My Thoughts on the Removal of Order Models from the Range
My Rider of the bright eyes, What happened you yesterday?
I thought you in my heart,
When I bought you your fine clothes,
A man the world could not slay.— Dark Eileen O’Connell, 1773.
It doesn’t feel great, does it?
Many people were sad to see large swathes of the Order range culled in anticipation of the forthcoming Cities of Sigmar book. Were these reactions reasonable, and what lessons could we as a community, as well as GW, learn from this episode?
Why it was done
Let’s start off by getting realistic. GW cannot be expected to continue to stock, sell and support every model they have ever made, forever. Hopefully spelling it out like that makes it apparent just how unrealistic an expectation that would be.
Having worked in manufacturing industries for most of my professional life, in my opinion the biggest factor here is SKUs (Stock Keeping Units). Having more SKUs becomes exponentially more expensive the more you have – in terms of warehousing costs, shelf space and so on. Your economies of scale are shattered and it’s the first thing any logistics manager looking to make an impact in a new job will review.
Quite simply, if we want the game to keep moving forward, something has to drop off at the back end to facilitate that. And believe me – we do want the game to keep moving forward. If you stagnate, you die – let’s look at Netrunner for just one recent example. Without new releases – which ultimately means the removal of old releases – the meta calcifies and the game whithers in no time.
So what’s the problem then?
Fundamentally I think most people do understand and accept that miniatures have a life cycle, even if they haven’t thought about it explicitly in those terms.
So why was there such a big negative reaction over the weekend?
There will always be a negative reaction
People care about this shit. It matters to them. These little plastic armies have memories and moments that matter to us – and we put a lot of time into painting them. It matters.
And yes, some people are whiners. Their actual hobby is whining about The Hobby. But that doesn’t mean that the majority of people who were affected last weekend weren’t legitimately upset – dismissing them all as whiners is cheap, mean-spirited and incorrect.
What can the community learn from it?
We need to understand that it has to happen
So first and foremost, as a community I think we need to accept that change isn’t just inevitable – it is essential. That can be easier said than done when that’s your army being affected, but it genuinely is good for everyone in the longer run. Change keeps the game alive. It has to happen, and it will happen again.
Let’s show some empathy
But secondly, I think it’s important to show empathy to your follow #Warmongers when their army takes a kicking. There’s nothing clever about poking someone to get a reaction, and always remember, that could be you next time.
A sub theme of this runs along the lines of “Look, I collected some of those minis too…and I don’t care, so you shouldn’t either”. But how about instead of antagonising someone who is shaken up by it – take a moment to reflect on why the other person is more upset about it than you are. Maybe they’ve spent the time painting it to a high standard, even if that wouldn’t be a high standard for you. It’s the love and the hours that they’re mourning.
Maybe you have other armies ready to go that you can move on to, and they can’t afford to hop around as much.
Maybe it’s an old army to you (been sitting on your shelf for years), but a new army to them – they could have been halfway through buying it when they pulled the pin! I’ll come back to this below.
And maybe you’ve even reacted similarly in the past yourself – it’s great that you’re able to roll with the punches now, but “Just get over it” isn’t a helpful or constructive message to bring people along to where you’re already at.
People just need the arm around the shoulder, not sand kicked in their face.
I believe that a sympathetic ear is what most people are looking for – they will move on quicker than they think if you help them get there.
Offer people a ladder to climb down
If you’ve got a friend who was seriously wound up by this – help them out of a hole. They will want to keep up the hobby, want to keep up the friendship, and want to keep using the rest of their collections.
Don’t make it about who was right or wrong in the way they reacted – you can help out constructively, for example by suggesting alternative uses for some of the models. “That old Hero would make a really unique Leader for XYZ unit, I would be cool with you using him for that when you play against me”. In my case, I still use Grom the Paunch as a Loonboss, and the people who do recognise him generally think it’s cool.
Lessons for GW
It’s fair to say that the reaction was pretty lively to this one. Even if very few players will actually walk away from The Hobby over this, it’s not in GW’s interests to squander any part of the tremendous goodwill that has been hard-earned from the “New GW” approach.
So given that by necessity some models (or whole armies) will need to be retired again in future, how could it be approached differently?
Communication is King
Probably the most common complaint was “I don’t like the way it was communicated”. Let’s be honest, in some cases, that’s probably just something to hang your hat on, because it sounds inherently more reasonable and harder to refute than “I’m pissed off that my army got squatted”.
Regardless, the fact that some people will always find a reason to complain does not in itself prove that your communication was actually good. Let’s be honest – it wasn’t.
How could the communication have been better?
- Enough with the patronising Community posts. “A handful of units” was the meme of the week and it was basically “Deadly as ever” all over again. You are insulting people’s intelligence, and they will call bullshit on that, every time.
- Make it clear that what is gone, is gone. So many people were (and still are) speculating about what is gone-gone, what is being reboxed, what is being replaced by a new model, etc. It’s cruel to leave that glimmer of hope when there is none.
- Give them the send off they deserve. Let’s have a Community article celebrating them. Let’s have your key Social Media accounts promoting conversations about what people’s greatest memories were. Pretending it’s not happening doesn’t mean you are controlling the narrative, it means you are ducking it.
Collateral Damage: Give things a new home where possible
I think it’s important to note the knock-on effect that removing models from the range can have. For example in the case of Gitmob Grots, that has left Mixed Destruction on wafer-thin ice. Remove Greenskinz next year and it’s pretty much dead. Does that matter, in an era where every remaining Allegiance will have a Battletome?
It does if you’ve just shelled out $220 on a Magma Dragon that cannot be used anywhere else in Matched Play! These units are too big for a 400-point Allies slot, so I’m just hoping that things like him and the Dread Maw are given a useable keyword (like the Troggoth Hag and Bonegrinder Gargant were with Gloomspite).
Similarly, you may not have noticed that several Ogor models were all but deleted from the range a week or two back – there was certainly nobody in my Twitter feed raging that their Finecast Tyrants were going to get the elbow. Why? Because it was a replacement, not a straight-up deletion. Sure, you can continue to use your old Tyrant model…but why would you want to, when you’ve got this amazing new model available?
It was a similar story for Loonsmasha Fanatics, and plastic Squigs. The new ones look so much better than the old, that people will upgrade anyway – you don’t need to delete them, the market will take care of that for you. People will upgrade of their own free will, and might even think you’re doing them a favour.
It won’t always be possible, but I think it’s a smart play to offer people a Plan B where you can. It softens the blow in the short term, and long term most of them will upgrade anyway.
I actually think Cities of Sigmar will prove to be great for this – once the book comes out, people will realise they can use a lot of their models as units of dwarf / elf-themed “Warriors”, and they will get a new lease of life.
Pathway to Obsolescence
When a similar thing happened to my Gitmob army, the main thing that got my back up was the timing of it. These guys had been proactively promoted 18 months earlier as one of the main reasons we actually have Allies in the game:
Gitmob (as part of The Savage Tribes) were also featured in the Core Book less than a year earlier. On the other hand, it’s also true to say that these sculpts were pretty old, and we got a heap of new Gloomspite releases at the same time. Removing old Gitmob to make way for new Squigs and Troggoths is not unreasonable. But when you buy an army in November 2018, and it is silently deleted from the range in January 2019, it does leave a funny taste.
Many of these sculpts were undeniably old, but a kit that just landed on someone’s hobby table is not old to that person, who has only recently bought it in good faith. To that person, it’s not an army they have had years of use out of – it’s their brand new toy.
So the question becomes – if we’re removing old models, what is old? By the yardstick of the Sky Cutter (lifespan: 2013 -2019), we should be expecting to see Liberators and Judicators deleted from the range in 2 years’ time!
With any declining product line, there will always be someone who has just bought it…How then can we prevent people getting their fingers burned in this manner, and feeling like they’ve had their pockets picked?
My proposal is to establish a pathway to obsolescence.
People should be able to expect that a unit will have a year of Matched Play support after they’ve bought it, give or take. Yes, you can still use things in Legends…but we’re all grown ups here. We know what being removed from Matched Play means.
The good news is, that’s essentially what these Order units have been given (in a way that Gitmob were not). Because the most recent General’s Handbook has only just dropped, and they have points up until the next one, you have a year’s grace to use these guys and give them the send-off they deserve.
(People smarter than I have argued over whether they will remain useable until the next General’s Handbook, but in practice I think it’s a safe assumption that TOs will allow it regardless).
And just as importantly – perhaps moreso – nobody has been put in the position that they have just bought something literally days before it was yanked away. By the time they are removed from Matched Play, they will be at least kinda old for everyone who owns them – or at least not brand new – and you can’t say fairer than that, in my opinion.
Consistency is Key
At this point I am wondering what is the point of Compendium. Is it meant to be part of Matched Play, or not? Why do we need it, when everything can either be in a Battletome or shunted off to Legends?
How come Gitmob bypassed Compendium entirely, and were just deleted from the game completely (the only time that’s happened)? And when some units were made Compendium, only to be removed from that a few days later in the Errata, it kinda looks like you don’t know what you’re doing.
I would certainly be very cautious about bringing things back from Compendium after languishing there for years, as happened with Tomb Kings. All that is teaching your customer base is that they should refuse to let go, and bang the drum for their missing units or armies at every opportunity.
Currently there is no consistency about how products move through their Matched Play life cycle, which can make people nervous and erode their confidence in the product and the company. Let’s make a plan and stick to it, then we all know where we stand.
Thanks for reading the article, and I hope it’s given you some food for thought – feel free to agree, disagree or tell me I’m an idiot in the comments.
My main hope for anyone to get out of this article would be that if one of your friends, or even a stranger on Social Media has their army squatted, you will help them to keep their chin up rather kicking them when they’re down. AOS has a reputation for being the best community of wargamers in the world, so let’s all do our bit to live up to that.
If anyone from GW reads this, I hope you would consider the way these moves were communicated, which I’m sure was on your agenda already. I would also hope we can work towards some kind of coherent vision for the life cycle of a product.
And I hope that if you are one of the people whose armies have been removed from the game, you will be able to come to terms with why it was required for the long term health of the game, and you can focus on the good memories those units and armies gave you.
And most of all I hope for all of you that Cities of Sigmar is a roaring success, and gives you a lot of great new memories to forge and stories to tell, both with the rest of the models in your collection and anything new you add.