Monday, 13 October 2014

Warhammerfest: Conjecture, Speculation and Vile Rumour

Now I've gotten all the pesky facts out of the way, I can go into the shakier side of things - stuff gleaned from talking to staff around Warhammerfest over the two days.

I haven't done a post like this before, so I'd like to start by putting this in context. I went and talked to a lot of people at the weekend who work for Games Workshop and Forge World. They have to be very careful about what they say, because they are working on things two to three years in advance, and run a pretty tight ship about it. I would consider quite a few of them friends, and I would never want to get any of them in trouble.

However, the Internet is wrong a lot of the time, and I am going to make a single naive attempt to try and correct this. I'm already regretting it and I haven't even finished typing the post. This is a somewhat foolish attempt to put down what little I've learned as an outsider about how Games Workshop operates, what's changing, and what that means in terms of models and rules.

Every time I write something like this I am terrified that people I like and respect will be angry at me about it. It comes from friendly conversations, although I try and be as open as possible about being a blogger and drawing a line between chatting about things of personal interest and Stuff For The Internet - but I worry that one day I will get it wrong.

Please also understand I may be horribly wrong. Games Workshop employees don't have a hive mind, and some of the people I've talked to may not have known the full story about something, or have been adding their own opinion to things. I've also taken a large number of conversations and tried to (forgive me for this) forge them into a narrative of some kind. This adds my own interpretation as another filter onto things, and that interpretation may be completely wrong.

Also: I would not put it past some of these people to make stuff up for the purposes of winding me and / or the Internet up. You're all kind of mean to them a lot of the time, so I wouldn't blame them!

On why Games Workshop don't show things in advance

Games Workshop staff cannot and will not talk about anything that hasn't been officially announced yet. Forge World are slightly different, as they run previews and similar.

Why is it different? Quite frankly, it's because the two companies run very different business models. The plastic production has a minimum of a two year lead time, but some releases have waited three or more years before finding an appropriate slot in the schedule. If you want to understand why Games Workshop don't preview things, take a look at how quickly some of the resin accessory companies got alternative grav guns onto the market after the release of the Space Marine Codex. The benefit gained by early previews is outweighed by the cost of lost sales to small companies producing cheap alternatives.

Forge World don't give a monkeys about the alternative parts companies, because they have a reputation as a prestige / collector's item. They already 'compete' with Games Workshop having cheaper alternatives (at least in the UK - we're really sorry Australia) for a lot of what they do, and it's entirely possible for people to kit bash the Forge World units from GW kits if they wanted. But generally, they don't.

(That is, of course, different to the recasters. They are thieves and scumbags of the lowest order, and I have absolutely no time for them or anyone who advocates their use. It's taking money away from the company who makes these wonderful toys, reduces available budgets for designing new ones, and is taking money away from the designers who put them together. I find little moral difference between buying from a recaster and stealing Simon Egan's wallet. Don't do it.)

So, that covers one of the main reasons why Forge World tease stuff and Games Workshop don't. There is money to be made in firing out knock-offs of GW stuff. There is much less money to be made in firing out quick knock offs of Forge World stuff. It is simply a fact of life that Games Workshop cannot afford to 'tease' things months in advance as it would cost them a significant amount of money for practically no benefit. The companies have different business models and different economics about how they make their money - what is profitable behaviour for Forge World would be ruinously expensive for Games Workshop.

Reorganisation at Games Workshop

I have mentioned this before, but the implications of it weren't necessarily understood. A while ago, Games Workshop had a big reorganisation. It got mentioned and everyone ignored it. We're now seeing the results of some parts of that reorganisation.

We had already heard last year about how the company had moved to a "model led", erm, model. In other words - sculptors make beautiful models, and then writers put together rules for them. The other refinement we've seen is that the people who write the rules have separated from those who write the background.

Previously, small teams would break off and work in isolation on a group of releases. The last set of releases to be written in that way were the 40K codices for the Tau, the Eldar and the Chaos Daemons. They were written together, and play-tested against each other.

The three codices listed are a demonstration about why the old method didn't work. Those of you who either play competitively, read tactics blogs or listen to the podcasts of people who do will recognise the theme in the three codices listed. They are the "power codices", the powerful, competitive armies against which the other armies are measured.

No Games Workshop employee can directly say it, but those three codices are a mistake. Because they were primarily tested against each other in isolation, they are on a different power curve to the rest of the game. This leads on to the question of how Games Workshop fix mistakes and issues with the game, but I'll come to that in a while.

Another part of the reorganisation has meant that some other artistic influences may start to come through in the models. Given when the reorganisation took place, I thought it would be seen this year, but from comments made I'm guessing it will be some point in the first half of 2015. That isn't really something that competitive players will find interesting, but a lot of the painters and kit-bashers might find some interesting new things around then.

How it all works now

The design of models is primarily done on computers now. A designer receives a brief, designs a model on computer, and sends it up for approval. A rapid prototyping machine is then used to make the model. When they say "rapid prototyping", they almost certainly mean a 3D printer, and a top end one. This does still leave faint 3D print lines which need to be sanded down. At least some, if not all, of the 'Eavy Metal models on the boxes come from this rapid prototyping technique.

The approval process is really important, and goes to quite senior people. Alan Merritt, who I have seen previously described as one of the key "IP" guys, is likely one of the approval points - I'd also suspect that people like Jes Goodwin, John Blanche and Ali Morrison all get an opportunity to pitch in and give an opinion, because they have been doing this stuff long enough to know what works and what doesn't.

This one is definitely a vile and unsubstantiated rumour - it may be that the Void Shield Generator was an example of something not fully passing the approval process, so only a small short run was approved, on the grounds that the model was thought unlikely to sell due to its looks. Someone senior probably has a teensiest bit of egg on their face over that if it is true! I do love that model to bits and would have happily bought three if I'd had the chance - but then again, I also love the Taurox, so my judgement in such things is clearly seriously flawed! ;-)

Interestingly, the Grey Knight Codex was a bit of an exception to the model led approach. A two week gap in the planned schedule gave an opportunity for a book overhaul without any new models. There were perceived to be balance issues with the book, and also some fundamental design issues - such as 'invisible upgrades' such as psybolt ammunition, the various grenade craziness, and perhaps a feeling that with the move towards 7th, it would become rather awkward to run. If it really is the exception, that would mean its likely that the remaining 5th edition Codices which need redoing for 7th will see some new models - although given the Dark Eldar had no "new" models, just new takes on existing concepts, it might not be as exciting as all that.

Models coming up?

Some of you may have noticed that there were something like four designers given credits on the Putrid Blightkings. These models do look amazing in the diseased flesh! It seems that the Blightkings were the result of a lot of experimentation with the things you can do in model design now. They have taken what they've learnt from that unit and applied it to the stuff coming down the pipeline.

What is in that pipeline is pure wishlisting and speculation, nothing more. No-one who actually knows what's going on is going to tell you anything concrete or provable more than about a week out. It may be possible to make guesses and piece things together, but it is impossible to tell who has heard or seen something, or if someone is just making stuff up for their own amusement.

So there is no way to know whether or not those "lessons" learned when designing and making the Blightkings will be applied to Fantasy models for other Chaos Gods, the Greater Daemons moving to plastic, or Nurgle Chaos Space Marines. I am some folk whose websites are paid for by their advertising revenues will use the above sentence out of context for glorious clickbait, but it illustrates a valid point, so I'm leaving it in.

Fixing what's "broken"

Games Workshop has tried many different approaches to fixing things over the years. The broad approach now is to try and change as little as possible from the books. If something simply doesn't make sense, or is different in different places, it will definitely get fixed. However, beyond that, they generally won't try and fix other, less fundamental issues, such as balance or edge cases.

There was some discussion of the old Chapter Approved articles and the practice of giving out rules tweaks for people to try out and playtest. Unfortunately, it seems that these generated more questions than they answered, with people asking which rules they should be using.

The worry with clarifications is if too many are given out, then people will end up with sheafs of paper as well as the books. As such, problems which are seen as 'edge cases' will be left to players to sort out. The example I used was targeting a unit with a blast weapon on one level of a ruin when a unit on another level of the same ruin was under Invisibility. These sort of things don't happen often, and the feeling is that if GW legislate for every eventuality, then the game will grow too convoluted, with too many FAQs and other documents.

Balance issues are now broadly being fixed 'as they go' with Codices - with the historical issue of Tau, Eldar and Chaos Daemons being on a higher curve apparently being more or less left until the next pass. Some units will end up more powerful, and some less powerful, but the focus now is on a centralised rules design team working on all the rulebooks and testing with each army.

There is definitely an understanding that it is difficult to get the exact points right for units which have a lot of offensive capability but are fragile, or units which are very robust but not much offensive capability. Grey Knight Strike Squads, for example, were a unit which were given a definite "discount" for all their heavy wargear as ultimately they are still as survivable as any other Space Marine.

This then led on to a discussion of alliances - there is not much focus given to playtesting combinations across Codices. Forces of the Imperium was mentioned as being intended to give people an opportunity to theme armies and match backgrounds, not come up with ultimate power combinations.

The game isn't designed for tournaments. It was never the intention to do so. It's about telling stories with a wargame - I very much got the impression that people are still keen on its role-playing roots. People are welcome to work to try and make a modified 'tournament' game or setting, but that's for them to do. Don't expect Games Workshop to come and do that!

Models and books

We've all been focusing on the key negative reason for why new books have only had supported models - the legal case. However, this weekend, I also heard people pointing out that while it was very sad for people who'd made their own conversions, it was a lot more restrictive for new players or less experienced hobbyists who end up disappointed when they walk into a Games Workshop store and get told that there is no Vect or Baron model, and you have to make your own.

Feel free to be cynical about that if you like - I don't think I'm likely to change any minds here. I don't really expect to. I expect it's six of one and half a dozen of the other. With a risk from one side and problems being caused by models missing, it seems reasonable to decide on a policy of removing rules for unsupported models.

The book authors aren't the people who get to make the decisions on this - nor do the sculptors, who receive briefs from management as to what should happen where. I haven't yet worked out how exactly the decisions are made prior to the sculptors getting their briefs - the generation of those briefs are the one part of the process I don't have any visibility of so far. How the decision came to be made "include the Voidraven Bomber, and drop Vect" rather than the other way around, I don't know.

What's going on

The employees who work at Games Workshop are a group of really passionate people who really care about the game their company produces. It's a big company now - I spoke to one writer who regularly still plays using Rogue Trader rules, while a sculptor had no idea people played old editions. There are still some old hands around who remember what it was like when you couldn't actually swing a cat in the office, to enthusiastic new starts who've not been around more than a few weeks.

Most people involved in the game and miniature design do not read the internet for stuff about the hobby. With several areas having become massive negative echo chambers, it becomes incredibly demoralising for people who genuinely care about the hobby. If you are constantly negative and down on a company (and in some areas it almost seems to be a competition who can be the most anti-GW because it's a 'big company'), then its unlikely the people who work for and care about the company are going to trawl through the bile and hatred to get to any genuine feedback you might have.

In addition, you may have noticed that Games Workshop employees don't engage openly on forums, or have much in the way of painting blogs, or do media interviews. This is not necessarily just because "the company tells them not to". Something that sounded like the internal rumour mill talked about instances of lawyers trawling the internet for Things Employees Have Said in order to use it to back up legal cases against Games Workshop. If you have the patience to dig through online legal case files, you'll probably find examples of it, but I'll admit to not having a citation for this.

These guys do really love their company and the idea of being dragged into a court room and being talked at in ever decreasing circles by a lawyer trying to get precedent set that other companies can use sections of GW IP which have been thirty years in the making is pretty horrifying for them. Innocent comments can easily be taken out of context and weaponised against their employer. It is safer and less stressful for them to avoid discussion of a hobby that they love in a recorded public forum. I find that kind of horrible.

The focus of Warhammerfest was engagement. You could go and see how to do particular aspects of the hobby, or talk design with any one of a number of games designers, miniature designers or artists. Several people actively encouraged me to keep talking about feedback, whether it was my perception of the scenery kits they've put out, or how particular Codices are being received.

The thing is that Games Workshop is a big ship to turn around. It has a pipeline of at minimum two years, and some items which are at least three years from concept to release. Feedback about models and ideas and concepts now may take a long while to get through - but sometimes they've already picked up on it.

For example: There was a definite design decision in the recent books to simplify some of the rules. Some forums and podcasts have taken to complaining that this has taken away unique flavour from a particular list or other. There was a bit of a hint that this has already been spotted and the coming books might see a little more swing away from homogenisation - although I would care to wager a small sum that the format and standardisation will remain to a significant extent. The standardisation does help new players, and helping them engage is something they're still keen to do.

Games Workshop do make mistakes - Codex Eldar almost certainly ran out of time with some pretty big issues still left with both its internal and external balance - I suspect a troubled birth with problems still coming to light late in playtesting. Moving into the rampant speculation now - did the lessons learnt from this lead to the reorganisation of games design in the first place? Were GW trying to fix the problem before the book had even left the warehouse? The power curve since has been very consistent, and several of those books will have been in progress well before Eldar released.

In summary

I think things are looking relatively positive for the near future. With the Blightkings, the model designers are putting out models with an awful lot of potential and developing new technical skills which are going to be applied to new kits coming down the line.

The game design team is not going to cater to tournament and competitive play, but are aware of balance issues and were possibly working on avoiding issues in future releases even before the "problem children" had been formally released.

There are no clear rumours for upcoming Codices or Warhammer Fantasy 9th edition or even Warhammer 40,000 8th edition. Until you see a book, you can't really know what's happening. Most rumour sites achieve nothing but generating internet traffic and a little amusement in the small subsection of the 'in the know' sections of Games Workshop who haven't yet been put off looking at the wargaming sections of the internet.


  1. Great read! I'm very tired of all this anti-GW craic and it's refreshing to read pieces from a blogger that supports the hobby so much.

    1. Thanks. I really appreciate that. I try really hard to remain objective about things, but I will admit to a certain amount of irritation with people who are so constantly negative - it's not the first 'geek' hobby I've been in where it seems to be the in thing to constantly find fault, either. I'm not sure what leads to it, but a happy realisation a while ago that I'm just happier if I look on the bright side of things has led to a much better balanced life. If something is not fun, or I don't like it, then I stop doing it, and focus on the things I am enjoying.

  2. Responsible One,

    Normally, I would be considered very, very, anti-GW. My gripes with them go back at least 7 years now. All those years I've been scratching my head, wringing my fists and gnashing my teeth over their back-asswards decisions and "wtf" releases. But your article here has done something that I've been screaming at GW to do for a very, very long time:

    For the love of God, just fucking talk to us. Tell us what the hell is going on. How does GW think? What are the reasons for their movements? Why did they do this and not that, or the other way around? Hell, just hearing that Eldar, Tau and Demons were all playtested together as a batch makes SO MUCH SENSE now, and if GW were to release a statement saying "Yeah, here's what we did, and we realize it was a mistake. We'll fix those codexes on the next try around." can you imagine the calm it would restore with veterans who are just sick of GW's shit? But all we ever get from that company is silence, with the rare exception of a chit chat with a games designer, sculptor, or writer (and even then, he/she may not be entirely in the know).

    I know that you cannot (and do not) claim to have all the answers, but you seem to have a sharp eye on the situation, relatively speaking. Answering questions and getting a glimpse into how the big GW machine actually works helps put a tremendous amount of angst at ease.

    I only wish GW would do this officially, instead of relying on totally independent bloggers to do the translations and presentations for them.

    1. There is a mix of concern of statements being cherry picked by IP lawyers for third party sites and the fact that the Internet is quite a toxic and negative environment, particularly for companies seen as established. You only have to look at the personalised attacks on individual writers to see why the company chose to disengage.

    2. The way I see it, there's really only two things that could come from increased communication from GW:

      1. GW explains itself and people on the internet calm down a bit. Like I said earlier, when somebody has a clue about whats going on, and they're kind enough to let the rest of us know what that is, it can explain away some of the nerd rage. This is a good thing.

      2. GW explains itself and the internet goes fucking ballistic because GW publicly confirms what we've been thinking all along (that they make piss poor business decisions and are hilariously out of touch with their customer base). This can still be a good thing, though. Yes, the internet is a toxic environment, but how is GW supposed to improve if they dont get any negative feedback? And if GW doesnt have the balls to take negative criticism, choosing instead to bury their collective heads in the sand, then they dont deserve to roll with the best of 'em.

  3. First great write up, extremely informative and very refreshing to see on a website that doesn't exist for ad revenue (I'm looking at you BoLS and you Faeit 212!!). Secondly well said Ian, I am in the same camp.

    My personal take on GW is they have had some tremendous upheval over the past say 8 years. With huge departues of Andy, Rick, etc. clearly the culture is shifting. That combined with the companies slow, inevitable march towards corporate groupthink away from its original 70s-early 90s small mom and pop shop roots. This new groupthink has been driving by the realities of being a publicly traded company with its mission to generate maximum ROI. As a fan, a guy who came into the GW all encompassing hobby in the late 90s I have seen all the things I used to love about GW slowly die. Yet with this hobby and others I have realized I can OWN my game if I just go back to the era that I enjoyed. I really am enamored with the idea of Oldhammer (but not ancient Oldhammer ... more like 3.5ed 40K and 6th ed. WHFB ... just my personal preference).

    Anyway back to Ian's point about communication, I think that is GWs historic biggest shortcoming. Part of the problem I think is that GW is and perhaps always has been governed by Chaos :) Sorry couldn't resist the bad pun, but really they are. I think they do not have a clean process, yet, nor probably ever have. I think they end up shooting from the hip alot and their fanbase/market surprises them alot. Warhammer 40K might not have originally been envisioned as a tourney game, nor WHFB but GW built a culture of tournament play from the late 90s through mid 00s. The scores of people who came in during those years learned to look for balance first, foremost and almost ONLY. Since 5th edition and the shift towards insane levels of combos, ever increasing complexity (super hevies, fliers, gi-friggin-gantic shit all over the 4x6 table). GW has drifted towards lazy cash grab, shut down all the fantatic stuff, etc. etc. etc. We could all rant for hours about all the things GW has done wrong.

    Yet as Ian has pointed out, if they would just reach out and attempt to explain where things are going there would be less anger, angst, and idle speculation (which always leads to conspiracy theory about how greedy and e-vile GW is). They do themselves no favors with such poor customer relations and poor communications. Yet in a way it is our fault, collectively, we have all fed the beast and conditioned them as a company. Apparently the fanbase is willing to take endless abuse, so long as GW continues to release (at least occasionally) cool minis.

    1. My key "missing piece" is that I only really get to talk to the creative departments at these events.

      Oddly enough, most fans don't want to talk to management, marketing and other process people. I would love to, but they quite sensibly remain anonymous.

      Well, that's not quite true. I know two or three names, but haven't ever really managed to pin down a conversation with them.

  4. Also I know what I just wrote (ranted rather ... lol) looks negative. But really, I am still mostly a GW fan. I love the new stuff they are doing with WHFB, I am very interested in the End Times campaign. I love the new nurgle models, etc. I feel like GW still has far more positive than negative aspects about it, despite the "echo chamber" of the internet. Which I have to admit I have been demoralized by and even caught up in on occasion.

    Again, thank you very much for such a good discussion it really made my day reading this stuff. It was very enlightening and gave me even more hope for the future of GW!

    1. Wanted to echo this statement. The End of Times has got me positively wrapped up in what's going on with the Warhammer world and the release of Nagash once again after all these years got every forum buzzing with more positive comments about them as a company than I had seen in a long time.

      I say this but then I am equally frustrated, Glotkin End of Times Volume 2 sold out before its actual release. Now seriously what were they thinking. This means I am reduced to having to wait for the paper back version (which will upset my collection) which there customer services said they would be producing at some unknown time frame in the future. The only way I can get a hard back copy is by going to a ebay rip off merchant, who I refuse to use on the principle that the more people that refuse to trade with these Tw*ts the less of a market there is for them and therefore the fewer products they will bulk purchase..

      Back on topic, I am absolutely gutted that GW have made a mess up of this series and I cannot for the life of me fathom why the standard edition version was a limited print run, it really makes no sense to me as a customer, beyond my assumption they grossly underestimated the demand but new material with rules that make sense and some of the best writing in terms of background I've seen from the studio in years all coming out in a fully supported fashion and modular fashion (so its not a flash in the pan, like poorly written Storm of chaos and that's before looking at how that ended).

    2. Crimson Sun: Speculation here. Limited Print Runs are ordered when sales are otherwise expected to be relatively low compared to, say, a Codex. The books are printed in China, and that means they'll come on a boat - if they misjudged popularity, as they did with the Void Shield Generator and the Tau Riptide, then there is a lead time to correct that initial error. Also, if the advertise something as "limited", then they want to keep their word, otherwise the people who did successfully buy one will feel cheated.

  5. Really great read, thanks so much!