GW, Corporate Over-fiend or Misunderstood Hobby Saviour?

In a recent visit to a local Games Workshop I overheard a quite bizarre conversation between a member of staff and one of the hobbyists at the store. The hobbyist in question was with a small group of friends, one of which was painting up some Grey Knight for the store, this lead me to believe that both him and his friends were known to the store. Now this guy pulls out a half painted Land Raider, pulls up a chair and using the store paints starts working on his model. This is roughly how the conversation went:

Staff- Hey is that a store model?
Bloke - Nah it's my own.
Staff - Ah Ok, in that case you will have to use these old paints, unless you have brought your own. These paints are for store use only.
Bloke - Ah man are you serious? these other paints are all crap, why can't I use the store paints?
Staff - Well because they are for store use only. You can always bring your own paints to use you know.
Bloke - I've been into GW stuff for years now and I have never bought a single paint, I always use the stores.
Staff - Well you will have to use the old paints if you want to do it today. By the way, why have you never bought any paints of your own?
Bloke - Because they are so bloody expensive, everything in here is.
Staff - Well how are we supposed to make money?
Bloke - It's all a rip off, look I'm not getting into this I'm off.

So off he trotted, miffed because he couldn't use the stores own paints. Now this exchange highlights an issue I have noticed in getting back into the 40k hobby. Many hobbyists seem to view GW as some kind of money grabbing corporate over fiend. The number of times I have heard hobbyists in blogs, in youtube vids and in person say GW's stuff is over priced or not good value. Now I don't doubt these people love their hobby but I also think it is a slightly unhealthy situation when you hate the source of that which you love.

Now I don't intend to get into the minefield of Games Workshops pricing strategy or the delicate balance between shareholders and customers but I do intend to highlight what I think is the root of the perceived lack of value many hobbyists seem to attach to GW products and how the Warhammer hobby is quite unlike any other hobby or pastime I have ever been involved in.

Apart from 40k, I also love videogames, music (both listening and composing) and a number of other hobbies. Over they years I must have spent nearly £8k on music production equipment and musical instruments, countless thousands on videogames and consoles and god knows how much on CD's etc. In comparison what I have spent of GW products probably amounts to less that £2k in all over nearly 20 years of gaming. I doubt my story is that unique, I'm sure most people who play and collect GW products also have other hobbies that they may spend equal or greater amounts of their hard earned money on but I doubt they complain about these hobbies, expensive or otherwise in the same way as they criticise GW.

Over the years I have felt ripped off or hard done by many companies, an example would be when I was expected to cough up several hundred pounds for an update to some music production software I already owned. Or when my Xbox 360 kept RRODing on me. In both cases I was a pretty pissed off consumer however I had an option open to me that to most GW customers don't really have, I could spend my money somewhere else.

Lets look at this simply, If I really didn't like what Steinburg (the providers of my production software) were doing I could always jump ship to a competitors system. If Microsoft pissed me off I could get a PS3, yes it would cost me but it would in the long run cost them more in a loss of after sales and bad word of mouth. However if I am a pissed off GW customer I really do not have this option. True there are plenty other gaming systems out there but I challenge anyone to name a tabletop gaming system with the vision, pedigree and quality (in game design, models and general production values) of Games Workshops flagship systems. There really are no other products in the war gaming marketplace like Warhammer and 40k.
So if you want to play the creme de la creme of wargames, GW have you, hook line and sinker.

Lets look at another aspect of the hobby. Games Workshop not only create the systems we play, the models we buy, the paints we paint them with and the magazines and other hobby related stuff we lap up with gluttony; they also have positioned themselves as providers of the only true hobby centres (in the UK at least) making their own premises the pivotal geographical epicentres of their own hobby. If you are involved in the Games Workshop hobby you no doubt spend quite a bit of time in a Games Workshop store. So not only do we rely on them for their products but in many cases we rely on them to provide a place for us to enjoy our hobby.

The simple fact of the matter is that Games Workshop as a company has an almost complete monopoly over all aspects of the Warhammer and 40k hobbies. This instantly puts peoples hackles up as it eliminates an important aspect of consumerism: choice. If we don't like what GW are doing then tough, find a different hobby.

Is there anything Games Workshop could do to make this situation better? Hehe I'm sure plenty of you are shouting "yes make their products bloody cheaper!" hmm, I don't think this is going to happen and to be honest I don't think it needs to happen either. GW products are amongst the best in the industry, I would expect to pay premium prices for a premium product and lets not mess around here Games Workshop as a brand is premium with a capital P. Could they do anything else? Well not really no, to change this state of affairs would require drastic action of the kind shareholders don't like. Things like allowing other none affiliated companies to make products for GW's core systems or to provide some kind of premium charged for gaming centres would cost to much money and would be far to risky. Lets face it GW didn't get in the position they are in today by taking risks.

So at the end of the day Games Workshop are neither over-fiend or hobby saviours, they are simply a company providing a very popular premium product to a customer base that in most cases have hobby eyes bigger than their wallets (I know mine are). Should we hate them for their desire to make money? Hell no, we live in a consumerist society and to do so would be hypocritical for all of us however we should also be aware that in their vaulted position they do have a responsibility to their customers and that we as customers also have a responsibility to ourselves and other consumers. If Games Workshop have truly offered a poor service or you really feel ripped off by them, do what any good consumer would do. Write to them or phone their head office. The details are easily found on their website.

Agree or disagree? let me know.

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