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TGN Editorial - Space Hulk: Artificial Scarcity and Missed Opportunities

TGN's family is expanding. We've brought on Enrico Nardini, from Play Unplugged, to join us here with editorials and game reviews. Here's his first article. It deals with the new Space Hulk release from Games Workshop.


So take a look, enjoy the read, and take it away, Enrico!

Armchair quarterbacking Games Workshop has become such a common activity among miniature enthusiasts that I would not be surprised to hear that it had become the third most popular thing to do on the internet after uploading cat videos and searching for pornography. Its pervasive nature speaks to the devotion of its fan-base. And yes, I’m talking about the “haters” too, because they were likely, at some point, the ones most deeply in love.

Let’s get this over with right out of the gate. I own a copy of the 2009 release of Space Hulk, and it is glorious. The figures are highly detailed, the components are top-notch, and I love the debossed cardboard corridors. The gameplay has also stood the test of time. This will be the 4th time it’s been physically in print. Space Hulk has also successfully made the transition to the videogame market multiple times, including a recent touch device release that is currently pulling a 4-out-of-5 star rating in the iTunes store.

I’m not a bean counter at Games Workshop. I’m not privy to the information that went into the decision making process which culminated in the re-release of Space Hulk. But, I am fairly certain that this re-release will be successful. It will also give an opportunity for those who missed out on the 2009 release (or those who recently entered the hobby) to get a copy at a price that is uninflated by its current secondary market status. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Artificial Scarcity

There are many reasons to create a “Limited Edition” item to release to market. In some cases, a company does not have the resources to keep a product in general circulation. They may have a limited ability to produce the product, the product might have some intrinsic trait that limits its production, or the product’s appeal is limited.

Sometimes, however, a company will create a limited edition product to create artificial scarcity. This may seem counter-intuitive at first (especially when one considers the cost of tooling a steel mold). Why would a company want to limit the production of a product? If they can sell more, isn’t it better to make more? That seems logical.

Artificial scarcity works by creating an environment in which the consumer is fearful that they will not be able to purchase the product. This stimulates sales. Buy it now or never! The item gains a “special” status, and in some cases ownership can even be seen as bestowing that status (you’re a “true” fan). If the product is already desirable and of sufficient quality (and Space Hulk is), this can generate a feverish sales environment, allowing a company to sell a high volume in a short time span.

Now, I’m fully aware that companies exist to make money. I’m also aware that Games Workshop is not the only company to use this tactic. They aren’t even the only game company that uses this tactic. But this tactic is almost never good for the general consumer. Limited edition products often promote buying on speculation. If the product is of sufficient desirability/quality, this will cause its price on the secondary market to inflate. One need look no further than Space Hulk 2009, which could command prices of $300 (well above its original MSRP). In extreme cases, like certain limited edition Magic: The Gathering sets, this can even incentivize retailers to sell the product above MSRP.

Space Hulk 2014 is a very interesting case in this discussion because of the implementation of this tactic and how it relates to the 2009 release. What follows is partially speculation based on what has been detailed on the Games Workshop website.

Space Hulk 2014 is a re-release of Space Hulk 2009. Aside from the components appearing to be identical, the phrase “...16 missions (4 that are brand new)...” seems to support this assertion. A re-release is not necessarily problematic, but what is troubling is the terminology used when marketing the 2009 release. Here is a quote from White Dwarf 356 (September 2009): “A WORD OF WARNING: There is only ever going to be one print run of this great game, so when the stocks run out they won’t be replenished!”


Well, that was obviously not true. Admittedly, you could assert that the 4 new missions (and possibly some new tiles) could present the argument that this is a new game. Heck, there may even be some new rules. I think, however, that those arguments rely on a technicality, not what is actually being done, or how it effects the consumer. The words above were clearly written to scare consumers into purchasing the product. The word “warning” (indicating impending danger) is actually used in the marketing copy. Yet, the 2014 version of Space Hulk looks remarkably similar to the one released in 2009.

Now Games Workshop is gambling that this tactic will work again. Here is a quote from Games Workshop’s home page: “Strictly limited numbers - Pre-order yours now to avoid missing out!” The question isn’t whether artificial scarcity will work. It is a tested business practice. The question is whether it will work a second time with the same product.

Missed Opportunities

Regardless of one’s feelings regarding Space Hulk and the business tactic of artificial scarcity, this re-release will make the game available again at an acceptable price point. So long as you can get a copy through a standard retail chain or directly from GW, you will be better served than if you had to purchase it from the secondary market. That is a good thing, but another issue that dampens my enthusiasm for this particular release is that it squanders an opportunity to do something new or revisit another of their previously released, popular properties.

For example: When I first watched the teaser trailer that would eventually become a trailer for Space Hulk 2014, I realized that it was almost certainly a Space Hulk trailer, but I harbored a secret hope that it would be Space Crusade. What’s Space Crusade? Space Crusade was essentially a HeroQuest game, but instead of taking on the role of fantasy heroes, you take on the role of Adeptus Astartes. Wonder if it was fun? I honestly have no idea (I missed out on Space Crusade), but these kids seem to be enjoying it!

I did not own Space Crusade (or Advanced Space Crusade), but a box of figures for Tyranid Attack (another HeroQuest like game by GW) was one of my earliest 40K experiences. I can’t attest to Space Crusade’s quality, but I can say that HeroQuest was the game that “launched 1,000 ships” for me in terms of introducing me to gaming, and I think games like that could do the same for a new generation of gamers.

It’s also just good business. HeroQuest-like games are currently on the rise in terms of popularity. Games like Descent, Myth, Castle Ravenloft, Super Dungeon Explore, and more, have seen great commercial success. This has recently culminated in the wildly successful Dungeon Saga Kickstarter, which raised over a million dollars. Fantasy is not the only genre where this approach has been successful with games like Zombicide and Project Pandora: Grim Cargo.

Maybe you have no affection for Space Crusade. Ok, but would Games Workshop be better served releasing another specialist games from their back catalog? Necromunda, Blood Bowl, Epic 40,000, and Warhammer Quest are games I am constantly seeing brought up again-and-again in forums as fan favorites. Isn’t there some way to bring them back, even if it must be in a more limited format? Heck, they could bring something out that is new altogether. I’m fairly certain that Dreadfleet did not sell in nearly the volume that GW had hoped, but that doesn’t mean you stop taking chances.

Is the re-release of Space Hulk a bad thing? It certainly has benefits to recommend it. Customers will once again be able to purchase a great game at a decent price. There will be a complete-in-one-box game experience that can introduce new players to the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Games Workshop will even be releasing a set of digital supplements to expand the game. If they can be used with the 2009 edition (and that better be the case), then GW will be able to profit from both releases.

But, despite these advantages, I can’t help but look at this as a continuation of the GW’s current holding pattern. It’s a bit “meh” to me, in a way I can’t quite quantify. Despite being a leading company in our industry, they seem content to tread the same ground, and that’s just boring to this miniature gamer.

So what are your thoughts? Are you stoked to be battling the insidious Genestealers again? Is there a franchise you wish Games workshop had revisited instead? How about a new game idea? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

-Enrico Nardini, Associate Editor TGN