Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Games Workshop is Dead! Long Live Games Workshop!

Robert Rath | 30 Jan 2014 16:00
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Games Workshop Stores: Not Worth the Points Cost

Games Workshop lives and dies by its brick-and-mortar stores. That network allows the company to control its product's price structure to an impressive degree and is central in promoting the brand and attracting repeat customers. They're not just stores, they're monetized community centers. However, recently GW has rolled out a new plan to cut stores down to one employee and limit stock so that each location becomes more profitable. According to GW's acting chief executive Tom Kirby, the profit dip in the last report was entirely due to this restructuring. However, I can't see how reducing store hours (you can only ask one man to work so many days a week) and floor space is going to work in the long term, particularly since less space to play means a reduced community scene around the shop. Then again, I've read some arguments that GW stores are the problem, with rent and employee fees necessitating that GW as a whole sell more product and at higher prices. If true, it essentially means that we, the customers, are essentially paying a surcharge to shop at Games Workshop stores. That's an especially ugly thought if you shop at an independent retailer a thousand miles from the nearest Games Workshop, as I did.

But no matter where it derives from, GW needs to ease off on their infamous price control. To stock GW products as an independent retailer, for example, you have to order a minimum amount and dedicate a certain amount of shelf space to it - and of course, GW sets the prices. But it gets wilder than that. Last April the company announced that they'd cut ties with any independent retailers that sold GW products over the internet to Australia, since gamers there were ordering from overseas to avoid the the 60-90% markup in local GW stores. In other words, rather than price its products competitively, GW opted to region lock a physical product. This weird ethos even carries over to The Black Library, which doesn't offer ebooks on the Kindle store. Instead, they're on the Black Library website, presumably so they can sell them one dollar under the paperback price.

Look, I'm not a business analyst. Nor I have I worked retail. I don't pretend any special insight, but I doubt such a selfish strategy can last. There are three parties in this equation - GW, retailers and customers - and the current system only benefits one of them. At some point, the other two will choose to go play a different game.

There are people that would love to see Games Workshop burn. Jaded fans. Competitors. Downtrodden retailers. I don't share that view. Games Workshop isn't some unchanging emperor, kept alive via life support as his realm decays. The company is, if anything, a portly middle-aged man with a cigarette habit - he'll be dead in ten years if he does nothing, but if he kicks the smokes and drops a few pounds, who knows?

In the grim darkness of the far future, Games Workshop may be with us after all.

Robert Rath is a freelance writer, novelist, and researcher currently based in Hong Kong. You can follow his exploits at RobWritesPulp.com or on Twitter at @RobWritesPulp.

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