In recent years, it seems like Games Workshop (GW) has been subjected to controversy after controversy and honestly, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. Just when the hobby community as a whole comes to terms with the most recent bit of drama coming from GW, another one springs up to take its place.
For those not in the know, Games Workshop makes the wildly popular Warhammer series of product, in both fantasy and sci-fi formats. They’ve been doing this for quite a while and there’s a good chance you’ve at least seen their products, even if you didn’t know what they were in particular. To give you an idea of scale, I’m told that England-based Games Workshop does more business per annum than the entire British fishing industry. I’m not sure what that says about our priorities as a society but here we are. (And this isn’t even the focus of this post)
So what I’m referring to in this particular post, is the seemingly never-ending stream of “Have you seen what they’ve done now?” commentaries posted on social media, in regard to the latest business decision coming from the GW camp. At first the rumblings started as a trickle back in the early 2000’s, by Games Workshop restricting online sales from third party vendors. Then they started restricting pricing discounts third party vendors could apply to official GW product. After a noticeable lull where things seemed to return to normal, the dam holding back the hobby drama finally broke, releasing a torrent of disturbing behaviours made public and then perpetuated through social media.
In no particular order, Games Workshop has found itself part of scandals involving shutting down independent content creators, shady non disclosure agreements, underpaying game design staff, copyright striking review videos, a noticeable lack in quality control for printed materials and resin miniatures, restricting third party “bits” at tournaments, and more. I can’t speak to the truth of any of these, I’m just an observer on the sidelines. I have no real horse in this race, other than I like the product that Games Workshop produces.
For better or worse, and regardless of the truth of any of these rumours, Games Workshop is a publicly traded company. Which means at the end of the day, someone has to report to the almighty shareholder. And while some shareholders may also be fans of the product the company produces, what they really care about is their shares going up in value. Most (if not all), of the wildly publicized scandals surrounding Games Workshop can be attributed to “It’s what’s best for the company [and its shareholders]”. Personally, I hate this line of thinking. I don’t think for a second that profits and shares should ever outweigh what’s best for employees and customers. But it’s unfortunately the way the economy works, and the second a company goes public, you can rest assured it’ll be shareholders over all else, every single time.
So if the drama with Games Workshop can be explained by “It’s not personal, it’s business”, then why this post? The thing is, the drama generated by Games Workshop for many people is personal as well as being business. A lot of content creators on Patreon and YouTube have made careers out of talking about Games Workshop products, either through tutorials, reviews, commentaries or ‘fan created content’. Many smaller “friendly local gaming stores” use Games Workshop products as an anchor product to draw people in, and perhaps you may purchase some of the other brands they carry whilst in store. And so, every time Games Workshop makes a business related decision that affects not only their bottom line, it also affects the bottom line of every content creator and third party vendor that relies on Games Workshop.
For third party vendors, this traditionally comes in the form of price increases, limited on-hand stock with increased product lead-times, or reduced selection overall. Annual memberships are very common for local stores, it ensures that you keep coming back to that store for your gaming needs instead of shopping around. But none of this is new, as long as I’ve been wargaming (which is really as long as I can remember), all of this is normal and expected. So while I don’t want to ignore the plight of the FLGS, this post really isn’t about them.
What I’d really like to discuss is the more recent phenom of the content creators. The ones who say “you know what, my day job was OK but I’d rather be paid to paint, draw, discuss, and analyze GW’s wargaming products”. Every time Games Workshop makes a big decision that affects them, invariably in one way or another we’ll all hear about it. This is because content creators specialize in reaching out to their intended audiences in a myriad of ways and they’ll make sure to use (almost) every channel available to them. The two biggest I’ve found seem to be Reddit, and Twitter. Interestingly, a lot of creators don’t utilize their YouTube channels to openly criticize Games Workshop. This may be that Games Workshop specifically mentions YouTube in a contract somewhere (I wouldn’t know, I haven’t seen any contracts so this is just a guess), or they fear demonetization from YouTube itself (somewhat more likely, the stories about YouTube’s twitchy trigger-finger for demonetization of videos are notorious and widespread)
While I’m all for freedom of speech and the ability to criticize injustices, oftentimes when a content creator makes a post or tweets about something that big plastic has done to them (or the industry in general), the community as a whole splits into two equally militant halves. These halves then side with either the content creator, or with the industry itself. Most times, the issue is able to de-escalate without too many casualties but in more recent skirmishes too many innocent bystanders have been caught in the crossfire, resulting in people’s personal information being leaked, channels being shut down, moderators banning users, and awful, hateful things being said behind the anonymity of a keyboard.
It’s for this reason that I’ve actually stopped following the majority of independent content creators on Twitter. There seems to be a disconnect between the personality presented through their YouTube Channels, and the “real” individual posting tweets or starting threads on Reddit. I’m not saying I respect them any less, it’s just that I prefer my hobbying like I like my coffee – drama free. It could be argued that my indifference to the issues at hand, coupled with my intense dislike for people calling each other out on social media platforms, actually contribute to the problem itself. By ignoring the behind the scenes drama I could be siding with the industry and ignoring the plight of the content creator. It’s possible that may be true, as I’ve been following the industry since the 80’s – my allegiance to indie content is a somewhat more recent affair.
What I would like to see as a compromise (which I seriously doubt would ever happen, but we all have Christmas wishes), is that a jaded creator can contact Games Workshop about something bothering them, and it’s addressed in a quick press release that appeases all sides. The army of twitter and reddit followers can put down their virtual pickaxes, and get back to painting and playing. For now, I’m content to sip my drama free coffee, watch some fun painting videos on YouTube, and continue muting the hate filled tweet-storms.