Plastic Addiction and the Pre-Order Blues

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ShadowWarArmageddonWelcome to the second “Plastic Addiction” column, about my long-term affair with Games Workshop. My first piece generated quite a bit of discussion. Many thanks to all those who took the time to comment; that’s exactly why I wanted to write these pieces. There’s an awful lot of passion out there for Nottingham’s biggest games manufacturer, and it’s great to bring it onto the pages of GeekDad.

This time I want to talk about pre-orders. Last weekend saw the pre-order release of GW’s latest game Shadow War: Armageddon. Pre-orders opened here in the UK at 9am and were done and dusted by 9.20. Pre-orderable copies were completely sold out in 20 mins flat. Games Workshop has said that a limited number of copies will be available from stores this coming Saturday but that they expect them to be snapped up quickly. So what I want to know is…

How can this happen, GW?

I can sort of understand it. The company is still in a state of transition from failing to booming. The new direction in which Games Workshop is moving is exciting for its fans, but the company doesn’t want to overextend. The last thing GW wants to do right now is release a dud game and have loads of £80 units lying around that it can’t sell. Except, the buzz around Shadow War was huge, and it SOLD OUT IN 20 MINS!

Based on the old Necromunda ruleset, the game will come with new modular terrain that works with the existing Warhammer 40K game. With the hobby in the rude health it’s in at the moment, there was no way it wasn’t going to sell. I really don’t understand why GW are so badly under-stocked.

The net result is lots of frustrated fans, some of whom might queue up outside their local store before opening, but as a parent of three children, I’m not going to be one of them. Saturday mornings are chaos in our house. That’s why I didn’t even manage to look at the pre-order for Shadow War until well after they’d all sold out.

It’s not the first time this has happened. Time and time again, for recent releases, the products have gone out of stock on the day pre-orders were announced. There are hundreds, if not thousands of people all desperate to spend their money at Games Workshop but can’t because the games aren’t in stock.

There’s definitely an argument to say why should GW care? Its customers are plastic addicted crack-fiends, and if they (we) can’t spend our money on the drug in one form, they’ll (I’ll) probably end up buying it in another. Yet, each time it happens more and more of us become annoyed.

Worse, it opens up the possibility of second seller gouging. Copies of games have been appearing on eBay for several times the asking price. This gives Games Workshop a bad reputation. It’s allowing third parties the opportunity to make a decent amount of money by selling on GW’s popularity. Why aren’t GW cashing in on it themselves? I would have thought it better for them to sell three copies, than just one, which somebody else then sells for three times the amount originally paid.


The awesome modular scenery from the new ‘Shadow War: Armageddon’ game. Image copyright Games Workshop

It seems to me that there are several ways around the problem.

Print more in the first place. Not without risk, and perhaps there are scheduling issues at the plastic factory/component printers.

Put your hands up immediately and say, “terribly sorry we underestimated, we’re going to print a load more.” Again, maybe there are scheduling issues. I’m sure manufacturing time at GW factories is fully accounted for, for the foreseeable future. A friend of mine pointed out there are probably ranges of figures that will keep bringing in the money for GW, and they have to keep making those. Games Workshop has sort of announced something about understanding that it underestimated demand, but it’s very vague, and, as my friend also pointed out, the Skaven pitches for Blood Bowl that are meant to be coming back in stock still haven’t, almost six months down the line.

For the third workaround, I’d like to introduce Games Workshop to the concept of crowdfunding. Now, I’m not suggesting that GW take the CMON route and launch games on Kickstarter, but let’s take a look at some sets of figures for a moment (by which I mean numbers, not minis, cool or otherwise). CMON’s last big Kickstarter Rising Sun took home $4.2 M, following on from Zombicide: Black Plague ($4.1M) and Massive Darkness ($3.5M). Then there’s Kingdom Death: Monster 1.5 that has taken a staggering $12.4 million, with possibly the worst game name in history. And it’s not promising anything until 2020!

Heavens forbid that GW took that long to supply its products. I’ve been extremely impressed with how quickly its games come to the table. From rumor to announcement to preorder felt like about three weeks for Shadow War: Armageddon, but having had a short burst release, why not now say “We’re going to do another print run, you have a week (or a month, or a fortnight,) to pay and we’ll deliver all those orders in three months (or 6, or however long it takes)”?

There would still be some carping that not everybody could get the game they wanted on release day, but it would be a fair way of ensuring that everybody who wanted to be on the boat had a seat, even if they had to wait a while. There would be a defined wait time, and customers would know they would be getting what they wanted, eventually. The success of CMON and others on Kickstarter suggests that gamers don’t mind waiting for quality miniatures. The third party market would probably still be there, but loyal GW fans wouldn’t be at the mercy of eBay resellers, as they’d now have an alternative.

I concede I don’t know many of the ins and outs of games and plastics manufacturing, but it seems to me, since GW make all their own stuff in their own factories, this would be a relatively easy transition for them. A transition which I think would generate more revenue and greater customer satisfaction. They have the infrastructure to do it, and with the increasing strength of the Warhammer Community website, they have the soft resources to do it too. And, whilst I could never see them offering things like stretch goals, it would be a great way to build their community by offering their staunchly loyal customers a greater investment in the company they love. Seems to me like it’s win-win?

So what do you think? Would you preorder with a long wait time? Are you happy with the way things are, with quick delivery but limited stock of games? Perhaps you know the secret of always landing a preorder or perhaps you breathe a sigh of relief when stocks dwindle, giving life to your bank balance for another month. Let me know in the comments below.

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