Option 1: The Game Itself – Strengths and Weaknesses
Hello everyone, welcome back to my series examining the likelihood of the Games Workshop Universe “going mainstream.” If you missed my first article you can read it here. In this next installment I will be examining the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats the games in the 40k Universe possess in relation to helping Games Workshop reach a significant level of cultural influence. This will be in contrast to rising to prominence through the expanded universe, books video games etc. In all likelihood if Games Workshop does reach this level of cultural influence it will be through a mix of the two but for the sake of simplicity we will bifurcate them for the analysis.
One of the best examples of a game that has reach a degree of cultural penetration through the game itself is Magic the Gathering. While I am sure many people (including yours truly) have no idea what the story is behind the setting (I wasn’t even aware there was one for many years Many of us are aware of the game existing and its referenced in various ways in pop culture (with some tournaments being broadcast on ESPN thought the last one was in 2000). Other examples include many common board games such as Chess, Backgammon, Settlers of Catan etc. While these may not be perfectly analogous (I am not holding my breath for a Backgammon film as part of the extended board game universe) they serve to show that it is possible for games to become popular on their own merits unattached to a larger narrative.
When it comes to the game itself, it is easy to quickly identify some obvious strengths. Games Workshop has long defined itself as a models company and this is borne out by their work. Their minis are usually on the cutting edge both of style and technical ability, and they offer a breadth of factions that isn’t matched by any other single distributor. A second major advantage is that the community for their games is widely distributed and fairly well entrenched. After all it doesn’t matter how great a game is if you cannot find anyone to play it with. Another strength of the games themselves is their (relative) longevity. While Age of Sigmar is technically younger than 40k you still have models you can use that stretch back years. As with the concern about lack of opponents, having a game that has survived the ups and downs of the market will provide a degree of security that is lacking from newer games that may just be a flash in the pan.
Additionally, the game itself strongly encourages players to consider game modes other then strict competitive matches (narrative, open, crusade, etc). This makes it easier for new players to learn the game while also providing space for casual gamer who won’t wish to constantly skim the internet for updates. Finally, the ability to individually craft and customize your army is a great way for people to personally invest and create an emotional bond (pun intended) between you and your plastic people.
While the strengths of the game are manifold so are the weaknesses. The most obvious issue is the price. While I don’t think building and maintaining a collection is much more expensive then some other hobbies (on a yearly basis), the core games do struggle with a delayed sense of gratification. If I wished to sit down and spend $600 on a gaming console and some games I would be able to enjoy them almost immediately. Compared to spending that amount on 40k or Sigmar products that would take up to a year to build and paint (at my speed) granted you could fit them in a game after just building granted. Furthermore, it takes time to build up the skills necessary to build and paint well and some people feel embarrassed about their lack of ability (especially if you assume the images on the 40k reddit represent the average player).
A less obvious weakness of the game is of a more fundamental and critical nature. When I was in university, I remember my marketing professor discussing the use of a popular fast food chain offering $5 foot-long sandwiches. While the campaign was enormously effective he pointed out that it would be difficult for the chain moving forward as they couldn’t increase their prices without backlash. In a similar way, the Games Workshop games have an issues with the lifespan of their models. Implicit in the purchase of every model is the idea that you will be able to use this for a significant (if not indefinite) period of time. Thus Games Workshop faces the issue that once a customer buys a certain number of products, if the game is unchanged, they are set for life. You could see some push back occur in the shifts in 9th edition with the removal of certain popular models and some….
Not so popular models.
This is also where the customization of the game becomes a weakness as it is difficult to remove models form the game without demoralizing or enraging your player base. Thus you are either left with the choice of having bloated product lines that choke out retail space for high sellers or you remove models from circulation and risk looking greedy. Quick turnover works well for card games as their is significantly less time investment needed to play the game but for table top gaming it works less well.
The final weakness of the game is it’s complexity. While complex games provide a degree of tactical depth that is deeply satisfying, they can also intimidate new players. I think Games Workshop knows this and has been working on slimming down the rules (as you can see with the direction they took in 8th Edition). However any game that places a strong emphasis on army building is inherently more difficult to encourage casual gamers to try. Since few people are willing to devote 2-3 hours to playing one game (not including list design time) it will be difficult for either game to go mainstream.
One awkward item I had trouble fitting into either section was the community aspect of the games. In my experience I have found the communities centered on these games to be overwhelmingly positive, yet at the same time, have had a number of profoundly bad experiences. One of the issues of niche games is that there is a high degree of variance dependent on your geography. If you live in an area with a low number of clubs you may find it difficult to play if you don’t get along with the other members. So while a good community can really cause the game to flourish and nurture young players a sour one can quickly quash any growth.
Originally I was going to include the Threats and Opportunities in this article too but it was pushing the page limit to four pages singled spaced so I will save them for next time.
As a whole, I believe Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40k have more strengths then weaknesses in relation to their ability to spur Games Workshop into the national conscious. In the next section I will examine the Threats and Weakness that might hold the game back from achieving this goal.
Agree or disagree with my thoughts? Post below and let me know what you think!
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