Apologies for the delay in articles. I had assumed I would have more time over the holidays then I actually did.
I want to take a minute to thank those of you who commented (well most of you) I appreciate your feedback and I agree that I have overlooked some of the smaller games such as Underworlds or Bloodbowl. I agree that these are better primed for wider acceptance (I even got my wife to play a game or two of Bloodbowl with me). I appreciate your feedback and thank you for taking the time to comment. On to the next two areas of our analysis:
If one considers only tabletop war-games, most major markets have yet to reach saturation, and thus the opportunities seem endless. However, a more realistic approach would admit that the tabletop games are competing as much with other traditional board games and video games as much as they are with each other. Since Games Workshop is currently sitting at the top of the heap in terms of overall sales, the next opportunities will likely revolve around broadening it’s reach. The trick to this is how to do so while not watering down its core product. (A subject that deserves its own article). But broadly speaking, Games Workshop is about as successful as possible in the table-top war gaming world.
Perhaps a more contentious area of opportunity is through the competitive community. If this community can be harnessed to provide input on the game it can be a way to spread interest and excitement about GW’s games very quickly. With events growing in size (with obvious exceptions for 2020) this community can provide a very effective word-of-mouth advertising campaign. Though, it should be noted that this is highly dependent on GW not upsetting the apple cart and poorly managing the game. Such a relationship with the community can be, in the words of the poet Eminem: “when it’s good it’s great when it’s bad it’s awful” If GW makes a decision that alienates a large portion of their player base the blow-back could be severely damaging.
One area of opportunity is geographic. In terms or market, the US is currently the world largest market for board and table-top but the Asia Pacific region is growing the fastest. As many of its products are luxury items Games Workshop can find it difficult to penetrate certain areas with low median income but burgeoning middle classes in developing countries may be an avenue of growth.
In a way the pandemic may also provide an opportunity for Games Workshop. While most social gatherings are reduced or suspended (the main way to enjoy the hobby and introduce new players), people more time to try something new, or pick up a hobby they played in the past. The virus has also caused a spike in board games and Games Workshop is well positioned to take advantage of this trend. Furthermore this is also a space where the amount of time required outside of playing the game is less of a liability. While it can be frustrating to paint 50 guardsmen for a friendly game in normal circumstances people might be more sanguine about it knowing they have more time at home.
Finally, as the culture has grown more accepting of a variety of factors, we have also seen the rise in popularity of obscure hobbies and sports. People are able to make a living as professional video game or Ultimate Frisbee athletes, hobbies that were seen as quirky or embarrassing are now much less stigmatized. Given it’s unique nature, Games Workshop’s products may be able to capture a niche before other larger companies can capitalize on the opportunity.
One of the biggest weaknesses of the tabletop game is that it is possible to play the game itself without buying any models. You see this referenced all the time with words such as “poorhammer” or jokes about using soda cans as dreadnoughts. While this does not provide the same level of experience that playing wit the actual models provide, it illustrates the core weakness of the game. For many years Games Workshop has had an easy monopoly on models. 3rd party models always existed but were seen as very niche or were so peripheral as to not be seen as a threat. Gradually other companies began to fill in gaps in the Games Workshop model range and exploit the slow turnaround time fro new models that plagued GW in the 2000’s-mid 2010’s. Most people are familiar with the famous Chapterhouse lawsuit that cause GW to clamp down on any units that didn’t have an actual model and the change it heralded in how the company was run. All this to say GW’s monopoly on models (even of it’s own design) is rapidly dwindling. With a bevy of 3rd party options or pirated models available people can avoid the luxury prices Games Workshop charges for it’s products. There is also a much larger specter that is looming: the 3D- printer. While 3D printers are still cumbersome enough to require a lot of dedication, they represent the biggest threat to Games Workshop’s model range. The option for people to print their own miniatures at a fraction of the cost of buying them will likely become a tangible threat soon. If recasting was a major issue before, then a whole new world of copy-cat models is waiting in the wings. Even selling licensed 3D print files is a risk as these may soon be pirated as well and made widely available.
Now the presence of pirating does not mean that all people will use it. You have bee able to easily find pirated copies of codecies and other Games Workshop novels online for over 10 years. However the ability to create something tangible and for such a low cost is a big issue for luxury brands. Since so much of their production cost goes into design, it become harder to protect that product then if they could differentiate on engineering, durability or some other facet of performance. Imagine how Ferrari would react if it became possible to print a working cop of one of their cars for $1000.
On another level Games Workshop also faces a threat in the form of the ever expanding capabilities of the video game industry. Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40K have long served as a form of escapism for its players. However, the increased ability of video games to provide a more immediate and immersive experience can supersede that in the right conditions. While I believe this future is still a ways off it is still an option that is currently benign explored by some people today (as the existence of online tabletop leagues show). Furthermore scientific evidence is pointing towards shrinking human attention spans which doesn’t bode well for long complicated games that require miniatures to be slowly assembled and painted.
In summary, While I love these games, I do believe it is highly unlikely they will be the mechanism that launches Games Workshop into the public consciousness. They are very niche hobbies and function almost as much as lifestyle brands. In it’s current form the game is difficult to watch as an e-sport and too time consuming to entice casual participants. This is not to say it won’t change in the future, or that these factors will negatively affect Games workshop in the long run. There is some possibility of the peripheral games rising to prominence, Bloodbowl and Underworlds have a somewhat unique niche that they offer and are much easier to quickly pickup and play (while also offering painting opportunities for more dedicated players.
Next time we will begin our dive into the next area of analysis: The Intellectual Property.
And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!