Age Of Sigmar, Doomed Or Not?

People write a lot about The Age of Sigmar these days, they playtest the game and discuss it. Main questions are: why did GW reboot the game, why now, and what are the long term expectations?

First: Warhammer has more or less the same (succesful) strategy as the makers of Magic, Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast. 16 years ago, reviewer Robrr already mentioned this:

Here’s why:

They constantly promote the tournament/competition game – like a card game

They release new super-special figures every month that enable you to win in the “tournaments” – like new special cards

They foster the competitive aspect, so players will constantly buy the new figures and upgrade to do better against other players – like card games

The games are largely show-downs between the hero-types or special stuff on each side. (It still is – they are never going to change that. Although people think it’s better in one version or another, it is just more cleverly masked in some versions more than others.) – again, like a card game

They have routinely made obsolete entire figure lines (Epic, many, many character figures), forcing players to spend more cash to play again with their same armies!!?? That is unheard of in miniature gaming, but hey, from a business standpoint, it’s great. (GW is a publicly traded company in the UK. They are no longer a bunch of gaming enthusiasts who started a company – they are now purely profit-oriented corporate types who must satisfy their stockholders…which isn’t all bad, but I believe they have lost touch with their customers’ needs.)

So, by creating the “tournament” atmosphere and constantly upgrading characters or adding special items, people have a “need” to buy them to beat other players and win tournaments, just like Magic the Gathering! That is their goal. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just not a miniatures game. Yes, you can play it for fun (just like Magic, but who does?).

GW sales are going down however, in particular in the VS. Sales went up probably because of the The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit series, but these times are gone now. The number of American stores went down from 100 to 87, mostly one-man-stores by the way, GW’s new business models. In the US, 40K is doing ok, but Privateer Press is a heavy concurrent with Warmachine/Hordes in the fantasy miniatures market.

GW operates, as they state in their reports, in a

 “niche market of  people who want to collect our miniatures. They tend to be male, middle-class, discerning teenagers and adults”

Adults – if the continue wargaming at all – frequently move to other wargame rule sets and other scenes, often a wargames club where skirmish games and historical games rival with GW games.

This niche market was stalled. Earlier versions became rivals of newer editions of Warhammer, when adult players started the Oldhammer movement. WHFB became difficult to update. A reviewer from online magazine The Escapist wrote, about The End times, direct predecessor of The Age of Sigmar:

 Fantasy has been around for multiple decades, and over that time, not a whole lot has changed. While new models have occasionally been introduced, things haven’t been updated all that much. It also is a game that tend to be rather static. Folks who have already poured time and money into building an army tend to not really buy too many new models, and the cost of starting a new army is fairly prohibitive due to the number of models necessary to field a legal force. Enter the End Times, the perfect opportunity to take what has been a fairly static game and shake things up and make changes in the game in order to keep the game alive.

So GW rebooted Warhammer Fantasy. Totally. Opinions differ, but if you discard the bad puns in some rules, like ‘shout to get a bonus’ a basic system remains that is fairly quick, beer-and-pretzels-style. Not great, but not bad either.

The new rules will be a shock for the 30+ veterans, but well – were they numbered enough and did they buy enough miniatures to continue in the same way? That’s the hard sales decision GW had to make. Older players might not buy the new game anymore, but maybe the game attracts a new core of teenage casual players who like miniatures, and play the game in the GW stores which secure GW’s market share.

GW might not have much time left to test the waters with this game. Hasbro is busy with a new game, a Magic The Gathering miniatures game, scheduled this autumn. With prepainted terrain and miniatures, linked with the very popular magic card game, and unit stats on cards it has the look of a game like .. The Age of Sigmar with warscrolls, Hasbro is a big rival, and the box will be cheap, just 30 dollars. That might be killing for the quite expensive Age of Sigmar box, 100 euro for just 47 miniatures.

So the big question is: will a new group of teenage male buyers discover The Age of Sigmar, or will lower priced rivals (Kings of War, Magic the Gathering) take over GW’s fantasy market share?

The company is strong an will continue to produce fantasy models. However, if fantasy sales dwindle, Warhammer Fantasy might degrade to a kind of fantasy rule variant of GW’s highly successful 40K-venue. Sigmar, End Times has begun!

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