Thursday, April 28, 2011

A better business model

These days it's passe for many of us jaded veterans of the miniature hobby to throw stones at the "too big to fail" Death Star that is Games Workshop. Who like a Death Star seem at times to be almost universally loathed by the knowing for their questionable business practices. Starting from the never ending prices increases, while you feel like you're getting less and less all the way down the line to its CIA style secrecy, everybody seems to have some reason to gripe. BUT everyone including this author loves the miniatures and the IP so in spite of our armchair CEO expectations we all just keep on buying the Soylent Green.

In the end it is not a big surprise that GW pays no deference to its hobby veterans, so when one cranky old codger moves on to historicals or other game or leaves the GW branch of the Hobby altogether..the folks in Nottingham pay no mind as there are always 3 young faces to take that exiting veterans place. Such is life when you are "too big to fail" in a niche market.

Then along comes these guys.

At Adepticon this year Privateer Press did an amazing thing..not amazing from a business perspective (this type of promotion is as pretty common these days) , but amazing in this particular niche. Having been in their second year of attendance at what has been a decade old Games Workshop celebratory event. Privateer Press decided they would put a $50 retail Warmachine starter box in the first 1000 swag bags, Ponying up 50K in retail product is no small feat, and any more conservative GW bean counter would call it crazy, and Let me tell you what...they made it all back already, and some. Here's how.

First of Privateer Press did something GW hasnt done at Adepticon in as long as I remember. Shown up in force...I saw Jervis Johnson at Adepticon in 2007 since then the token celebrity has gone down the chain until last year we were left with a lame ass slide show from the regional manager talking up stuff that had been in White Dwarf for 6 months on Saturday Night when people want to go party. This year, other than Forge World showing up and making fools of themselves with their bungling...There wasn't a GW "suit" to be found. I find this particularly odd, given this event is primarily and had been totally about their they never really took advantage of that see paragraph 1.

Back to Privateer Press, who as I said showed up in force this year with staff, their best tables, said free product and plenty of people to run their games. They treated Adepticon like Gen Con or any other trade show/convention should be treated as a premier opportunity to expand their fan base and customers.

Let me back track here a second and say, I have never been a fan of Warmachine/ Hordes, its been on my radar forever. even since before I got back into the hobby in 07'. The Iron Kindgoms IP, just always seemed like bad D&D setting gone arwy...(in fact there is a similar D&D setting in its 3rd edition, not sure that was before or after). Anway the D&D meets Steampunk meets Anime oversized weapons has never did it for me, I like my " fantasy" "low" and "old school" I do like some steam punk "Arcanum" but the Iron Kingdoms IP just never clicked.

Compile the above with, the consideration that my number one WFB 7th ed compadre, Felix moved on to become a local PP Press Ganger here and that still didnt motivate me, mainly because ,except for himself, there is literally zero hobby community based around the game in our local meta. People seem content playing with bare metal models on green felt with piece of notebook paper as terrain and whatever else is laying around. This lack of interest in the hobby was game ending buzz kill if I ever saw one. However all along, I was hearing and reading that this was a very good tactical game, and while not a diceless system , the randomness of dice /vs your acquired skill was stacked in favor of the latter. So the game has the ring of actually being a game of skill, and not a game of luck. So I never totally wrote it off, it just became a "maybe one day", but seriously it was the last game, I ever thought I would get around to.

Well its looks like that one day has arrived. Thanks to Privateer Press good sense, myself and who can guess how many people got a look at there free box said "hey this is cool", I am going to try this, "what has GW done for lately other raise the price of a Specials 10 unit box to $45 with tax!" I personally got the Protectorate of Menoth Box in my swag bag, but since I am about done with playing religious zealots, (thanks Sigmar) I was lucky enough to trade with someone for the Cryx box, I like the undead, and we've got undead Pirates, so whats not to like?...I dont have to like the other stuff I am killing, that's the point..In all seriousness, there is plenty I do like in the Cryx and Mercenary Ranges...So I am sold, not to mention the new edition was publicly playtested with fan input so ruleswise that can only be a good thing.

On the hobby side. I know I am not alone in my previous opinion, but of course a quick visit to the PP forums or its No Quarter Magazine and you can find some great stuff on hobby side, not quite at GW levels as a player percentage. but its definitely getting there. The final kicker for me was I know a half dozen + guys up here who are kick ass hobbyists all expressing interest in the game. If you start seeing these guys playing in Chicago land then all of sudden the hobby meta for Warmachine/ Hordes in this area has seriously changed. Because when no one paints, then no one paints..when one guy shows up really painted well, it inspires a couple others to paint, when a half dozen guys are slugging out for best painted, well - its contagious like that. Same goes for terrain and tables.

Anyway..I was motivated enough to try to purchase some additional models (because I am a miniature drug addict) thru my partnership at Cipher Games and quickly was told tons of Warmachine stuff is now sold out?, go figure. My GW collection is probably 5 figures in value on the retail side .IF of those 1000 boxes PP gave away at Adepticon yields a 1% return in the player base on a level such as paid for all those 1000 boxes retail. The business lesson here is obvious. You need to invest in your customers, if you want them to invest in you. Are you listening Games Workshop?

While I'm in no more than planning/modeling stage right now DO expect to see painted Warmachine here on this blog in the near future whether I ever get past the handful of models and some cool terrain for a game or two who knows? (It not lost on me that WM/H is a "type A" game") The tournament organization and scenarios have also impressed me, so maybe even an event of two. I just wanted to add as I have said many times here before, You have a choice who you do business with "Too big to fail" doesnt mean "only game in town" Anyway I just wanted to give Privateer Press a shout out for doing the smart thing, probably getting themselves a whole bunch of eager new players, and changing one occasionally grumpy venerable gamers mind (that'd be me) ..about a game I thought I'd made up my mind about.

Hey, maybe I get to play Felix again? cool.


Chicago Terrain Factory said...

no no no... you're supposed to be painting your Saxons for my Crusaders game :)

As for the rest, I have a big pile of stones to throw...

John Lambshead said...

GW seem to have lost their way in so many areas.

Lord Azaghul said...

PP has been huge in the DSM area for about 2 years now. I still can't get into it myself, kind of like the models, mainly I can't get around the caster kill/end game thing!

Its pretty much taken over the WHFB group, and it currently has the largest and most consistant group. But to be fair WHFB is just dead here.

And of late on 40k night, Dystopain Wars has been showing up. I liked the look and bought in. So far so good, league for this one starts next week. I'm ok with someone else getting my money for a while - hopeful dystopian wars sticks.

I think there is a general boredom/old hatness with GW right now...but I also think they are too entrenched to fail at the moment...

JPChapleau said...

I used to be very involved with GW. But like most people, I just got tired of their price gouging. Plus I like their sculpts less and less. I like clean, simple minis and they keep forcing crap and equipment I don't want on my minis.
Recently I forayed into PP. Though I think their prices are very high, I'll give it a genuine try.

Tim Kulinski said...


Nice post, I love some of the models for WM/Hrds and have been watching the game for years. I have only played the first edition rules and found it rather boring. In fact last night one of my game buddies here (Mike of Da Green Skins Blog) was trying to sell me on the new version of the game.

In fact here in Phoenix, WM/Hrds seems to have taken over. So thanks to your post and Mikes hounding, I may take a second look at this game.

Felix Flauta said...


I'm still waiting for my Wood Elves book to try Fantasy again. The collection has to grow anyway, because man, Treekin models are fugly. I'll probably get a ton of Bear type models and just use them.

As far as Warmachine is concerned, there are definitely players who hobby. It's just not a given that players will be interested in the hobby aspect. You'll see them around.

Guys like Miljan Otovic, Aaron Marra, Jeremy Patterson, Travis Marg, Ben Lang, Scott Saxondog (yeah, I don't know his real last name for some reason), Jim Skrulnik (again, blanking on the last name), Mike Plummer, Chuck Ocenasak. Of these names, you'd probably only ever heard of Miljan in the 40k and Fantasy circles at all (I think). All these guys bring different things to the hobby side of things. It's no surprise that many of those guys are Press Gangers as well.

However, there are definitely players who are really good at the game who do not hobby. And I think one of the things they're doing instead of painting is getting more games in. Practice in Warmachine really does help in your performance.

Well, maybe not for me. I'm kind of stubborn about my gameplay.

Let me know if you have any questions. said...


That's cool are there Warmachine Hobby Blogs from the area or even mid west with good hobby content?
I cant seem to find any and alot of the blogs on your site are non operational or deadlink.

Yeah I know who Miljan is, dont realy know him thou..also I checked the area on the PP site and there are only two listed Press Gangers you and another guy, good to see there are more, anyway a bunch of guys with serious hobby chops over at IWFB are getting into you should start seeing alot more cool local stuff on the hobby front if they do.

Let me know when you want to come over and beat up on me.

Felix Flauta said...

The PG Finder isn't really good.

Here is where we are:

Mt. Prospect
Bloomington Normal
Chicago (two of us)

I'll update the bloglist. It's something of a mess.

Felix Flauta said...

Okay, the reason I let my blog list kind of founder is because I mostly read a Warmachine related network rather than update links to any specific blogs.

Anonymous said...

As bad as GW is, I really think Privateer Press is worse. Their customer service is terrible and they foster a "win at all cost" mentality. Look at their forums - their mods are the biggest jerks going.

Either way - good luck with your new army!!

Mike Howell said...

I was pretty floored when I heard about the starter boxes given away at Adepticon. Brilliant move.

I could tell you were a convert when you wrote "..we've got undead Pirates." *we*

Personally I find small games of WM/H very satisfying for lunch hour antics about once a week. 5-10 models makes a 15 point list, and the lists can vary wildly even within the same faction. said...

@LIG yeah the uber WAAC mentality and general lower hobby content across the blogs compared to GW is definitely a low point for me. However since I'm not interested in the fluff and just it "as a game" will really be about "who" i play with and there is seems to be a stellar group of people around here dipping their tow in.

GW has really just ceased caring about its customers, and at least PP looks like they are "trying" to get some new ones..that's enough for an intro from me...thanks for the heads up on the forums,

Does anyone remember the old GW forums?? and how they were so unbelievably bad (toxic) they had to be shut down?
In retrospect its was probably because they could not find anyone mod that circus for free! LOL

@JP agreed definitely not cheap. but unlike GW you need alot less of it, it pretty obvious there is system is setup so you have to buy a ton of stuff..50 point tourneys
with two separate lists and they foray in "apocalypse" territory with there new rules coming out.

Joshua Rosenblum said...

As you said, it's passe to jump all over GW for being GW. But seriously, they are the Microsoft/Starbucks of the gaming world.

You are absolutely right in that GW's lackadaisical attitude towards its customer base drives away experienced (and more wealthy) gamers. My friends and I abandoned WFB for a fantasy version of PIQUET years ago. That said, GW seems to replace those losses with never ending streams of youngsters, so I guess the business model works.

Will a business with enough capital like PP be able to make a real dent in GW's market share? I'm hopeful but not optimistic. In any case, GW does make some lovely undead figures. I just have to go without a few meals so I can afford those new Tomb King Necrosphinxi!!!

Ars Mortis

Anonymous said...

I've gone on about this before... I love WM/H, but it has a weird feel, kind of like a sporting match, or video game rather than a 'battle' for some reason. It is hard to get a feel for a story in the game while you are playing it. On the creative side, there isn't as much you can do when it comes to conversions, modeling, or creating your own characters as in other games. This is a big minus for me with WM. Its a fantastic system, and I really like coming up with interesting combos of units/casters/abilities but it really doesn't scratch the itch for me when it comes to gaming. said...

I think thats pretty much the point Aaron. sometimes you need a "chess game" and sometime you need a "game of craps" you know I'm feeling WFB has become a "craps game" but it also has the social fun of a good crap game, and thats still a big draw
to me. But it might be time we invest some money in a good "game of chess" and maybe WM/H is it, until we finally just give up and just put on a sweater and start playing chess in the park! LOL

DarkLegacy said...

Welcome to the Iron Kingdoms. I'm one of the Press Gangers that Felix mentioned in his post.

One of the first things to remember is that your warcaster/warlock is the most important piece on the table. They are your King and Queen piece. If they die, the game is over, just like if you lose the King in Chess.

What kind of information are you looking for on the Hobby side of things?

@LIW, if you follow the Terms of Service, the forums aren't bad at all. There is the same problems with internet think-tanking that every community driven website in the world has. Take it with a grain of salt, and use your own head. It doesn't work to blindly follow what someone else said on the internet (well, cause they are wrong, duh! :) )

I hope to see you sometime John when I come to another of Felix's events. He's one hell of a community leader down there (working with Michael and Aaron).

Felix Flauta said...


I'm a community leader with maybe 2-3 regular weekly participants. One of the things I have not succeeded at doing is convince players to learn to paint or to spend time painting. Everyone I know who currently does so has learned on their own initiative. I try to sweeten the pot with prizes and facebook taunts, but in the end all these guys already knew what they were doing before I got there.

John would probably function far better as a Press Ganger than I do. I look to him as an example of what a promoter and volunteer should be capable of doing. If Fantasy had a volunteer promoter, I think John would be one of the Warhammer Fantasy Press Ganger kings.

Hobby side, I think John's looking for some of the better hobby related blogs out there to see what veteran Warmachine hobbyists are capable of. My guess is he's looking for inspirational pieces to motivate and learn from and expand his already existing techniques. said...

Thanks for the kind words felix.

other than being an unapologetic hobby snob. the hobby quotient of the game is a key factor for me in any games has been since I was painting grenadier D&D figs in the 1980's
while PP seems to lag behind in comparison with the GW player base
I have seen some really good stuff, I'd just like to see (or be pointed at) personally I dont play with unpainted models other than learning a game, or something so such an epic paint job I just have gotten to it yet (like my Saxon WAB horde) Fortunately for me the crew of people from or dipping there toe in the water at moment all have serious hobby chops and its a good for you guys as Press Gangers to get involved once they all start playing, maybe host some type of event for new players event sometime this summer guys should email me if we want to talk more..I need to actually play a game first..LOL!

DaveWilkin said...

Very true...I think GW does get the impression that it is indestructable. And maybe justifyable on previous experience...but nothing is forever,and there are lots of worthy manufacturers on thier tail. I too am getting fed up with the constant rule change that implies you need to purchase more figs just to keep in the game...I dont play WFB 8th now because of that..but still like 40K. Let's see what 6th ed 40K does in a year or so!

Jim said...

First of all, as a 40k player that picked up Warmachine a year ago, let me point out that the games aren't exclusive. I still enjoy both very much and while I don't hate GW, I have found a lot to like from PP. Play what's fun and don't be bothered by loyalty to companies that don't know you exist.

As for the hobby side, I doubt that the ratio of painters to gamers is any less for PP than it is for GW. PP just has a much smaller player base so there just aren't that many painters.

Someone asked for decent PP hobby blogs and I whole-heartedly recommend:

Go look at CaptainSpud's posts in particular.

As for the PP forums, come to the mercenary community. We're a pretty relaxed bunch. If you drop by, look me up. I'm MOZZ over there. said...

Hi Jim

Not sure where you're getting the exclusive thing..myself and the guys I know here all probably play a half dozen systems each. My point was, as GW's continues its patterns of distancing itself from its customers, I in turn find myself playing less and less GW, but with basement full of Citadel Figures I dont think I'm abandoning GW anytime soon.
The last place I thought I get dragged into a Non-GW game was Adepticon! Chalk this one up to good public relations.

Thanks much for the leads on WM good hobby blogs! I just signed up for the forums..I'll look for ya.

Jim said...


Glad you enjoyed the blog and forums. My comment about exclusivity wasn't directed at you but at the general fanboy fanaticism that tends to crop up in threads like this.

GW is what it is, Privateer is what it is. Take and or leave both. GW doesn't run their company in the way I would chose but I didn't ditch my Imperial Guard. I took a break, tried a new game and was wonderfully surprised. I would encourage others to take the same attitude. said...

I am right there with you man, good attitude..please stop by more often!

ZeroTwentythree said...

I feel similar to Long Island Wargamers & xenite. I tried WM & Hordes but it didn't hold my attention for a number of reasons, many of which have already been mentioned above.

Also, think that PP's business (and gaming) model isn't that different than GW, it's just got a slightly friendlier marketing face at the moment. I don't understand why people claiming to be looking for something different than GW have been attracted to a company that is more or less emulating GW.

On the other hand, they do have some really nice figures. Some of my favorite figures I've painted in the past few years have been my Cryx battle group. said...

Hey Thomas
At this point I havent played a game yet, so I may following suit with you I have no idea. This episode is mainly about PP's inadvertently winning me over at Adepticon by looking like they care about who their customers and making a effort to get new ones, which at the current juncture, is the complete antithesis of GW, A Friendlier marketing face is sometimes all it takes to change peoples positions, gamers are a fickle lot!

michael said...


I read Plastic Legions regularly (my buddy Nate, who I believe has played in one of your WFB campaigns, turned me on to it)....
I am glad to see you have taken up Warmachine!
I have been playing Warmachine/Hordes for about 5 years, and in that time have been very happy with the strides Privateer Press have made to please their customers.
The player base in the Chicagoland area is growing at a steady rate, and for good reason.

Hopefully I will run into you sometime and chat Warmachine!



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