Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Freeloaders of the World, Unite!

There cannot be many industries in the world where the dominant manufacturer can call its principle customers 'freeloaders' and get away with it - toy soldiers is one though. Because that is how Games Workshop's CEO, Mark Wells, referred to internet retailers of GW products in May, this year. Well, here is the response of at least some of those freeloaders.

Yes, Tabletop Nation, an inclusive initiative, bringing together manufacturers, retailers, and, crucially, customers, all under one friendly banner designed to - well, thats the question, isn't it? What is Tabletop Nation for? What is supposed to do? Frankly, the blurb on the web page is not all that clear, but let me explain what I think Wayland and BoW are proposing.

In a nutshell, what I think we are looking at here is a sort of merger - in a strictly non-legally binding sense - to form a corporation with a size to rival Games Workshop. And I do believe it is intended to rival Games Workshop. Its a big assumption, I know, but I believe a fair one. Also, we are only talking about the UK - for now.

As things stand, every game system or manufacturer has their own little piece of the pie, their own little sub-niche within the tabletop gaming marketplace. Wayland has their customers, totalwargamer theirs. Privateer Press has its list of customers, as does Mantic. Each little group of customers is fairly isolated from the others due to the way this hobby is run - there are very few (if any) publications covering more than one war gaming system and not a lot brand-name websites covering them either (yeah, there are some, but compare how many sites deal with more than one tabletop gaming system with the number that cover, say sports or fashion - its a small field). And of course, no manufacturer puts links to their competitors on their site. New customers are usually found through word of mouth recommendations - someone you know says game X is cool because they know you like game Y. Even then you need a critical mass, in this case enough people to play against each other for it to be interesting, of new customers to really get established in any one place.

So, every product is trying to sell itself in isolation and cannot piggyback on related products to drive acquisition of new customers. Plus, you need to get several new customers all at the same time in order for any of them to keep buying your products and thus grow your foothold in an area.

Enter BoW and Wayland.

Beasts of War has expanded from being essentially a youtube channel to a well-established and regarded tabletop news and articles website with (presumably) high traffic rates. They run text news articles but are fairly unique in their range of video series. As well as painting guides, they also put out unboxing videos of wargaming products, tips and tactics videos, and reviews. They also put together series of videos to coincide with the release of new ranges or armies for established brands including Games Workshops. They have forums for all the major gaming systems and have been trying to position themselves as a social hub for tabletop gamers for some time. All of this makes them a recognised brand with access to a large number of registered users.

Wayland, similarly, has a large database of wargames customers and a lot of experience retailing to them.

Here is what in essence I reckon they are saying to prospective partners in Tabletop Nation: get on board with our new brand and get access to all our customers and all your competitors' customers. In other words, advertise with us, feed us with access to your products (news, behind the scenes, freebies for competitions, whatever) and be viewed by our massive numbers of loyal fans, who may currently only be playing other games, so they can discover your game as well. Sure, some of your customers might end up buying their products - but some of their customers will end up buying yours too. And after all, in a capitalist marketplace, we all believe our product has strengths above our competitors so what do you have to lose by being seen alongside them?

This is in contrast to, say, Games Workshop's current promotional strategy, which seems to run something along the lines of keep saying our stuff is the best in the world and pretend no other games system exists and it will be alright.

There is a slightly different proposition for customers and retailers.

One of GW's greatest strengths right now is its geographical reach. With around 150 stores worldwide and counting, I don't know how many of which are in the UK, each of which runs at least one club night per week, plus all the Games Club Network clubs that are advertised in White Dwarf every month, there are a lot of places you can easily find a game of Warhammer or 40k each week. There are many more clubs and stores running gaming nights than these though - but none have such ready access to national press advertising as GW. This could change with Tabletop Nation. So your store that runs a gaming night that, as before, struggles to find new members because they struggle to find you, can now be listed on the central hub site for UK gamers. And wherever you live you could search for clubs or players near you, or find new clubs or friends in places you are visiting.

Which brings me on to what, for me, is perhaps the most exciting part of the Tabletop Nation blurb - the gaming hall 'east of London'. I currently live in the same town Wayland operates from and I know the new hall is also going to be very close to me. I love everything about Warhammer World - except its location and the fact you can only play GW games there. Tabletop Nation's headquarters could be the answer to both those problems.

None of this is guaranteed, of course. Its all just my guess at what's going on and what is being offered. Some of it is perhaps wishful thinking too, or just what I would do if I were trying to build the Tabletop Nation brand.

I doubt we'll hear much more of this until the New Year but, hopefully, agreements are being drawn up and ink signed even over the Christmas holiday. Tabletop Nation could be a great step forward for all wargamers and is certainly full of potential to revolutionise how the hobby works. I look forward to learning more about it son.

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