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31Jan/110

Musings on Business Models: Part 2 – GW Specialist Games

In part one of my musings, I explained the pros and cons of the business model of the main line games of Games Workshop: http://fourstrandshobby.com/2011/01/27/musings-on-business-models-games-workshop-main-line-games/

To continue, I'd like to stay with the same company, but talk about their less often played games: The Specialist Games line.

First, a brief description.  Earlier in the history of GW, they expanded from their two main line games into a plethora of other, smaller, side games.  Among these are Epic Armageddon (formerly Epic 40,000),  Battlefleet Gothic, Necromunda, Blood Bowl, Mordheim, and Warmaster.  These were intended to provide additional revenue streams for people already engaged by the main line games.  Sadly this did not work very well, as the games were not profitable enough to consider continuing.  The games were retired to the archive, and control of the rules was handed to committees who revise the rules every three years.

Pros: Because the rules are decided by a committee if fans, and has a huge amount of fan input on several forums, problems with the rules get ironed out pretty well.  Battlefleet Gothic has just had a rules update, and they clarified a number of inconsistencies in the rules, and made new rules that add to the gaming experience.  The system is incredibly robust and useful, and the fleets are relatively balanced (except the Necrons).  The Specialist model promotes game balance and a small but rabid online fanbase.

Cons: Most specialist lines have old models that, by modern standards, look dated.  The Epic Armageddon Chaos Space Marine army is the best example of this.  Most of the vehicles in the army have no model, and must be converted from other Epic lines.  The infantry sprue contains several minis that do not exist in the game, such as Beastmen, Trolls, and Chaos Squats.  These minis can be used with Epic's wonderful "Counts As" rule in the Lost and the Damned list, but it would be nice to have all of the infantry in the army available for purchase.

Other examples include Necromunda gangs.  Some have been updated (such as the snazzy new Orlock models) but some are much older (such as Cawdor) and it shows.  It is unknown when, if ever, outdated gangs will get an update.

Next, Specialist Games do not promote expansion.  Necromunda and Blood Bowl are the extreme examples of this.  Once you have your Necromunda gang, and the resources to play (board, terrain etc.) you don't need to buy anything else.  This sounds like a pro to gamers, but it's a con to the GAME.  Games that are not expansive and don't promote players getting bigger forces will not make as much money.  You can have 12-15 ganger models and need nothing else to play Necromunda.  In contrast, to play 40K, you need 40-100 models to play a medium sized game.   Epic Armageddon requires many more minis, but they are small.  Once you have a force that allows you to play a 6000 pt. game of Epic, you are in a pretty good position, especially if you have titans.

Finally, the Specialist model makes Specialist games expensive.  The low demand makes the price point high, or else there would be no incentive for GW to even cast the old minis.  The high prices are a bar for casual players.  You can go to ebay, but this doesn't solve the problem for GW, as they do not gain revenue if you buy a Blood Bowl team on ebay.  Luckily, Blood Bowl box sets are one of the few Specialist Games items stocked in well-run local game stores.

Conclusion: Specialist games are fun and much more balanced than main-line games.  However, they can be expensive to start, and don't evolve or get new minis very often.  If you are looking for a satisfying gaming experience that is not tournament based or hyper competitive, give Specialist Games a try.

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