[Update, August 26th: Two days after posting this, I happened to re-visit GW's website and found that they had updated the Blood Bowl listings and now include boosters for some teams that actually make some sense in terms of how the teams are constructed for LRB5, including Undead. The main point stands, but I thought I'd be accurate in saying that at least they seem to be doing something, even if I feel it falls well short of the mark.]
All I want is a single model to round out my Undead Blood Bowl team. It’s not a tall order, nor an unreasonable one. However, my primary logical provider of this product, Games Workshop, is a sloppily run niche market company that can’t be bothered to cater to its customers and so I’m left with vitriol and empty hands.
At least I have a blog.
Look, I get it. Gaming has got to be a frustrating market for businesses that want to operate as legitimate enterprises and not labor-of-love charity organizations. Gamers are notoriously fickle, generally cheapskates and loathe to part with their disposable income unless the purchase meets some ill-defined criteria whose formula cannot be deduced using modern mathematical principles. So yeah, game companies have a steep road to climb to financial success.
Big, important game companies like Palladium and TSR have struggled or failed because they attempt to either exert market muscle on a difficult to demograph clientele or they prostrate themselves on a core fanbase to keep them alive with guilt trips and puppy dog eyes. Small companies have risen meteorically based on fluke and fad, like Wizards of the Coast. Even sister industry video games have struggled to work within a customer base that is neither loyal and predictable nor malleable and excitable. Gamers tend to be skeptical, critical and yet habitual. So yeah, I understand to a degree why game companies might treat their customers with a bit of disdain.
What I don’t understand is a company acting like it’s allergic to certain types of paying customers. Games Workshop, publishers and rights-owners to several of my all-time favorite tabletop games, has squandered much of the good will it earned by associating itself with these products. I’ve already mentioned my general apathy toward their flagship products principally due to their hamfisted efforts to milk the few customers they can draw in dry. And now I’m losing the last ounces of respect I had for them because they can’t even manage the few games that have retained even a modicum of support in a way that makes any sense.
This is strictly opinion, but I feel that GW’s Specialist Games line is their biggest asset. The squad-level games like Necromunda and Mordheim offer a brilliant intro to tabletop miniatures games without heavy investment and provide, due to their scale, a more manageable gameplay experience. The battallion- or fleet-level games of Warmaster, Battlefleet Gothic and Epic 40K provide a more robust strategic experience due to the wargame-style abstractions and the comparative simplicity of the hobby elements. Their more restrictive environment games, closer to traditional board games, like DungeonQuest and Space Hulk are some of their best overall products because they allow for a less fiddly experience that appeals to a wider audience while still giving ample opportunity in the hobbyist realm.
They even have stepped down the right path with their Living Rule Book concepts. If they don’t want to actively support these products with their company time and effort, that’s okay, as long as they allow the game to flourish naturally with a community-driven model. And in part they have with community-driving games like Blood Bowl (which is what this is really about). Yet in a time where Intellectual Property notions and theories are being challenged regularly with variations on the idea of idea ownership I can’t begin to fathom why GW thinks they have to tightly reign the product that they’ve essentially handed off to the community to run. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.
Basically Blood Bowl in the present tense is managed by the Blood Bowl Rules Committee, a group who works on revising the LRB. They are selected from the community and they democratically collate the results of playtests and rules discussions into something that works like actual rules modifications to improve the game as a whole. Which is great except that the community en masse is stifled by GW’s draconian demand for ultimate IP control. Like I said before, I get why GW ended up in this position what I don’t understand is why they don’t open their minds enough to see the value of trying something new.
Let’s take an example: The BBRC has voted unanimously to add three new teams to the next edition of the rules. Most of the teams are revised legacy teams from older, way outdated versions of the game. Most of them add great new dimensions to the existing game dynamic and yet there is a roadblock: GW won’t approve the addition of new teams without official models to support them and they won’t order new models to be created unless their market research can predict a minimum sales that Blood Bowl figures don’t meet. So there exists this set of limbo teams that everyone who plays the game and cares about it wants, but can’t be added because the rights holders have deemed it unprofitable.
I can’t explicitly fault GW’s reasoning here: Running a business is running a business and like I said, I can sympathize with their positions. But there seems to be a simple answer which will solve most if not all of the principal problems facing the game today: Develop a simple and extremely cheap if not free licensing system to allow alternative modelers to create and sell official Blood Bowl support products. Instead of making sites like Shadowforge and Impact! Miniatures circumvent the rules, give them an affordable way to step in and take the reigns. I’m no businessman but I can smell opportunity and there are companies that are already doing what GW doesn’t want (cannibalizing figure sales with unlicensed alternatives) so why not get a small cut of the action, earn some goodwill with the fans and perhaps give the game a chance to build an audience with a greater range of support than you yourself are willing to give?
As it stands you can’t order single models for any Blood Bowl team from Games Workshop and since the team designations in the licensed boxed sets are woefully outdated for two or more editions back (and arguably unsuitable even then) you have no option other than resort to alternative model providers, the secondary market or overpurchasing. They’ve completely gutted their support so that booster packs are disastrously rare and don’t even get me started on the miserable range of Star Player models that represent perhaps a quarter of the complete list. What this means is that the only way to create a full 16-player Blood Bowl team from official Games Workshop models is to either buy two boxed sets (leaving you with 22 players which in most cases still isn’t the correct combination of positionals as dictated by the team list and at best is eight models more than you’ll ever need) or hope that, again, a secondary site like BBFigs.com can fill in the blanks by reselling GW models.
Your IP is either something you stand behind or it’s a wasted opportunity: Right now GW is treating Blood Bowl and the whole Specialist line with indifference that I can only translate as a wasted opportunity. So what’s it going to be, Games Workshop? More customer ill will and more head scratching about why your company hemorrhages customers? Or out of the box thinking that can actually improve the profit margins that seem to be the only language you speak these days?