The perils of arrogance

Editorial

Gamers can be a fickle bunch but they are ultimately interested in gaming and it is this desire to be able to always to play that has, I think, maintained GW in its position of prominence in the hobby. Its not difficult to find people who play 40K and Warhammer Fantasy and it is often not difficult to find their miniatures either.

Whatever its advances in technology, and lets be clear I think that GW makes the best plastic kits in the market, the one area where GW has always lagged behind has been in customer outreach and retention. Older, or longer-term, Games Workshop gamers have always complained about the lack of connection they have with the company. The perception has been, more some time now, that GW doesn’t care about customer turnover because they are constantly getting new, younger, gamers to replace them.

Whether this is true or not is irrelevant because ultimately the lack of response from GW makes this the dominant theme when discussing the company. By not contradicting it or acting to dispel the notion Games Workshop validates it and allow it to propagate until it is ultimately the “truth”.

Nothing really displays this arrogance more than the recent Adepticon 2011 event in Chicago. Adepticon is one of, if not the, biggest 40K and WFB events in the world. Gamers refer to it as their yearly pilgrimage and the event has such a large influence on the 40K gaming community that the Adepticon FAQ is often used for the game instead of the official GW FAQ.

So you would assume that this would be a great way for GW to communicate with their fans and the event would be filled with GW personalities and staff helping to promote the game.

You would, of course, be dead wrong.

To the best of my knowledge, aside from some sales staff at the Forge World booth, Games Workshop had no official presence at the show. No speakers like Phil Kelly or Jervis Johnson. Not even a marketing intern from GW US. Who was at the event in force? Why Privateer Press of course. Privateer ran events, demos, brought their staff and had a huge presence at an event that only in the last two years has even run Warmachine events. It would be as if the largest presence at a Green Bay Packers fan event were officials and team members from the Pittsburg Steelers. Privateer also gave away a free Warmachine starter in the first 1000 swag bags given out to attendees. 1000 Warhammer and 40K fans opened their swag bag to find a free $50 Warmachine starter set and it wasn’t long before those gamers started talking about playing the game.

The Plastic Legions blog has an even longer post about this issue that really outlines the problem. Gamers went to an event that, despite its wider focus, is dedicated to Games Workshop game and found a swag bag that had a free Black Library preview book, that they probably already got for free at a GW store, and a free $50 starter box from Privateer Press. Dave Taylor took a photo of the contents of his loot bag. Finding the GW contributions is akin to reading a page of Where’s Waldo? And of course PP staff were at the event to run demos and show those same gamers how to play the game they had just received for free.

The utter arrogance of this sort of treatment is astounding. I’m certainly not a fan of Game Workshop’s management but I really do now have to question whether Tom Kirby and his coterie of managers have any interest in the company other than lining their own pockets? Kirby and some of his fellow managers are the largest GW shareholders and every time the stock price increases or the company pays dividends it is Kirby and his fellow managers than profit. Even if the reason for those “profits” are short-term price increases that ultimately decrease the size of the GW fanbase. Short-term profit for the benefit of a few upper-management people appears to be the focus of the company.

As long as the management of GW has no interest, or no reason to be interested in, the long-term health of the company we will continue to see this sort of arrogant and ignorant behaviour. If GW can’t be bothered to come out to the largest gathering of their fans how long are those people going to be fans? Privateer Press has shown that it is interested in expanding and retaining their gamers and if a company like Privateer can do it then why can’t GW?

One is left to assume that Games Workshop management just don’t care and while that attitude might not have been as damaging as it was a few years ago GW now have a competing company that now appears to have the resources to actively recruit the customer base that GW has relied on to continue to buy their ever more expensive products.

Arrogance might not have been as detrimental in the past but when your most ardent fans now play your competitors games at GW events maybe it is finally time for even a management team as blinkered and ignorant as the one running Games Workshop to finally take notice.

Sadly I doubt they will.

Update: Matthias Weeks, one of the organizers of Adepticon, has written in to clarify their relationship with Games Workshop

As a main organizer of AdeptiCon, I just wanted to drop in an clear up a few off-base assumptions about our event and our involvement with Games Workshop.

First and foremost, it is important to note that AdeptiCon simply would not exist without the dedicated support of Games Workshop. We have had a close relationship with Games Workshop since day one and they have gone well beyond the call of duty several times over the years to ensure that our event realizes our envisioned potential. Their support has come in the form of hotel negotiations, terrain loaning, special guests (over the years we have had Paul Sawyer, Jervis, Gav, Jes, Phil and a whole host of other sculptors and Black library authors – often the direct result of Games Workshop being involved), prize support, special events, staffing from the Chicago Battle Bunker, and the like. To say Games Workshop has been instrumental in allowing us to bring you this event is not understated.

That said, I can see how from an outside observer it might appear Games Workshop has forsaken AdeptiCon and is allowing it to be consumed by younger, hungrier companies. The reason for this is twofold. First, Games Workshop has made a move to support a broader range of indy events across the States over the past two years. During this process they attempted to standardize their involvement with said events in terms of prize support and pre-event support (terrain, advertisement). While AdeptiCon once received the benefits of additional attention in previous years (White Dwarf coverage, more staff in attendance, Chicago Battle Bunker helping with registration and the like), we are more than willing to conform to whatever guidelines Games Workshop has put forth regarding these matters. It would be unfair of us to demand more attention, regardless of what we actually do…which brings me to the second point.

AdeptiCon’s motto has been For Gamers By Gamers since the get go. While we were a 100% Games Workshop event for our first seven years, we always maintained our independence and the ability to put on an event that ran parallel (or sometimes even against) what Games Workshop was doing with their Grand Tournaments and other events. While we were more than happy to work with them, we were not interested in being governed by them…something Games Workshop was also adamant about.

As AdeptiCon grew, and our player-base exploded, we had several requests to broaden our scope of games. We had that discussion for about two years until it was decided that AdeptiCon should transition into a true Wargaming Convention and begin including games outside of the Games Workshop spheres.

It just so happens that these two events occurred roughly around the same time and therefore it might appear that Games Workshop has dropped all support for AdeptiCon. This is not the case. They were instrumental in getting Forge World to the convention this year (something we have tried for 6+ years to make happen ourselves), they provided terrain kits to meet our new table requirements and they worked with us to provide ample prize support for all Games Workshop events. While we might no longer receive the special considerations we once did, I am not sure we should. We are playing within the boundaries they have defined for all indy events in the States and it would be unfair of us to ask for more. Making AdeptiCon a truly great event shouldn’t be Games Workshop’s job, it is ours.

Is there a possibility for Games Workshop to do something amazing for the attendees of our event and really build some goodwill with the veteran players? Sure, but again we would be receiving consideration above and beyond that of other events…not to mention their attention is always going to be more geared towards their own US events and retail operations. We are totally happy with GW’s current support for/involvement with our event, and the option do something more is always there. I suppose the point is being made that they SHOULD do something special…and that is a valid opinion, but it should be balanced with their current unseen efforts and guidelines they are currently operating within in regards to indy events.

As a convention, we exist to serve the wargaming hobby, and part of that is working with the companies that make wargaming so great. We absolutely love it when companies like Privateer Press (or Mantic) come to us with an insane idea like the swag bag giveaway. That is a win-win-win for us, our attendees and Privateer Press. AdeptiCon is not interested in converting players from one system to another, or even promoting one company over another (including Games Workshop), but we are interested in giving our attendees and supporters the best convention experience possible.