When it comes to gaming relationships, I am a polygamist. My heart contains enough room for miniature gaming, computer gaming, board games, and card games. I won’t lie to you. I do have my favorites. As many of you have correctly guessed, I love Magic. My other love interest is a game called Warhammer 40k. I’ve actually played 40k for longer than I have played Magic. This is partially because 40k has been around longer and partially because the Warhammer 40k universe is fantastic, from a narrative perspective.
Wizards of the Coast, the proud company that makes Magic, has been doing wonderfully over the last few years. The player base continues to grow and secondary market prices, demand for Magic seems to be higher than ever. Games Workshop, the makers of Warhammer 40k, has watched the player base leave for alternative games and last year saw their stock drop a shocking 25%. So the question is, What is Wizards doing that is so different from GW to make them a successful gaming company?
Late night television style, I bring to you the top 10 reasons that Wizards of the Coast is a better company than Games Workshop.
10. Free Content
Games Workshop takes time to print and distribute a magazine called White Dwarf. You can pay money to see battle reports, get vague spoilers, and if you are lucky get painting advice that may or may not be relevant to you. Then, they compile the small amount of useful content from the magazine into rules supplements and painting guides to sell to you. There is a small amount of content on their website if you squint and tilt your head just right. Luckily, this is a hobby with good people and you can get lots of great user-generated content on places like “Bell of Lost Souls” and “Pins of War”.
Pan over to WOTC, which has “Daily MTG.” Literally every day of the week they post new content free of charge. Whether you are competitive, casual or just like the story, you don’t have to wait long to have something pop up that interests you. This is the #1 stop for many Magic players for news, deck lists and just wasting time when they want to relax. Luckily, this is also a hobby with good people and you can also get great content on a boat load of 3rd party sites online. WOTC decided to be part of the community instead of above it.
9. Magic: The Gathering Online
Games Workshop has made a good number of video games, from Warhammer Online to Dawn of War. However, none of these games are an online version of the tabletop game. We obviously have the technology to create an online version of 40k, but Games Workshop is petrified by the thought that if people could play online no one would play the tabletop version. This means if you live in a remote area, you either have to drive for hours to play, play with the three other guys locally, or just not play 40k.
On the other side of the coin we have Magic: The Gathering Online. While I personally prefer playing in person, this is a convenient way to play when you get snowed in, or get lazy. It also makes it so that you can always play, whenever you want without having to drive or wait until Friday night. There are some players who only play MTGO, but WOTC hasn’t lost money because of it. If anything, MTGO has helped grow the community even more and made them even more money. Say what you will about MTGO. At least it exists.
8. Clear Separation between casual and competitive
Games Workshop has been producing more and more rules supplements as the years go on. These are things like Escalation, Apocalypse, Cities of Death and Kill Team that give you different ways to play the game. They introduce new elements like larger models, buildings, and terrain. The issue is there is no clear line between how you should be combining these pieces and in what situation. The newest rulebook releasing this May, 7th Edition, looks like it will make this issue even more confusing. An example of the confusion:
They start by saying “Apocalypse” is a way to use your giant mecha-like models for Godzilla style bashes.
When that sale flops they release “Escalation” as a way to use your giant mecha-like models for Godzilla style bashes.
Then, that flopped so they are releasing 7th Edition for a way to use you giant mecha-like….you get the point.
Three rule sets in about one years’ time confuses players about if these rules are supposed to be for the occasional mega-battle or in regular use.
WOTC has clearly defined its rule enforcement level and has formats with tournament and judge support and formats without. You can play Standard, Modern, Legacy, Vintage or Limited in either 1v1 or two-headed giant styles if you want to play competitively. Then you can play casual, Commander, prismatic, or whatever you want in 1v1 or various multiplayer formats if you want to just play for fun. If someone has a Standard deck, you know approximately what kind of games to expect and if someone has a Commander deck they should just be trying to have fun.
7. You get to see what you are buying before buying it.
It’s kind of sad to think that the company that allows you to buy its products in packs with random cards has more transparency with what is in their product than a company where you buy specific items.
Games Workshop sells its miniatures in boxes with beautiful pictures on the outside of the box showing what the models could look like if you put them together, got an art degree, and invested a lifetime in learning how to paint. While that is great, they don’t provide you a picture of what is actually in the box or instruction of how to turn the plastic grids in the box into the pictures on the front until AFTER you buy it. Even after you buy it, they want you to buy their magazines or painting guides to give you a clue on how to make it look like what you thought you were buying.
To make it even worse, Games Workshop shrink wraps all the rule books and supplements they sell. This means you have to buy a $50 supplement or a $100 rulebook just to find out if you are going to like the rules for your army enough to buy it. Games Workshop even has the gall to have preorders on items that they release with little or no information about the product beforehand. They actually expect people to shell out the $50+ for box sets of models before having ever seen the model or the rules for the item. Would you ever order anything without information about it first?
On the other hand, Wizards of the Coast provides Gatherer. You can lookup not only what is in every set and see exactly what every card does, but also access a forum they provide that answers questions about every specific card they have ever printed. Even if you don’t own a computer (maybe somebody printed out this article for you to see), you can still get a free visual guide to any set.
WOTC also releases full visual spoilers for their sets weeks in advance of a release. This gives you time to study a set and see if you like the cards before ever ordering singles, signing up for events, or ordering boxes of products.
6. It is easy to buy products that Wizards of the Coast makes.
I’ve given Games Workshop enough money to buy a small Pacific island. As a result, I have a bit of experience buying from them. The most startling part of buying from GW is how darn difficult it is to get products you really want. About a year and a half ago I went to a Games Workshop store and ordered a set of their new edge paints. They were new products and didn’t have them in stock. I learned they never planned to have them in stock. These were part of an “online only” product line which could only be purchased through the online store or by placing a special order.
I was frustrated by this, but went ahead and placed the order to be delivered to the store. A month later I got an email saying there was a delay with some of the items (small containers of acrylic paint) and that it would be another few weeks before they arrived. Waiting seven weeks for items listed as ‘in-stock’ is not acceptable when you show up to a store with cash in hand. If you do a quick internet search you will see numerous examples of this practice.
Games Workshop also owns a smaller company called Forgeworld. Forgeworld makes incredible models that you can use to play Games Workshop games. Games Workshop owns Forgeworld. However, you cannot buy Forgeworld miniatures at a hobby store, online at the GW website, or even with United States dollars. Forgeworld can only be purchased through a separate Forgeworld website and you have to pay in pounds.
Wizards of the Coast has products that are for sale, well, everywhere. Just go to your local hobby store, Target, Amazon, Ebay, Craigslist, really whatever. Unless something is limited release, you won’t have a problem handing over whatever your local currency is in exchange for some sweet, sweet cardboard.
5. Games Workshop hates employees.
There really isn’t a good way to put this: if Games Workshop offers you a job, don’t take it. If you look at Glassdoor.com you will notice that while the star rating between GW and WOTC are close 2.9/3.1. That’s mostly because the star rating isn’t important. There are some serious issues with Games Workshop. Only 20% of the employees approve of the GW CEO Tom Kirby, while 62% of employees approved of Greg Leeds. Also, only 33% of GW employees would recommend working at the company while 50% of WOTC employees would.
The reason Games Workshop has such poor ratings is how it treats the Hobby Center Operators. These managers are put in a position where they have to run a hobby shop all by themselves. They get to make few to no business decisions and most leave within two years due to not reaching sales goals that they neither agreed to nor set. They aren’t allowed to run tournaments in the store and are pushed to sell only certain merchandise. Sales don’t count for their store if people order from their houses and pick up at the store. I know one employee who was fired a week before he was due to get an incentive bonus and then had to fight to even qualify for unemployment.
This may come as a shock to anyone who plays Magic and hasn’t seen the prices for 40k. The base rulebook you need to play the game, the one that anyone playing has to own, is currently $75, and the rumors are that the next edition will be $100. In addition, the rules for each army codex are about $50. Each specific supplement is $50. The supplements require the main codex to play. For example, If I wanted to play the Iron Hands army with a Farsight Conclave Allies I would need the following: Rulebook, Space Marine Codex, Iron Hands Supplement, Farsight Supplement, and Tau Codex. That is $275 just to purchase the rules (before taxes). If you are playing against someone with a different army, you would have to borrow their book or buy all the books to be able to understand your opponent.
The rules for Magic: The Gathering are free.
Beyond the price of the rules, there is an issue with having timed released of updates and codex. It means at any given time, most of the codex are out of date. When 7th Edition is released later this month, there will be multiple armies who never even had an updated codex for 6th edition. The FAQ and errata process is constantly out of date. It’s set into a system that is constantly unbalanced just based on timing alone. To make matters worse, Games Workshop has Forgeworld create additional rules you can only buy from Forgeworld that you can sometimes use in the same games.
The rules for Magic: The Gathering are constantly updated and the only timing issues come with the ban list. Even then, they have shown the ability to emergency ban cards when necessary. They keep all the errata and rewording of cards up to date with every release, and it’s all available and intuitively accessible online. Free.
Games Workshop has exactly zero rules experts. They used to have a phone number you could call to get rules questions answered. They may still have it, but I couldn’t in good conscience recommend you ever call it. Me and my group decided to test the rules help line a few years back. We called the rules help line three times on three different days and emailed twice. We asked the exact same question worded the exact same way each time. This resulted in a 2-3 split of responses. The rules are complicated and ambiguous at times. Games Workshop doesn’t provide any help in this matter and so during any given game you will hear rules disputes. In almost every game I have ever watched or participated in there have been rules mistakes, even at large tournaments.
Wizards of the Coast has one of the single most amazing programs in gaming, the Judge program. They are tested and certified and beyond helpful. You have a question, you call over the event judge, and they answer it because they know the answer. There are mistakes, because we are human. If you think a lower level judge is wrong you can call the head judge to appeal. The online judge community has helped me personally by answering a ton of crazy Commander rules questions. Next time you see a judge, thank them. They are one of the major influences in keeping Magic running. Thank you!
2. The Secondary Market
While this isn’t the #1 reason Games Workshop is worse than Wizards of the Coast, it could be the #1 reason why they will eventually fail financially. Games Workshop does something you should never do in business, they compete with their customers. GW sells models to online and brick and mortar retailers while also running their own online and brick and mortar stores. They make it difficult to sell their products by not allowing discounts and forcing stores to match their prices. GW won’t allow stores to sell used items or to part out box sets in what it referred to as “bitz” orders (the modeling equivalent of selling singles). I could write for pages on this, but it’s all been said elsewhere online. Games Workshop needs to learn that the key to success in a business is helping your customers be successful.
Wizards of the Coast, on the other hand, does zero direct sales and has a flourishing secondary market made primarily from stores opening their products and selling the individual cards. There are dozens of online stores and hundreds of brick and mortar stores that stay alive and successful just from Wizards of the Coast not actively trying to shut them down.
1. Games Workshop is not a gaming company.
This has been a hot topic on the web for the last few months. It was brought up that Games Workshop considers itself a miniature company and that it doesn’t really care about the rules, the rules that you might spend $200+ buying. Games Workshop, you sell games. You are a gaming company. Stop making up excuses for why you can’t put out a quality product and just put in some f*&^%$g effort.
Wizards of the Coast has a Pro Tour, multiple independent tournament circuits, Friday Night Magic, and support for casual games like Commander and Planechase. You can tell this is a company run by people who love the hobby and want other people to love the hobby.
WotC, despite all the criticism you receive, you are worlds better than GW. Keep up the good work.