Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Warhammer 40K 6th edition ... a reality or a mirage ... where is GW headed?

So for those 40k fans out there, old news hear there is that leaked version of 6th edition Warhammer 40,000 supposedly floating around on the internet.  Much theory on its legitimacy, some have declaired it a fake already some say they know a guy who knows a guy who has confirmed it.

I almost wonder if this is a case of the game designers leaking something they wish they could do, hoping the buzz online gets so big the bean counters take note. I've heard that over the past ten years there has been a gradual shift in power at GW.  I've heard that one, by one as the old guard Andy and  Rick for sure, left that what clout the design team had was largely eroded and now most big decisions are corporate and usually based 100% on marketing and sales.  Yes I know "GW is a business they have to make money" don't whack me with the fan boy cliché just yet.  At any point I've heard that shift has really upset the apple cart so to speak in terms of how they do things. 

More and more each year they tighten the screws and shift how things are done.  I along with many people sort of entered the GW hobby during the "golden age" of the 90s-early 2000s when the guys who created the game (Rick Priestley) and built it into what it is were still with the company so alot of deference was paid to them.  Now that they are gone that is gone and GW is alot more like WoTC these days than not.  So I do wonder if maybe some of the design team has gone a bit rogue here ... hoping to have some ammo in their bandoleer to use against the bean counters and lawyers when they try to sell the idea.

Over the years I've had alot of anger at GWs gradual morph into just another large-ish corporation run by lawyers and bean counters not passionate lovers of the products they produce but rather just the green the corporation produces. All that and I have to say even I am interested in this edition of the rules.  To me if they really could come up with a rule set that let people run the game how they wanted, do historical style/scenario games casually at home AND let people run tournament style games ... that would be amazingly wonderful.  What is most striking here for me is the same type of conversation going on regarding the new rule set as is being had about 5th edition D&D.

The big stumbling block to that though is simply the very, very vocal tournament player who loves their endless 1500 point vs. 1500 point standard cleanse mission with "balanced" codex vs. "balanced" codex (read ... "balanced" ... in so much as not balanced so many players feel the urge to run out and buy the new army/codex/etc.).  I just don't see how tournament style math-hammer is paying their bills?  Ya the tourney guys are vocal via Bell of Lost Souls, etc. but are their numbers large enough to affect GWs profits really?  Are the tournament players the ones who  drive the profits?  Directly I can't see how that could be the case.  I know the BoLS crowd has long made the arguement that the tournament set controls the "hearts and minds" of the consumer base (at least here in the US) and that is less tangible. Or is it really mostly just kids (who convince their parents to dump 500 bucks on the game, and then get disinterested because the stinky store troll repeatedly savages them) and collectors who just buy crap and never play in public? In 2011 GW had

I would think there would be a very healthy "collectors" market as Forgworld continues to crank out the outrageously overpriced models, year after year and apparently there is a market for that stuff.  It really has saddened me over the years seeing kids, young guys with beater cars, using financial aid money to buy that crap.   We are talking mostly $200-$1200.00+ models, certainly some cheaper kits, rhino doors and whatnot but that isn't what I'm mostly talking about, though if you kit out your entire force in forgeworld add ons it can run into the hundreds easily.  Kids who should be fixing their cars up so they can try to get a girlfriend ....  sigh ..... on one hand I have to commend them for being dedicated to the hobby on the other I feel like smacking them on the back of the head.  At any rate GWs business model has really been more one of dope peddler than game company. So when I hear they are rolling out something that looks more like a historicals rule set … I have to wonder if it can be legit.

On that note though hopefully this rule set is real and this marks a departure from endless cookie cutter rule sets focused only on tournament play.  If they can create a compelling, fun to play rule set I'd happily play 40K again with the one or two people I still know who have armies, we’d play scenario games and historical style battles.   In fact that is something we've been talking about anyway, but we'll see if these rules are borne out as real.  

My super technical and amazingly well illustrated Games Workshop Business Model Diagram ... thing ... erm .. 

Here is a link to GW's financials this year GAMES WORKSHOP 

Here is the Chairman's statement from Tom Kirby and it sounds honestly like he himself is pondering the loss of the "old guard" at Games Workshop though he quickly launches into "Finecast is awesome" and the standard boiler plate.

We like to think of ourselves as a young company, eagerly entering the world of commerce bristling with ideas and ambition. Our staff bring the energy and optimism of youth to every problem we face, don't they? It is a salutary reminder for me to remember we will be making 30-year-service awards at our veteran's night dinner again this year. It won't be long before I get mine. Danielle Gaudry, who founded and ran our French business for many years and is surely the definition of that youthful vigour, retires this year. Retires. We are no longer so young, either as a business or the people who run it. Two things flow from this. Firstly, we now know (more by trial and error than sophisticated analysis - 'the wisdom of years') how this business works. We know what it takes to run a good Hobby centre, we know how to run a good trade sales department, we know how to recruit people who have great attitudes, we know how to make the best miniatures in the world and how to surprise and delight our customers over and over again. (Go take a quick look at Citadel Finecast - awesome!)

What we are now learning is how to spread that knowledge around the far flung world of Games Workshop. We are also learning that we are not doing it fast enough or thoroughly enough. Secondly, the generation which built Games Workshop is beginning to wonder what a 'pension' is. We wake up in the morning with the same aches we had yesterday. We wear glasses. We have learned patience (is that always a good thing and does it come from wisdom or exhaustion?). Some of us have a Senior Railcard. Nonetheless, we remain passionate about the potential for the Hobby and the Group. So, in addition to the normal running of the business, we will also be turning our gaze upon the problems of succession. We will be rolling out a programme aimed at getting everyone at Games Workshop to understand how we do business.

The challenges are as real as ever and our full responsibility is as well. Despite the exigencies of the 'real' world our destiny is still in our own hands. We have to ensure that the best practices we know about are followed everywhere within the Group. We have done much to improve our profitability and the return on your capital but we still have work to do on re-establishing growth, particularly in our Hobby centres.

Dividends have returned. I am as pleased as you are. Does this herald in a new era of progressive dividends on an assured yield? Hardly. We return truly surplus cash to shareholders. 'Truly surplus' means the cash we can not use because we have already spent all we need for the growth of the business. It would sit in a bank account if we didn't return it. Working this way means the payment of dividends will be fairly happenstance; I can see us having surplus cash in the future and when we have (assuming it is a sensible sum) it will be returned, not according to a schedule, but right then and there.

Tom Kirby
25 July 2011

More about Games Workshop's leadership ... it has always struck me as a bit odd at how much people know about the GW games and how close their ears are to the ground so to speak with rumors, etc. but how little they know about the actual leadership of the company itself.  So here is some pretty accessible information that isn't widely discussed and/or presumably known (at least here in the US).

Tom Kirby - Chairman of the Board of Directors for GW.
T H F Kirby (age 61), chairman. Tom Kirby joined Games Workshop in April 1986 as general manager and led the management buy-out in December 1991, becoming chief executive at that time. Between 1998 and 2000 he took on the role of non-executive chairman, returning to the role of chief executive in September 2000. He now performs the role of chairman following the appointment of Mark Wells as chief executive in December 2007. Prior to joining Games Workshop, Tom worked for six years for a distributor of fantasy games in the UK and was previously an Inspector of Taxes.

Mark Wells - Chief Executive Officer
M N Wells (age 49), CEO. Mark Wells joined Games Workshop in May 2000 as director of strategy and planning. He qualified as a solicitor with Messrs Herbert Smith in 1987, and subsequently held various management roles with Next PLC and Boots Group PLC, including director of customer service for Boots the Chemists and director of merchandise and marketing for Boots Stores, Netherlands.

Kevin Rountree - Chief Operating Officer
K D Rountree (age 41), COO. Kevin Rountree joined Games Workshop in March 1998 as assistant group accountant. He then had various management roles within Games Workshop, including head of sales for the Other Activities division. During the year ended 29 May 2011, he took on the responsibility of managing the Group’s service centres globally. To reflect this, his title was changed to chief operating officer from chief financial officer. He, however, still retains responsibility for all financial matters within Games Workshop. He qualified as a chartered management accountant in August 2001. Prior to joining Games Workshop Kevin was the management accountant at J Barbour & Sons Limited and trained at Price Waterhouse.

So there you have it the company is day to day run by an attorney and an accountant.  The company is run by bean counters and lawyers with little passion for the what it is the company does, sure they pay lip service to it and probably "own armies" and have some showy ribbon cutting style games now and then.  But make no mistake these guys are straight up businessmen who are peddling a product.  They are simply selling widgets.  When a company gets to this point it is going to behave a certain way ... vs. ... some guys who built something from the ground up who created a game, made it what it is.

People like that will run a company differently than some bean counters and lawyers who were brought in to maximize ROI.  Doesn't mean that company can't make good products anymore it just means that the heart and soul, the things that initially drew people to the company initially ... the passion, the love of the game ... those things will likely always take a back seat and decisions will be made differently in years to come.  This has been a long, long time in the making the management led buyout at GW occurred in 1991 and from day one "citadel" was owned by a guy who was very interested in selling minis and make money.  So I can only take this argument so far with GW.  I am just saying that since the old guard has departed over the past ten years the company has changed.  Some people might feel for the better, I personally don't feel that way but that is just my opinion, entirely subjective.

GW has had an interesting parallel to TSR actually only GW never got bought out from the outside it managed to stay independent and for a long while I think that meant the guys like Rick Priestley and Andy Chambers were really counted on to give the company direction and focus. Great interview illustrating some of what I'm talking about with Rick Priestley. 

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