Thursday, 14 April 2016
The Slow Turn Around - Games Workshop and Social Media
Ask any Warhammer fan and they'll tell you that Games Workshop doesn't exactly have the best track record with its audience. Often seen as distant or downright uncaring by the more vocal veterans, many decisions have been seemingly made at the expense of their established fanbase; some going so far as to say that they actively lock them out of any talks. There is a degree of truth to this and the company's history is against them. After all, this is the same corporation who infamously shut down all Twitter, Facebook and social media pages and stonewalled fans whenever they asked questions. In response to other questions, notably one infamous reply to a fan concerned over Codex: Clan Raukaan's mass retcons, effectively encouraged fans to ignore discrepancies and not care about "slight changes" like wiping away a chapter's entire history.
However, with that history made clear, it needs to be emphasised that they have been striving to improve things of late. While it certainly has a long way to go yet and there are many flaws, Games Workshop is pushing to include fans a little more in their ventures. You can see this through a few simple actions (the most obvious of which has been the re-activation of their social media accounts) but also a more open nature on the whole. While they're certainly not divulging innermost secrets to the public, a number of recent promotions and responses seem to be focused less upon the products they sell and more upon the fans. This can be best seen in a number of promotional posters and works which have frequented their Facebook pages, a few key examples being these recent ones:
Are they still promoting releases and armies? Yes, but it's the way in which they're doing it which is key here. There's no simple mass splash of "BUY THIS NOW!" you'd see normally, featuring a few models or a codex along with a few key features and a price tag. There's a sense of humour to it, an encouragement to become engaged and invested with the event, and a lack of the distant cash-grabbing nature which has built-up such a cynical streak among the fandom. It's not merely demanding their cash, it's giving them incentive to spend it by engaging what they want and what they like most. True, Curse of the Wulfen itself might not be the absolute best example for this, but it's a damn sight better than what we had for prior books in terms of promos.
Another bonus which has helped is how the company's humour has spread to a few more secondary events. If you asked a fan three years ago if any wing of Games Workshop would have ever engaged in an April Fool's event, they would have laughed at the very idea of the company taking the time to please fans. Now though, it's something people look forwards to, as we have them on a yearly basis, the last examples being a Mechanicum romance novel written entirely in binary and a Horus Heresy pop-up book. These bits help to humanise Black Library, showing them to be more than mere peddlers of books. It's something more in line with what many companies do these days, communicating via community managers or even the lead writers themselves, allowing fans to see more of a face behind the logo.
A further detail which has helped in many regards is what we have seen via Twitter. Each and every one of the authors has an account, and more often than not you can find the people there quite willing to simply chat about basic things relating to the hobby as much as their lives. The same goes for many blogs, websites and personal accounts, many of which openly divulge information we would not otherwise see. To cite a personal example, while responding to an April Fool's joke of my own, Laurie Goulding revealed that four years ago he had been experimenting with the idea of a Warhammer 40,000 alternate universe series. Actually, despite a self-confessed loathing for Warseer, he has been fairly open about most things short of yet-to-be-announced books or outright spoilers; even remaining active on a few fan forums.
Finally, despite its problems, the company has been trying to give the fans what they want over past years. Many want to see the storyline progress and slowly advance, and more than a few of the War Zone books have been trying to do just that. The conflict with the Tau Empire became a key event spanning three tomes, we now have an event following up on the Space Wolves and incorporating elements of the Black Crusade event, and series are even expanding upon the Imperium's past. Simply put - they're attempting to listen to requests to truly flesh out the timeline, both past and present rather than focusing squarely upon M31 and M41.
Now, once again, not all of this is perfect. The reviews on this blog of prior War Zone books alone should show just how massively flawed that project is, and the Beast Arises series has been fairly hit and miss thus far. What's more, Black Library itself sadly remains surprisingly closed off in certain areas, even after giving fans what they want. Of note, the ever awesome Josh Reynolds spent much of his time answering questions about Warhammer Fantasy and Age of Sigmar on his Twitter page. Having penned several key End Times releases and Age of Sigmar novels, his comments served to better fill in the gaps between events and smooth things over. Ranging from citing the differences between astartes and stormcast to simply the detailing fate of a number of major Fantasy characters, he was offering many points fans had long been hungering for. This was unfortunately met with direct orders from higher up to stop answering any questions and a full statement saying nothing he wrote outside of their official books was remotely canon. Add the axing of the Bretonnians and Tomb Kings to the list, and there's still a lot of bad blood.
The point being made here isn't to forgive Games Workshop or to ignore the bad they do. Instead, it's just to keep something in mind: They are trying to change. Whatever else anyone says, whatever mistakes they do make, there is now a clear effort to gradually remove the rift between the company and its fans. It certainly needs to make vast improvements and improve upon many flaws, but whereas a few years ago there was no hope at all, there's now at least some sign of a better future. All this article is really asking, at the end of the day, is to remain guarded but open minded about the years to come. After all, it's one thing to damn a company for its failings, but another to ignore any push to overcome their failures.