Deep Thought: 40K ‘fluff’ is GW’s Most Important Asset
One long time gamer talks about what really makes GW’s tick – the fluff.
A guest column by BoLS Lounge Alum Denzark
The other night, I, along with millions of other individuals across the planet, went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This was the ‘first’ one for my 8 y.o. son at the cinema – I am just slightly too young for the original 77 releases and so my first was Phantom Menace. I was buzzed, I was hyped. And at the end, I felt slightly – something. Something I have not been able to define. Mebbe a bit like a wedding or an event you have been looking forward to for ages, and then seems to go too fast. All I could think of, without having gone to see SW:TFA again, was that it was shame they decided to dispense with the Expanded Universe storylines.
Whilst I don’t want to discuss that here, being this is a 40K post, my mulling over made me think that there are direct comparisons between the Star Wars universe and the 40K universe. I’m not on about specifics (although they will be there) – I mean ‘big handfuls’ which I will explain. And to be clear, I am talking about the Expanded Universe Star Wars, now rebranded ‘Legends’.
Star Wars – massive timescale (Dawn of the Jedi – 37000 years before the films). 40K – massive timescale. Star Wars galaxy – huge. 40K – huge. Cast of characters? Both massive. Storylines derivative from other film/history/sci-fi? Check for both. Battles between giant space ships? Check. 2 legged manned fighting walkers? Check. The list goes on and on. But there is one feature that bleeds into the real world, which is also common to both. A die-hard fan base. A die-hard fan base who have pored over the legends and stories. They have relentlessly collected books, computer games, graphic novels, posters, ephemera, toys, collectables. All this has delivered an understanding – deeper than understanding, a belief – a genuine belief in how that universe is set up. And frankly, that is messed with at the company’s peril.
Grimdark Galaxies – they’re big! Quick find Cypra Mundi!
Galaxies Far Far Away – they’re big- 30 seconds to find Tatooine – GO!
Why the Fluff is Important
Let me digress a bit and explain why I think the fluff is important to GW. Because, from my non-businessman layman’s POV, the fluff is the only asset within GW’s inventory, that is universally seen as more positive than not. I’ll try and back that up. Do GW care enough about brand loyalty to do what we think is sensible policies to keep customers coming back (sponsor tournies, engage with customers via social media, have sensible sales – all the flash and jazz people argue that PP do and GW don’t but should) – No. Do GW even do a barest modicum of market research – No. External engagement/advertising – rarely. Models of the highest quality design and production – OK – a harsh one but whilst some of their plastics have been gorgeous, I am seeing a recent rising tone of discontent with CAD produced stuff and whenever miniature quality is debated, someone can always come up with a smaller company with as gorgeous sculpts as GW. The only thing (IMO) that keeps many people coming back to GW with all its acknowledged faults, is the fluff. The 40Kverse is an awesome and infinite sandbox and has a grit (the grimdark) and aesthetic that other settings just cannot match. You want escapism, you want adult, you want MDK mayhem – you’ve got it.
The Dangers of Fluff
So what happens when you mess with the fluff?
I never noticed that Disney put out a message about the canonicity of Star Wars after their takeover of the franchise, but when they announced that the EU was not considered canon going forward, many fans were disappointed. This took many forms, after all, huge swathes of storyline of varying import were just cut. The most extreme reaction was the formation of ‘The Alliance to Preserve the Expanded Universe’. Sort of does what it says on the tin. Random quotes:
” I hate the fact that I have to hate this, this has all the makings of a good story, then you guys have to go and ruin it by making it not part of Legends.”
“I won’t spend one dime on Star Wars until they make it crystal clear how much money I’ve wasted over the past thirty years.” (Could a WFB player be saying that regarding AoS?)
One of the similar groupings has threatened to release spoilers of new Star Wars films, seeing the earliest viewings then going viral on the internet with spoilers, unless the Expanded Universe is returned to canon status!
But wait, we would never go that extreme, would we?
The video at link shows a player torch an entire Warhammer army as a protest to Warhammer being replaced by AoS. He takes 20 minutes to rant and do this. With my ebay-fu I could list an entire army in that time, and buy x-warmafauxinfinity hordes commander with the proceeds – but no – destroy the army.
Now, there is a debate ongoing that AoS has brought sales figures over the summer down (read it here started by Defenestratus) and we can all name at least one gamer vexed mightily with the way End Times segued into AoS and the end of massed ranks square bases – I know at least one dedicated gamer who spends thousands – and now will only worship at the temple of Kings of War.
The upshot is that fans take their fluff seriously, and GW fans are no exception. Hence, my contention that GW needs to tread very carefully about changing 40k fluff – lest they suffer an AoS back-lash.
Don’t Touch The Third Rail!
To finish, I’ll list a couple of fluff traps waiting to happen – GW – mess with at your peril…
1. Squatting an Army. There are degrees of this, from the slow decline of the Sisters, to the Black Templars being subsumed by Codex Space Marines – but removing an entire army from the fluff will not win you any friends.
2. The removal of Slaanesh. Again, debates about whether or not Slaanesh is too adult a theme and has been slowly removed from AoS, are quite common at the moment. Retconning Slaanesh out of 40k does not only smash a considerable part of Chaos away, but also removes the whole reason for the fall of the Eldar.
3. The Slann/Old Ones/Necron piece. Remember when the Slann provided a suspected link between WFB and W40K – it was considered in some quarters the Warhammer World was a planet in the 40K galaxy. I think messing with this too much runs the risk of appearing like a huge corny Macguffin.
4. The missing Primarchs. GW – I know we are the playstation, instant gratification generation, but just don’t go there please. Some suspense is a good thing.
5. 40K End Times. The daddy of all fluff perils waiting to happen. Do you advance the fluff and risk an AoS style backlash as big names go down – or is there enough mileage in ‘2 minutes to midnight’ where we are now…?
Well that’s my ramblings – I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on all things fluff/canon.