Kirb your enthusiasm!


"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
"...generalship should be informing list building." - Sir Biscuit
"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"Why Does GW Keep Making Units With No Models?!?"

One of the strangest complaints I hear around the web (aside from "the new DE/GK codex sucks compared to the old one!") is about models. Specifically, about the lack of some of them for units released in the new books, most especially the Venom, Tervigon, and Thunderwolf. Why, the line of thought goes, would GW make such patently awesome units without also producing a model for them? Even long after the units have shown their dominance models are still strangely absent. Just as often, it continues: units SHOULDN'T be put in codices if they don't have models, it's unfair!

I do not have the words to describe my disbelief at this garbage. Well, I have words, but Kirby would undoubtedly edit them out of my post, so we shall pretend that I do not.

The reasons for not producing models are manifold; for one, it is expensive to do so, and GW cannot afford to invest such enormous sums of money in every single book. For two, doing so is freeing to the codex writers, as it allows them to fill gaps and tweak strategies without being beholden to the lengthy requirements of model design six or twelve or twenty-four months in advance. For three, it gives converters something to do, and given that these complaints often come from the same mouths that kvetch about "cookie-cutter" armies and "spam" killing the hobby side of the game, it's hilarious indeed to watch the hypocrisy in action.

Let us start off with cost. Although I am personally not any kind of expert on metal-casting and mold-forming processes, I am told that such things are... not cheap. And by "not cheap" we mean hundreds of thousands of dollars. Games Workshop, although the largest miniature wargaming company in the industry (to my knowledge), is still tiny by most comparisons, and such investments can't be taken lightly for them. Contrary to popular belief, I do not see any connection between the new kits they bring out and which units in a codex are "strong." VT2 seems convinced, but I would point our dear readers to such triumphs as the Pyrovore, Legion of the Damned, Thunderfire, etc; these units are atrociously bad and yet GW chose to sink huge sums of money into their releases. And this is not simply a case of something being deceptively underpowered, like Howling Banshees- these are units that are obviously worthless to even the most ravening fluff-junkie. No, whatever their reasoning process may be for choosing which units get a model, there is no relationship to the power levels involved and just as obviously Games Workshop cannot afford to make a model for every unit under the current design philosophy.

How and why so? Well, back in the day, this wasn't true. Codices were "bland," having a relatively small number of different units in them with options piled on options for each unit. Sternguard and Vanguard used to be the same generic unit- "Veterans"- with no special rules to speak of. However, somewhere around the dawn of 5th edition, all of that changed- by the close of 4E, GW realized that piling tons of worthless choices onto a unit just made things annoying and encouraged bad army design, while one or two overpowered options inevitably snuck through the cracks. So instead they chose to forcibly diverge units from each other and limit the choices each unit could make- hence Sternguard/Vanguard, Warriors/Shrikes, etc. This made playtesting infinitely easier and made playing easier as well- you had fewer options to explain to your opponent and fewer silly piece of wargear to write down when making army lists.

This created a new dilemma, though: such "divergent" units, when added to the expanding fluff and new units created for each book, meant that some things had no model. Before, this was a no-no; GW was a model company and you didn't write things into codices unless they had a model, because that was basically advertising a product you didn't sell. There were some rare exceptions (like Space Marine Drop Pods), but they were few and far-between, not the standard that they have become today. However, under the new philosophy of codex design, GW realized that such units were not only necessary to write balanced books, but also beneficial to them.

If you want to play with a Tyranid or Dark Eldar army these days, what do you do? Buy a bunch of Hive Guard or Warriors, sure. Add Raiders and Incubi, naturally. But what then? You still need to make some Tervigons/Venoms. So you buy a couple other kits- maybe a Carnifex and Trygon, or maybe a Vyper and Raider. You hack them up. You add bitz you had left over. You get some third-party stuff even, maybe. But here is the important thing: you buy more models. It is nigh-impossible to construct these "units without models" without buying at least some GW models, and often a LOT. Conversions, unless you have tons of bitz laying around or are extremely savvy with Ebay, are expensive things. They may only be a bit more than the standard GW kit, or they may run 2x or 3x the cost, but they are almost universally more expensive. Games Workshop has learned that they are okay with this- when someone makes a Griffon out of a Basilisk and some parts, they are still buying a Basilisk kit; likewise a Thunderwolf from a box of Space Wolves and some Fantasy horses/daemons/etc. Even without them lifting more than a couple fingers to add some text to a book, they are making money off of models that don't exist, and doing so in a way that fits almost perfectly into what they want to be their business model (i.e. selling miniatures, not rules.)

So look at this from GW's perspective: having units without models lets them write a better game, encourages people to buy their stuff, encourages kitbashing and other hobby activity, and saves them a ton of money on making expensive molds. What's not to like.

And from the player's perspective? We get a cool new unit that you can use or not as you prefer, a chance to showcase your creativity if you so desire and a better-balanced codex thanks to the freedom the designers get.

Would it be nice if some of these things got models? Certainly- I can understand that not everyone wants to convert a dozen skimmers just to play an army. Do I understand why GW picks the models they do to release? Not in the slightest, but perhaps that is the burden of having to do the sculpting part of the production on a very different timeline than the playtesting portion. But, despite these difficulties, I think that the existence of these units is nothing but a boon to the game and the hobby.

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