Imagine the scenario: you are a large scale distributor of a product. For years you have been selling these products globally; you’ve shown a firm hand in dictating how much these products cost in these specific regions. Australia, for example, as an out-of-the-way market with a high cost of living, pays almost double compared to the US.
Then: the internet. A new global marketplace grows rapidly year-on-year. Independent retailers across the US and Europe begin shipping these products to regions like Australia, regions you once controlled with an iron fist. Your grip slips. The genie is out of the bottle. A more savvy consumer base becomes aware of just how badly they’ve been treated. They import from overseas. They buy less locally.
A) Reduce the price of the products in response to a more competitive retail environment, growing your market, embracing the consumers who want to buy and use your products?
B) Do everything within your power to manipulate and control the global market, effectively shuttering the distribution model that helped build your company into the juggernaut it is today.
Games Workshop went with option B.
————– Globally, Games Workshop is probably the most recognisable brand in all of tabletop gaming, but in Australia consumers grow frustrated. Prices are overwhelmingly inflated, Australians pay almost twice what Americans do and that discrepancy has remained in spite of competition from online retailers.
Much like the price of video games, it’s an issue that has refused to disappear, and Games Workshop has decided to take action. But instead of changing its pricing structure, making prices fairer for Australians, its solution has been to close the net on all online sales, meaning that all Games Workshop retail partners can no longer sell products online, only in-store, effectively destroying the online independent Game Workshop market in one fell swoop.
In short: if you want to buy Games Workshop products online, you can only buy them from the corporate Games Workshop website.
“GAMES WORKSHOP believes that its best interests are served by reserving online retail sales of its products in North America to GAMES WORKSHOP’S own corporate website,” reads a new Games Workshop agreement, sent out to independent retailers on March 15.
“North American Retailers are not permitted to sell GAMES WORKSHOP products on any website, webportal, third-party web-portal or other Internet-based platform of any kind.”
In addition, retailers across the globe are now being strong-armed into selling only within their own region in what is essentially a region locking of physical table-top gaming products.
How is this possible? How can this be enforced? Simply put, it can’t. But as per this new agreement, Games Workshop will not deal with retailers unless they follow this new code of conduct. If you, as a retailer, want to buy Games Workshop products at cost price from official distributors you must follow these guidelines. If you don’t, you won’t get the product. Simple as that.
And that’s bad news for Australians who want to pay a fair price for Games Workshop products.
“In Australia it’s the worst I believe. Their prices are close to double what we have here in Canada.”
Matthew Glanfield runs MiniWarGaming, a site and store that works as a community hub for Games Workshop tabletop gaming. It provides information and is home for a massive community of readers interested in Games Workshop products, but as a business 80 per cent of its revenue comes from online sales.
Just under two weeks ago, as a result of the new policies put in place by Games Workshop, Matthew Glanfield announced they would be closing their store. What other choice do they have?
“Rather than trying to fix [price] fluctuations,” he explained, in a YouTube video discussing the closing of the stores, “they decided to not let you sell outside of [them].”
But just how bad are the price fluctuations?
Take The Island of Blood, a package that contains “everything you need to start playing Warhammer”. In the US, on the official Games Workshop site, this package costs $99. In Australia it costs $165. This is a regular discrepancy; in fact, it’s quite generous compared to other products sold. Chaos Space Marines, for example, cost $37.25 in the US, but $62 in Australia. The price difference tends to range from 60 to 90 per cent.
That’s a pretty big discrepancy.
Locally, Games Workshop have been reluctant to talk about the price differential, or discuss the new regulations. When we finally got in touch with someone in Australia we were told they were “too busy” to comment and, even if they did have time, they wouldn’t be able to comment on the price situation. Prices, we were informed, are set in the UK.
But with regards to online sales, Games Workshop’s retailer policy justifies its new rules as an attempt to build upon the customer relationship created by purchasing in brick-and-mortar retail stores. According to Games Workshop, this move is an attempt to stop online retailers from “free-riding on the significant investment made by in-store retailers in promoting the hobby”.
Simply put, Games Workshop is claiming these new changes are, in part, an attempt to protect local retailers, to help support that side of the industry. But, speaking to Australian independent retailers, these changes do not protect their sizeable investment. On the contrary, it undermines it.
———— “When the Aussie dollar got strong things became bad for us. Even with shipping costs it was still cheaper for players to order overseas. Our margins were already shit and now they’re worse.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one local independent retailer told us that new changes put in place by Games Workshop negatively impact business. Over the past three years, sales of Games Workshop products has dwindled, and these new regulations could make things worse.
“Games Workshop see this online sales thing as the solution to problems at retail,” the retailer explained, “but it actually just makes things worse. People don’t say, ‘oh now I’ll have to buy locally’, they just say, ‘I’m not going to buy this product anymore.'”
And this is precisely what’s been happening at retail in Australia over the past few years.
“Games Workshop used to be really good for us,” said the retailer, “but it’s been like this for years now and nothing has changed. Now we don’t sell anything.”
And the reduced sales of Games Workshop product are compounded by the fact that retailers must continually hold a minimum value of product in store if they are to be allowed to buy and sell the product.
“The current margins on Games Workshop products are very low and if we want to sell their products, we have to dedicate a set amount of product and space in our store. And space to a retailer is money.”
It’s strange that instead of embracing a growing market, it appears as though Games Workshop has hit the panic button and is now in the process of putting it in a chokehold. In Australia, at least, that appears to be having a negative impact. The market is changing; that’s indisputable and of course it is the prerogative of Games Workshop to respond to that change, but once again it appears as though the Australian consumer is being asked to bear the brunt of an evolving marketplace and that simply doesn’t seem fair.
Our anonymous retailer agrees.
“There’s an easy solution,” they explained. “Instead of charging us, say, $10 for a product, why not just charge $8. That way we can pass on the saving to consumers.”
Why not indeed?