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Games Workshop – Sink or Swim?

GW lady

British Minis game manufacturer Games Workshop is garnering negative headlines this month as the result of a suit filed against the company in Florida by a livid game store owner. The suit filed by David Moore alleges violations of the U.S. regulations and the RICO act including but not limited to Fraud, Price Fixing, Breach of Contract, Unjust Enrichment, Restraint of Trade, Conspiracy and Antitrust Violations. Some of the major issues of contention for Moore seem to be:

– limitation of online sale (retails previously could not sell figures online and had to direct customers directly to GW for online sales) and increase of highly lucrative online exclusives not available in stores
– intellectual property theft including the name Space Marines (Moore alleges this theft was from Robert Heinlein, though the name had been used previously by Bob Olsen in a 1936s novella for Amazing Stories ), character design from FASA’s BattleTech, and Aliens design (R. Geiger)
– discontinuing Warhammer Fantasy Battle
– refusal to accept returns despite written statements to the contrary.

Moore is asking for 62.5 million dollars total in damages to be divided between himself and other affected stores as well as divesting GW of their intellectual property and trademark claims and changing the way the distribute product through their own stores.

The short, simple answer is that this suit will likely go nowhere. While perhaps breach of contract might be a legitimate issue, Mr. Moore’s wild volley of accusations range from misunderstanding IP law and RICO to being intentionally misleading regarding pricing and online sales. Also, there is some amount of irony that he dedicates at least a paragraph of his complaint professing to be only interested in upholding “a Free Enterprise & Free Market system of law” but then objecting to the company selling a product at a valuation that the market seems to be willing to bear. (And before you label Morris a miniatures-game playing Robin Hood you should know that in addition to receiving 20% of the proposed damages award, he asking that all copyrights and trademarks that Games Workshop currently owns to be conveyed to himself as well.)

All that being said, what seems to make Games Workshop the evil cackling villain of game manufacturers? When the suit originally made it into the news a forum thread on Board Game Geek veered back and forth from information on the suit to a list of grievances regarding GW. Posters left messages that read “…we all like to see GW get a bit of a kicking…”, “…GW, the company that’s reviled even by their own fans…” and “Even if they lost this crazy lawsuit, all they’d have to do to recoup costs is start making their models out of regular old clay, claim that it’s a highly-advanced space-age clay polymer, charge double for it because of that…” There’s been a good deal of negative press about GW and other stories seem to have more evidence to back their complaints.

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For starters, there are several documented cases of what some call trademark bullying – in particular over the term “space marines” (which, as noted above, wasn’t created by Games Workshop.) The subject of a cease and desist who had novels featuring the term pulled from Amazon  stated “I used to own a registered trademark. I understand the legal obligations of trademark holders to protect their IP. A Games Workshop trademark of the term “Adeptus Astartes” is completely understandable. But they’ve chosen instead to co-opt the legacy of science fiction writers who laid the groundwork for their success. Even more than I want to save Spots the Space Marine, I want someone to save all space marines for the genre I grew up reading. ”

Many cite Game’s Workshop’s almost non-existent customer service as another reason they dislike the company.  Richard Beddard attended a general meeting of investors in 2015. “I’ve got bad news for disenchanted gamers complaining on the Internet. The company’s attitude towards customers is as clinical as its attitude towards staff. If you don’t like what it’s selling. You’re not a customer. The company believes only a fraction of the population are potential hobbyists, and it’s not interested in the others.” There are literally dozens of threads on BGG, The Escapist, and Reddit complaining of unanswered complaints, queries met with indifference and hostility, and bait-and-switch-like tactics on the online store.

GW player

Will any this matter to Games Workshop? Its hard to say. 2015 was a challenging year for the company financially but profits almost doubled in 2016. Releasing online sales to outside stores seems to have created some goodwill between the distributor and its retailers. On the other hand, newer, less expensive minis games like Xwing are continuing to nab a larger section of the market each year.  After 40 years this phoenix seems to rise from its own ashes with regularity – we’ll see what the next decade has in store for it.

 

 

 

Games to Get Excited About – December 2016

Hello and welcome to our final installment of Games to Get Excited About for 2016. Of course, its December, so most of the high profile releases for the year have already released and a number of titles that I would have used this feature to talk about have been delayed into 2017. So, since I already wrote about The Last Guardian (no, I can’t believe its finally coming out either), we’ll be taking a look at a release coming early in the new year…

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Gravity Rush 2

Gravity Rush 2 is (surprise!) the sequel to Gravity Rush, or Gravity Daze if you prefer the original Japanese title. You may have heard of the original game but it honestly wouldn’t be too surprising if you hadn’t. It was a flagship release for Sony’s ill-fated PlayStation Vita handheld and it was an ambitious attempt to show what the system could do with an open-world style game. The game put players in the shoes of Kat, an amnesiac who wakes up in a strange city that hangs suspended in the sky from the trunk of a massive tree.

Before long, Kat discovers that she is a “shifter,” a person with the ability to manipulate gravity, and sets about helping the citizens of the city fight monsters, complete tasks, and repair the damage caused by increasingly frequent gravity storms. The game was fairly popular on the Vita, but didn’t make much of a splash in the wider consciousness. Earlier this year the game was remastered and re-released on the Playstation 4, hoping to find a wider audience before the sequel releases.

Why are we excited?

The first Gravity Rush had a fantastic visual style inspired by French nouveau comics and a gameplay loop focuses on using gravity to fling yourself and your enemies around massive floating environments. It was charming and inventive, if a bit rough around the edges. Even when re-released on the Playstation 4 it was obvious that the game had been created for less powerful hardware and some of the maps could seem sparsely populated. The sequel has been created specifically for the Playstation 4 and is taking advantage of the bump in horsepower to create larger, more detailed, more dynamic environments.

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In addition to making the game larger and more detailed, the developers claim they are tuning up the combat, which was a weak point in the original game. Hopefully the sequel will offer more dynamic encounters and more varied enemy designs. As a fan of the first game, I hope that the sequel retains the charm and inventiveness of the first title while refining its formula and smoothing out some of its rough edges such as imprecise combat and a meandering story.

Gravity Rush 2 is currently slated to release in January 2017 on PS4.

Notable December Releases

As noted in the introduction, things are pretty thin on the ground this month. There are a few notable ports but only two new releases are on my radar.

Warhammer 40K Space Hulk: Deathwing

There have been a lot of games released under the Warhammer and Warhammer 40K names over the past few years but this one looks like it might be a standout. It is based on the classic Space Hulk board game and puts an emphasis on gorgeous visuals and frantic action. The game is a first person shooter and will release in December for the PC with console ports to follow next year.

Shantae: 1/2 Genie Hero

This is the 4th game in the Shantae series which began back on the Gameboy Color. It was launched as a successful Kickstarter and will be the first game in the series to see simultaneous release across multiple handheld and home platforms. The Shantae games have carved out a niche as solid Metroid-style platformers with a fun art style and cast. Here’s hoping the newest entry lives up to the pedigree of the previous titles.

In the Age of the Geek, the Hate is Too Strong

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When I was growing up, I kept most of my nerdy shit to myself. No one at school knew I played Magic: the Gathering, painted Warhammer armies or played more tabletop games than they could name (which was probably none). I was already an outcast with zero friends, why make it worse for myself by sharing that which I loved and occupied most of my waking moments?

All of that has changed. The nerd flags are flying proudly enough that I will (and have) stopped people for their Firefly t-shirt, Vampire: The Masquerade pin or Star Wars car decal. Of course, this is still thought of as weird now that nerd is a little more mainstream and the culture isn’t what it was even 10 years ago. There used to be this feeling of a secret club and we were so excited when we found each other, but now I encounter far more glares than excited chatter.

I’ve noticed a trend on social media that I find disturbing. Now, before I go into this rant, I am all for free speech and saying what you want but somewhere we lost some niceities, please let me explain.

I recently posted a meme that I saw flying around, “If you tattooed one song title on your body, what would it be?” and my good buddy Vince responded with ‘Imagine.’ For those of you who don’t know, it is a song by John Lennon that is quite old and by far one of my least favorite songs, mainly due to the fact that we sang it in choir (yes, I was in choir) and we sang it at Nausium. It was big at the time, so not only did I sing the crap out of this song I already wasn’t a fan of, I also had to hear it at length. I responded with, “Sorry, dislike.” He responded with a frowny face. Now, I don’t know if this actually ruined his day or not. I’m unsure, but the point is that I didn’t need to say it. Saying that I disliked it didn’t prove anything. It didn’t make the world a better place. In fact, in that moment, I doubt he smiled. So I robbed the world of a smile which, to me, is sinful.

I’m sure you are searching for a point in all of this ramble, but I assure you that I have one and it’s simple. We don’t have to advertise everything we don’t like. Honestly, who cares? Of course there are exceptions to this. Food being one. You don’t want to go to a friends house and eat something you can’t stand because you’re afraid to tell them what you didn’t like. Clothes shopping is important to state what you do and don’t like. These are acceptable, but that isn’t the trend I’m seeing. What I’m seeing is people boasting about something they like, love, adore and the response being a list of 39 reasons their friend doesn’t like it.

I’ve sat and listened to friends and strangers talk at length about the things they love that, at the time, I had no interest in. I could see the joy on their faces, the excitement, the passion. It feels so lost anymore, but I can see all of it as they explain My Little Pony, Warhammer, their favorite writer or their favorite game. They are sharing their love with me and seeing their joy brings me joy, so of course I pay attention. I recently started watching My Little Pony  with my daughter and I love it. If I had stopped them and said I didn’t like their interest and explained why, what would that have accomplished? I would have wiped the joy from their faces and possibly disappointed them. We are given so few chances to gush about the things we love.

Even Vanri looked at my farm on Stardew Valley because I loved it and I put so much work into it. She asked questions and made comments; it made me so happy because she was showing interest in something I enjoyed. She could have told me no and explained that she wasn’t that interested in it as I was, which I knew, but sometimes excitement takes over and you just want to share it with someone else. What did it cost her? Some time? It’s worth it just to make a friend happy.

I’m asking us to dial back on the hate, even just the simple dislike. Let someone rant and ramble on about what they love. Don’t post that negative comment on a post about someone’s happiness. There is a lot of hate going on in the world, a lot of negative. Let the positive reign just for a little bit.