Cutting Through the Static

It’s time for another guest post. This one is brought to you by Ashley, aka @LilThunderLiz who I got to know recording ODAM#4. If it ever airs *pokes Adam*. As she’s a rather clever and articulate sort – something this blog lacks most days – I asked her if she’d write a post. Ever up for a challenge, she took on the topic of the state of communication between Games Workshop and its customers. A brave topic but a good one to talk about. Oh and should you feel so inclined, spare us the fanrage, it won’t get put up.

With any business/customer dynamic, no matter the context, effective communication is a key part of creating and maintaining a good relationship. But with some of the things Games Workshop has been up to lately, I feel that we’re getting left out in the cold. 

With the announcement that GW has closed its HQ Facebook page to utilize their individual store pages for customer interaction, a frothy response ensued. That coupled with (caused by) the “Spots the Space Marine” debacle really left me scratching my head. On one hand, they look like a child sticking their fingers in their ears while simultaneously coming off as school yard bullies.

Shutting down their Facebook page really bothers me a lot more than the “Spots” issue. I liked the content of the HQ page, and I’m much less pleased with each store’s Facebook page, as it is managed by them individually and so they vary widely in content, quality, and relevance to my interests. The HQ page, at least, was consistent in quality and kept me abreast of new releases with photos and links and all those nice things. 

Historically, they’ve not been great about keeping us informed, even with simple release schedules. Now, GW’s not the only company in history to try to keep some mystery about a product *cough*Xbox*cough* but when you’re choosing between two armies, it’s handy to know if one of them is getting new models or book in the next 3-6 months. Rum ors alone are often wrong and the secrecy is not conducive to sustaining a healthy and happy hobbysphere.

As a whole, we clamour for an open and honest dialogue from GW, but when given opportunities to communicate with them, such as their FB page or Twitter account, we tend to abuse it. It’s one thing to voice your opinion and another entirely to do so rudely. When we act like a pack of rabid dogs at each announcement that makes us unhappy, is it really any wonder that they have chosen to shut down the FB page or block Twitter accounts? 

It’s not just the online interaction that lacks, but also the in-store one. I routinely avoid my local GWs unless they have something I can’t find elsewhere. Why? Partially because I’d rather support my local gaming store (and GW makes money either way), but mostly because the experience is usually lengthy and annoying. You know what I’m talking about— the hard sell. This isn’t an experience that you routinely receive at other stores. You don’t walk into a clothing store and have sales persons pressuring you to buy their fanciest jacket.

I popped into my local store to play the Hobbit when it was released. I asked for the demo, but instead I was told how great of a game it is, how nice the miniatures are, and how I definitely want to buy the Very Expensive Box Set. He went on and on before I finally had to stop him and say I’ve already sworn fealty the Emperor—I mean that I’m already a customer—and I don’t need the sales pitch. The whole experience is rather unsatisfying (I never did get that demo game) and it doesn’t make me feel more inclined to spend money there. 

It’s painfully clear that both sides need to learn how to interact with one another, because we’re getting nowhere with the way things stand currently. It’s frustrating as a consumer not having a way to have our voices heard, but it’s also frustrating for the average employee who has to deal with these irate people. It can be hard to remember, but whoever you’re communicating with (through phone, email, Twitter, etc) isn’t the Faceless-Company-Entity but just a person trying to do their job.

Neither side is to blame, but both sides need to take a step back, re-evaluate, and breathe a little. What’s good for business? What’s good for the hobby? What’s good for our blood pressure? Us screaming at them from afar about the way they treat their customer base is no way to invite positive change. Conversely, shutting down communication is an excellent way to anger and alienate your customer base. 

There needs to be a more effective system in place for us to communicate our issues and concerns in a way that makes us feel like we’re being taken seriously. But, we need to communicate our grievances in a respectful way that deserves attention. We have to remember that this is a hobby and we’re here to paint, play games, and have fun and that often gets lost in the angry rabble. We have an unusually close relationship to GW that most companies don’t need to worry about. The relationship you have with the company that made your television isn’t their top priority.

That puts a lot of pressure on GW, but that’s not an excuse to simply fold and call it a day. Shutting down communication is the quickest way to disintegrate good will. Combine that with price hikes and problems with the products (Finecast, typos in books, etc.) and you’ve got a recipe for decline. GW is without a doubt the powerhouse of the miniatures industry, but with so many well-established and up and coming companies out there, they can’t simply keep treating their customers in such a manner and expect them to stick around. 

The things GW did to foster a community in the past was fantastic, but that’s all but dead. With all this negativity, I can’t help but feel that heyday of the hobby has passed. Gone are the days where each year they sponsored several tournaments across the country (in the US) and other events like Games Day. Now the company feels like a greedy bully trying to squeeze every penny and it cares more about getting new players than maintaining their veterans. With a slight shift of their gaze back towards the community, rather than shareholders and profits, everyone would win.

What GW has that no other company can boast is a huge, diverse, and worldwide devoted fanbase. The worlds they created are evocative, the games are solid, and their miniatures are top-notch. The product is what drew us all into the hobby and it’s what keeps us here despite the problems we may have with their business model. There are so many things they do right that we can’t keep getting hung up on the things they do poorly.

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