Well, is it? This is a interesting question for me as I am a big fan of WHFB and have played it since I started wargaming as a hobby, and I have enjoyed it for as long. There seems to be a persistent view online that WHFB is a dead game with a declining player base and sales are far below that of 40k.In other words it has become a dead weight for GW. The people who make this argument base it on 3 key points
1: On the forums the WHFB sections is less active than the 40k section 2: Their local gaming scene has less WHFB players than 40k players 3: GW gives more time to 40k than WHFB
As you can see there is no solid evidence in that list, and before accusations of me Straw manning the argument start to fly my way these really are the 3 main points that keep coming back up in these debates when I have them with people online, they never cite solid evidence like sales figures, they never quote GW Store Managers saying that WHFB is a dead game whose sales are awfully low.
My issue with the idea that WHFB is a dying game and is a dead weight for GW is that there is no solid evidence presented to back up this claim. I like WHFB, I have played it for 10 years and still rate it as my top wargame so when people tell me that is a failure for GW and that is dying and should be dropped I want to see more than speculation and assumptions backing that claim up.
However my interest in this issue extends beyond my opposition to the idea of WHFB as a dying game. I genuinely want to know if WHFB is a dying game, is it a failure for GW and is it a dead weight? To get to the bottom of this I contacted friends, online retailers as well as GW itself to get their perspective on the issue.
Starting off I contacted a Friend who was a EX GW staff member, this is what he had to say: “…. the big thing with Fantasy is that the fans are steadfast and in bigger cities tend to have larger communities. I asked my friend who is still a GW manager who says that it still sells well but is not what 40K is right now. So honestly, I doubt that they will dump a lot more into fantasy in the next few years, but they certainly won't drop it like the Specialist games.”
That is basically the answer I expected, no it’s not as popular as 40k but it still sells well and won’t be dropped which is basically the same as my views on the popularity of WHFB.
Next up I contacted online 3rd party retailers of WHFB for their view. I contacted Mighty Ape (one of NZs bigger online sellers of just about everything, their relevance here is that they sell GW product at a discount, usually have stock and have good fast delivery making them one of the more popular 3rd party GW vendors) and Wayland Games (a large online wargaming retailer in the UK).
In the interest of full disclosure this is what I sent to those 2 companies:
I have a quick question regarding Warhammer Fantasy Sales and the popularity of Warhammer Fantasy from your perspective. It is often said that Warhammer Fantasy is a dying/dead game and that it is a “Dead Weight” for Games Workshop. From your perspective would you say that the above is true?
Thank you for your time
Wayland responded first and this is what they had to say
We do still have many customers placing orders for Warhammer Fantasy.
Warhammer fantasy is not as popular as Warhammer 40,000, nor will it ever be however it is still a viable range.
Once again that’s roughly what I suspected, WHFB is still selling well but 40k is more popular.
Next up GW itself responded to me with this:
Thanks for the Email. Warhammer Fantasy is actually stronger then ever before at this time, with all the new release for our End Times product this has created more popularity then ever. Thanks again for the email, and if you have any other questions please contact us again.
I sent my question to their Australia customer service desk and got this response. Its pretty positive but short. Just a quick point, here they are referring to WHFBs success right now as opposed to in general. Before the End Times we got the Wood Elves for WHFB and while I am biased about this I did see a lot of excitement for the Wood Elf release.
Finally we have the response from Mighty Ape:
Thanks for your enquiry. Unfortunately as that is a rather commercially sensitive question it is a little hard for me to answer specifically. While Warhammer Fantasy is smaller than Warhammer 40,000 it is an integral part in our Games Workshop and Tabletop gaming category. The releases over the past year have been very popular and the End Times releases in particular have caused a lot of interest and excitement, along with some trepidation within the veteran player base.
I was surprised that I only got this type of response once and I was expecting it more often given the nature of my question. Basically they are backing up what I got from GW, that the End Times are very popular, but I get the hint that WHFB sales for Mighty Ape are good given that it is “a integral part in our Games Workshop and Tabletop gaming category” however that is only my interpretation of what the response meant and may not be the actual meaning.
So we have 4 responses, 2 of which are either from GW or Ex/Current GW staff members and 2 from major 3rd part retailers saying that WHFB has decent sales. The feeling I am getting is that WHFB is not dying, that sales are steady and while its not as popular as 40k its still popular enough to generate good sales. For course for me this good news, it reassures me that WHFB isn’t going anywhere and is still a popular game.
There are a few issues with what I have done here, it could be that Wayland Games and Mighty Ape have higher than usual WHFB sales, that the GW response was hiding the truth and that my friend’s experiences with GW are not respective of the majority of similar experiences. While those are all valid issues I feel that the 3rd part retailer I selected where big enough that they could not be considered unusual, both are quite big online retailers and are not small time hobby stores so I feel that their responses are relevant due to their size and the amount of business they get. The area where my Friend used to work isn’t a small backwater town in the middle of nowhere and is a decent sized city, the same goes for the GW store manager he spoke to. As for the GW response, I have no reason to believe they are being deceptive with their response, the End Times has seemed to sell really well and hopefully those good sales ca carry on over into 9th Edition, perhaps that’s why GW did the End Times in the first place.
At the end of day this has settled the augment for me, in my mind WHFB is a reasonably popular game with steady sales that isn’t a “Dead Weight” that GW will drop at any moment, and until people who think that WHFB is a unpopular dying game come up with more evidence than speculation and assumptions I am unlikely to change my mind. Until next time.
Over night i had a rather long and deatiled by Andy, a Ex GW Store Manager. I have re posted it here.
So as an ex GW manger myself (was with the company for 6 years) and have
been into GW since I was 8 (I'm 32 now...) and started with WHFB, these
are my opinions. Of course nothing is fact here.
- From a
retail perspective, WHFB can and does do well financially. Since it was
my favorite game, I was biased and I gave it TONS of support in my
store. In fact, I had built up the largest WHFB base in my entire cell.
This was about 12 years ago mind you so I'm sure times have changed.
But the point here is that as a retailer of WHFB, you have to put in
tons of time and energy to make it work. And when you get that momentum
going, it does well. It is my opinion that a lot of retail owners see
40k as their strongest line so naturally they put more attention to it.
Looking at sales #'s that makes sense. However for me, I left 40k
alone for the most part (aside from my weekly 40k themed game nights)
because it does not require a lot of effort on my end to sell it. It
sells naturally and is an immediate draw to the younger audience. I had
developed robust WHFB campaigns which increased points as the campaign
progressed. Allowed you to have different point sized armies to the
game and offered up some great tactical choices on the map to entice
more and more people to come into the shop and make their moves. The
battles were excited and the stakes were high. We made custom terrain
to support what had happened in the campaign battles and it was tons of
fun. For a while there my 40k sales and my WHFB sales were neck and
neck. And that’s after putting in tons of time and energy in making
WHFB battle work while putting in minimal effort in making 40k work.
Let's look at the ever popular price argument. For the most part, a
2,000 point WHFB army is going to cost you more than a 2,000 point 40k
army. So there is your first hurdle to overcome. The models are the
best in the world, and even though I'm currently playing another
companies wargame, I still support this. Other companies come close,
but the quality of the materials used and the sculpts are top notch and I
think few will argue that. But with that of course comes a large price
tag. It's hard to convince little Timmy's mom that she needs to shell
out $1,000 to get him started. As such, I identified that and supported
small scale battles and created fun house rules for skirmish sized WHFB
games. I really focused on "Buy a unit, paint the unit, play the game"
type mentality so it was not as daunting. When I sold to parents, I
tried to get their general requirements such as; buy the general, and
two regiment boxes, and let's have your child come back in the shop so
we can help him/her paint them up and get them on the tabletop. That
approach was effective because it keeps the player excited on all levels
of the hobby, from hobbying to gaming. But again, we come to time and
effort that I don’t see a lot of retailer putting out.
- Let's discuss rules. I have not seen, played, or even watched a WHFB
game with the current rule set. The general opinion of people who I
talk to say it has become "herohammer" again. It's funny how this term
has gone back and forth over the last 24 years I've been playing. When I
started back in 1991 it really was Herohammer. Get your best hero,
load him up with magic cards and send him on his way to crush all. Then
it slowly started to become a tactical wargame with large units and
leaders to command them. Then it started to slowly creep back to
herohammer. Is this bad? I don't know. Personally, I love the idea of
my leaders in the back commanding large blocks of troops. But I'm a
history buff and I played WHFB as a history buff. But other people love
the idea of having their unstoppable leader carving their way through
tons of models. I guess no matter which direction you go, someone is
not going to be on board and will immediately throw their hands up in
the air and say "Well I guess Warhammer is a dead game now. Thanks GW!"
I believe (and I'm really just saying this out of what I've heard so I
could be completely wrong) that WHFB has become a game of mighty
heroes and GW has changed the rules so the game flows faster and you
don't get bogged down in wheeling troops and difficult movement rules. I
think they may try and make it similar to 40k in the sense of game
flow. I personally don't like this as I enjoyed the difficult movement
rules and tactical advantages that would offer someone who was good at
said rules. However that is a hard sell to the younger audience. I can
tell you from a business point of view, it's better to have little
Timmy join the hobby and buy his entire army/ paints/ gaming supplies,
then it is for salty Frank to come in the shop and buy one model a year.
I know that's hard to read since we're all a bunch of salty bastards
but that's how the business views their approach. Financially it makes
In conclusion... is WHFB dead? I don't think so. I
think it will continue to evolve in a way that meets the company’s
financial goals first. I think they will continue to mold it and tweak
it until they find a good balance of what sells and what is fun to play.
Do I think they will take it off the wall? No. Not at all. It is my
opinion that WHFB will always be their staple fantasy game. It would
be daft for them to just be a sci-fi company because some people would
rather play with dragons than tanks.
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