The last year has seen its share of controversy for Games Workshop. But while disagreements with fans and the hobby community at large are nothing new to the Nottingham studio, this year's Gamesday illustrated how much aggressive management decisions have damaged the company and perhaps it's relationship with even the most die-hard fans.
I hadn't realised this year's UK Gamesday was going to be a smaller event than recent shows have been until I spoke to a Forge World customer service rep a couple of weeks ago. I hadn't even noticed it had been moved back to the National Indoor Arena until I rang to pre-order some models. But the sales rep told me they were only selling half as many tickets as they did for sites at the National Exhibition Centre.
Thinking back on the madness of the last couple of years at the NEC, I thought at first the issue was perhaps one of crowd control. It's just really, really hard to safely move 8000 people around an enclosed space. Even with the great improvements to the retail area they introduced in 2012, Gamesday last year was still a draining experience. In some ways, there was too much to see and do, and it was all spread out over a really big area. Walking from a seminar to a signing to a display game and then back to the store and so on, all through a hot crowd of fellow fans, well, once a year is enough for that much effort over toy soldiers. So perhaps this year was going to be a more intimate affair, I thought as I queued up, early last Sunday morning. More time to examine the models, talk to the designers, and enjoy the displays and participation games.
But, after visiting every part of the arena, every table and stand and seminar or signing area, and then, barely more than an hour later, sat in the stands and watched hundreds of bored looking punters trudge past on the floor below, I realised thats not why they did it at all.
GW's corporate strategy has, for several years now, been all about doing the same or more with less. GW is all about 'efficiency' these days. Not 'the hobby', not the fans, not anything else but making a higher profit margin. Even if that means less customers overall, and certainly if that means less staff.
|The Charybis assault pod, new from Forgeworld|
Hence there were no demo games at this years Gamesday. No store-built display tables or have-a-go scenery areas. No speed-painting or scrap demons. The studio staff were there and there was an area where you could paint a free mini using the digital paint by numbers system GW flogs these days. But you can meet the designers and the writers at several other events throughout the year and all GW stores will give you a free mini and guide you on how to paint it when you are starting the hobby.
No, this was a bare basics event, one where the licensees literally had as much floor space and quite possibly more actual interaction with customers than GW itself.
What GW did have was shopping. Alan Merrett recently testified in front of a US Court that GW's customers' favourite activity at Gamesday was 'buying things from Games Workshop'. Perhaps this was why fully two thirds of the main show floor was dedicated to sales. In the picture above, the sales area is to the left. This line of red shirts clustered in a line to the right of the shot is the line of sales tills that stretched across the hall. The little collection of tables and stands beyond it is the display and studio area.
|Here are some happy people, happily doing their favourite hobby activity.|
As a metaphor for how GW feels about its business, its customers, and the hobby in general, you can't get much better than this. Sales, sales, sales. The company could just about scrape together enough staff for a massive retail operation. But beyond that - not so much. Gamesday used to be a chaotic but fun celebration of the hobby, the biggest company in the market, its fantastic IP's, and the people that make and play it. Just like the stores. This year though, its a stripped down experience. No fun, no joy, just money.
Forge World at least had a strong show. Funny how the 'niche' studio seems so much stronger than the parent organisation. Lots of new models, great displays, entertaining seminars. This part of the business truly does do more with less.
|This Forgeworld table is designed to represent the layout of Gamesday. Dark, cramped, crowded...|
I was disappointed by Gamesday 2013. But I have been disappointed by GW for a while now so I'm used to it. I feel worse for friends from my local club though who went this year to their first ever Gamesday and came home bruised and annoyed. They had heard the stories of Gamesdays past and were expecting to be blown away. Instead many of them came away discouraged and frankly angry at a waste of time and money. And these are people who still love GW.
|At least Forgeworld put a little effort into it.|
There was in fact very little to differentiate this affair to the studio open days and Black Library events that are run at Warhammer World. It really comes down to Golden Demon, the longtime premier painting competition everyone wants to win.
Its a prestigious award and some truly amazing art is produced there each year. The display cabinets still had their own area, its just it was in the basement, four flights of stairs from the main hall, cramped, and badly lit. The Armies on Parade competition being squeezed into the same space didn't help, but if I were a top flight painter, busting my ass over a year to get something put together flawlessly and beautifully, only to find it displayed in a narrow badminton court hidden away at the bottom of a lift shaft.... I might start thinking the sheen of the thing was wearing a little thin.