Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the past year, you know that Fantasy Flight’s parent, Asmodee, has been gobbling up game companies. Indeed, we blogged about here. Asmodee’s play seems similar to Hasbro’s play in the 80’s and 90’s. Because of Asmodee’s aggressive new strategy, it was only a matter of time before the gaming world really began to quake. Another tremor in the game world was felt recently. The news from earlier this month about Games Workshop breaking off its relationship with Fantasy Flight Games was heartbreaking but not completely unexpected. This post will look at not just what happened but also offer an opinion as to why it happened.
Games Workshop Group PLC (London, UK) has several highly popular IP’s including their Warhammer fantasy and Warhammer 40K line of games. Game Workshop is noted for their miniatures which are high in detail, quality and price. Founded in 1975, Games Workshop has reinvented itself many times over the years–many times to the dismay of its customer base.
Fantasy Flight Games (Roseville, MN) was founded in America’s great white north in 1995. FFG is known for their unapologetic deluge of Ameritrash style games coupled with the highest quality art and components in board games. Fantasy Flight’s line of games have included Twilight Imperium, Tide of Iron and a slue of Star Wars games.
In 2009, Games Workshop was looking to have a 3rd party make board games using their intellectual properties. Games Workshop had “leased out” their IP’s before with varying degrees of success–mostly in the realm of electronic gaming.
Fantasy Flight Games seemed like a strong candidate. FFG had a track record of making good games both in terms of game play and component quality. The partnership was borne. This partnership took on two forms: new games set in the worlds of Games Workshop or updating old GW games.
Fantasy Flight released new games like Chaos in the Old World, The Horus Heresy and Forbidden Stars. FFG also polished GW’s old games like Fury of Dracula and Talisman. In all, FFG released 19 games under this coop.
On September 9th, Fantasy Flight Games published a press release. FFG expresses a deep gratitude towards Games Workshop but their “current licensing term is coming to an end”. The termination of said licensing shall take place on February 28, 2017.
Fantasy Flight states in the press release they will no longer support any IP owned by Games Workshop after that date. The press release goes into some gory details about upcoming game releases that are scheduled to be published only to go unsupported by FFG shortly thereafter. Games in the pipeline at this point suggests the “current licensing term coming to an end” was something that caught FFG by surprise. And if it caught FFG by surprise, it was therefore initiated by Games Workshop.
There are likely many reasons for the pending divorce between Games Workshop and Fantasy Flight Games. I was not invited to any of the board room meetings in London or Roseville–this despite my impressive credentials and glowing references. I will offer several reasons why I think the divorce took place. I will revisit this topic in another blog post if either party divulges the real reasons.
Why 1: FFG loves Star Wars more than Space Marines
Since Disney bought Star Wars from George Lucas, they’ve been doing everything they can to get returns on their investment. Since the investment cost $4 billion dollars, it might take some creativity on Disney’s part to make money before Mickey Mouse turns 100.
Disney yanked some licenses from Hasbro and gave them to FFG. FFG has spent a lot of resources designing and supporting Star Wars based games. X-Wing, Star Wars LCG, Star Wars Armada and the new Star Wars RPG just to name a few. Hasbro took the Star Wars license for granted and didn’t publish many games with it–approximately zero games that are any good. The transfer to Fantasy Flight was the right move for FFG, for Disney and for gamers.
But not for Games Workshop
Games Workshop is a jealous overlord. GW has forbidden websites like board game geek from publishing fan-based supplements to GW games. Games Workshop publishes more cease and desist orders than it publishes games. Since Games Workshop already has a space milieu for Fantasy Flight to design games in, the new emphasis on Star Wars was probably noted and frowned upon. Resources spent on Star Wars are resources that could be spent on Space Marines. The Emperor shall not tolerate this!
Why 2: FFG becomes a competitor of GW
Games Workshop had been happy with the arrangement of Fantasy Flight making board games while still keeping miniature wargaming in-house. Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Warhammer 40K are Games Workshop’s bread and butter. These miniature games are a hobby unto themselves, both in terms of time required to paint them and the money necessary to buy them.
In early August, Fantasy Flight announced they would be releasing a fantasy based wargame in their popular Runewars universe. Runewars the Miniatures Game is a full fledged wargame, unlike its cousin Battlelore (which is largely a board game). Runewars the Miniatures Game will encourage players to paint their figures and to build their own terrain.
And that represents direct competition to GW’s Warhammer Fantasy Battles.
GW also had a spaceship minis game called Battlefleet Gothic. Now that FFG is making Star Wars ships for X-Wing and for Star Wars Armada, we again see direct competition. Fantasy Flight is already making Star Wars miniatures for Imperial Assault. Repurpose these figures and you will have something that will directly compete with Warhammer 40K.
Why 3: Games Workshop wants to make board games themselves
Board games are as popular as ever. And Games Workshop wants to bring the design and support of board games back in-house. GW has announced many ambitious games for 2016 and 2017. The stunning Warhammer Quest Silver Tower is but one example. Other games are Gorechosen and Deathwatch: Overkill.
WH Silver Quest is a direct competitor for games like FFG’s Descent or Runebound. The other games are general competitors with FFG since gamers have limited budgets.
Why #4: Asmodee
The 900 pound gorilla in the room is Asmodee. What effect they had on this divorce is not obvious. But I can’t help but think that Asmodee’s direction differs rather drastically from Games Workshop.
Both Asmodee and Games Workshop are concerned about the bottom line. But their visions are completely different. While Games Workshop has been mining its own IP’s, uninterested in acquiring new IP’s. Asmodee, on the other hand, has been gobbling up everything that’s for sale.
GW considers new miniature wargames to be their competition. Asmodee, on the other hand, considers Hasbro, Mattel and Lego to be their competition. The two companies do not align.
The real reasons for the divorce are probably all the above plus several other reasons that outsiders are not privy to. It’s a sad end to an otherwise fruitful relationship. GW and FFG gave us many great games. We have to trust their leadership that this is what is best for them…
…and hope their new competition with each other will spurn even better games.
-Chris, on behalf of the Muskegon Area Gamers