Inspiration comes from the weirdest of places.
I'm currently reading E.J. Hobsbawm's Age of Capital. Voluntarily.
Anyway, one part sparked a line of thought that I thought I'd share. This will not be one of my brilliantly thought-through posts. It will be at the caffeinated-squirrel end of the scale.
You have been warned.
Games Workshop and Privateer Press are very different companies (or at least so it would seem). They have different structures, business models and design philosophies. This could be because of many different factors, from their country of origin, the personalities of their driving members, or the way they are run.
Partly, though, it's because the gaming industry is a little bit like the banking sector of the 1850's and -60's.
So, banks (especially in Europe) were old things. They had money, and sought to make more of it by lending it. What those borrowing did with the money didn't really concern the banks, as long as they got their money back. However, as the industrial sector grew, it needed to borrow increasingly large sums of money, and eventually a few bright sparks decided that the old banks weren't really the right kinds of banks to help developing the industry, and started their own.
The old banks had the money, and the work that money did was secondary. The new banks looked at the work that needed to be done, and gathered the money to make it happen. Basically...
So, how does this relate to our favourite gaming giants?
Well, GW is the old banks. See, as money is the core of the banking industry, so miniatures are the core of the (minaiture) gaming industry (duh).
GW started out with the minis. Sure, they had a game in mind, but that game didn't really need the minis. So GW started with the minis. And then they figured it would be fun to have a game people could play with their miniature soldiers (or they wanted to sell more minis, who knows?). For a long time, they were more or less alone in the market, and they basically kept working the same way; the games were a way to contextualize, use, and - yes - sell their miniatures. They still are.
Privateer came very much later. They are the new banks, in a sense. See, Privateer started with the notion of a game (it seems; I have no actual evidence beyond conjecture taht this is actually the case), and created minis to play it with. Many of their first minis were crap. Yes, many of GW's early minis were also crap, but you must take into account how far miniatures making had come when Privateer started up. There are still many Privateer models I'm not happy with, while GW keep a rather high lowest level.
The one place where this difference in origins becomes most obvious, however, is when you compare GW's 'Most Important Rule' with Privateer's 'Page 5'. One set of games has as its stated purpose to be a relaxed way of spending a few hours, the other takes as its goal to provide a strategic competition between generals.
Which one's better? I don't know. But I will tell you that I can play Privateer games relaxedly, but the move by GW (and, seemingly independently, by their games) towards a more competitive arena has, at least temporarily, put me off their games. What that means, I don't know.
So, that's that, and I might be able to stop obsessing over how Games Workshop is a mid-nineteenth century German banker...