This article is reposted from the Tabletop Hooligans website with their permission. Very well written article.
As I’m certain everyone in the gaming universe is well aware of by now, Games Workshop has announced a wide range of price increases currently set to take effect at the end of May. Veterans, and even most neophytes, in the gaming community, would normally roll their eyes at this completely expected maneuver, shrug their shoulders, and move on.
This has not been the case this year. A number of news items have made this a very different merry-go-round of pain for our friends in Great Britain this year, and this may be the year that our friends at Games Workshop have finally overreached, perhaps fatally. Rumors had been circulating for months that GW was going to change production of their metal models over to a resin formula to save on costs for months, an announcement that was eventually confirmed. The first wave of Games Workshop’s new “Finecast” range is coming our way soon. Considering the cost savings of resin over metal, few expected prices would increase this year. Nobody expected that Games Workshop would actually lower prices-that would be madness-but very few people actually expected that GW would actually have the stones to raise prices after publicly switching to a production method they were admitting was going to save them a significant amount of money.
This was not the only public relations disaster that was related to costs coming our way this year. For years, our gaming friends down under have paid significantly more for the same product we enjoy here in the northern hemisphere. Now, some of that had to do with exchange rates and shipping costs, but with the proliferation of online retailers, many in Australia came to the realization they could order from brick and mortar retailers in Great Britain online, and pay for shipping, around the globe, and still save significantly more money over driving around the block and buying from their friendly local gaming store. Or from the local Games Workshop Retailer, which are much more prevalent elsewhere in the world than they are in the US.
Here in the United States, there aren’t a whole lot of areas that depend on GW for brick and mortar play. Independent retailers comprise most of the gaming market here in the United States. We here at Tabletop Hooligans have an amazing FLWS to play at, Brothers Grim Games, and the nearest official Games Workshop Store are the two small stores in New York City, which have less floor space than the storage closet in the basement of Grim. On-topic, though, elsewhere, especially in Australia, Games Workshop in theory generates tremendous revenue from direct sales through their brick and mortar stores. So, that box of Space Marines they sell for $40 in the United States, they in theory sell for approximately $75 in the land of Kangaroos and Steve Irwin. (It does fluctuate a bit due to exchange rates).
Games Workshop, realizing the amount of money they were losing due to their customers not being stupid and exercising their free market rights going elsewhere (even if that elsewhere was a retailer on the other side of the planet) put pressure on their distributors and those retailers to stop selling outside the European Union. The legalities of this are questionable. I’m not going to delve into international trade law here in this editorial, because frankly most of you don’t care and I’m not entirely up on the subject myself, but the end result is the most popular retailers that Australians did business with can no longer sell outside the Eurozone-the European Union and a handful of countries associated with it. Technically, that includes the United States and a bunch of other countries, but, hey, at least we don’t pay seventy five bucks for a tactical squad, right? I managed an independent retailer before. I’ve seen GW exert extremely unfair influence in the industry before. They get away with it because, to be blunt, nobody has the money to go after them in court. Games Workshop hasn’t just shut down shipping to Australia, but indeed, to the entire Southern Hemisphere. That’s right, half of the globe, is prohibited from shipping to the other half of the globe, because it’s cutting into Games Workshop’s own profits.
The “nerd rage” that the combination of these practices has engendered has been spectacular. If, however, the gaming community at large wants to actually effect change, then we need to come to some sort of rational conclusions as a group and do some things.
1: Games Workshop is a publicly traded company. At the end of the day, the thing that the current corporate directors care about is the stock price. Now, that’s ultimately really short sighted, on par with the sort of financial decisions that triggered the Great Recession of 2008. Right now, it’s working for them, because the stock price is still fundamentally sound, in fact, it’s increased because GW’s profits are up. But, they’re only up because GW’s done a number of things that in long term are really going to cost them. They’ve done a great deal of cost cutting, including cutting staff, stretching out release schedules, closing retail stores, and let’s not even talk about the low quality of the way they support their releases after a new book comes out. At the same time, they’ve consistently raised prices year after year. They’ve maintained their profits, yes, but sales volume is down significantly. Looking at their yearly reports, it seems that since 2006, sales by volume have decreased at least 10%, but profits have remained about steady, probably due to a combination of price increases and ‘trimming the fat’ elsewhere. Games Workshop boasts that they make a 75% markup on most of the products sold in their store. As someone who worked in retail for a number of years, let me tell you something-that is an insane profit margin. An electronics store is lucky to make a 10% markup on a high ticket item like a laptop or TV, which is why they try so hard to get you to buy accessories or a warranty. Your friendly local gaming store normally has about a 30% markup on that same box of space marines, which has to go to things like rent and employees. Don’t believe me on this financial information? Remember, they’re a publicly traded company, it’s all required to be available! Check it out on their investor’s website.
2: There’s nothing a publicly traded company hates more than bad publicity. But, if you want to have a lasting impact in such a way that actually has a positive impact on the hobby we all enjoy, we have to do things intelligently and respectfully. Remember, this is a company that we all have given hundreds (or thousands) of dollars over the years and have enjoyed the products they’ve produced. The day-to-day employees who work at the Battle Bunkers are not responsible for these asinine policies. Nor are the guys who write the rules systems we enjoy, nor the sculptors who create the models we love. Hell, even Matt Ward isn’t responsible for this debacle. When talking about this entire situation, remain calm, responsible, and reasonable. But be sure to be on-point about this: We as a community can no longer tolerate a company treating its customers in such a fashion. We have other options. Unlike in the past, when Games Workshop was basically responsible for 90%+ of the tabletop games industry, there’s a whole host of competition out there who treat their customers with far more respect and kindness than Games Workshop corporate has shown us recently. Privateer Press and Battlefront Miniatures are certainly the two biggest that come to mind, but I’ve seen Malifaux, Infinity, Dystopian Wars, Battletech, and a number of others all making their rounds around the shop recently. Also, nobody’s forcing you to use only Games Workshop miniatures at your local friendly gaming store-obviously if your only option is a GW store, then that’s that, but certainly at the Grim that’s not the case.
3: Games Workshop targets two demographic groups with its merchandise: Males 18-49 and teenage boys, both with disposable income. These two demographics are the most coveted in the United States for advertising revenue because, well, we buy tons of crap. Our attention is constantly being fought over as a result. We, as a group, have decided for whatever reason to spend money on Games Workshop products. We’re mostly educated people with disposable income to spend on stuff. We need to make it clear to Games Workshop that we’re not going to spend it on their products any more.
4: How can we do that, you ask? By respectfully contacting them and letting them of our displeasure. And not via the internet, which for some bizarre reason has the ability to trigger mass revolution in the Middle East but not make suits in a board room realize their pricing policies for little plastic soldiers are inefficient. Be respectful and contact them by letter or by phone. The customer service number in the United States is 1-800-394-4263. I don’t have the number for other countries, but I can’t imagine it would be that hard to find. They log and track every phone call they receive. Remember, the nice woman or man on the phone is NOT responsible for the pricing policies Games Workshop is implementing. Be polite to that person, because you’re far more likely to get a positive result if you’re polite, and if all this works, they’re going to be dealing with a lot of phone calls. That said, express your displease over the near-constant price increases they’ve hit us with over the last ten years. In 2001, a box of space marines cost around $25. Now it costs $40, and that’s before whatever price increase they’re going to hit us with at the end of the month. They’ll say something about the price of oil, and manufacturing costs, and that’s fine. You can reply with that little nugget I shared in about the 75% profit margin on product in GW stores, the fact that GW opened another manufacturing plant in Alabama a couple of years ago to cut costs, and the fact that many of their most popular kits-the entire Space Marine range, for example, much of the Eldar plastics, a lot of the Guard stuff-has long since paid for itself a hundred times over. Remember at all times to remain respectful, though. I really can’t emphasize this enough.
Another option is to send a letter. The effort it takes to actually send snail mail means that it gets special attention. In Congress, staffers actually take the time to address constituents that send their Congressmen and Senators letters, simply because so few of them do that they tend to be active in politics. They’re people that can be relied on to talk about the issues to their friends, to encourage them to vote. So by giving those people attention, they can help influence other voters. Even if you call Customer Service, send Games Workshop a letter. Address it to Tom Kirby or Mark Wells, care of Games Workshop, at the following address:
Remember to be respectful and polite. Make a coherent, personal, impactful argument. Don’t be a douchebag, or internet toughguy. That completely undermines whatever you’re trying to say and nobody will take you seriously. Worse, you’ll get the cops after you for sending a threatening letter through the mail.
5: Having done all these things, and sworn up and down we’re done buying Games Workshop products…DON’T BUY ANY MORE GAMES WORKSHOP PRODUCTS. Be done with them. God knows I already own enough stuff of theirs to have multiple armies for years to come. I don’t ‘need’ anything else, in sense one could need something in a completely optional hobby one spends disposable income on. The only way to make them see reason is to affect the stock price. The only way to hit the stock price is to shake sales (and cause such a titter of customer discontent through actions like this that investors get antsy). That means not buying their products, no matter how awesome the new War Sphinx looks! In the meantime, support your local gaming store by getting into another game. In a lot of cases, you’ll discover that they can be a lot of fun. We’re starting up a Warmachine and a Flames of War league at Grim in the next couple of weeks, and as much as I’m looking forward to the Grim 40K GT in June, I’m also looking forward to stepping away from the style of Games Workshop games for a bit and getting into the different game styles represented in those other two games systems.
I want to thank all the people participating in the discussions taking place on DakkaDakka, Warseer, and Spacebattles. Some of the ideas and information in this editorial came from various people in those forums and I want to acknowledge all of those people for their collective contributions. I’ve been playing Warhammer and Warhammer 40K for almost fifteen years now and I’ve been gaming for twenty. I want my kids to one day participate in the hobby with me. But I want it to be affordable enough that I don’t have to mortgage the house my wife and I are currently shopping for in order to be able to do it.
Garrett Petersen is an occasional contributor to Tabletop Hooligans. He is an Aquarius and enjoys BBQ, long walks on the beach, and the smell of a combi-melta in the morning. When not gaming he is completing a master’s in special education and also breeds tropical fish. His wife isn’t sure which hobby she hates more. He can be reached at slacker22 at gmail.com