What is Brent from Strictly Average doing on Blood of Kittens? I mean isn’t he always a voice of reason in a sea of unreason? Let us let him explain…

Brent here – no, no! Hold your applause please!

What, nothing?

That’s to be expected. (We’ll come back to that word later.)

Still, I’ve heard you’re supposed to start every introduction with a joke. Two card-gamers walk into a bar. The first says to the second, “My mom won’t let me buy beer.” The second replies, “You should totally move out of her basement.”

I give up. Let’s move on, shall we?

What does a Storm Raven, Lego brand building blocks, and a dude named Tom Kirby have in common? No, this isn’t another bad joke; I’m past that, this is the core of this guest article. Let’s start at the beginning.

Much like all of you, I bemoaned the glaring oversight of the Storm Raven Gunship in the new(ish) Blood Angels ‘dex. Unlike most of you, I set about making one. My goal was to build a ‘counts as’ model that I could use to represent the real thing until GW got of its collective rear end. To be fair, I thought I’d have years before the damn thing came out… you guys can see this coming from a mile away, right? It had to look like it could carry troops and actually carry a Dreadnought. Since I’m not a talented sculptor and I’m not great with cardstock, I wanted a model anyone could build if they had a mind to.

This was back when I was still dreaming, thinking someone would want to follow my little creation.

So, it’s obviously a Valkryie kit-bash. I posted it on my blog, Strictly Average, and (worse still) I sent the link to Stelek over on Yes the Truth Hurts, since he’d been on the lookout for a kit he could get behind. I patted myself on the back and waited for the accolades to roll in.

It was blown apart by the blogosphere. My friends universally hated it, and were happy to say so. Stelek liked it quite well but ZombYes aren’t known for their compassion and open-mindedness; they tore it apart too.

So, expectations… can anyone see how mine were skewed? I won’t pretend it didn’t bother me; I cried myself to sleep every night for two weeks.

But where had I gone wrong? Like Barbara, I picked myself up off the bathroom floor and set out on a journey of discovery.

Let’s look at a few Storm Raven conversions that worked, shall we?

So let’s ask the question every kid in high school asks at least once a week, “What does he have that I don’t?” The answer in high school was a cool car, a hot girlfriend, and way too much sex. The answer here is simpler:

These other Storm Raven kits looked like GW kits. More to the point, they looked like Space Marine vehicles because they share common elements – my model did not.

Nor had I intended it to, really, but I missed out on the now obvious conclusion: Warhammer players like GW models. So a conversion is okay, if it looks like the company could have made it.

You have only to look at the Indy tournament scene to realize this is true. Despite have lax rules about using true GW figurines, the majority of hobbyists wouldn’t think of buying anywhere else. (I’d say the possible exception is the Avatars of War line, but those models are produced to look like GW figurines.)

So my Storm Raven was finished and posted the week GW announced they were going to release the kit later this year. Gamers everywhere flooded Ebay with half-finished Storm Ravens made of chopped up GI Joe kits and recycled Mountain Dew cans.

I kept mine. It sits proudly on my shelf, a testament of misplaced hubris.

I guess I could have used Legos to build my Storm Raven… yea, that’s a blunt segue for you.

Legos of course are wildly popular the world over, far more so than Citadel miniatures; despite how much we talk about it, Games Workshop is still a small niche company. They want to be a large niche company though, so once you give it some thought the connection makes sense. Lego has been making plastic models since the 50’s and came out with their Technic line in 1986, that of course being their computer-controlled, high-end line. Think about that for a moment: how cutting edge is Lego? Many of you reading this article weren’t born in ’86 and for those of you who were, you probably didn’t own a computer. If you did, it was a Commodore-64.

As in 64-bit… can you say LOAD ,8 ,1?

The point is Lego pushed the technology. As a company, they were innovative. They pioneered injection-plastics, and that’s the same technique GW is using today to carry its line of models into the future.

In 1999, the GW range was 80% tin and 20% plastic. We think of tin as being a cheap metal, but try buying it in bulk. Add to that market fluctuations in the London Metal Exchange due to 12-year olds in Asia failing to meet their quota and you have a pretty shaky profit margin. Still, back then quality miniatures simply couldn’t be produced in plastic.

Today the GW range is 80% plastic and 20% tin, for which we should all be thankful. Plastic is obviously cheaper, and I imagine the bean counters in the back rooms of Games Workshop corporate HQ are thankful for the stability of bulk prices as well. Most important is the quality of the miniatures: nowadays the quality of a plastic miniature is at least as good as a metal, and you get more for your money. Think of the kits we get such as the recent Space Wolves line, huge sprues with bits of a dizzying variety. The number of unique heads alone made the kit worth it, because I for one was getting sick of using the same 5 helmets.

Bringing it full circle, GW is using modern techniques such as CAD design and injection molding, built on the back of technology pioneered by such notable companies as Lego, to bring all of us miniature addicts our latest fix of plastic toys to play with.

But I didn’t say cheaper, did I?

We all know GW raised prices again. You can expect to drop 50 bucks on a tank now, making this a hobby one truly has to budget for now. I know I can’t impulse buy figs anymore, and my wife and I don’t have any kids to suck up our play money.

There was a minor backlash; even on my blog, my erstwhile contributor Big Whit published his ‘I Have a Dream’ series of articles calling for a week-long boycott of GW to protest. In addition, I read the outrage on other blogs and forums but it was neither compelling nor widespread. Let’s leave the impact a boycott on GW would have on local independent game stores aside and ask the question:

Is the outrage over GW’s price increase merited?

2006 was the year Games Workshop Chairman Tom Kirby wrote, “I’m sorry we have not done as well as we should the last two years. We grew fat and lazy on the back of easy success.” The easy success he was referring to was the Lord of the Rings franchise, which sold like mad during the era of the movies… but it wasn’t long after Return of the King that the sales went flat and GW was set adrift on a sea of underwhelming sales reports. They hired a new chief executive, Mark Wells, and started acting like a company run by adults.

For those of you who don’t want to read the link, suffice it to say that Mr. Kirby, in a stunning display of honesty unknown to American businessmen (the oil leak is not THAT bad…), told his investors that had the MMORPG industry been a direct competitor, Games Workshop would have folded like a cheap suit. His forthrightness must be a British thing, ‘cause who tells the money men the company they’re backing screwed the pooch that badly?

That said, the news is good news because under the leadership of Marc Wells Games Workshop is turning a profit again… but don’t break out the pitchforks because it’s nothing to write home about. If I’m reading the numbers correctly – and someone out there tell me if I’m not – GW made a profit for the fiscal year 2008 but is still digging itself out of the hole it created. Financial analysts are suggesting GW turned the corner toward profitability but aren’t a stable investment risk quite yet.

Games Workshop is a business. That may be obvious, but it’s important to reiterate the fact it’s a money-making operation. If the company doesn’t make money it goes out of business.

Have you, the hobbyist bloggers at large, considered what would happen if GW went out of business? Don’t act like it can’t happen. I hate to be a pessimist but it seems likely the company will go bankrupt in my lifetime… and what would I do with all that stuff in my game room? In my local area, we played a skirmish game called Confrontation, produced by Rackham Miniatures, which boasted some of the best miniatures ever produced. It was a solid favorite in my area, directly competing with GW for our time and money.

Rackham made the decision to halt its line and go into the pre-painted plastics business, and the game died overnight.

40K or Warhammer, whichever you prefer to play, would last a bit longer, but I’m here to tell you it wouldn’t be by much. Consider the Storm Raven analogy I began this article with. If GW went out of business right after releasing the Blood Angels Codex we’d never see a ‘real’ Storm Raven. This isn’t like role-playing; you gamers out there haven’t shown much inclination to play with the rule set or treat it as your own. Without a central, ‘official’ brain trust constantly refreshing the material, the game would die a slow, agonizing death.

At least Confrontation went quick, and I can use those minis for D&D or something; I’m already anticipating what will happen when GW announces its death knell.

I’d be back to playing with Legos. Worse still, I may have to grow up.

Let’s not have that, shall we? I’m open to suggestions about the future of this hobby, since I haven’t got that far in my (convoluted) thinking, but I for one will accept the price increase with good grace, plan my purchases to stretch my hobby dollar, and prepare to spit on the new Storm Raven kit when it comes out later this.

Feel free to weigh in. If you want to criticize my model, go right ahead; I’ve heard it already!

As always you can read Brent’s pure nerd joy of all things wargaming at Strictly Average! Glad he stopped by so be nice and comment away otherwise he might turn into a sad sad panda.