Sometimes, a game just feels like the “default”, the elephant in the room, something that can’t be ignored, and won’t let you be pulled away for very long. For Badly Painted Minis, our “Game” for better or for worse is Warhammer 40,000. We sometimes dabble in other games, like Frostgrave, Konflikt 47, and Wild West Exodus. But in the end, we tend to fall away from them eventually and start playing 40k again. Usually, it isn’t even something discussed. It just…happens.
But why is that? Why is Games Workshops flagship product such a siren call? After the topic came up again on our personal Facebook page, I started to think about it some more. My theory has three main components.
- People don’t want to feel they wasted their investment. Warhammer 40,000 has been something a lot of us have sunk hours of time painting, huge amounts of money into buying, and a lot of time playing. No one wants to feel like that effort was wasted. Conversely, because of that, we tend to be leery of adopting something new, and spending that effort in the off chance it won’t have a payoff.
- The lack of a local leader to push for something else, or that leader for whatever reason themselves going back to the default game. This was something our Facebook post kind of revealed; we usually have a trailblazer for a new game, and for a few weeks that game enjoys localized success. But if that trailblazer eases off or gets distracted themselves, the game will flounder. Age of Sigmar is a great example in our group that I will go into further detail with.
- The simple truth that smaller games and companies have yet to master the marketing chops that Games Workshop wields extremely well. Warlord and Osprey Publishing lack the means or will to put out a well made trailer, and in terms of hype, few in the industry do it better.
Now to dissect this a bit. I’ll toss in a few quotes from Badly Painted Minis’ own Clubhouse players, to give a personal angle to this.
The first point is heavily related to the concept of the Sunk Cost Fallacy; the idea that since we are so emotionally (and often in our hobby, financially) invested in our hobby, we are loath to abandon it, even temporarily, to pursue something else. For our group, Warhammer 40,000 is something we either came into at the beginning of 8th Edition (this is actually a surprisingly large number of us), or like me, spent years buying and collecting and playing beforehand. Ironically, a lot of the “New Bblood” has actually spent a significantly higher amount of money then the “Old Hands”. For many, this is their first tabletop war-game, or the first one they have put significant time in actually playing. Some of these newer players are also the ones with the best painted models and better yet fully painted armies. They have sunk a lot of dedication and and time to make this hobby a part of their lives, and to excel at it.
And, in many cases, they are also the hardest to convince to try something new. To be clear, this isn’t a criticism; what we do with our time and money is our choice. But it is something to note, as many of the first to jump at trying a new game of something non-40k are either those not yet pulled into the gravitational wave of it, or those who have been in it since 7th Edition 40k and before. Maybe its the honeymoon phase, or in one persons words: “The primary factor for me is resources. Time and money are limited so the safe bet is going with GW games. I played it when I was younger, I know some lore and there’s tons of easily accessible content. Once I had completed my 40k army I immediately got onto WWX. No mystery there: I cemented a place in the community with an army and had a game I was nearly guaranteed to have an opponent for. I then felt I could then take a risk with my time/money on a wildcard game.”
Someone else said something similar: “We get comfortable playing games we know and games we have always been playing and therefore ‘change’ is something that people tend to avoid. Even if it’s something that we are enjoying (i.e. Frostgrave).”
A final quote: “With regards to smaller games, I think I don’t partake for two main reasons: I have already found a similar system that I enjoy with a steady supply of opponents and I don’t have time to really learn a new system, especially one I will have trouble finding opponents for.”
All of these point to “sticking with what you know” as a safety net, only venturing further when it feels safe.
The second point here, that of needing a “trailblazer” to push for a game, is also very important. We have a lot of stories of games failing to take off here, and one notable success. I’ll give a few examples from our experience.
One of the first major pushes for a new game to be played at the clubhouse was for Frostgrave; a tabletop skirmish war-game focused on dungeon crawling and loot in a frozen city. There was a lot of enthusiasm and hype for this game, and how it “failed” the first time is of particular interest. We had a few community trailblazers really pushing for it, and we had scheduled gaming days. Now, it was a combination of various factors that led to its downfall, and it would be too simple to equate it to one reason alone. But a few weeks into this, Kill Team by Games Workshop was announced, and someone quite prophetically said “Kill Team is going to kill Frostgrave for us.” As our community trailblazers switched over to Kill-Team, because it was an easy sell for people to use their already painted models for 40k, Frostgrave died, since no one was pushing to play it any more.
On the flip-side, and most dramatically, Age of Sigmar is our success story. For a long time, it was a niche game at the Clubhouse, not often played and ignored. While some of this can be explained as a poor release, we also didn’t have a strong push for it. However, at around the same time I joined the Clubhouse, we also picked up Kyle. Kyle is devoted to Age of Sigmar. He championed for it for months, constantly, running demos, selling players on the ideas behind it, and overall, was a trailblazer on his own crusade. But, unlike Frostgrave, where the trailblazers got distracted by 40k (even if it was a derivative), Kyle was relentless. 40k releases would come and go, but Age of Sigmar was ever on his lips. And eventually? He got one person. Then two. Then it suddenly exploded in interest, and almost every 40k mainstay player, even the ones who wouldn’t have given it a second thought mere months prior. That, in particular, included me, as I was not particularly impressed by the lore but having been given a chance to try it, had to concede it was, in fact, really fun.
Kyle had this to say about the topic: “You all know I’m not much of a 40k fan and have really pushed hard to get AoS and Warcry going at the clubhouse and we’ve seen some success with that. It’s taken quite a but of time but we have a robust community playing AoS now and before the pandemic we had more than a few people interested in Warcry.”
This leads into the first point as well, as now people felt safe getting into Age of Sigmar. It was no longer going to be a waste of money to give it a try, as there is now a significant portion of the Clubhouse that plays it, and organizing a pick up game (prior to this pandemic) was a breeze.
But, Age of Sigmars success locally cannot be solely attributed to Kyle alone; there is another very important third and final point to elaborate on…
Simply put, Games Workshop has mastered marketing, at least in comparison to its competition. Warhammer Community, Warhammer TV, even Twitch; Games Workshop makes it a point to be on your mind, all the time. Whole websites like Spikey Bits and Bell of Lost Souls, and to be frank we at Badly Painted Minis devote a great deal of time almost exclusively talking about it.
This wasn’t always the case. Games Workshop back in 6th Edition 40k and Warhammer Fantasy didn’t make the best use of marketing, and their profits reflected as much. Now, at least as far as I could tell, in 7th Edition, they started making movie style trailers for each factions release, and also staggering said releases so that instead of a player going to their store on release day and picking up a load of new models, he or she now must wait agonizing weeks watching Warhammer Community for previews, pre-ordering models, and reading up on what their new codex or battletome will offer them.
This engineered hype makes it impossible to be involved in 40k or Age of Sigmar and not watch the community site. Whereas before leaks coming from disaffected store managers and people with GW were the only the news we got, now Games Workshop is usually ahead of the leaks, controlling the narrative and making sure that when models eventually do hit the shelves, they usually fly off, and in great numbers.
But what does that have to do with our topic at hand? Simply put, if a gamer isn’t sufficiently hyped to play an alternative, non-GW game, Games Workshop works tirelessly to steal that attention back, and to do it with a shiny, fancy and well animated trailer, while their competitors are still stuck in early 2000’s level of marketing, relying on magazines and word of mouth. It is an uphill struggle for a trailblazer in this case to break the hype cycle enough for their game of choice to be noticed, and because of the updates coming constantly, all it takes is one good reveal and the crowd is gone, focused again on the bells and whistles the big guy on the block has rolled out.
Several of our members mentioned this: “GW marketing is on point just enough new stuff to keep pulling us in” and “all we need is primaris lieutenants…In all honesty, the marketing game is pretty good. A new edition? Huh? But before that a fucking wicked video. Hell the only thing they don’t have is “sex sells”. If GW is listening, we for sure don’t want Beach Day SoB…”
This isn’t supposed to make Games Workshop the devil or something; if anything, it is up to the competition to up their marketing game. They are, at the end of the day, a business.
As an example, most of you have seen Games Workshops 9th Edition trailer. Out of respect for the powerful legal team GW has at their disposal, I won’t directly link it here. Go watch it, for context. I’ll wait.
You’re back? Woah, that was a good trailer right? If your game isn’t putting out this level of effort, and you’re trying to build a base of players for a new, non-GW game in an area absolutely flooded with 40k players, then good luck to you. As their attention is now squarely fixed back on GW, if only for a few weeks. It was an uphill battle before, and now its more of an uphill cliff.
At any rate, this is what our experience in our community has been like. And while this whole post is fairly academic, I think the take-away is building a community for a smaller game takes a whole lot of dedication and work. And if you are thinking of starting up a smaller game, it is worth considering.
Anyways, this has been Andrew for Badly Painted Minis! I hope you enjoyed this rambling editorial on gaming, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, so feel free to drop me a line as a comment or an email through our contact page. Happy War-Gaming, where-ever you are!