Monday, July 4, 2016

June Recap

I can't believe June is over.  My daughter starts back to school August 2nd.  Wow.  And even though I am probably not going, the NOVA Open is just 2 months away.

Anyway, we had a bit of a hiccup at home this month that seriously derailed all of my hobby activity until it was resolved.  My cat Cleo got very very sick and stopped eating.  Or stopped eating and got very very sick.  It took quite awhile and effort to get her properly sorted out but it looks like everything is going to be ok.  She has another week or two though of recovery and then we will have to see about having a bunch of teeth pulled, which could set us back on the cycle of not eating again.  But I think it is going to be ok.  And you are probably already tired of reading about that.

Moving on, I did manage to get a 4 player game of Frostgrave in.  It was a good time and I particularly like games that can be played multi-player like that - although I do not think from a time required perspective Frostgrave is "tuned" for multi-player.  Sadly, that was about it for June for games played.  Like I said the cat thing seriously derailed a lot.  I do have a game(s) of Guild Ball arranged for the 4th of July weekend, which will have occurred by the time I post this.  The regular monthly Sunday game thing at Rocket Republic is going to move to a twice a month frequency, just not sure if the local miniature gamers are going to utilize that since a semi-regular Wed night game seems to be forming.

I did get some hobby time in though!  I assembled 2 "Archers" from the Robotech tactics set and 2 "Warhammers."  And now working on 2 "Rifleman."  OMG, these miniatures are as bad as everyone says.  So many pieces.  Who the hell decides to make the equivalent of a scale model kit of a figure that is only 2 inches tall!  Seriously, the Archers were about 24+ pieces each.  See below for the "Rifleman" sprue (the legs already cut out).  That is for 2 of them.

And then on top of that, I amazed that for injection molding plastic, that the tolerances are not better.  Seams and gaps are apparent all over the assembled model and believe me after assembling 24+ pieces, I'm not going to sit there and fix the seems and gaps.  Ugh.  Still though, once completed (even with their flaws) having some of the Battletech "unseens" makes me happy.

In happier news, I did work a lot on my Guild Ball models.  And by work on, I mean actual painting!  OMG, he paints!?  Yes, occasionally.  There will eventually be a post that more closely documents (for my reference at least) what I did and roughly how I did it but in the meantime here is an in progress shot of 4 of the male Mason players I'm working on:

Just most of the base coats blocked in at this stage.
Given that it has actually been over a year since I painted, I have been pretty shocked on how it has gone.  I expected to have had a lot of muscle memory/control loss but it hasn't really been that bad.  They aren't great and they never will be but I think I will be pretty happy with them as a tabletop quality.  And they look better than bare metal.  

After I get those 4 guys done, I'm going to take a short detour and knock out a paint job on my wizard and apprentice for Frostgrave.  They were the only 2 models I had unpainted for my warband, so I'm feeling like I should do something quickly to fix that.  We also have a family beach trip in July that isn't going to let me get any painting done.  That being said, I generally manage to bring a toolbox and get a few hours of assemble done - so I will have to figure out what/who that will be.

Anyway, wish I had more to report on for June but that was pretty much it.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Games Workshop and Chicken Little Syndrome (or not?) - Part 3

In Part 1, I gave some back ground as to why I'm exploring this topic and what the big problem is in trying to figure out the state of things.  Part 2, I offered some data and analysis.  Here, in part 3, I hope to finally be down with this topic.  I'm bored with it.  LOL

Conclusion:  Based on the chart from Part 2, we can see using the points of references I picked that GW's consumer base has fallen by no more than 20%.  While I don't think that this by any means is "good" it was quite a bit better than I was expecting.  And I'm sure, even though they wouldn't admit after seeing this, the Chicken Littles would have guessed much much more.  I think the new attitude of GW demonstrated over the past year can stabilize this decline and maybe start a new era of slow growth.  Why?  Because they seem to be doing all the things now that people have been crying the loudest for and bringing back things people cried the most over loosing.  And they are doing this having not suffered the amount of attrition "we" seemed to think they did.

Yes, I know people may have issues with my "method" and even cringed that I called it a method.  But I've attempted, without any dog in the fight, to try to bring some analytical analysis when all that others offer is anecdotal evidence.  If you take issue with this and need to get that off your chest or dispute this, then please do the same.  Otherwise, just ignore it.  My feelings wont be hurt.

Danger, Danger:  Now I will also offer a few additional points that I think strengthen my stance on GW's position.  These start heading toward anecdotal but I don't think ever reach that line.

Despite as stupid as I and I'm sure many of you think GW management has been, I don't think you can ever assume they have tolerated to loose money on a product line for a continuous amount of time.  So in light of that, just how successful do you think this company is that has the following:
  • A dedicated printed magazine(s).  Privateer press is the only other manufacture I can think of that has a dedicate print magazine.  A couple of others have E-zines, mostly given away for free.  Yet GW charges money for this and is apparently somehow making money off of it.  Yes, yes some defunct companies once upon at time also had dedicated print magazines but those companies aren't here anymore...
  • A dedicated fiction publishing house.  WTF!?!?  Again, Privateer press I believe has some kind of fiction publishing arm.  And yes, Rackham did publish a novel (just one I believe).  Anyone else?
  • If you count their FFG licensing, significant product lines for RPGs and board games.  Not quite as unique in this regard but it is still pretty elite company.
  • A separate specialist house for producing low production counts, of highly specialized miniatures that for a long time weren't even allowed in any tournament scene.  Sometimes not even having rules!
  • Video game licensing...  I'm not sure anybody comes close to comparing in this regard.
  • Dedicated retail stores throughout the world?!!?  Ok, FFG has a store at their headquarters, along with a few others but...
  • Oh yeah, not only have they licensed out their IP for board games; they are making their own in house too.
  • Hell, they even made an animated movie!  Yes, it sucked but...
  • Lastly, highly anecdotal, but from my perspective there has been an HUGE increase in the number of commission painting studios in the past 10 years.  And at least here in this US it is my perception that most of these studios are making their money painting GW armies.  So it's hard for me to imagine that the sky is falling on GW given the success of this side market.
My point is that all these things (that range from uncommon to rare to unique in this industry) are all somehow making them money (except for that last one).  Indicating to me, they are pretty successful as a whole because no one else is pulling all that off or even imagining a lot of it.  

Parting Blows:  There are a few remaining comments and nags at the back of my mind that I can't leave unanswered, even though I feel they will take away from what I've offered (analytical vs anecdotal).  
  • "Why would "we" turn to or return to GW with all the alternatives on the market?"  This hobby is mostly driven by the game sub-aspect of it.  And like it or not, gaming is a social endeavor:  It requires the participation of others.  If the only other people you can find to play with are GW players, then you are either going to have to play GW or not play.  Pretty much end of story.  Just because there are alternatives does not mean there is opportunity to play them.
  • "They [GW] are trying to pull/lure players from the same pool as everyone else/they now have to deal with competition."  Yes and no.  They fish from the same pond as Privateer Press, Wyrd, Prodos, Spartan Games*, Hawk Wargames, Mantic*.  But, like the couple listed with * and FFG, they also have alternative ponds they fish from because of their licensing and their general market penetration.  See GW has other ponds they fish from too because of their proliferation (often cited in the previous section) into different markets.  Just like FFG fishes in a Star Wars pond as well as the general industry pond everyone else does.
  • "But other game systems are better!"  See the first point in this part and then realize I just spent 3 blog posts trying to prove to you that the attrition rate from GW was no where near as bad as we thought.  Better rules don't matter as much as you may think and don't matter at all if there isn't at least one other person to play them with.  GW rules are shit yet despite this they are doing ok IMO...
  • "Obviously something is wrong at HQ, look at how desperate they are."  Listen, I kind of know what you are saying but you are reading too much into it.  ANY good business should be desperate to grow their business.  Why wouldn't you try to grow your business?  Yes, they made decisions once upon a time that seemed like they were deliberately trying to kill their own business, but again I just spent 3 blog posts showing the repercussions weren't as bad as we thought they were.  
Don't get me wrong, I don't think the way GW has done business is how business should be done.  I have no love for this company.  And I have no interest in being a consumer of their products.  They also completely failed to capture, it would seem, any momentum from acquiring the Lord of the Rings license.  But to me it's hard to argue with, in my eyes, the continued success.  They aren't going anywhere and I think it will be a long time before anyone catches up.  Yes, the ship got off course but it looks fixable to me. 

And lastly, although the inspiration (so to speak) for this post was ignited by my buddy they are not directed at him or any one single person.  These are common questions I've seen, heard and even asked myself.  And this was my opinion in regards to them (with some fuzzy math trying to back up my opinion).

Amendment:  So my buddy has some issues with my assumption that the average spending of the GW consumer is fairly constant year-to-year.  While I stand by the assumption, it's is a weak point in the argument.  That being said, here is something to ponder if you think the average spending is more variable year to year:  I am fairly confident that the Chicken Little's would claim from their anecdotal evidence, GW consumers are spending less each year because of dis-satisfaction with the company.  But if I was to factor that in (for which I don't have a basis, but let's say I did) then you would actually see it would result in the number of GW consumers GROWING (relative to the calculations I provided previously)!  Just saying...

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Games Workshop and Chicken Little Syndrome (or not?) - Part 2

In Part 1, I gave some background to this entire topic, stated the problem (how to determine GW consumer base such that we can better understand the impact of GW's decisions) and proposed that revenue might provide the insights:

Above we have GW's reported revenue dating all the way back to 1990, adjusted to today's dollars (ok, in this case British pounds - and I did use a British dollar inflation adjuster not an American one).  I will point out, that I eye-balled the data points to make this graph based on another one I found on the web.  I was not going dig out 25 years of GW reports, if I could even find them all, and pick out the revenue line items.  I did however confirm that 3 of the data points in the original plot were correct.  His was also not adjusted for inflation, so if you search and find it, it will still look a bit different.

Anyway, back on topic.  This does not really tell us anything.  It is assumption time!

Assumption:  Since revenue is sales, if we happened to know the average amount of money that a GW consumer spent on their products on a given year we could back out the number of consumers!  Wait, we don't know that!  But, I think for this exercise we could assume that if we knew that number it would be fairly steady year by year:  ie, averaging it out over the entire sample size, I think we'd see a fairly consistent year to year number for expenditures.  It is at least good enough for this I think.  But, I still don't have this number and no way to get it.  Or do I...  Let's make it arbitrary (bear with me, math will make it not matter).  Hell, let's make it 1 British Pound the inflation adjusted average expenditure of all of GW's consumers.

This assumption now converts the chart above into arbitrary number of GW consumers by year but still doesn't show/tell us anything.  Yet.  Let's pick a reference point, 2013 the year that GW killed off specialist games.  We can now calculate the % change in GW consumers, for the years after, relative to that reference point and by such remove the arbitrary "average expenditure of GW consumers" from the analysis!

So there you have it.  Yes, it is some fuzzy math but a lot better than anecdotal evidence in my opinion.  Because of my lazy plotting, the percents stay 0 until after the year of reference, it was just easier that way.  Also, why did I choose those specific years of reference?
  • 2001:  GW acquired the Lord of the Rings license.  More on this shortly but I thought it was important to see a relative point prior to that.
  • 2008:  GW halted support and development of Specialist Games
  • 2012:  Zombicide was kickstarted and released a flood wave upon this entire industry and hobby.  Also, GW killed off it's historical game line.
  • 2013:  GW killed off Specialist Games
Unfortunately, not really enough data to look at the impact of Age of Sigmar and the destruction of the old world yet.

The Lord of the Rings Problem:  Oh yes, that huge spike leading up to 2004.  Boy if we used that as a reference it would show a very dim picture.  And that is really an issue:  How to handle the acquisition of the Lord of the Rings license.  Obviously the growth leading into 2004 could never have been expected to be sustainable.  And I don't think even sustaining the peak they achieved was a consideration, it was a cash grab pulling in a fair number of non-gamers and LotR collectors while there was momentum from the movies.  Additionally, with the release of entirely new product line - I bet a lot of existing GW consumers "found" some extra hobby money those years, violating the constant expenditure averaged over years assumption , and there is no good way for me to reconcile that.  I admit that.  What I can do though is fucking ignore it!  Instead grab a reference pre-LotR and look at other significant references that happened after that era, that are often cited by Chicken Littles ("every since blah, GW has been spiraling down").  Generally speaking, the Chicken Littles don't seem to be referencing anything back beyond 10 years anyway, so they don't get to use the that data point to support their anecdotal evidence IMO.  It is really to bad that LotR is messing up that era though, because Warmachine came out in 2003 and from my "perspective" was the first game to really start pulling players away from GW.

Anyway, that is the meat.  Part 3 I will discuss how I view this data, some other thoughts (dangerously close to anecdotal) on this topic and final thoughts.  Hopefully it will be shorter.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Games Workshop and Chicken Little Syndrome (or not?) - Part 1

Brief background and explanation for this post.  Earlier this week I was involved in an email thread that side tracked into many different topics.  One of which was the possible implosion of Games Workshop (or not).  Then, I did some research and manipulated data and on a weekly hobby hangout I suckered punch a friend of mine with it.  So, in fairness I am going to document my work.  But a few other things need to be established before we dive in.  

Firstly, this will be a long post and just the first of 3 parts.  I am also not a business person, financial, economist, marketing, mathematician or most anything that would help the credibility of this analysis in your eyes.  What I am is an engineer and I deal with numbers every day, and often have to find creative ways to tease valuable information out of those numbers.  I like numbers and playing with numbers.

Additionally, I am not a GW fanboy:  Never have been and likely never will be.  More than likely I have spent less money on GW products retail than you.  Even factoring in what I have bought second hand, it is probably less than you.  You will eventually see through these post that I am not a hater either.  

I am going to explore the topic of GW's consumer base, nothing about the other "health" aspects of GW nor individual product lines.  I maintain a thought that if there is a healthy and stable consumer base, then things can (not saying they will) work out.

Lastly, do with this what you will.  Take it, leave it, ignore it, scream at it, poke holes in it if you want.  I don't care.  It was a thought exercise for me and I got out of it what I wanted to, something more than anecdotal evidence.  It's not perfect, far from it.  I'm sharing it because some people expressed an interest and at least one person deserves to see my homework that I sucker punched him with.

Problem:  How can we actually determine if GW has alienated it's consumer base too far to recover from?  Lately GW has made TONS of incredible moves, it seems, to "right the ship."  Some may perceive and call these desperate moves (in part 3 I will revisit "desperate").  But there is no way to know if these moves have a chance of recovering or growing their consumer base if you have no reference for what that consumer base actually is and has been.   Ie, if you've lost 50%+ of your consumer base over 2 years, then the ship is beyond saving.  20%, maybe you can save it...

There is tons of anecdotal evidence, freely offered by almost anybody in this hobby you talk to.  For instance:  "My local game store says sales have dropped from $5000 a month in GW products to less than $500 since year blah."  Yeah, ok but how much of that did he loose to online sales?  How much because he sucks at running his business?  Etc.  Obviously drawing conclusions from this is very hard before you even factor in that is just 1 data point!

Perspective drives even more anecdotal evidence.  I myself, as previously stated, do not really take part in GW stuff (consumption, gaming, hobbying, etc).  This means, I generally surround myself by like minded people and I generally do not consume information related to GW.  From this perspective, I may think GW is doing very badly because "no one I know plays Warhammer" or that I only hear the loudest voices on the internet screaming this or that sucks.  Conversely, fanboys are consuming information, playing games with fellow GW gamers, frequenting GW fan sites, etc and therefore may feel GW is doing fucking awesome.  

So, how do we derive a consumer base and get away from just anecdotal evidence?  The first thought was attendance at Grand Tournaments but it is easy to see this is not so great.  It does not capture the non-tournament contingency of consumers.  Does more attendance for the event represent a growth in the base or just a growth in the tournament?  Does a decline in attendance for the represent a decline in the base or has the GT/convention grown to offer alternative formats/games that people migrated to (ie, I wasn't forced to play 40k because it was the only game at NOVA Open...).  Attendance at Games Days?  Oh wait, yeah they went away...  Stock price has it's issues as does profits.  Revenue doesn't tell a whole lot.  Hell, even distribution numbers (if I could get them) I don't think would tell a whole lot because of direct sales and GW retail store sales...

But you know what, I think there actually is a way you can tease some insights out of revenue.  It takes some assumptions but I think you can see something, at least if you look at things relative to others.  Part 2, I'll explore this some more and actually provide some meat.