Ruminations on Intellectual Property: Stranded Worlds

Last week, while writing about how I was playing so many games based on Warhammer Fantasy, I stumbled across the fact that Games Workshop had destroyed the Old World, a setting with over two decades of history and development as a prelude to their new game Age of Sigmar. This fact has been occupying my mind and keeping me up late into the night.

First off, I am neither for, nor against Age of Sigmar here. It certainly has its fans, and some of the ideas within it could prove revolutionary. The mechanics seem weak to me, but I can see how they would appeal to a certain kind of enthusiast.

On the other hand I am deeply offended by the idea that Games Workshop crumpled up a wonderful, deeply developed world just because a competitor knocked Warhammer Fantasy out of the second spot in the list of top ten wargames. I get the need to retool your games lineup when faced with serious competition, especially in a publicly traded company where shareholders have serious performance expectations. That makes sense, even if it may be an unpalatable decision. What I do not get is burning the bridge that got you there. While winding down Warhammer Fantasy for a while may have been a good business decision, even a necessary one, nothing on earth will convince me that the destruction of the Old World setting is a good idea. Let me break that down.

  1. The value of settled IP: The warhammer was and is a valuable piece of intellectual property above and beyond the Warhammer Fantasy game. Books, Background Fluff, Magazine Articles, and Computer Games all contributed greatly to the many editions of the game, gradually turning what was a stock fantasy world into some thing that felt like a living, breathing universe. That kind of IP has incredible value, and harming it by destroying the world just seems senseless.
  2. You don’t need to destroy Warhammer Fantasy or The Old World to create Age of Sigmar: Age of Sigmar is meant to replace Warhammer Fantasy, but there is no real reason that GW can’t just sit on Warhammer Fantasy and promote Age of Sigmar as a different product, instead of a direct replacement. Their goal was not to reinvigorate an old setting, but rather to attract new people to the hobby. Age of Sigmar borrows lore and characters, but really has little to do with the older game. They can easily co-exist.
  3. Even if Warhammer Fantasy is not working, The Old World IP is still very valuable: Even now, while computer game developers and others are in a frenzy making games based on the old world, GW seems to be holding its nose while farming out this valuable IP. So far, that has not hurt, but it is only a matter of time before it is degraded. Put in a fashion that even a biz-dev can grok, the Old World IP is an asset, one which has tremendous potential and value, and it should be treated as such.
  4. A Grimdark Fantasy World with Strong Urban Themes: I wish I had the millions lying around to buy this thing just as computer games and fantasy fiction in general are exploring these themes. While Warhammer Fantasy may or may not have needed shelving, the IP is more relevant than ever.

Currently, I feel that the Old World has a chance of becoming what I am going to call a Stranded World. The IP is still valuable, but that value will decrease over time without new official material and new promotions. The current crop of computer games will offer a short term boost to that IP, but without management and new material that is considered cannon, it will wilt and die. This would be a tragedy, and not just to the players and developers of that world, but to the people who might enjoy experiencing it in new games and novels.

By tossing a valuable IP in the garbage can, Games Workshop management has shown that they are not respectful of the assets that have been created for the company that they run. Age of Sigmar could be a tremendous, smash hit, but ruining the Old World Warhammer Fantasy setting was not necessary and degrades the value of a real, tangible asset that was carefully grown for decades and is still in demand. It is a bad decision all around. You don’t have to burn your bridges to start something new.

PS: Total War Warhammer ended up being the fastest selling Total War game ever, bringing a lot of players to the series. Overall it ended up being pretty stellar, and with a strong modding community (hundreds of mods three weeks after release) it seems to be a good replacement for the lost awesome of the old Warhammer tabletop. See my review.


One comment on “Ruminations on Intellectual Property: Stranded Worlds

  1. […] fact that I feel it carries the banner of GW’s The Old World long after it was ruined in a bizarre business decision. You can read my fawning fanboy review of the base game […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s