30 January 2008

There are no heresies in a dead religion

The much-anticipated Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying game, Dark Heresy, was released on 25 January, 2008, and sold out that very day, preorders exhausting those copies not sent forth to distributors.

Hard on the heels of what virtually any observer must describe as a tremendously successful release, the book's publishers, Black Industries, issued a release three days later, on 28 January, announcing the termination of the entire line following the eventual release in September 2008 of the third supplemental release. To restate, the Dark Heresy game will have a production lifetime of 10 months, and include only the core book and the three supplements, Purge the Unclean, The Inquisitor's Handbook, and Disciples of the Dark Gods. Those suckers -- I mean, devoted fans and worthy customers who purchased the core book may take comfort in the knowledge that:
"For the time being Black Industries will continue to post articles in support of the products on their official website, which is a fantastic resource for scenarios and gaming tools for GM’s and players alike."
It appears that this is not the fault of the sad bastards who actually wrote the game, since Black Industries as a whole is being folded back into its parent, Black Library Publishing, which is, of course, a subsidiary of Games Workshop. Kevin Rountree General Manager of BL Publishing has this to say:
"As a result of the continued and impressive success of our core novels business, which we have built around 40K and Warhammer, we have decided to focus all of our efforts on growing this part of our business. Black Industries has seen fantastic success, most recently with Talisman and Dark Heresy. This change does not take away from that achievement rather it allows BL Publishing to focus on producing the best novels we can. This is a purely commercial decision and will enable us to carry on the huge growth that we have recently been experiencing with our novels."
So, according to our man Kevin, Black Industries is fantastically successful, and, by logical extension, must therefore be closed down so as to improve the production of BL's novel business. Seen in that light, this "purely commercial decision" makes perfect sense.

Naturally, fans are in an uproar. The forum on the subject of the announcement has 26 pages, 500 posts, and almost 42,000 views as of today. Shouts of "Betrayal!" resound, mitigated in part by support for Dave Allen, Mike Mason, and the other staff in light of their perhaps uncertain employment future. The dominant cry, however, is "Why?"

Speculation regarding GW's pacts with the Forces of Darkness aside, the most likely answer is to be found in the hard numbers of Games Workshop's year end financial statement. An operating loss in 2007 of £2.1 million (a significant drop from 2006's £4.2 million profit) suggests that Chairman and CEO Tom Kirby may not have done everything possible to earn his £371,000 of salary and benefits. This is the latest in a series of declining profits over the past years:



operating profit
before taxation
after taxation
Basic (loss)/earnings
per ordinary share

(Coincidentally, the third Lord of the Rings movie, Return of the King, was released December, 2003)

So, in fact, this announcement may not be just another kick in the teeth. Instead, it may be, as Kevin Rountree says, "a purely commercial decision", intended to tie a tourniquet around the limb of a company that is bleeding capital in an especially messy fashion.


Games workshop has negotiated a deal with Fantasy Flight Games to distribute all of GW's board games, collectible card games, and role playing games. This move, virtually unprecedented for GW, is incredible news for everyone who has loyally supported these lines, and should mean the continued support of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Dark Heresy, and Talisman. More info here. This is an interesting move for GW, especially since they are in direct competition with Fantasy Flight in the miniature wargame market; FFG is the North American distributor for Rackham's Confrontation and AT-43 lines, both now pre-painted. The long term implications for this new arrangement should prove interesting to observe.

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