GW finds itself in the same troubled waters General Motors did 2 decades ago – Age of Sigmar is their roll of the dice.
Let me tell you a story…
Once upon a time, Cadillac ruled supreme. Founded over a century ago, it was the undisputed definition of automotive luxury in America for decades vanquishing would-be rivals easily. In it’s glory days it produced pure style on wheels like this:
Insert: yourself, your Ray-bans, and your hot date in a scarf
In 1978 it hit its all time best year with unit sales of 350,813. But it faced a troubled future. Attacked on all sides from changing industry trends, to soaring gas prices, to ever more aggressive competitors, to boring uninspired design, Cadillac was in trouble. By 1996 it’s unit sales had slumped to all time low 170,373 and it was producing cars that looked like this:
Not shown: Your grandparents
When Cadillac looked at their buyers they discovered to their dismay they were on the wrong side of time. Their customers were among the oldest demographic in the entire automotive industry. Worse still – they were only getting older -and literally dying off year by year. The brand had little appeal to the young customers who could become lifetime repeat buyers, but were instead buying Cadillac’s less stodgy competitor’s products. Something had to be done…
Thus did Cadillac for the first time in decades reboot their entire brand. They completely redesigned their fleet with a new edgy visual design, and began to aggressively go after younger customers who had previously avoided the brand. The brand reboot was highly controversial at the time and many wondered if the grand gamble would pay off, or kill Cadillac once and for all. Over a decade later, the brand is doing much better. It’s still not out of the woods, but today’s Cadillac has brought down the average age of its customers and makes cars that look like this:
That’s more like it…
Which brings us to Warhammer…
Once upon a time a tiny miniatures company in the UK named Games Something took a gamble and created the first miniatures focussed tabletop fantasy wargame. It was 1982, and they named it Warhammer. It really wasn’t much – three typewritten black and white pamphlets in a cardboard box and it was off the races.
With no effective competition, (TSR had a chit-based mass battle system for D&D that they quickly abandoned), The little company grew into Games Workshop and established the proud and venerable 33 year old mega franchise that Warhammer has become. Different players will point to various editions that they consider the “high water mark” for Warhammer, but it was clear that over the last 10 years there was a serious problem. Sales began to slump year after year.
Many things have been tried. New fresh armies were introduced, armies with lower modelcounts were added (I’m looking at you Ogre Kingdoms), larger “prestige models” were added (looking at you Necrosphinx & brethren), the game got the Forge World treatment (bye-bye Warhammer-Forge). In the end nothing seemed to help. Many older WFB players would simply use their ancient armies edition after edition, with little to no new purchases, or rely on the secondary market to get new items. Stablemate Warhammer 40,000 – itself created as a sci-fi variant of Warhammer Fantasy had grown like a weed and was now in the driver’s seat of GW sales. Young new WFB players were dwindling by the year. Nottingham had to do something.
Enter Age of Sigmar.
Like it or not, it looks like GW, in the shoes of Cadillac is making a grand roll of the dice. They needed to do something radical to reboot the entire Warhammer franchise, and bring in a new generation of young players weaned on modern 21st century war/boardgames. First they spent 6 months saying goodbye to their old universe. Essentially tying off as many loose ends as they could in the End Times series to set up the grand reboot. We are seeing GW doing things shocking for their company culture. Light clean rules, FREE downloads, design mechanics lifted from some of the most popular competetors out there, and a seeming focus on the “fun-lighthearted” side of gaming – more in touch with things like Munchkin, or popular party board/cardgames (Apples to Apples or it’s adult themed Cards Against Humanity clone).
Age of Sigmar won’t be the cup of tea for many of the “wargaming is serious business” customers who may leave for greener pastures (Mantic, Warmachine & Warlord for example would be VERY happy to have them). But if it lives to see a handful of years under it’s belt and constant GW support it could bring in a giant wave of new young casual players (and EGADS, even more female players) and right Nottingham’s listing ship.
One thing is clear – 30 years on, no one can say that GW isn’t willing to really roll the dice.