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Community: An Open Letter to Games Workshop

9 Minute Read
Jun 5 2014

In which one GW customer pens a letter to Nottingham HQ…

An Open Letter by Rikkumon

I have decided to write down a couple of thoughts I’ve had on how I see Games Workshop (GW) adapting their business model to become more of the narrative based play company they claim to be, in an ‘Open letter’ style format. My goal is to develop a system that works for the two primary styles of gamer, the competitive tactics driven and the narrative ‘fluff’ driven, and still retain the business model that GW have been pursuing. Take of it what you will, I would love to hear people’s thoughts and opinions, and I would especially love GW to adopt a system like it.

Before I begin I need to layout how I see GW as a company and that comes in three parts:

GW claim to be a narrative driven company, and they make excellent fluff. From World setting to faction history there are a lot of books where one can find out more about the 41st millennium. 

They make great models, that isn’t in doubt. This is the primary revenue product for GW. This includes paints and modelling equipment.

This includes the rulebooks themselves and the codices for varying factions. The rules allow you to use the models in a game, they are there to allow us to justify the time and money we spend on the models. They are also a main reason we buy the third tactical squad instead of only getting the latest, beautifully sculpted, individual character models that take our fancy.

As I see it these three things exist almost in a vacuum. They all happen – just not together. The rules and models are close, but the narrative is somewhere in the background. I find this odd from a company that wish you to form a narrative in game. The rules especially are apart from what they say they want you to do on the table top, it’s like being sold a flatpack table and receiving nothing but wood and nails and being told ‘It’s clearly a table…’. Sure, some people will thrive under the challenge of making a table from such simple materials, some people would herald the freedom of choice to make any table they want, but others will turn it into a 2by4 with screws sticking out and beat people over the head – either ‘because you can’ or from frustration. Others may just walk away from the project and buy a readymade table elsewhere.

Part of my goal is to better unify these three aspects of the company, and still make those that want to be free and those that want more structure happy.

The first, and probably most controversial, change would be to make the rules free and living. The idea would be a free to download, text only, updated three or four times a year, rule set. By giving away the rules for free it furthers GW’s own message that they are a model company and the rules are secondary. It also stops people from moaning about discrepancies because, a: they are free which reduces the duty of care or buyer rights, and b: with updates they can be changed more liberally.

The current format of rules is like buying an operating system that works fine until a bug causes a crash when the sixth program is opened, a bug the creator doesn’t address, and leaves it to customers to say ‘just reboot and in future don’t open more than five programs’. You can still open six programs… it just keeps crashing. This answer is unacceptable from a product you have to purchase because it is not ‘fit for purpose’, and yet seems acceptable for GW. If we take Linux as an example then a lot of work goes into making it function to the user’s specification, this works because it’s available for free and people like the freedom they get from using Linux. But no one wanting a plug and play, readymade OS would use Linux.

By making the rules a living document it also helps the Tournament players by nixing issues that are plaguing that scene. The Fluff player doesn’t care that an exploit allowing for a broken unit gets changed/ removed, but a tournament player will. Both customers will be annoyed if the rules/ codex they paid for become suddenly invalid.

(Side story: I used to play Magic: The Gathering and I used a card that was very good. I used it in a pretty bad deck, but the card was so good it made the deck work to a fair level. That card was ‘broken’ in standard play and banned. My deck was neutered in that fall out, which sucked, but overall it increased the variance in the field and meant more people were playing because they didn’t instantly lose to the unfair decks.)
A collector’s edition could still be released every few years, which would contain the most up to date rule set, but focuses more on looking pretty and talking about ‘fluff’ and narrative. 

I would also remove any way to ‘play’ the game outside of pure functionality. By this I mean no ‘Force Org Chart’ and no ‘Standard Missions’. Just how to move, cast spells, shoot, assault, and how to interact with those things (armour, cover, universal special rules etc, etc). The rules should dictate the how to play, not the why. Missions would come from mission packs, White Dwarf and Campaign settings, maybe even a book on ‘how to design missions for play in 40k’.

The aim here is to not have a ‘default’ way to play, and therefore a ‘deviation from default’ that is inherently unattractive. Most games at my local club use the book missions, despite a wealth of alternatives out there. This moves away from the ‘Take All Comer’ style list that is trying to be good at everything in one of six random missions to instead arranging a game where players chose to play ‘the latest mission in White Dwarf, I’ll be player A and you be player B’ Then that mission would have rules for each player when it comes to set up and army composition. Both players would know what they are in for from the beginning and there would be no ‘Oh… you have a 2++ re-rolling deathstar in my random pickup game… Fun!’. This brings the game back to a more ‘narrative feel’. 

Take All Comer, tournament style mission packs could be released by GW or independent TOs (many of whom already do this) that are freer in army composition and game play – but by not being the default players will get more choice, control and variance in the game they play before they even play it.

I mentioned Campaign settings and this is the crux of my plan. Instead of having a faction by faction, rules based release schedule (a complete codex with accompanying models) I would like to see a move to an ongoing, Campaign a year, release. Army Codices would move over to the free side of the fence, and include only the stat line and point cost of the models, which would also get updated in the update window- not to alter but to ‘fix’ problems as with units. Faction codices could still exist but as Fluff only, pretty pictures and back story. 

At the beginning of the year a Campaign setting would be released – to illustrate my example I will steal use a similar setting to Dawn of War, but the basics are that four ongoing Campaign books are released in a year along with accompanying models and novels. The same approach works for Warhammer Fantasy, and would fill the rest of the year’s release windows.

Imperial guard have just finished quashing a cult uprising and as soon as the last cultist is dead the Orks invade. 

Products to be released:
• Campaign setting, including fluff on the area where the campaign takes place, rules for specific characters and units that take part in the narrative, missions (including missions for other factions, ie the Cultists VS Guard street battles that took place before the main Campaign starts, Eldar scouting missions on a nearby moon etc – the aim is when all four books are released almost every faction is present in some way). 
• Fiction books that take place in the setting – Following named characters, such as an Ork Boss and a Militarum Commissar that would have:
• Specific character models that can be used as nonspecific characters (On the box it would have ‘This model is to be used as ‘Commissar Yoland from the Dawn of War rip off campaign setting but can be used as a generic commissar in your games of 40k’
• Starter faction kits, which I will go over in more detail later.
• 3 smaller books throughout the year that progress the story, introduce more factions, missions and units with:
• Models that represent those rules.

So when the Space Marines turn up in book 2 we have a story book alongside it, a new named character, and because the Marines know they’ll face Orks you can field a drop pod tactical squad with 2 flamers and the option for the captain to take a flamer, not just a combi flamer, and they have ‘hatred Orks’. You can use that unit in regular 40K – but it’s designed for this campaign and results outside of it may vary (the unit wouldn’t go into the free to download codex, for example). When it turns out (plot twist) that the Orks are under the control of Chaos you could get possessed Ork Boy models with unique rules. You could put in special, otherwise game breaking, rules just for the campaign that won’t interfere with regular games or tournaments (Summoning demons springs to mind). These models don’t have to be tied to the books, safer ones for generic play can come in the form of weekly model releases and dataslates, complete with fluff tying them to back to the campaign.

The idea here is to tie the narrative and the played game closer together. Players can play battles described in the books, they can play with characters in the books, they can play along the whole campaign (it may be too hard to do but I’d love a ‘choose your own adventure’ style campaign that has different missions depending on what faction wins), and they can pick and choose missions they like – there would be rules to adapt it by faction. Ultimately this would be GW saying ‘we are a narrative experience company, and we are selling you that narrative in campaign form.’

This has the added benefit of cross pollination from GWs own product line. A person that only reads the books may buy the model of a character that is in them. A player that is playing along, but doesn’t usually read the novels, may buy the book to get into the setting more. Someone that loves the idea of possessed Orks may give the Campaign a try to use them. People that get the special models with the dataslate for their regular play may get hooked on the fluff in the dataslate and check out the campaign setting they come from.

Players would, in theory, become personally attached to the outcome of the story – this would keep people playing and coming back in store. Entitlement and ownership are strong motivators for repeated buying habits. 

The other advantage is being able to run ‘World Progression’ campaigns. They could run the next black crusade, Abaddon marching with his Black Legion against the forces of the Imperium. If they wanted to bring back a Primach they could – in game, model, narrative, rules and stories. This would further engage the customer base with all the products in the line.

The final change I would like to discuss is the idea I mentioned earlier – ‘Faction Starter Kits’. With the release of each Campaign setting would be the two initial/ primary evergreen (meaning always available, even after the campaign) snap-fit box set in the style of Dark Vengeance. The purpose would be to reduce the barrier for entry to the world of 40k, with an aim to eventually have one for every faction and be around 500 points. 

So in our Dawn of War example there would be an Astra Militarum box containing two units of guardsmen and a HQ squad (with the possible option to make them into a Cultist force) and an Ork box of slugga boys, shoota boys and a warboss. To get out all the sets quickly there could also be a Marine and Chaos box in the same year.

Snap-fit will keep the price down so new players can pick up an army quickly with no real choices and therefore no chance of making a weapon or unit choice that will end up never getting used (Hi Dark Vengeance Chosen… glad I painted you…). For experienced players they can give a new army a try with the same ease and a reduced cost (more armies for everyone!). With all the boxes being balanced then quick games with ‘my starter box vs yours’ leads to finding a balanced game very easy, great for new players and great for experienced players looking for games based on pure skill over list building. With it being snap-fit a new player can enter a store, buy, assemble (maybe with a little help) and be playing their first game, with their own models, within 20 minutes. Reducing the time and difficulty of getting from ‘decision to buy’ to ‘playing’ increases the chance of that customer being involved with the product for a longer time.

So to conclude, I believe this approach accomplishes what GW have set out to do in creating a much more narrative based play, and still gives a set of rules that competitive players can use to play their game. Campaigns can let GW create crazy, imbalanced yet fun ways to play, and over time the rules and factions would become much more balanced as interactions and discrepancies are ironed out.

What are people’s thoughts? 


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