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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Comparison: Games Workshop & Privateer Press

I'm going to pre-face this by telling everyone to be nice in the comments. Don't flame and don't be fanbois/fangirls - this is an objective post and nothing is going to be gained by whining about companies or flaming each other.

With that out of the way... This post is going to look at some of the good and bad points of both companies in a comparison. Puppy has already done this alone with Games Workshop. As we move towards 2012 there is a massive disparity in terms of what each company does well. Whilst their gaming systems are very different in terms of size and scope, they are some of the largest tabletop wargames out there. Combined with the Privateer Press' founders seemingly basing their company off what many believe Games Workshop does poorly, it's only natural to see such comparisons made (and knowing the Internet and people in general - the flaming and fanism [<-- new word]).

So, this post is going to look at both companies as objectively as possible to see who does what well and where improvements could be made. Call it a think-tank if you will. Purpose? Nothing really though constructive debate in the comments is its own reward but one can doubt if this is going to significantly impact the course of either company.

So let's begin and we'll start with probably the reason every single gamer gets into any tabletop system - the models.

Models -

Beyond being little representations of you and your soldiers on the battlefield, models are the easiest way into a game. You walk by a window, you see models, you go "wow that's cool", you walk into store. You can have the best rules ever but you're not going to attract a massive following if your models are plastic blobs or invisible. Companies can of course go this route (i.e. Dungeons & Dragons) but that's a completely different appeal. With this in mind you need to have cool models so let's take a look at how each company does.

Games Workshop - multi-part plastic kits. That's all one has to really say here. Games Workshop pours a ton of money into their plastic kits and it's worth every damn penny. Not only is this important for a game system where you have lots of options within units (different weapons, etc.) but it gives modellers and hobbyists a lot more scope to do whatever the hell they please with said models and we all know how much easier to use and paint plastic is. Importantly you can make each model subtly different which can be hugely important for an army with 100+ of the same model (or even 30 of them).

Finecast on the other hand is a mixed bag. Phasing out metal was a great idea as you don't have people working with that product which is prone to paint chips and smashing when dropped. With this in mind moving the kits which don't need to be multi-part (i.e. elite units with few options, characters, etc.) was a great idea but it remains to be seen whether or not the sculpts actually improve over the metal ones. The poor release of the product as well undermined a lot of the good this could have done in regards to public relations.

For the most part, Games Workshop models are also very easy to put together and come with detailed instructions - great for beginners and veterans alike.

Privateer Press - Most things for Privateer Press are metal. This limits posses, makes your army heavier to carry, leads to paint chipping/model smashing, etc. But since Privateer Press armies are generally smaller nor are there 'in-unit' options, multi-part plastic kits aren't as necessary. Whilst having that flexibility isn't really necessary with Privateer Press games, the modelling advantage it confers would have been a great boon to players of all skill levels. That said, there does seem to be a slow move towards introducing plastic kits, particularly ones which can fulfil many uses. This is of course no more obvious than with the plastic warjack kits for Warmachine. Not only are 'Jacks being re-made in plastic but kits are being released which can build any single Heavy or Light 'Jack from a Faction within a single box. This is a great way for the company to save money (only one sculpt) and gives many modelling options for players (i.e. magnets).

However, the majority of any army is going to be metal and this lends to itself an array of issues. Making the army can be very fiddly and requires a lot of pinning on sometimes very small binding spots. The models themselves aren't always easy to put together and don't always come with instructions on how to do this which can be frustrating when trying to figure out where little bits go.

Verdict - For the most part, Games Workshop is miles ahead in the models department. This isn't a view on the sculpts (notice I didn't talk about them) as it can come down to personal opinion on what actually looks better. In terms of what you as the customer get though - Games Workshop plastic kits give you so many options and are so easy to work with you can spend a long time just thinking how to pose your minis. Whilst Privateer Press seems to be making a move towards more plastic in the future (or at least some sort of non-metal product such as a resin hybrid), Games Workshop does have over a decade more experience in this regard.

Rules & Fluff -

One might wonder why I'm including fluff - it's a very subjective topic. In this sense however, I'm referring to the fluff included within the rulebook and army books or what you get when you buy the 'rules.' In terms of out-of-the-rules fluff, Games Workshop has another huge leg up on Privateer Press with supplementary material such as a massive array of books, world-wide campaigns and computer games (though a Warmachine computer game is in the works). So let's look at the rules then...

Privateer Press -

Whether or not their rules are worded well and clear for the novice gamer, or whether everything is balanced, Privateer Press does one thing very well - quickly communicates with its customer base. For the most part this in terms of clarifying rules and providing continuous FAQs. This is largely due to the release schedule of many of their games (piece-meal rather in 'army-like' lumps) but does show a larger dedication to ensuring their rules are as clear as possible.

Balance is the other major issue when concerned with rules and Privateer Press has arguably done this the best. Whilst there are certainly some "you need a very good explanation why you are not including this" units  and some "there are just better" units, for the most part each of their games has lots of options for each individual army and each army is pretty comparable in terms of power. This is maintained by their continuous FAQs and trickling release of models for different armies.

Finally we get to the actual rulebooks/army books and the incorporated fluff. What's great about the ALL of the fluff for games like Warmachine or Hordes? It's included in all the material you need to play the game. What's even better about this? If you don't care about the fluff, you don't even need to buy said books. Each unit you buy comes with a statcard and it's not exactly hard to find out unit stats before hand to determine whether or not you want to buy them. This is also really easy to transport to each game - you just take the cards you need. Whilst the main-rules are currently only in big book form with all the included fluff, one could expect the mini-rulebook from the recent battle-box to be sold solo relatively soon. Furthermore, the content and quality of what you get within the army books is fantastic. Each book is well over several hundred pages of everything you could want to know about your individual army.

Games Workshop -

No matter what they say, Games Workshop produces miniatures with RULES. Their models aren't trains or aeroplanes and the like. Whilst some people may simply gravitate towards the hobby side of the game, rules are there to play with your models and there's no point half-assing it. Games Workshop has this issue where it sees itself as a modelling company rather than a games company. I'm going to give them a hint, what they are is in their name. With that being said, Games Workshop has done a brilliant job with 5th edition. Everything that has been released in this edition for the most part has been extremely well balanced and the game plays at its best ever. There are certainly changes which can be made but in comparison to the rest of the rules seen over the years - fantastic. There are still some imbalances within the books of some units being "no duh" choices and others being "why bother" - again though, for the most part the armies in comparison to each other are pretty well balanced.

Whilst that comparison shows promise for the future, there are still some issues regarding wording and whilst Games Workshop's FAQ policy has been improved, it could still use more improvement. Releasing FAQs shortly after release is great and releasing FAQs after edition releases (8th edition Fantasy and several Space Marine chapters for 5th edition - though this did take many years) is an excellent way to ensure armies aren't really hurt by being old. However, these FAQs need to be updated far more regularly and with questions which are far more pertinent to the community. How many FAQs have come and gone without MANY commonly questions being unanswered? Too many. As well, these need to be 100% official and erratas need to be used regularly. You used them to update Fantasy for 8th edition and Space Marines for 5th edition - do it ALL the time.

Games Workshop had the brilliant idea of chopping out all the fluff and releasing mini-rulebooks which are great to take with your army. With the popularity and value of their starter kits for beginners and veterans alike (and unlike with Warmachine, buying multiples is quite feasible), the market is generally flooded with such. Again though, selling this by itself would be a great move as not everyone is interested in the massive amount of fluff included within the big book. The army books for each army are also generally good quality with lots of fluff, pictures, modelling advice and the usual assortment of rules. Where Games Workshop loses out to Privateer Press though is with the increase in content of such books, this is more information a player needs to lug around.

Verdict - When you look at the modelling advantage Games Workshop has over Privateer Press, many point to the rules that Privateer Press has a major leg-up in. I would disagree - whilst I would say Privateer Press is certainly much better in terms of rules-writing and FAQs for their games, I don't believe the difference in comparison to the move 5th edition 40k made and what 8th edition Fantasy tried to do, makes up the vast modelling advantage Games Workshop has. That being said, it's Privateer Press' attitude towards rules and competitive gameplay which sets them apart from Games Workshop. This leads us to...

Customer Relations - 

This involves all interactions with customers - at stores, tournaments/conventions, online, listening to feedback/complaints, satisfying customers needs, etc. This also includes supplementary apparel such as magazines, other games (i.e. computer games), books, etc.

Privateer Press - 

This is one of Privateer Press' major strengths. Warmachine Mark II was heralded by the company releasing beta rules and asking their customers to provide feedback. And they listened. They run a forum and combined with the approach to rules (they are there to allow the game to be played), there is less complaining and fights between player 'types.' They can therefore use the forums for releases such as FAQs/erratas, allow customers to provide feedback and INTERACT with their consumers. Win/win for both company and customer.

Privateer Press also has a huge hand in competitive play which shows up at tournaments and conventions. Whilst they may have designed their game to be as competitive and balanced as possible (rather than a game of pretty models), not everyone goes to tournaments/conventions to win the top prize. Regardless, Privateer Press supports such activities and often goes to major conventions/tournaments and promotes themselves to players on the ground. Once again, this allows them to INTERACT with customers.

Their No Quarter magazine is also a great way to release upcoming rules, teasers, battle reports, modelling advice, or whatever they want in relation to their own games. There is certainly some advertising involved (i.e. look what's new!) but it's supplementary to the main goal of providing something for the customers to enjoy out of the magazine. There is minimal support for the game outside of this though. No books or computer games (though this in the works) to satisfy appeal or bring in new customers outside of the actual game.

Games Workshop -

This is a mixed bag for Games Workshop. On one hand, they have great support in regards to their models. The staff at most of their stores are pretty good in regards to helping newbies paint and model (though their average game knowledge and IQ sucks). Furthermore, if you get dodgy quality product, very often they'll give you some more without actually needing proof of said damage (i.e. part of the mould wasn't cast correctly). This was really important with the Finecast release and returns but for the most part, you always know you'll have company support if their quality control fails.

On the flip side...if you have questions or feedback in relation to anything else...well talk to the wall, it'll respond better by sooner or later collapsing and falling either on you or away from you. Games Workshop is far more likely to flat out ignore you and this is a huge problem. They don't endorse tournaments though have their own conventions where they try to communicate as much as possible with their consumers. This leads many big conventions or tournaments not of their own design where they are losing opportunities to freely communicate with their customers and find out what they want and what will make them spend more money. Lack of online communication in the age of online mediums just seems like they are shoving their heads in the sand - customers need to be able to communicate with you, both the positive and negative. It will keep the customers and it will bring you more profit.

The extra goodies a fan of their universes is capable of accessing though is staggering. THQ has taken under their belt many, many computer games which have themselves attracted a large player base whilst Black Library has produced hundreds of books for fans to read. This is great as customers are going to be spending more money on your product to get more of your product for as long as possible. World-wide campaigns were also fantastic and whilst trimming in how they are done, it allows players to interact (if indirectly) worldwide and feel part of something bigger. All good things. However, White Dwarf is the exact opposite of this. All of the previously mentioned goodies give the customer something such as entertainment whilst referencing the universes under Games Workshop's IP. This brings them into further contact (addiction...) with their products whilst actually enjoying some other activity. White Dwarf does not this - it simply advertises their own product and unlike the Privateer Press No Quarter magazine, there is no point to wanting to buy this unless you want to look at lots of ads for pretty models. There is so much more this magazine could do and it would be another step to positive customer relations.

Verdict - Privateer Press is miles ahead in this department. Whether or not any company is good or not at what they do, by having lines of communications open to their customer base allows them to improve. Privateer Press does produce a good game and does communicate with their customers and thus can get better. They are still a relatively young company so providing feedback for expansion (i.e. models and extra goodies) can be taken on-board and perhaps executed on since Privateer Press encourages their customers to communicate with them. This not only helps their company grow and keep their customers happy but allow customers to feel involved in the games they play and therefore much less likely to leave.

Games Workshop on the other hand appears to be resting on their laurels. Whilst they provide excellent customer relations in regards to their models (whether advice or quality control) and massive amounts of extras which customers can enjoy, they don't want to actively engage with their customer base over what they don't want to discuss. This makes customers frustrated as they feel like they aren't being listened to and if they have are aggrieved, they are more likely to look elsewhere to spend their money.

In this regard, Privateer Press has a clear advantage and it more than makes up for their weaknesses elsewhere. Whilst they aren't perfect, they are willing to listen and thus improve. Games Workshop on the other hand turns a blind eye towards the community and thus are unlikely to move forward as a company and unlikely to satisfy complaints some may have.

Pricing - 

This is a touchy subject as Games Workshop has always been accused of over-inflating their prices, price gouging, pricing themselves out of the market and any other fancy economical term you'd like to spout. Let's take a closer look...

Games Workshop -

Modelling is expensive no matter how you shake your stick at it and Games Workshop is one of the most expensive companies of the lot. They will argue they give you the best quality of miniatures and when you look at the multi-part plastic kits and the options they have, you might agree with them. I'm going to leave this up to people with better eyes on whether or not they are worth the dollar that you pay for them but the fact of the matter is - if you like the game and the company, you're going to pay a certain amount. Yearly price rises not based on inflation rates are unwise but veterans keep buying.

The issue? Starting an army with many of Games Workshop's systems is too expensive. The starter sets are great as are a battlebox or two (even if not competitive choices) to keep prices down and provide entry level games. The problem is that Games Workshop's major games like Fantasy and 40k do not play well at low points. Even a 1500 point army is going to cost in excess of $300-400 USD for the most part whilst a fully functional and competitive army could be well over $600 at 1750/2000 points. This is a product of game design but another system (such as combat patrol) should really be implemented where new players can get into the game without forking over a whole paycheque.

Furthermore, whilst prices may be high - they need to be consistent. One country shouldn't be able to buy from another country and get 50% off including shipping. You can try and embargo all you want on these international sales but making prices comparable across countries is far easier. Exchange rates change - prices can also change both up and down.

Privateer Press -

Some may have you believe Privateer Press is cheap - it's not. What makes Warmachine/Hordes cheaper than Fantasy/40k is the size of the game. A 35 point list (akin to 1500-1750 for 40k or 2000 for Fantasy) might have 20-40 models whilst your average 40k list could have 30-100 models + several tanks whilst Fantasy is going to be a minimum of 100 models. When you are on average buying far less models, of course your army prices are going to be cheaper which around $150-200 USD. In terms of what you get per model, Privateer Press is worse or equal value to Games Workshop but you don't need as many of them for comparative armies. That's what you get when most of your range is in metal.

This is a mixed kettle of fish however. Some of the single metal models for Privateer Press are quite cheap whilst all metals/finecast for Games Worksop are expensive. On the other end of the scale - Warjacks and Battle Engines are as expensive if not more expensive than Games Workshop vehicles yet are far smaller. These prices are very similar across countries however with only tens of dollars (if that) difference from buying an army in England, America or Australia and most of this is based on weekly exchange rate fluctuations.

Verdict - In the end, Privateer Press' games will be cheaper but your dollar will generally not go as far in terms of how much material you are buying. This makes them a lot easier to get into. Games Workshop might give you better value for your dollar but has a larger minimum investment. There has also been a move towards plastic kits which have smaller squad sizes but cost the same as the old boxes. Your dollar still goes further in terms of what size army you can buy for the most part but the gap is far less and you often end up with a lot of extra bits you don't always need. This is another indication of their disconnect with their customer base as discussed above.


That was long-winded! There are a lot of other things you could discuss but I think these cover the major areas. We see Privateer Press aimed to do the building blocks of any good company (customer relations, good product) well which are often things Games Workshop does poorly or shuns. Games Workshop however has a massive head-start in terms of experience in the market and this gives them a massive customer base on which to draw and spread the word of their game and experience in terms of modelling. This shows in the scope of their game/conventions/tournaments, even if they don't actively support them, and the models they produce. Both of these are things Privateer Press can work on as they grow older and gain more capital so it can be hoped they will catch up/improve in this regard whilst Games Workshop needs a philosophy change in regards to their business model to improve their weaknesses.

In the end, if you combine the best of both companies you're going to get the perfect company - one which listens to you and produces great rules and minis for both every type of player. These games are always going to be expensive though but knowing your dollar is going as far as possible and you're getting best value is nice to know but you're probably not going to get that with these systems. There are some things which could certainly be improved (i.e. more battlebox/army deals, price parity across countries, etc.) but expecting these games to be cheap is dreaming.

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