Friday, June 15, 2012

Games Workshop Webstore and the Tournament Scene

Games Workshop doesn’t allow 3rd party companies to sell their products on the web, and the end result of this is we have a national Grand Tournament scene that is patchwork at best.  How are these concepts related?  I’ll explain.

Running a Grand Tournament now is a labor of love.  I’m fairly sure Mike Brandt isn’t quitting his day job anytime soon, and he isn’t paying for Christmas with the tremendous NOVA profits.  And while the prize support is admirably large, and the Invitational does have a cash prize, we are still far from a “Pro Tour” or anything resembling it.  Kudos to the sponsors of the current Grand Tournaments, I’m sure their return on investment is not lighting the world on fire.

Let’s compare it to Magic.  Magic does have a professional tournament series, but it also has several semi-professional cash tournament series.  How does Magic support tournaments that give away $25,000 a weekend in cash prizes?  They allow 3rd parties to sell their products on the web, and they don’t sell theirs on the web.  The major 3rd party Magic sellers ( and are able to generate tremendous market share by supporting their respective tournament series.  While I’m sure they turn a tidy profit on their tournaments, I’m also sure that those profits pale in comparison to the profits they make from their webstores, which is fueled by the publicity of their tournaments.

If GW changed their policy, we could have a major US web-retailer, like thewarstore, sponsor a tournament series.  It would make economic sense for them to organize the entire U.S. GT circuit, even if the tournaments themselves are a breakeven or slight loss.  If there was a 128-256 open tournament every other weekend with significant cash prizes, and live webstreaming coverage, attendance would be exceptional.  And you can imagine the sales they would make if, while watching someone destroy their opponent on the streaming coverage with Thunderwolf Cavalry, they were able to quickly add one to their checkout cart.

Why would GW go for this?  Because in the long run, they would sell more product.  Tournaments generate interest in the game.  Tournament coverage sells more specific products as the streaming coverage shows the top players in the game winning with the best lists.  Eventually a critical mass is reached where the tournament series becomes big enough that the 3rd party web sales dwarf Games-Workshop’s current proprietary websales.

Why would we, as players, want these changes?  Foremost, it will increase the level of competition.  Having a tournament series were the top 32 players can reasonably expect to at least break even on their travel expenses every weekend means that there will be much less of a barrier to entry.  As of today, Grand Tournaments attract locals, and die hards.  About 3 Grand Tournaments per year attract a national audience.  And of those, only the absolute die hards attend all 3.  Being able to have a positive EV for the good players will encourage the best players nationally to show up to the events, which will increase the level of competition.  All the current “best players” claim they want more competitive games; this would ensure it. 

What about the normal, average players?  They buy the dream.  Maybe they play in a local GT and determine they can be competitive with the top players nationally, they will start traveling to an event or two.  Maybe they are a top dog at their LGS but never considered ‘making the jump.’  Under this system, they have a huge incentive to up their game and make the jump to a national tournament circuit. 

Lastly, the game system benefits.  Right now we have 455748574 tournament organizers each playing a slightly modified version of the game based around their individual FAQ’s and errata.  If there was a unified, national tournament circuit fostering an inevitable level of professionalism, you can imagine it would not take long for the rules to be unified to a level where people are “playing the same game” in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.  This is a huge benefit to casual players that don’t even intend to play in tournaments, since unified tournament rules are essential to fostering a fair game that everyone understands even in their beer and pretzels games.

Do I expect any of this to happen?  Probably not anytime soon.  Games-Workshop’s unspoken policy is to discourage any sort of competitive gameplay, and to continue to exert draconian control over their websales.  These two are not likely to change without a change of the CEO and board of directors; either of which will most likely only occur if the company is purchased by a major player like Hasbro.  And even then, there is no telling that Hasbro would run the game the same way as they do Magic. 

Nonetheless, the path has already been laid out by Magic’s independent tournament series, and all it would take to duplicate it would be a single corporate memo from the CEO.  So hope is alive.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Questions?

1 comment:

  1. I know that this gets to sound cliche, but I think that a big reason why GW does this and is so ignorant of what online sales and the tournament scene can do for them is that they are less a game company than they are a miniatures company. They don't make money by selling rules. They make money by selling miniatures. As opposed to WotC, where the vast majority of their money is made by selling rules - every MtG card is essentially a subset or deviation of rules, and that's only a portion of WotC's sales portfolio - most of the rest of which are other games. Does WotC even make minis anymore? Clix? Clix are minis with rules like cards. WotC's advertising to sell games.

    Being a mini company, however, GW has blinders on to the fact that producing a good balanced, well-made game system and promoting it can have the side-effect of selling miniatures - rather than their current mindset of writing a game system specifically to sell newer, bigger, and more expensive miniatures. As all they see are miniatures and trying to make a profit off their minis and models, they see online retailers as cutting into their bottom line rather than promoting business.

    I agree with everything you've said above, and it'd be nice if GW could find a better balance of being a game company and a mini company. But until there's a paradigm shift in the corporate mentality of how GW makes it's money, things are only going to get worse for the competitive gamer, not better.