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July 1, 2013

GW Deep Thought - We Are All Ferrari Collectors Now

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Something funny happened over the last ten years my friends.  We all started off shopping at K-Mart and somehow ended up at Tiffany's



So lets put down some price markers here starting with the latest Apocalypse release:

GW Apocalyse Release
Apocalypse Book
Apocalypse Templates
Khorne Lord of Skulls
Necron Tesseract
Cost: $420

Now lets see what else $420 will get you these days:

PlayStation 4: Standard Edition
Cost: $399

Dell Inspiron One 20
Cost: $480

Cost: $329

Now let's look at a competing wargame systems:

X-Wing: 
Starter Boxed Set x2 $80
Single ship blister x20 $300
Cost: $380

So What is Going On Here?

At some point, Games Workshop seems to have reached a few conclusions:

1) They make the highest quality most technologically advanced kits in wargames.  I agree with this one.  Now there are other competitors who are on their heels, and several of those competitors are building up their own cadres of experienced CAD designers.  So the gap is closing but anyone who takes a look at a kit like the Wraithknight and studies how it was not only sculpted, but cut apart for manufacture will come out very impressed.

2) There are only so many GW wargamers out there.  The days of GW opening up an ever greater number of stores and actively going out and gaining new customers seems to be fading.  Something happened over the last few years and GW seems to be focused on tightening the screws on their existing stores and trying to run them as leanly as possible instead of going out there and trying to expand marketshare.

3) The customers are seemingly impervious to price increases.  Yes we all whine and complain, but clearly enough product moves to make GW's bottom line stay healthy.

What all of this adds up too is a classic luxury market.  Decades back, Games Workshop was the K-Mart of wargaming.  You could grab 3 Rhinos in a box for $30, and Aspect Warriors came 5 in a blister for about $10.  

But those days are gone.  The funny thing is we can't blame GW for this, and they certainly have not been silent on the matter.  One only has to read their investor relations papers to see they proudly state that they are the producers of the "best toy soldiers in the world" and will certainly price them accordingly.

In short they are Ferrari.  They price at a large markup and let the strength of the product speak for them.  Sales and discounting are dirty words, and so long as the financial don't collapse, they can't be bothered if some customers on the edges get priced out.  There are plenty of cheaper (and lower quality in GW's mind) alternatives out there.

But can you blame GW, any more than you can blame Ferrari for being expensive?  There are clear downsides to being a luxury goods maker in any market.

-You limit your potential unit sales
-You must ensure your brand is well burnished, and doesn't have negative aspects associated with it
-You open yourself up to fierce price competition from other companies (especially the "near-luxury" segment)
-You open yourself up to counterfeiting if you make a pricey luxury good that is easily produced (see your inbox for thousands of Louis Vuitton knockoff spam messages).

So at the end of the day, if I were a new customer I wouldn't have an issue with it.  If a new player walks into a game store his choices are easily seen and explained.

You have GW, the Ferrari of wargaming, with a large premium quality line of premium priced products.

You have large solid competitors like Privateer Press (let's call them Mercedes-Benz), Battlefront (Toyota) offering their own flavor of wargaming at a lower pricepoint and high quality.  Then you have all the other up and coming companies out there working to earn your hard earned dollar.  I'll leave those car comparisons to you.  Finally of late you have the gold-panner customers working the Kickstarters to find those hidden gems (like Kingdom Death) worth your time.

But still there is something unsettling about seeing this from the point of view of a longtime customer.  I never chose to walk into a Ferrari dealership.  I just bought my collection slowly over the years, only to realize as a regular working stiff, it's now difficult to keep up with the Joneses...

I never set out to own a collection of Ferraris, but own one I do - and so do you.  What do you want to do with it?
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