Games Workshop has always been a divisive company, even more so for those independent retailers that build a part of their livelihood on selling Games Workshop products in their stores.
Yesterday’s “surprise release” of the Death From The Skies rules-supplement for Warhammer 40K sparked angry outrage among a number of small, independent american hobby stores, mainly because the ‘direct-order-only’ (and only in English) Death From The Skies can apparently not be ordered and sold by stores; among them Black Diamond Games and Gnome Games.
#1 – Death From The Skies – Direct Customer Only
What is the problem with Death From The Skies?
Well, apparently (at least for the US?), Death From The Skies is a Games Workshop product sold through a channel that completely bypasses the independent retailers.
Black Diamond Games summarizes the issue as follows:
There are essentially three Games Workshop product categories (these are my category names):
General. Stuff that retailers can order, with a subset required depending on your agreement. This stuff gets a discount of around 45%.
Direct. These are things we can order for customers, or if there’s demand, we can stock them ourselves. It might include what’s left of their metal minis or special bases. The discount is 35%, so you don’t generally want to stock these.
Direct Customer Only. These items are direct, but retailers are not solicited and the items are not available at a discount. There is not a lot of this stuff, but they’re increasing. To put a rulebook in this category is unconscionable.
So: We’re solicited and encouraged to order new General stuff. We’re solicited and encouraged not to order Direct stuff. We’re not told anything about the Direct Customer Only.
#2 – Why Is That An Issue?
Now, stocking Games Workshop products – Warhammer products – isn’t like stocking Mars bars.
Independent miniature wargames retailers usually (need to) go to great lengths to provide the gamers in their area with the full package: events, promotions, in-store gaming tables, competitions, giveaways, etc.., etc.. . You name it.
With Death From The Skies released as “Direct Customer Only”, many independents feel tricked.
- Because “rules-expansion” that are (more or less) pivotal to the game itself, are also pivotal to the local game-communities sustained by these retailers.
- Because “rules-expansion”, not least one that targets most current Warhammer 40K codexes and encourages the popular new Flyers, is possibly a very profitable item to have. Not just for the book itself, but also as a platform to run “flyer-focused” events, promotions, etc.. (to sell all Ultramarine-players a Storm Raven or two now).
#3 – Retailers Rise(?)
Some stores and sites (such as Black Diamond Games) seem have now taken down their initial statements, most of them no doubt written in rage (doesn’t make good press releases).
Excerpts of an open letter from Gnome Games went (slightly) viral last night via this blog.
Some of the new flyer rules must be for flamers, because that’s the sound of the new Death from the Skies supplement (which is available as of today exclusively through the Games Workshop website) burning bridges at several independent retail stores.
Here’s an open letter from Pat Fuge, CEO of the Gnome Games retail chain in Wisconsin:
“Dear Games Workshop. You have made it less than desirable to sell your games and allow our place space to be used for your exclusive sales to the customers we take care of. For that reason all content in your new Aerial Combat Book is banned for all of our events. The book will not be allowed in our stores and is considered contraband.
GW players if you want to trade in your armies for store credit for Warmachine we have an opportunity for you. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org[email protected] for details.”
Gary Ray of Black Diamond Games posted a similar sentiment on his blog:
“Trade in your current edition Warhammer 40K or Warhammer Fantasy rulebook and you take 40% off a starter box or rulebook for Warmachine or Hordes. We’ve done this with role-playing before, notably D&D and Pathfinder, so we know there are likely a bunch of rulebooks gathering dust and the need for excuses to start a new game. Let this be your excuse.”
Additionally, as of this posting several other independent retailers have pledged to ban the use of Death from the Skies in their stores. The supplement represents a tipping point in the strained relationship between independent retailers and Games Workshop, which released several exclusive products through their official website recently, cutting out independent retailers and driving consumers directly to Games Workshop for their hobby fix.
To be honest, I cannot tell you if/how genuine this letter is. I was unable to find the real open letter on the Gnome Games website. I have not tried the “i hate gw” email address.
Either way, legit or not, the general sentiment is certainly shared by others. Black Diamond Game’s owner wrote the following over on DakkaDakka:
It’s not a happy situation. There is no “up side” for retailers. There is little we can do in the face of Games Workshop shenanigans. Our customer bases have eroded, sales fallen as all but the hardcore players have jumped ship in the wake of insanely high prices, anemic releases, and a black out marketing strategy. At a certain point we have to just say NO. Does it make sense that we draw the line in the sand here? I think so. They’ve made a concerted effort to release a major rules update (or it’s completely insignificant, you tell me) by bypassing retailers. I thought it was an empty gesture this morning, but clearly people feel this is a critical rules release, which makes the stand that much more important.
As for what will the dangerous retailer do next, what kind of power do you think we have? We can carry a game or not carry a game. We can run events or not run events. That’s about it. We do this through the grace of our customers, who we acknowledge are doing us a favor by spending their hard earned money with us. Again, there is no up side to this, but Games Workshop continues to push us into a corner.
Honestly, at my store this issue effects about 12 people. However, the perception of hostile action is so strong that people hours away declare their intent to boycott. So I ask, is there anything that this company will do to make you lose your loyalty? Must you condemn others for taking a stand, even as you bend over, and close your eyes?
#4 – A Storm In A Teacup?
A storm in a teacup? Yes and no.
- I don’t see this going truly viral like the infamous Starbucks dipper well.
- Boycotting the inability to sell a Games Workshop product by not selling Games Workshop products seems self-defeating.
- Games Workshop is the one miniatures company out there with a (still relatively) sound retail-chain of their own.
- We are obviously talking about people, who put a lot of heart and soul into setting up a business in this niche.
- I still don’t get why Games Workshop wouldn’t put Death From The Skies out as a general release. At £ 20,- for 76 pages (half a White Dwarf!) with mostly recycled content (including content, from both the White Dwarf and Crusade of Fire, which already exists in various non-English translations), I doubt the margins on this one are too tight.
In the end, this is just one big head scratcher for me. A completely unnecessary move from Games Workshop. A likely unhealthy, certainly futile gut-reaction from the independent retailers.
I know I placed my order for Death From The Skies with Games Workshop, not least to write a short review. While I don’t have the book yet, I can already feel how a 76 page booklet with mainly lots of pretty ‘Eavy Metal pictures will feel puny in sight of such controversy.