Before these halcyon days of the internet - the age of social media, hashtags, and dank memes - there was a time when companies couldn’t just go viral to market their product. You needed to advertise, whether on TV or in a magazine or other media. The only direct engagement you’d have with your customers was through a store front. The only bit Games Workshop did. GW has always had a funny relationship with the concept of marketing.
Word of mouth has always been the driving philosophy for Games Workshop’s promotion. They had exciting store windows throughout the UK, filled with cool looking painted models, that could attract the eye of almost any little boy looking through at the displays. They also had White Dwarf – their own bespoke magazine! During those pre-internet years, it was the only real way for most people to get Games Workshop news – and it had cool articles too! Though even then you could argue it was just a catalogue; but it was all we had!
|Those were the days...|
Then the internet rolled up, in its fancy sports car with animated gifs, auto-playing midis, and, critically, web-forums. Sure, chat-rooms were a thing, but web-communities picked up when the forum came along. And Games Workshop was uncharacteristic in being quick off the mark to get their own! Unfortunately, these web-forums didn’t last all that long. They were not a pleasant place. After this though they doggedly continued to put their website to good use, putting up many things up for free – painting guides, scenarios, rules.Without much warning, things changed…
In typical fashion Games Workshop realised that it wasn’t making enough money from all this free stuff. If people wanted to look at these things for free so much, they’d pay for them, right? So, bit by bit, the website changed, they deleted all the old content, and replaced it all with epub format painting guides and dataslates (if you had an iPad you could have them in a less awful interactive format). Around this time the company itself became more anonymous, their web-forum was long gone, and they stopped stating who designed each model (a practice that sadly continues to this day!)The advent of social media should have been a turning point, forcing GW into the 21st Century. They created Twitter and Facebook accounts for all their major arms (GW proper, Forge World & Black Library), and they were popular! And then they killed them out of the blue, without fanfare, exhausted with the negativity posted by their own community. Games Workshop had finished its transformation into an anonymous and unapproachable fortress.
|The Imposing Castle Games Workshop|
It was hard to blame them from giving up the hobby community they’d spent so long promoting and building. The Warhammer community has always been caustic. Criticism of Games Workshop is the norm, and praise, was rare. And ‘criticism’ was often a polite euphemism for pure abuse. I don’t think they knew how to counter and resolve the issue. I’m not sure drawing up the bridge and filling the moat with lava was the best response.Then Duncan Rhodes came.
|The Lord of Paint Thinning and being Neat As You Can himself.|
There had been a Games Workshop YouTube channel for some time, although the majority of the content had been somewhat pointless reveal videos. Whilst often well done, they were meant to be the launching points for release hype and get people excited about what models might be coming up that week. Of course, leaks would usually have occurred weeks, if not months, in advance. It would take a long while for GW to best realise a strategy for dealing with leaks.
The ‘How to Paint’ videos were an unexpected masterstroke though. They’re among the best guides on the internet for beginner miniature painters. More than that though, they’ve given Games Workshop a face.
Finally, GW had found an avenue to engage with its community. It was a small step, but a vital one. With Duncan Rhodes, they had an approachable and likable figurehead to build upon. It isn’t perfect – they disable the comments on their YouTube videos, so it still feels like you are dealing with a wall. Duncan has even spawned his own memes – mostly about thinning paints.
Then, over the last year, something weird happened – Games Workshop, perhaps buoyed from its success with its painting guides, began talking to us and actively engaging with its community. The Facebook pages suddenly reopened for business overnight! They even started an Instagram account dedicated to farming pictures for use on their website via #paintingwarhammer. That's alongside monthly painting competitions to have your stuff showcased!
Those Facebook pages were the focal point for the one of the best bits of community engagement for gamers – FAQs! For years, the various iterations of Warhammer have languished with either substandard or entirely missing clarifications and errata. No longer! We’ve been given almost absurdly detailed documents (most of which are admittedly still in First Draft status) that have gone a long way towards helping with the increasingly complex 7th Edition of Warhammer 40,000. Even better, these documents were built from solicited community feedback. Finally, Games Workshop seems like it’s listening; understanding what a powerful resource its community can be when it encourages it to behave in a positive manner.
One moment stood out for me. At first they suggested a house rule bringing Space Wolf, Blood Angels and Chaos Dreadnoughts’ into line with the Codex: Space Marines’ brethren by giving them two attacks. The community suggested this ought to just be an erratum to the rules. GW agreed. This would have been unthinkable only a couple of years ago – due to community feedback, Games Workshop changed a unit profile in an official FAQ. Madness! They’ve even put a call out for suggestions for the next edition of the Age of Sigmar General’s Handbook!
Leaks have traditionally been one of Games Workshop’s real bugbears. They seemed impossible to keep a lid on. Poorly taken photos of magazines and ill-remembered rules were as often able to completely stymie hype as they were to get anyone excited.
When Magnus the Red leaked – we initially saw this:
|Not the way you'd want your brand new model judged.|
Not bad, considering many of the leaks I’ve seen. But I doubt a crumpled-up photo of a box was how GW wanted to showcase the release of the first plastic Primarch (and first 40k Primarch since the early 90s)!
So, Games Workshop upped the ante with this masterpiece:
Games Workshop has come to the realisation that the best way to respond to those inevitable leaks is to outdo them. And it works!
The amusing videos didn’t stop there, with spoof adverts for the XL Chaos Black Spray which I recommend you check out. They’re probably a bit over-long, in hindsight. And I suspect that they’re mostly funny because it’s Games bloody Workshop. They’re having fun! It’s so weird to see!
They even set up an entire website dedicated to the community; Warhammer Community. I’m not sure what to think so far. It’s better than hiding the blog in some forgotten part of the main website like they did with ‘What’s New Today’ in its latter years. It’s all done with good cheer and personality, and a not that long ago this is content that would have been in White Dwarf. There’s good stuff – I hope they do more tactics articles like the one they did for Genestealer Cults.
The site also has a regular feature called ‘Rumour Engine’. Here the community is shown a tiny, out of context image from an unreleased model and invited to guess what it is. This is probably the best compromise secretive Games Workshop could come up with. It’s important to maintain hype about existing releases and at the same time tease the audience with something new. I wish it was more though. I miss the days where Games Day would roll around and we’d get pictures of unreleased models in cabinets.
|What is it? I've no idea. (Actually, I think I do. A gyrinx. Shh!)|
Regimental Standard is a WordPress blog that’s ‘Required Reading for the Modern Guardsman’. If you remember the old ‘Imperial Infantryman’s Uplifting Primer’, this is very much in that style, being silly and over the top Imperial propaganda. It’s one-note, and not quite deadpan enough for me. If it read more like actual propaganda I’d check the blog out more often. Instead it’s more of a straight up spoof with ‘hilarious’ footnotes about how the survival rate is only 1%. As it is, I check it out occasionally when its linked by the 40k Facebook page but otherwise it’s pretty missable.
Most recently, Games Workshop have started ‘Warhammer Live’, which I’ve not had a chance to check out yet. It’s Twitch.tv based videos, with battles reports and interviews. I’m a little worried that paid-for streamed content is them returning to the dark ways of the past. Hopefully all the useful things like painting guides, news, and tactical discussions will stay on YouTube and the Warhammer Community website.
What this all means is that Games Workshop is no longer the faceless monolithic entity we once knew. Instead it’s become something a lot more approachable and has caught up with the way things are done in this modern, social media dominated, age. Before they could have been justifiably accused of having an outright hostile attitude to its community, with a well-deserved reputation for arrogance. Now they’ve switched that around and shown a willingness to poke fun at themselves.
Does this mean Games Workshop is a different company now? Possibly, in some ways. Certainly, there’s been changes on the Board. It’s possible that their entire corporate attitude has changed but I think what’s really happened is they’ve just seen what other companies are doing.
This engagement doesn’t just benefit Games Workshop – although I would not be surprised at all to see a decent uptick in their sales over the last year – it’s benefitted the gaming community too. We’re getting more out of GW; be it models we want, rules or painting tutorials. In 2016 alone we saw things we would never have dared to dream of five or so years ago. Both Deathwatch and Genestealer Cults in the same year! Blood Bowl coming back! The pessimism of the recent past regarding Games Workshop’s business practises has gone. Now there’s hope that maybe we can all get the miniatures and rules we’ve been dreaming of. They're even asking the community which models they want pulled from the archives for their 'Made to Order' range, which is really neat.
|More of this. This is good.|
Personally, I’d like to see more of this engagement. With the FAQs Games Workshop has shown that it’s willing to use the community as a resource for its rules development. As a result they’ve asked for help with the Age of Sigmar General’s Handbook. I’d like to see the same for 8th Ed 40k. We know it will come – and we also know that whilst Games Workshop can still arguably be said to be the leader of the pack in model quality, their rules design has long been their weak-spot. I think previewing and open playtesting with the community could help. I’m not convinced that the community is any better at rules (rules design is hard), but giving them time to get used to changes is a positive move. It would prevent the shock that provokes angry and unreasonable responses from fans and gamers.
Games Workshop is clearly feeling like they can take risks right now – and that’s good. It shows confidence, a welcome relief from the arrogance we’d knew. I want more of this. If the community and Games Workshop have a good relationship, both can prosper. Based on this article from the Telegraph about their changing financial fortunes, it’s looking like that’s been true so far.