Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne compares Games Workshop's advance info strategy to Wizards of the Coast's.
Last week's column on the importance of events and the "shock of the new," got me to ruminating about why Dragon's Maze pulled in significantly fewer players than did last year's Avacyn Restored pre-releases, even though Magic: The Gathering sales have increased significantly since Avacyn Restored.  Then it hit me, so I hit myself, right smack across the forehead.   Avacyn Restored, Helvault, duh!  Remember the Helvault and the hype surrounding its opening last year?  Even the trending hashtag on Twitter #IntheHelvault?  This year, the release had the Implicit Maze, with the winning players getting a badge on their Planeswalker page.  Nowhere as cool, or intriguing, as the opportunity to see what lurked inside the Helvault last year.  Curiosity is a major driver of human behavior, just as it is with cats and mice, so if you can keep parts of your event secret, and customers/players know that parts of it are secret, they will come to it out of curiosity.  Wizards of the Coast made all of the details of the Implicit Maze available ahead of time (of course, in fairness, the company had to in order to make sure that tournament organizers knew how to run the event); ergo players were not as intrigued by it as by the Helvault so numbers dropped a bit.
From what I understand or guess, this must be the philosophy behind Games Workshop's desire to keep information about the company's new releases as close to its chest as possible.  The company actively works to keep information about each month's new releases undercover.  Though rumors about upcoming releases and retooling of armies may circulate amongst players and through the Internets, Games Workshop does not release any official information about new releases until about a week and a half before the actual release of the figures.  As I have commented in the past, this withholding of information is supposed to generate excitement and interest among GW players, though generally all I have seen it do is generate frustration and annoyance among retailers, since we do not have accurate, or even any, information about what will release in order to set budgets for purchasing of Games Workshop products (the recent trend towards really limited availability of many GW figures at first release doesn’t help either but that’s a topic for another column).
In fact, the last email sent out by Games Workshop listing new releases for May even told retailers not to post or otherwise disseminate the information contained therein on the upcoming new releases until the Saturday before the release date.  This is really counterproductive, since we, at least, have found very little excitement among players about new figures, while we do not have enough advance notice of new figures to be able to plan events around their release.  When WotC or Konami releases a new set, we know the date and details about it one to three months (or more) ahead of time and can schedule pre-releases, Sneak Peeks (of which there was one this weekend, thanks Konami) or what have you.  We can’t do that with Games Workshop products, since we do not know when, what or how many of anything we should plan on getting until the week of the release.  I will happily take pre-orders on Magic Modern Masters, since we know how many to expect. Games Workshop new releases, not so much.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of