Playtesting is on the Line for Warhammer 40k 9th Edition
As the trickle of Warhammer 40k 9th edition rules and previews keep coming in, it is becoming more and more clear that the playtesting team have had a greater hand in shaping Warhammer 40k than ever before. Before we talk about playtesters check out my new YouTube video about this week’s Warhammer 40k 9th edition speculation and news. Games Workshop has even gone as far as hiring a member of the playtesting team to become a global events manager as well. We even now have a video of playtesters praising the game they helped to create, with special focus being made on how terrain and missions have been designed.
In the past I have been told by playtesters, that while Games Workshop did a good job of listening, but they would still often disregard suggestions even when consensus said otherwise. As things have progressed and Games Workshop developed the playtesting teams more, it seems at least from the outside that they are taking a lot more of what playtesters have suggested to heart.
Games Workshop I have repeatedly said performed a masterstroke with playtester selection, by initially going for a group of playtesters from large Warhammer 40k communities either event organizers or online personalities. People who could in even minor ways shape opinion for good or bad. By choosing them, Games Workshop was able to shield themselves from criticism, without having to make anything explicit. The also got playtesting for free, as they knew almost any Warhammer 40k fan would be thirsty to help shape the game no matter how minor the contribution. This and along with the Warhammer Community page GW has been able to generate massive amounts of good will, even in the face of consistence price increases and still high levels of secrecy.
So why the sorta hyperbolic title? Well I have seen this story before. It starts with the ever present internal tension Games Workshop has always had; between new and old guard, with the newer guard having taken more and control, ever since the debacle of 6th edition and no the points launch of Age of Sigmar. Before the rise of the new guard though, Games Workshop did have playtesters (Outriders?) up to the late 2000s, but in one day almost without warning they were gone. Those playtesters were sent packing partly because the Warhammer 40k sales had dipped and investing time and energy by the company in them didn’t seem cost effective. The same could happen again today.
It of course all starts with success or failure of Warhammer 40k 9th edition, depending on the response and corresponding sales. This could create an environment where Games Workshop starts to look at where it can place blame. You can see a world where the pandemic fallout creates a Games Workshop sales dip, and where they take measures to correct/cut costs. As the game designers feel more and more pressure to deliver, and the accountants get more involved a situation could develop where someone needs a scapegoat. This is where the playtesters come in, nothing is easier than getting rid of a group of volunteers if they start to become “more trouble” than they are worth.
Especially, since the core of the group are event organizers, who might not have events to run or at the very least scaled back versions. Once Games Workshop’s incentive to keep them on their side is removed, a call for swift corporate action might force the game designers feeling job security pressure to act. As well, any time rules are leaked, Games Workshop thinks this directly affects their bottomline, the playtesters are always the first target of suspicion, with good reason, as a few have been caught in the past. Then we have the “we tired it your way”, and look at what happened! It is just a matter of how Games Workshop values certain types of work, if the game designers are taking too much time dealing with playtesters taking away from other duties, you can see Games Workshop making a simple cost benefit analyst and say it isn’t worth it.
Games Workshop still could go the opposite way and let the community at large be the new testers, with feedback forms and beta testing for everyone, like the beta Sisters rules. We would have the entire community working on the game at once, without Games Workshop having to manager egos or teams. They can keep their secrecy too, by making new kits and units be the only things kept from the community for review. It would also act as a great way to find out what factions and armies people are most into and fanatical about, with feedback and engagement tracking.
Even with all that said, I think the playtesters are pretty safe at the moment from going away, but while we seem to think Games Workshop cares about the community today, for much of the past 20 years they have usually put short term profits ahead of long term sustainability.
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