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Thursday, 5 January 2017

2017 - What will it bring for us gamers? Part 3: Games Workshop

Whatever your opinion of 2016 in other ways, it was a pretty good year in gaming. The hobby as a whole is growing at around 30% where most industries can hope for about 10% of that. We saw the arrival of some major new franchises like Dropfleet Commander and GW seem to be organising themselves in a slightly better way in many areas, despite still carrying on with Age of Sigmar (!). The rise of the board game strengthened more than ever, and there were a lot of great Kickstarter projects that were announced/launched and sometimes fulfilled. Not a bad time at all to be a gamer.

After looking over the Man Battlestations Blog, I thought it might be fun to do a similar predictive series of posts here over the coming days. So, what do I think is on the horizon for 2017?

Games Workshop

Now let me make it clear (in case you've gained a different impression from The Hub Systems), I like GW, ok? They've done some really stupid crap over the years, but these guys basically created the global tabletop gaming industry back in the 1990s. I just think they lost the plot when they started to think that in doing so, it meant they ruled the world and could do wtf they wanted. This, coupled with an explosion of people who were sick of that and wanted to do things a different way, and the dawn of some new technologies that made it easier and easier to create high-quality minis, really changed that marketplace in a way they couldn't influence directly. Instead of responding to this by changing their ways, they became increasingly aloof and arrogant, allowing independents to flourish.

Let's face it, if GW had their shit together around 2005-2010, companies like Spartan and Mantic would be restricted to very fringe followings, or may not even have come into being at all. Instead the company was run by business people who fundamentally did not understand gamers, and pursued a profitable but "scorched earth" policy of going after hyper-dedicated uber-geeks with too much kit to check-out and 12 year olds with middle-class parents who would pay anything to keep little Johnny quiet in their rooms without becoming addicted to porn or religious zealotry.

Now GW got a new CEO in 2016, and it does seem to have made a difference. The company seems to be making better choices - I say better rather than good, because they still have Age of Sigmar and some cynical pricing structures, but hey - I'll take "better" over "relentlessly crap" any day. I have actually spent more on GW products this year than Spartan, and I only bought the SG stuff because it was more than 50% off in their Black Friday sale - and I then had to wait almost a month before it arrived! I picked up the GW stuff from my FLGS (yes, I have one now!), and it was remarkably reasonable - ok, I bought it for D&D, not for a GW game, but that's besides the point!

So what does this mean for the coming year? Well, as Bloodbowl was released in 2016 - to many fans pleasure (not my cup of tea, but each to their own) - we may well see BFG follow on its heels - maybe towards the end of the year? I know GW recruited one of Spartan's designers for this team, so it will be interesting to see what happens here, especially in the space (pun sort of intended) left by Andy Chambers and his work on DFC for Hawk. I get the feeling that SGs FA might struggle to survive in a marketplace where a fully supported BFG and DZC exist side-by-side.

What about their core games? Well I feel Age of Sigmar was a train wreck of epic proportions for a company like GW, and I hope they understand that fully. They can't undo that now, but they could try to make it much more similar to Warhammer, and effectively make Warhammer v10 (or whatever number you feel like inserting here). I'm not sure they'll do that, but I do see them expanding the races and armies to fill the spaces and reinvigorate the ranges in some way. Cleverly handled, I think they could re-start the fire of Warhammer.

And 40k? Well here I'd say they need to change things around a bit. The game has become a bit of a caricature of itself IMO, with victory almost reduced to "who brings the most largest models" in their army building and who rolls initiative. It needs to modernise and get away from that feeling, get back to being the ultimate skirmish game that it always was at its heart. They still need a space to play with the uber-toys, but make it a different space. Look at the popularity of the 30k universe, which I see expanding further primarily because of that.

I'd love to see GW become more of the company they used to be - a GAMING company, with awesome tutorials on making cool scenery from bitz box stuff and so on, because people miss that - it tied them to the company and loyalty is the number 1 thing in this industry, because we all love the new shiny. You need people to buy into the whole universe and it be immersive so you feel like your gaming is a joint venture - that's why D&D 5e has done so well I think, it's recaptured the spirit of D&D, and I really hope GW can recapture that in themselves. I don't know, but 2017 could be a pivotal year for them where they start to reconquer some of their lost ground.