Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why the new Tactical Squad box is a big mistake.

In 1998, Games Workshop released a new edition of Warhammer 40,000 coupled with a re-design of the basic basic marine, brought to us in plastic multi-pose kit. Though not the first of its kind, the kit was represented new developments in injection-molded plastic kits and was arguably the pinnacle of the miniature wargaming industry. While it still fit with the previous incarnations of Space Marines, the kit brought us marines with more detail, better proportions and options for multiple poses. It was instantly popular.

Space Marines Release in 1998

In the last 15 years, Games Workshop expanded this treatment to nearly every other line in its range with further developments in design and the technical process, leading to truly jaw-dropping kits as seen in the Dark Eldar and Tau (to name just two). The process is now so well-developed that Games Workshop's plastic kits are jammed with bits and even can include part for multiple unit configurations.

However, Malifaux and Dreamforge Games have shown that the process and technical developments are not possessed by Games Workshop alone. Both companies are rather small in comparison with Games Workshop's global network, yet have shown that good design and injection molded plastic are attainable by even small companies. Indeed many other small producers have rivaled Games Workshop's ability to produce designs appealing to an aging demographic and new players alike. 

Quite simply, today's wargamer is getting exposed to many other producers who are experimentng with new designs, more accurately proportioned, realistic and high-tech models. Corvus Belli has shown us the success of catering to a wargamer that craves high sci-fi.

Now we see a release of a new Tactical Marine kit and instead of utilizing their vastly superior design and production process, Games Workshop simply used the technology to make an old design more crisp with more defined details. Instead of doing what they did in 1998, Games Workshop produced more of the same.

Bolters-same design.
Legs - still too short and bow-legged.
Heads-no change except two or three unhelmeted versions.
Purity seals-yep still there.
Grav-gun -oh, well there is at least one new design.

This is a cautious position to take considering the upper-hand that Games Workshop wields on the market. Their resources could have produced a kit of "true-scale" Space Marines -the likes of which we've all seen in the Ultramarines movie, while maintaining compatibility with older kits. Seriously -imagine models that stand taller, with straight legs, new helmets, new bolters, etc...whose joins are all the same size as previous kits such that customization is allowed.
Is this really that new or different?
We know that true-scale marines are popular - a simply google search reveals about 152,000 hits of hobbyist attempting to convert their own. Today's gamer has been exposed to lots of images that fuse sci-fi with realism and correct proportions - Ironman, the Avengers, Halo, Mantic's Enforcers, Corvus Belli, Dreamforge Games...the list goes on. We are simply more used to seeing designs that are, on some level, plausible. This is why true-scale is so neat - because the proportions are better!

We also know that alternative Space Marine models are popular, evidenced by how well Forge World's line of Horus Heresy models are selling. People are really craving something new for their space marines...I mean, ask yourself, do you really see anything special about this Tactical Squadbox, other than a new Grav-gun?

A re-design would have done four things for Games Workshop.

First it would have given them a direction for producing Space Marines over the next 15 years. Miniature companies die when they cannot produce new models. The Space Marine range and some of the other factions are simply reaching the point where there is nothing new left to produce. I mean, how many different Space Marine units can you really produce? What happens when every faction has a plastic range of multi-pose troopers, flyers and big models? You need a re-set. Considering the developing of GW armies, the re-set stage is not far off.

The next thing it would do is pull back some of the players who've gone for other games. People who are bored of seeing the old Space Marine design in different colors and dresses. The sheer sensationalism of a complete, yet compatible, re-design of the Space Marine frame is bound to bring folks back.

Thirdly, it would have made everyone's Space Marine collections "vintage." This has the dual effect of giving veterans something new to spend their money on,while creating a second-hand market for vintage Space Marines. Not really for GW but there would potentially be a huge buy out of their previous kits, clearing out stores for something new. 

Lastly, a re-design would have further underscored Games Workshop's ability to produce top quality plastic kits in a market that is getting flushed with smaller up-starts fueled by KickStarter and the accessibility of CAD design, 3d Printing and the like.

But no...Games Workshop has shown their true colors as a risk-adverse and conservative company. Though their kits are top quality, the design mantra is "more of the same." It's sad really.

And I haven't even touched on the lack of dynamism. They're still just standing around. 


eriochrome said...

With the rate that GW is pushing out releases right now I just do not think they could do what you want. GW minis have always have proportion problems and the "true scale" is a new invention not in the original fluff. Hence the models are essentially the same size as they always were.

They would have a really hard time increasing the scale more than a faction without making a ton of players upset with the new kits that do not match their old armies.

Forgeworld might sell well but GW probably makes more profit from space marine sales than FW's entire revenue. GW can make plastic kits now essentially as good as forgeworld so could do the whole horus heresy marine line in plastic. Why would they not?

They do not want marine players to have 5 choices for tactical squad models since selling tons of the same supercheap to make once you have made one is their business.

GW is managing their business eseentially for cash in the now. They are not a tech start up trying to build they are the newspaper trying to cash out before their margins are eaten away by 3d printing. There design are more of the same except when they are different and people complain since often they look ugly.

Tim said...

True-scale might not be plausble,but at least some dynamism!

eriochrome said...

I can totally agree with that. This kit is very meh. They added some stuff and cleaned stuff up but their is nothing that really says I need that kit if you already have several squads of tac marines. The legs are pretty much all the same as they were. They have running and kneeling legs sculpted now add could have added a set where one foot was elevated.

nelsonus said...

I agree that it would have been awesome for them to re-set space marines and go with a new design moving forward.

Unfortunately, the amount of angry gamers would be unbelievable if they felt like GW is making them buy all new marines. People like to have the most updated thing, and all those people having to rebuy and repaint 100s of marines would cause some serious headaches.

Then there is the problem of EVERY character and EVERY marine has to be updated to this new look. That is an absurd amount of remakes, and some old sculpts like azreal and dante would be laughably out of place.

Great wish in theory, but not practical.

nelsonus said...

I agree that it would have been awesome for them to re-set space marines and go with a new design moving forward.

Unfortunately, the amount of angry gamers would be unbelievable if they felt like GW is making them buy all new marines. People like to have the most updated thing, and all those people having to rebuy and repaint 100s of marines would cause some serious headaches.

Then there is the problem of EVERY character and EVERY marine has to be updated to this new look. That is an absurd amount of remakes, and some old sculpts like azreal and dante would be laughably out of place.

Great wish in theory, but not practical.

Tim said...

First off, thank you for reading this length blog post. I love a good discussion.

To your points:
Angry Gamers:
I think there would be a certain sub-set of gamers who would get angry but I think the opposite would be true. If the re-design were simply jaw-dropping, I'd actually expect more gamers to be excited than what we have now, which is just uninspiring. I think the players that have already collected hordes of space marines aren't going to buying a lot more space marines anyway though.

But you could be right there, if the re-design makes previous design obsolete then yeah, angry gamers. I'd argue that GW has the design skills and technology to make the new Space Marine fit-in with the old while making subtle but significant changes that give them something to work on for the next 15 years. Like I don't think a re-design necessarily has to make your previous collection look dinky.

Certainly, the risk of angry gamers is a real one - I'm sure this was discussed in the board rooms.

However, look at the Chaos Space Marines in the Dark Vengence Boxed set. Do you think that if GW had release a plastic multipose kit of those, replacing the previous CSM kit, would have created anger among players? Because that is the kind of re-design that I am thinking of. Not one that changes the imagery or the basic foundation, but one that updates it with the new technology.

It's funny, I had a feeling before publishing this post that my advocating a design direction toward true-scale was going to be the biggest flaw of the argument and that a stronger argument could be made for more dynamism.

The lack of dynamism is appalling considering what other companies are doing.

Updating the entire line:
You mention that every character and every marine has to be up-dated...but that's exactly the point. Look at the marine-line, it's huge. I mean, how much more can you actually add to this? You need a re-set to stay fresh, to keep producing new models. Look, the miniature business thrives on new releases. Once a company stops producing new models, it starts to die. They NEED the re-set. They NEED to have to re-do the entire SM line. Unless, they are planning on closing down the company.

Why are new releases essential? because they keep the gamer's attention fixed on that company. The more they can hold a gamer's attention, the more they can keep them away from the growing number of up-starts on the market.

Dan (nyhil) said...

Nice write-up. And you are right about GW no longer being the only company making great plastics.

Cobalt Cannon said...

Very good post Tim!

Eriochrome & Nelsonus: great thoughts guys. That's some interesting thoughts there, however they are completely wrong. hehe

I'll explain. In regards to a redesign of marines to true scale, that is not only plausible, but easy, and cheap. I have a background and degree in 3D computer modeling and animation and my brother is a product designer. Re-scaling the existing marine designs is very easy and wouldn't take them more than a week to do if even that long. We all know that they have 3D models of the existing marines as demonstrated by many of their other products. All they would have to do is redesign the sprues and create the molds, which we know they have already done for this new box of tacticals, so they could have done it for a redesign or re-scaling.

In terms of the business decision aspect of making Warhammer 40K gamers angry with new models, Games Workshop has shown in the past that they aren't concerned with that in the slightest as being a negative to sales. New and shiny always increases sales. Games workshop has proven this with every codex they have ever released. People buy the new models. People that already own and love their marines as they are will still love them. The people who want the new models will buy them and love them too.

Tim is actually spot on with his initial remarks of the post. This was a golden opportunity for Games Workshop and they royally blew it. It would have meant that games workshop would have to redo an entire line, but they do that regularly (reference their Warhammer Fantasy line)

You guys still had good thoughts though.

SamJBland said...

True scale has been achieved in a sense with forgeworld but not by increasing the size of space marines but rather a decrease in size of an imperial guard model. If you put a space marine model next to a DKOK forgeworld model the scale is correct with the guardsman's head coming to around shoulder height on the space marine.

nelsonus said...

Excellent discussion so far.

You are 100% right about the Chaos space marines. If they updated them with the DV look, even I would would build an army, And I'm a notorious 1-army wonder and imperial fanboy.

True-scale just wouldn't work. I'm sure you can get into the nitty gritty of what they would have to do to pull it off, but there is so many issues. LOS rules, size comparison to other models, and time investment for the turnaround of updated all the lines being the biggest 3 i can think of off the cuff of my shirt.

Truth is, I don't really have the capacity (or time) to dream up a proper redesign. Luckily, I don't have to, because there should be people being payed to do just that.
In the end, you are absolutely right. They should have came up with a way that makes marines feel shinier and newer and gives the players the will to want to redo their marines. GW failed in that.

Mon-keigh Reaper said...

What you mean, the new Space Marine Can's aren't truescale?

Maybe I am just growing older, but GW is holding my interest less and less. I want game that will fit in a back pack, not something the size of checked baggage. Sure games like Infinity or Dystopian wars are probably flawed, but it is nice to have some change after 20 years.

Prodigal said...

Tim I have to say I was pretty pleased with the new kit but after reading your post I think you make some great points regarding how conservative it is. I think the true scale issue is a very very difficult one to consider, even if you ignore that issue there seems like so more that could have been done with the kit that wouldn't have been risky and would have made it so much better. Thanks for reminding me to keep my expectations higher.

GDMNW said...

I didn't realise that I wanted to see something bold from the (inevitable at some point) Tactical kit until this came out and I couldn't tell it apart from the old one.

This is the sort of upgrade I expect to see nothing more than a sticker for. (New improved casts!)

What this isn't is a new product. I'm sure the boys at GW talked it through and feel comfortable with their decision, but I would have liked to see a big step forward.

The point about consistency with older models is moot. You have to make old stuff out of date if you are going to progress, otherwise we'd all still be playing with beakies.