TGN Feature - It's the End of the Old World as We Know It

TGN Associate Editor Enrico Nardini speculates on the rumors of dynamic change in the world of Warhammer Fantasy Battles.

tgn-feature_360

Yep. It's a cliched title. Sue me. If there is one thing Games Workshop (GW) fans have been conditioned to accept (much like victims of Stockholm Syndrome), it's receiving news of upcoming releases via leaks and rumors. It's so pervasive now that , as a conspiratorially minded individual, I often wonder if this pattern of rumor, leaked photos, and eventual confirmation isn't a calculated marketing ploy to generate buzz. Sure, sites posting rumors and leaked images shut down on occasion, victims of GW's legal team. But, couldn't that be done to keep up appearances. Karl Franz doth protest too much, methinks.



Ok. I got that off my chest, and my tinfoil hat can go with it. Some rumors have been posted regarding plans for a completely new Warhammer Fantasy world that will replace (assuming the reliability of the rumors) the one we all know and love (or hate, or feel completely ambiguous towards). This will coincide with the climatic events of the current Warhammer story The End Times.

Hey! Leave me out of this! I'm trying to ascend here! Hey! Leave me out of this! I'm trying to ascend here!

What Change?

The current rumors dictate that this change will be radical. Pouring over the lists of rumors from typically reliable sources, you will see a number dramatic shifts in the current Warhammer paradigm. If these do indeed come to pass, the new Warhammer will look very different from the game we are currently playing.

Here are just a few of the speculations:

  • Reduction to 6 core army lists

  • Army books reduced to a small section on core units and fluff

  • Army books supplemented by a more vigorous release schedule

  • Destruction of the current Warhammer world and timeline

  • Armies that are less generic fantasy and more unique to GW

  • Rules that scale from skirmish to full scale war

  • Circle bases (presumably to facilitate skirmish play)


 

When I look at a list of rumors (and it's important to understand that these are just rumors), the first thing I do is see if they pass the logic test. Are these ideas logical, and are they consistent with any of the company's current behaviors?

Most of these pass that test. The first three End Times books have already combined 2-3 separate armies each. Games Workshop's release schedule has been more robust and fast paced. This strategy was even mentioned in their recent half-year report. It is the End Times, right? That is certainly a hint at destruction. Though we must admit that most GW world changing events end up changing very little. Games Workshop has also displayed a desire to have more strict control of their intellectual property (IP). You will note the shift from Codex: Imperial Guard to the less generic Codex: Astra Militarum, for example.

Plus, why do you need circle bases to skirmish? I play plenty of skirmish games with square based models.


 

Some seem more questionable to me. Though I would love a Warhammer skirmish game, GW has, as a rule, continued to up the required model count of their games rather than lower it. The Tolkien games are an exception, but I believe they are not long for this world (in spite of recent leaked new release pictures). A switch to circle bases also feels a bit counter-intuitive. For one thing, square bases are one of the things that draw a distinction between the two core Workshop IPs. For another, unlike the recent 32mm circle base kerfluffle, this might indeed require players to rebase their entire armies. I know GW has never seemed overly sensitive to the concerns of their fanbase (snicker), but the idea of invalidating massive collections of miniatures in one fell swoop seems a bit much. It's something that, to GW's credit, they haven't done very often. (And no, I'm not counting an older model getting crappy rules in my calculations.) Plus, why do you need circle bases to skirmish? I play plenty of skirmish games with square based models. I'd go so far as to say it's preferable in games that use facing.

Glottkin unified the hordes of Chaos! Glottkin unified the hordes of Chaos!

Why Change?

So if (and we are still at if) this is all going to go down, why? Well, there has been a pervasive rumor that Warhammer is just not profitable enough. For example, I have often heard that the sales of Space Marine models alone outpaces the entire range of Warhammer Fantasy Battles. Sales are not broken down that way in GW's press announcements, and nothing showed up after my exhaustive research (aka. I Googled it). But if it is true, it would go a long way to explaining some of these decisions.

The Warhammer 40,000 universe is unique to GW. You can make a strong argument that aspects of it are derivative, but GW has done a fine job honing their science fiction universe, making it something uniquely theirs. Warhammer Fantasy's existence predates 40K, but with a few notable exceptions, has a more generic fantasy feel. Orcs, goblins, dwarves, elves, and the undead all function in ways you would expect, following the fantasy tropes and archetypes established by Howard, Tolkien, Lieber, Moorcock, and other classic fantasy writers.

Games Workshop may be hoping that a dramatic shift can cause lightening to strike twice in the form of a second more marketable and unique IP. If they can establish a more exclusive fantasy world for Warhammer, it could serve them in numerous ways. If the new Warhammer world is well designed and interesting, it could attract more players. If the new IP becomes sufficiently popular, they will generate more passive income from licensing. If the miniatures are unique enough, players will be less inclined (or able) to substitute models from other lines.

Radically changing your game is a delicate matter.


 

This last point should not be understated. There are a number of companies who are able to poach sales off GW by offering high quality, alternative figures at a great price. This is a relatively new occurrences. They're weren't too many alternate Space Marines around when I got into 40K with Rogue Trader. Now you can't swing a chainsword without hitting one. A new Warhammer could mean that any miniature companies making surrogate figures as a part of their business model will have to spend time playing catch up.

That's a Lot of Ifs

It is indeed! Radically changing your game is a delicate matter. Wizards of the Coast demonstrated this when 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons sundered their fanbase. If GW wants to succeed they must tread lightly and not allow the hubris of being one of the "big dogs" of gaming to influence their decision making process. The 4E debacle proved that, in the current market, brand alone won't carry the day.

Conversely, we don't know how well Warhammer Fantasy Battles has been selling world wide. If sales are poor, GW has to do something. Making Warhammer a more accessible game with a more unique IP could be a great shot in the arm for the old warhorse. But, I still can't shake the feeling that this new strategy is missing something that would make the game more consumer friendly and drive sales... a new pricing strategy, perhaps?