Thursday, May 1, 2014

Essay 40k: Will GW's dominance persist?

If you scan the blogosphere, as I do, you've probably hit upon a couple posts here and there that are pretty darn critical of anything GW does. The Back 40k became, for a while at least, a hub of GW-bashing with certain writers getting vehement about the company. It made me aware of a general feeling of distaste for GW in the community. I started wondering if GW was headed for a major fall.

On top of the community relations problems, there is the increased competition. Lots of new stuff has hit the scene. I love all of it, but if you cruise the web, I think a lot of people assume this increasing interest in other games will make GW go the way of the squats.

However, it has generally been the rule in business that dominant companies stay dominant, even when you'd expect them to not to be under increased competition.

Many companies and brands have shown this pattern. Wrigley's gum, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi have all maintained dominance in the face of increasing competition for decades. We see this in the social strata, with an increasing and large proportion of wealth controlled by a small group of long dominant individuals. Even actors, stars and writers maintain their dominance over time, even with large influxes of new talent.

So will GW maintain its dominance in the face of new competition?

Let's look at some google trends. Since I'm not going to do any serious research on this, google trends will suffice. Its a quick tool for armchair essays like this one. Below is a graph of interest in the search terms 'Games Workshop' in blue and 'Privateer Press' in red.

What it shows is interest in Privateer Press stays low with no change over time. GW's interest is much higher, but shows a steady decline. That might point to losing dominance, but the end result is still a sector dominated by GW. Instead this could show declining interest in wargaming over time.

Let's try another way. I entered the search terms 'Warhammer 40k', this time in red, and 'Warmachine', this time in blue.

Basically the same story. Dominant 40k, but declining interest over time. Warmachine with stagnant low interest over time.

This could mean that GW is eventually going to decline so far, that even Privateer Press will overtake them. But Privateer Press interest has stagnated over time, with little growth in interest on the web. What does this mean?

I think Google Trends is rather limited in what it shows. Does it really demonstrate interest?
I wish we could look at market share over time, but its such a small segment if the economy, there isn't any data on the web. No dice.

Anyone have any information on this?

Lots of people point to the threat of 3D printing. Claiming that people like me will be printing their own models in their basements rather than buying plastic multipose kits from GW. This hasn't happened yet and nothing really shows this trend surfacing at least a little.

It may not ever happen - often times technologies that we expect to be the next big thing often aren't. Take video phones. Nearly every science fiction film showed a regular use of video phones when I was kid. Video phones are here - Skype. But guess what? Non-video phones, still hugely popular.

I think home-based 3D printing will never compare to the convenience and fun of buying and assembling a plastic multipose model. In fact, GW has been using digital design for years and has pretty much established that it carries the gold in plastic kits every year.

Even Malifaux's kits, while very nice, can't compare to GW kits because they don't have personalization. You can't really customize them much. Sadly, GW seems to be producing kits with less-posability lately. GW got it right on the Riptide and Wraithknight, why can't we pose our Imperial Knights?

All in all, what do you guys think? Will GW's dominance persist, or will the increased competition by the likes of Corvus Belli and Privateer Press over take them?


Craig Roberts said...

I think 40k will always be the dominant game. Even it ever did bad enough for GW to tank. I'm sure someone would likely buy the IP and still keep it above the other games.

Greg Hess said...

There are a few ways to look at this.

1) GW interest drops as people lose their secondary income sources. (definitely a luxury hobby).

2) Privateer press is not alone. It's in a very competitive new market. I bet if you showed all the secondary new markets (xwing, warmachine, infinity, dropzone, etc) and graphed them, you'd be showing an increase.

Just a thought! Interesting to see regardless.

daveb said...

The larger data traces tend to eliminate the variability you can see in the smaller one.

If you look at privateer press alone, you can see it's largely trended up (with a dropoff in the last year or so). Strangely, warmachine has stayed pretty flat.

I think the fact remains that Gamesworkshop trending is down....alot. I would attribute this to the pricing out of less affluent customers and, as greg notes, a decline in disposable income. The whole boutique angle may be working for GW, but I think it's losing it's MASS appeal.

John Stiening said...

I think you hit the nail on the head when you suggested that it was tabletop gaming in general that was declining. Gw will remain the biggest player in a shrinking pool of customers overall. Video games won. This is a niche hobby we've got here.

Cobalt Cannon said...

Hi Tim!

This is a really brilliant article that you wrote. It has mature depth that is not often seen in hobby blogs. I really enjoyed it.

In response to it, and the previous comments, I think they are all right. It's a combination of video games with their quick fix capability (And much lower cost) combined with decrease in disposable income available to everyone on planet Earth (Thanks Obama), and also games Workshop's ridiculously overpricing policies.

I look at that interest graph and I can trace it back through my history of buying tabletop gaming models from GW. I bought my first crisis suit in like 2001 for $15. m That same Crisis suit today costs $21.67, but only available in a box of three for $65. That's outrageous!

Now when I go into a hobby store and look at the cool stuff Games Workshop makes, I admire it, then I have to put it down. I just can no longer justify spending money on it. Let's face it, $65 would buy a lot of condoms, a tank and a half of gasoline, food for a week, an entire 15mm combat force complete with vehicles, 3 of those awesome Mechafront models, or 3 X-wing ships.

games workshop has priced itself out of being a possibility for me anymore, and I am willing to bet that a lot of other people are in the same category.

Greg Hess said...

Some additional comments. It's important to adjust some of GW's prices with inflation.

For example, the crisis suit. 15 dollars in 2001 money, is the same as 20 dollars in 2014 money. At the same time, throwing three crisis suits in a box does increase their cost, but the amount of extra bits and options you get aren't comparable to the original 15 dollar metal miniature.

I'm not saying GW's pricing hasn't gotten much higher...just saying we have to look at the bigger picture.

I went into a normal hobby store the other day, looking for an M1 Abrams tank to use for a predator was significantly more expensive (40-50 bucks), then I thought it was going to be.

Tim said...

Greg, it's a good point but the details are off. There are no extra bits in the recently re-packaged crisis suit box of three models. It has the exact same amount of bits as purchasing 3 separate crisis suits from before. Additionally, the original crisis suit wasn't metal.

On top of that, their molds have aged and degraded since the original release, such that every new crisis suit you buy has a bent jet-pack that does not fit to the rest of the torso. The only solution is to cut parts of the jet-pack and re-adjust. About an extra hour of work on assembly.

So the actual quality of the kit has gone down, while the price has gone up.

Your point about inflation is important to point out though, but with further detail. Look at the inflation rates over time and compare them to price rate increase per year. I would love to see those compared.

Greg Hess said...


I'm sorry. I was assuming that when they repackaged them, they had redone them like most of the other kits. Another lesson in assuming :).

Thanks for the correction. That makes me a bit peeved. Poor tau players.

Lo-Pan said...


This is something I would love to discuss next time we have a game. SEO and Analytics are part of my jobby job, and I think it would actually be kind of fun to try that out with what you've been looking at. Obviously, we'd need a beer or three...

Thing about GW; historically, the pioneer in a field hasn't always maintained dominance. Through their success AND failure, they educate and inform the next generation which often surpasses them.

Regardless- as you pointed out, there are SO many other options that any tabletop gamer should have more than enough choices to find something that makes them happy, even though most will die out in the short term, many will survive and flourish.

Anonymous said...

How is the data scaled in the Y direction. For all I know this could be a 0.00000001% drop in "interest" over the years......