Thursday, 20 June 2013

Games Workshop Vs. Chapter House Studios - Everyone Loses

If you've been keeping track of Games Workshop lately you'll likely have noticed the lawsuit between them and the company known as Chapter House Studios. Having alledged infringed upon their copyright, Games Workshop moved against the company and tried to sue them for selling bits. Namely the ones openly advertised with things like "space marine compatible" and with designs only a blind man would claim were not taken from Warhammer 40,000.

The end result of the lawsuit had both sides claiming victory. While Chapter House is now required to pay Games Workshop for infringing upon their copyright and remove a number of products from their stores, it has not been shut down. Furthermore, in this one act, Games Workshop has opened a proverbial can of worms. It has shown itself as unable to protect many of its I.P.s and has cleared the way for independently made Warhammer bits products to flood the market. You can read further details here and here, but this is a discussion of something else.

Supporters of Games Workshop are calling foul, while those players jaded by a decade of Games Workshop's greed and "legal bullying" are calling this justice. The sad truth of the matter however is that no one won here. No side was ever going to win. In the long run, the wargaming hobby as a whole has just seen the beginning of the next stage in its decline.

To let me explain this properly, please ask yourself this question: How did you get into the wargaming or miniatures hobby? Or, if you don't play yourself, how did your friends and their friends get into the hobby? This is something you could ask to almost anyone and the result will always be the same: Warhammer.

Both 40,000 and Fantasy are not just two globally recognised brands, they're the only truly globally recognised brands. While others are certainly successful, if you were to ask the average person on the street if they knew about Warmachine, Confrontation, HordesInfinity or Dystopian Wars, you would be met with confusion. Ask them about Warhammer however, and they tend to know what you're talking about. Even those who are not a part of the hobby tend to pass by stores and recognise space marines when they see them. The only one which can potentially compete with this is Battletech, and even then that's a franchise usually better known for its video games.

Having existed for well over two decades and established multiple stores on many high street corners, Games Workshop is literally a gateway into the hobby. People hear of it, join, and those who stick with it become invested in miniatures wargaming. From it the new blood learns of more wargames and as a result the hobby keeps gaining an influx of new people. If Games Workshop ceases to exist the hobby doesn't just gain a massive power vacuum, it loses a vast amount of public attention. 
A similar example to this would be if Dungeons and Dragons suddenly ceased to exist or be supported in any way. RPGs would lose their biggest name and the primary method for getting new players interested in the hobby or for people to learn of it in any way. Miniatures wargaming, for all the great ideas it has produced, has failed to gain anything to truly rival Warhammer in terms of scale or presence in the public consciousness.

This being said, while Chapter House might have shoved Games Workshop into its grave, the company had been digging it for a good few years now.

In every PR and business sense, the company has been in a state of prolonged suicide. First it has continual price inflation over several years with considerable jumps and increases, recent codices jumping from £20 to £30 of late.
This drives away new people and makes it difficult for many players to remain an active part of the hobby, turning it into a niche market. The company then proceeds to ignore the niche it has created itself, to the point of attacking its fanbase taking down fan and community websites for little reason, to try and still focus upon appealing to new players. Then there's the case of the various embargoes placed upon locations outside of Europe, the severe difficulties it has caused for independent stores and hobby centres. They more or less were directly responsible for forcing many to shut down and closing many websites keeping the hobby active in areas without a local GW.

You then have to consider the sheer drop in quality and reliability. Multiple books are released without models to represent their units, various bits are made difficult to come by, the entire collectors range for 40K is removed from their website, all Specialist Games are openly discontinued after years of trying to kill them off. Finecast proves to be an utter disaster upon release due to cost cutting measures, multiple efforts are made to milk more cash from customers and even Black Library products begin to visibly suffer from this. The collectors edition Horus Heresy tomes and increased price of ominbuses, softback editions and the rise of limited release novellas all support their price gouging image. The company is so deaf to its negative PR, reviews or criticism that it willingly keeps on individuals who have earned nothing but the ire of critics and players alike. Hell, they'll keep them on even after they get into open pissing matches with major authors by trying to retcon books they dislike from existence.

Furthermore the company itself has been in visible decline for some time now. Between slashing staff numbers in 2011, continued borrowing debts and flat sales, it seems to only be staying afloat via temporary measures; specifically via selling off assets, the aforementioned price hikes to milk their remaining customers and the resurgence of interest in Lord of the Rings thanks to The Hobbit. Many of their actions resemble a traditional cut-and-run mentality, making as much cash from the franchise and brand name as possible before they completely drive it into the ground.

Even if Games Workshop had completely "won" this case it would have done nothing to halt its decline, and victory would likely only increase its arrogance when dealing with legal cases. This loss has only shown the circling vultures its weakness and will likely hasten its end with third parties now producing products for their games.

Let's be clear: Despite what many say there is no "good guy" here. There is no "justice" being performed and no good outcome as a result of this. Perhaps the only way we might have had any kind of remotely good resolution would be if both backed down, which even then would solve very little in the long run.

I'm not claiming that this is any kind of legal or courtroom analysis of the outcome or the decisions made in this case. Don't try to quote this as such. All i'm doing is basing it off of what i've seen and spoken with to others over the past few years, hoping it might talk some sense into sides arguing that one company is entirely in the right. Things are going to get more difficult from here on. Some people were saying that Games Workshop would meet its end sometime within the next five to ten years, and when it goes Chapter House and many entirely separate companies might start to go with them. With this latest turn of events i'm beginning to believe them.


Warhammer 40,000 and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop.


  1. First, sorry for my english, not my language. :)

    Second, real good post, 100% agree with it. No matter who won, the point is GW has been dying for years and this is another nail in their coffin, and when they´re gone, the whole hobby will probably follow. "A company who doesn´t want to sell their own stuff", that´s how we´ve been calling GW for several years now, and this is another example. Sad news but good post, really enjoyed it.

  2. Don't think they are going down. But I agree with all the critics and I am left absolutely speechless by how oblivious they are to their bad image. What used to be a great, creative company has become trapped in greed, stagnation and lies.

  3. I disagree. While a long time fan of warhammer and 40k I think the fall of GW actually may open the hobby to some diversity and maybe even some price equalizing competition. Dungeons and Dragons took it's 4th ed tumble and I've never looked back. It's 3.5 ed spiritual successor Pathfinder [paizo] is amazing and several other titles/companies have "upped their game" to take advantage of the situation. Any void caused won't last long and GWs carcass would make room for alot of promising growing companies. Especially those that have been quite because GW [whether you think it's justified or not] stomps on anyone that even gets a glint in their eye for the hobby gaming industry.

  4. The fact is the hobby will grow. There is a very large body of work that others will build on. When GW bowed out of the tournament scene that was the first indication this phase of the hobby is over. If I was running GW I would focus on rules, GTs (specifically haramize the rules), and canon. Let the good model makers make cool models. There can be a happy ending to this GW leadership just needs to have the vision. If they do not someone will