Games Workshop: WTF?

Like many FLGS’s, one of the local stores I patronize regularly has had to come up with inventive ways of competing with online discounters. This place has loads of old lead, including lots of GW stuff from the past 10 years or so, still new in the box. His compete strategy is simple: if you buy anything other than GW, he gives you a gift certificate for 30% of the purchase value towards anything in the store aside from GW stuff. For GW stuff, he gives you a $20 gift certificate for every $100 you spend.

That’s a pretty good deal, I would say. Or is it? It sure is as far as the non-GW stuff goes. But for the GW stuff, I’m not so sure.

Let me explain.

I recently accrued $100 worth of GW purchases at the store, so I had a $20 credit burning a hole in my pocket. I don’t buy any of the new stuff, since I never play the games anymore. What did I buy? Lots of individual regiment boxes for armies I don’t play, mainly for use in skirmish games and as cannon fodder for my AD&D game. For example, I bought a unit box of Empire Swordsmen for $30 there (I told you he has a lot of stuff still new in box, priced according to when he ordered them…in this case I’d say about 8 years ago or so.) I also bought a bunch of metal miniatures considering he sells all his old metal GW stuff for half price.

Well, I now have a gaming table that I’m hoping gets a lot of use. I have a couple of armies  for both their games, but like many gamers I always consider more. So yesterday I went to the store, thinking I might plop down a decent chunk of change on a battalion box, either for 40K or WFB. Why not? He has some battalion boxes from 8-9 years ago still on the shelf, and they’re priced accordingly as low as $90. Take $20 off that, and it’s starting to look like a deal, depending on the army you pick.

I looked at all the battalion boxes he had for sale for both games, and let me tell you, there’s a huge difference in what you get for what you spend, both across armies and across time.

He had two versions of the Empire Battalion box. (Since I already bought a box of swordsmen, I considered getting a battalion and having an Empire army ready to go.) Both versions contained 20 State Troops, 10 Handgunners, and 8 Reiksguard Knights. One also came with a Cannon and crew, the other came with 10 Greatswords instead. The Cannon was the cheaper choice: it was $90. The Greatswords cost $105. (This is the current version available on the GW website.) Maybe a little expensive, but not a terrible deal, considering you get over 40 miniatures per box.

The best deal I found was a Skaven Battalion, which contained 40 Clanrats, 20 Plague Monks, 2 Rat Ogres with Handler, and 2 Rat Swarms with Handlers for $115. These are the old syle Skaven, not the new ones. But with over 60 miniatures, it’s not a bad deal.

But these are either old WFB Battalions, or they’re the exception. The newer ones have fewer figures. and they cost more. And they changed the game itself to favor more miniatures and bigger units.

As far as old 40K Battalions went, the ones with the most miniatures for the money were the Tyranids and the Tau. I don’t want or need more Tyranids, and I don’t know anything about the Tau. Maybe if he had one of the older Tau codices there I would have considered buying it since it was priced at $90 and included 10 Fire Warriors, 3 Stealth Suits, 1 Battlesuit, 1 Devilfish Tank, and 12 Kroots. But I’m not buying a new codex for $45, and I don’t even own the latest version of the game.

This month GW released the new Eldar models, and everyone is outraged at the price hike. The Eldar Battalion is especially egregious. You get a total of 17 miniatures: 10 Guardians, 5 Dire Avengers, a Viper Jetbike, and a Wave Serpent tank. For $115. Now, GW will have its fanboys who think this is “really a good deal for what you’re getting, especially given the quality of the models”, but that’s just bullshit. And yeah, you get a tank. Big fucking deal. See the Tau above. 15 troops does not a Battalion make. They used to sell WFB regiments of 20 miniatures for 30 bucks! I know: I just bought some!

So, back to my original question: is $20 off already inflated prices actually a good deal? Or has GW’s pricing plan pretty much invalidated what this poor store owner is trying to do? By anyone’s estimation, 20 bucks off is a pretty good deal. Unless you’re paying way too much for what you’re getting to begin with. Not the owner’s fault, but he’s the one who stocks the items and has to deal with the crap from people who hate GW’s prices, who then buy from someone online. As he put it to me yesterday, “People only come to me if I’m their last resort. They need it tomorrow or something like that.”

Despite what you may think, this isn’t really a rant on GW’s prices, although any discussion about GW is bound to get around to pricing eventually (and it’s not hard to see why). It’s a speculation about what the fuck GW is really doing. Let me repeat that: this is pure speculation. I have no real knowledge of GW’s business plan or goals.

For retailers, there are already a ton of restrictions when it comes to selling GW stuff, even online. Recently, I have heard that the War Store has had to stop selling GW bits or risk losing the ability to sell GW at all, which they do for 20% off already, although they are forbidden to show any prices and/or merchandise on the site. How long do you think that will continue? And if the War Store and online sellers are having problems with the restrictions, how much trouble do you think the FLGS owner in his brick and mortar place can ever begin to compete? He can’t, really. Unless he’s a GW store.

Which makes me wonder if GW is actually trying to price the retailer out of the market, so that anyone who wants to buy GW stuff will have to buy directly from GW. it seems like a dumb idea, but is it really? No more wholesale sales to retailers, and they can charge what they want. While they can’t control the secondary market, they can make all the new stuff impossible to get for less than whatever they want to charge. While it cuts their third-party distribution network and limits exposure to their games, they have enough money to open new stores. Seems like a shitty business practice to me, but what do I know? All I know is FLGS owners everywhere aren’t moving GW stuff as much as they should, because most people consider retail too expensive and get it online for cheaper. What if that suddenly went away? Who would benefit?

I’m really trying to figure out GW’s game plan here. It reminds me of something that happened in the mid-90’s, when I was working in a comic book store. Anyone familiar with the crash of the comics market in the 90’s knows there were plenty of bad marketing ideas that capitalized on collectors’-especially new collectors’-unrealistic expectations of the “guaranteed” value of comics increasing over time. Thus there were gimmicky covers, multiple covers of the same issue (buy them all to have a complete collection!), price hikes, gratuitous cameos of “hot” characters and crossover storylines intended to dive sales of shitty books. That, coupled with the decision of Marvel Comics to distribute their own stuff exclusively, meant that Joe Retailer no longer enjoyed the big wholesale discount he got from buying all his Marvel and everything else from a third-party distributor. DC soon followed suit and became exclusive to one distributor, so now Joe Retailer had to order from more places, which means he ordered less from each, which means he paid more overall. To make matters worse, eventually the collectors stopped buying into the crap, and a lot of comic shops went out of business when they couldn’t move the merchandise they ordered two months previously in anticipation of collector demand that was suddenly no longer there.

Shortly before the big crash, though, Marvel started advertising something called “Marvel Mart” in their comics, which was a way for the individual collector to order from Marvel directly. As I recall, it was packaged in a way that implied the comic shop was an unreliable way to get your comics on time and in good condition. Plus, if you ordered directly, you saved money, since it was cheaper than Joe Retailer. Well, comic store owners went ballistic, since it seemed that Marvel was trying to drive them out of business. If I remember correctly, Marvel relented and Marvel Mart went away, mainly because Marvel didn’t expect the backlash from retailers. After all, Marvel comics accounted for something like 70% of comic sales at the time. Take that away, and how can an owner survive? Most didn’t. The store I worked at survived for a time on Magic: the Gathering card sales. Then it went out of business, too.

Much as I love playing other games, for most people GW is synonymous with miniatures gaming, for better or worse.  I have to think that this will hit the wall at some point, but that wall just keeps getting pushed back.

I didn’t buy anything yesterday after all, although I am considering the older Empire Battalion and/or maybe the Tau, if I can find the older codex. I still have two WFB armies I’m working on (which means I haven’t made much progress). I just feel bad for this store owner and others like him, who are really struggling and fighting an uphill battle. To be fair, it’s not just GW’s fault; they just have the worst prices. Amazon sells X-Wing stuff for a lot less than retail, for example. It wasn’t too long ago I considered opening a store of my own. With the current state of the market, I’d be rolling some heavily-loaded dice if I did. I just think it’s sad that the little guy might not be around too much longer.

 

 

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