Wednesday, October 13, 2010

This Grand Age of 40K

I’ve noticed a theme recently in my posts, and post titles:  Pants.  More specifically, the desecration/destruction of my pants brought on by some sort of spasmodic fit after seeing or reading something really cool related to Warhammer 40K.
  • The latest preview video for the next Dawn of War II game, Retribution.
  • Screenshots for the 40K MMO, Dark Millennium
  • The Grot Mega Tank coming from Forgeworld (although so much of their stuff has that affect on me)
  • The various Ultramarines The Movie news:  release date, Special Edition, and latest trailer

So it got me thinking, with high quality tie-ins being produced in both video game and (hopefully) movie markets, as well as continued popularity with the Black Library and Forgeworld divisions of Games Workshop, is it possible we are in a Golden Age of 40K?  The answer of course is no, I don’t have the hubris to claim that.  I’d be willing to maybe call Silver Age, but I’m going to need to look at what’s come before to really label this a silver age.  I am positive, though, we are seeing a creative output that puts us in the Age of Desecrated Pants.

Okay, all kidding aside, I have high hopes for the future of 40K, both from what Games Workshop is doing, to what I’m seeing as far as tie-ins, even to the community as a whole.

Games Workshop Group PLC is a publicly traded company, so these figures are easy to come by.  Now, let me say I am not an accountant, so a lot of what I read in the annual report was gibberish.  But the gist of the fact is that since 1991 sales have experienced substantial growth.  They peaked in 2004, but the drop off since then has been minor and nowhere near 1991 levels.  And from 2009 to 2010 there was a .6% increase.  However this small increase was buoyed by price increases as actual sales of items declined.

This is a mixed bag of news.  I was hoping for more, however it’s not grim by any means.  First this is overall sales for everything.  Warhammer, Lord of the Rings, Warhammer 40K, specialty games, Black Library, Warhammer World, and Forgeworld are all included in these figures.  While I can’t see how 40K itself is doing, I can see in 1991 sales for Games Workshop were below £20 million, peaked in 2004 near £160 million, and for 2010 were over £120 million.  And while Games Workshop doesn’t break their sales down by product range but instead by markets, we can see that the “Other” markets that include Forge World, Warhammer World, and Black Library saw a revenue increase of 1.2%.  Also keep in mind these figures are for a global company during a global recession, so that’s another positive as well.

But since the sales figures don’t back up what I’m speculating, I thought it best to look beyond just hard figures to some of the creative and community output we’re seeing recently.

Video Games
This is the biggest market that Games Workshop licensed their intellectual property to, and this is where they have seen some of their biggest influence.  This is also where I really start to focus on just 40K so I’m not going to go into detail on something like Warhammer Online. 

Obviously the big name here is Dawn of War.  The original Dawn of War game was a well executed Real Time Strategy game that executed the traditional RTS conceits in a game that was very faithful to its source universe.  Of course there are differences since 40K is a turn based game, while DoW is real time, but the campaigns were compelling, the expansions were well done, and it was a great draw for people new to 40K.  I got into 40K because of Dawn of War and have used that game and its successor to attract people to this game we love.

Speaking of its successor, Dawn of War II and Chaos Rising really pushed 40K from being that game that Starcraft copied but everyone thought copied Starcraft, and made it a major player in the video game market.  I mean Dawn of War II is a game changer.  Rather than just take the same old RTS model of base management and army building, the designers took a page from 40K’s most notable phrase and applied to the game.  “In grim darkness of the far future there is only war,” and in the grim darkness of Dawn of War II, there is only war.  Gone is base, and excessive resource management, in is a campaign that combines RPG elements with RTS, and gameplay that focuses on fighting.  Build your army on the fly and fight.  Not only that but add in The Last Stand and multiplayer became highly accessible to people like myself who suck at RTS multiplayer.  Oh yeah, and through it all the game stayed true to 40K.

These changes were controversial, but they were also successful.  When Dawn of War II was released it topped PC sales in US, Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Australia.  Not only that, but it generated a lot of conversation among RTS fans, and 40K fans.  And with the release of the RPG heavy Chaos Rising expansion, the game continued to move beyond traditional RTS.

The Dawn of War games have been so successful that they have allowed Relic and THQ to move beyond those games.  Coming soon we can look forward to an action game, Space Marines, a massively multiplayer online game, Dark Millennium, not to mention a second Dawn of War II expansion, Retribution.  I think it’s safe to say that 40K isn’t just a piece of intellectual property that a game maker can use, but is becoming a major player in the video game market.

Time will tell on Ultramarines the Movie, but the buzz is building for it.  The artwork looks good, the trailers (okay maybe not the first one) have shown decent animation and great voice work, and it’s written by fan favorite Dan Abnett.  If it is as good as we hope, then we can expect more movies.  That would be another medium conquered by 40K, and another means to draw people into our game.  Dawn of War has done wonders for getting people interested/hooked on 40K, but it’s not the most accessible medium.  You have to be into computer games, and more specifically you have to be into RTS games.  In effect it’s been able to attract people who probably were already somewhat familiar with 40K to begin with.  Ultramarines the Movie could change the game.  Movies are pretty broad based.  Most everyone has a DVD player, or access to one. So if the movie is good, we as fans get an experience that brings to life our game.  But we also have a way to show people that 40K is more than painting little green men (as my wife refers to my Orks…).  I’m not saying it needs to be a tool to proselytize to the unwashed masses, but if somebody watches the movie and likes it then that’s good for 40K, and for our community.

Imagine the internet were a real place.  Okay, now build a (fire)wall between you and the bad stuff.  Okay now look around you.  What do you see?  Assuming you aren’t on the other side of the wall then you could see the Blogosphere as a really big city, and if you were on the other side of the wall you’d be staring at boobies, you big pervert.  But back to our Blogosphere city, instead of ethnic divisions like Greek Town and China Town you would see divisions based on interest and one would be Geek Town (I’m sorry, I am so sorry).  Inside of there you would see a high-rise apartment complex for Star Wars Fans, and another for Star Trek Fans, and so on.  Well the high-rise for 40K fans is one of the most dynamic high-rises out there.

I’m interested in a lot of things, and I travel through a lot of different nerd circles, and I personally think the fans of 40K are some of the best.  They’re literate, they’re passionate, they will just as easily break into a discussion on the ramifications of the fall of Horus as they will on which changes from 4th to 5th edition have made the game better (or worse), or what percentage of paint and water mix they will use to make their own washes.  And most are very accepting of people who are new to the game.  Oh sure, there are jerks out there, but there are jerks in every fan-circle.  As long as you respect the hobby, the game, and the fluff then you will be treated with dignity.  It goes beyond just the written word of the blogs too, some of the best amateur podcasts available are 40K related.  It all goes back to that literate and passionate community, one that makes the game better.

The Game, The Fluff, and The Hobby
Another reason why the game has really taken off is the game itself.  It’s very dynamic.  Not only is it different each time you play it, but Game Workshop – for better or for worse – is always trying to make it better.  Does every change work?  No, but do I hold it against them for trying to make the game better?  Absolutely not.  Hell, even the Dark Eldar are getting some love, that has to be worth something too.

The game also combines strategy and tactics with a fun hobby.  Not only am I playing a game, but I’m collecting an army to make the obsessive collector in me happy.  And my model builder youth is sated by getting to build and paint the figures myself.  While this aspect might not be for everybody, it’s not like I’m going to deny someone a chance to play it if they only want to field a grey army with no paint or primer.

And the models, wow do they look good.  I look at some of the older models (especially the old Orks), and compare them to the new models and there is no comparison.  The newer models are far more dynamic looking.  It just adds to the game, not just having a cool game, but a cool looking game too.

More importantly I think the game really has something special in the fluff.  It opens up the universe to give everyone something.  The history of the universe of 40K is very broad and leaves a lot of room for all sorts of great stories.  The codices do a great job really laying out each race/faction’s culture and heritage.  And the Black Library books just add to that with stories that cover a broad section of the Imperium of Man (although I do wish there were more books dealing directly with some of the xenos).

That’s not to say there aren’t any cracks in the façade.  Price increases from Games Workshop have really done a wonder to dissuade some people from getting into the game, while slowing others (like myself) down so that we aren’t just buying units all willy-nilly.  And while it’s good to see the aforementioned Dark Eldar getting some love, it took a LONG time for them to get the attention so many wanted them too.  Yet how many Space Marine chapter codices are there? They can seem like little things with so much good and potentially great things that 40K has to offer, but they fester below the surface and can have a very negative influence on the fans.

So what age are we in with 40K?  Not the Golden Age, I would hearken that back to when 40K took off from the pages of Rogue Trader and established itself, pretty much through the 2nd edition.   We could be in a silver age, but I’m not sure that’s exactly it.  Honestly I’m not sure what age we are in for 40K, but I do know I love it.  There is so much cool stuff for us to enjoy outside of the game that relates to it, but the game itself is worth our love.  Really the only thing I can definitively say about our time right now as 40K fans is I’m loving every minute…and yes having to change my pants a lot too.

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