister games are no longer a pocket-money hobby. At today’s prices one could buy a basic regiment every couple of weeks on average pocket money, but to play the game you need a minimum of around five or six things of £20 or so, and that’s not including the paints, scenery, glue and rulebooks.
So why do I continue to shell money out on this ravenous coin beast? And I do, even though my attic is stuffed full of as yet unpainted soldiers. Simple really, the models they make are just so damn cool. The standard of sculpture some of their kits exhibit is breathtaking, and get better every year. Never mind that, say, their ace Blood Dragon Vampire Knights are £61.50 for five (£12.30 each. £12.30 EACH!). They are amazing pieces.
As an aside here, not all their models are that expensive. I am very sure that the price of a particular model has nothing to do with its base production cost, and everything to do with how spectacular it will look in an army, and how powerful it is in the game. Though there is also the less exploitative consideration of price per (manufacturing) unit. Something like the aforementioned regiment is a one or two purchase per undead gamer, unlike for example skeleton warriors for the same army (£15.50 for ten) which would be a multiple purchase. Therefore the cost of the sculpting time, moulding etc is proportionally lower per model for skeletons than vampire knights. I’m not sure we hobbyists always bear this in mind. (Is it 806% lower? Probably not, but still).
I won’t sugar coat it, I had a tough time working at GW, and I found some of the things they did distasteful, a couple downright personally damaging. But then, I suspect I’d find the same in most businesses. I am not cut out for a corporate environment perhaps, or rather, I’m not prepared to embrace my inner bastard in order to flourish in a corporate environment. I’ve seen dark-side Guy, and he’s an A-grade twat. Let’s leave him in his box. But this is not an evil company by a long chalk.
Is GW exploitative toward its customers? Maybe a little. Yeah, I know the ludicrous margin they demand each of their products provide, no, I’m not going to tell you. Are they out to get as much of my money as possible? Almost certainly. But the company doesn’t hold a gun to my head, it gets my cash by making exciting games, models that make me pee myself a bit, and setting them in immersive, complicated worlds. Who cares that these worlds exhibit widespread borrowing from every major SF and fantasy property ever, sometimes very poorly disguised? They were dreamt up by people playing games, and that’s what people do when playing games. The settings have grown well beyond their roots now, and become influential in themselves.
It doesn’t matter. Y’see, if I had £61.50 to spare, I’d probably get me some of those knights, or something similar. The fact is that I don’t have any money at all any more, but if I had, I would. Things are worth what people will pay for them. Hard truth of capitalism, live with it (at least until the end of Western civilisation, which seems scheduled for next Tuesday).
For you angry gamers out there, the crux of the matter is this: Can you really say that someone is abusing you who makes something you want, something you still pay for even while bitching about how much it costs? Not something you need, just would like. Something you can live easily without. To read some forums you’d think the company bosses were pulling a chocolate company stunt on African baby milk, you really would.
The whole thing reminds me of the hobby grumblings back in the 90s that laid the demise of RPGs at GWs feet. This was not really true, the decline of RPGing as a mass passtime is a complex thing. Look what survived though – the very same Amazing Models inc. Why? Mainly because they made really cool stuff, not because they stopped selling Runequest.
There are a lot of miniature producing firms out there now, and some make very good models at much lower prices. But GW’s are still far and away the best. This is why they survived the gaming implosion of the early 90s, and why I still pay up.
Today I went into a Games Workshop and bought some things. Was I horrified by the prices? Hell yeah. Was I excited? Oh indeedy. Am I exploited? Nope.
Damn you Games Workshop, I love your toys. That’s why you’ll always get your hands on my cash, although I reserve the right to weep and swear as I hand it over.