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Games Workshop Forbids Warhammer Fan Films 251

EikeHein writes "Made by dozens of fans over a period of several years and featuring impressive special effects, the feature-length Warhammer 40.000 epic DAMNATUS ranks among the most elaborate fan productions ever made — and yet may never see the light of day. Despite initially giving a go-ahead to the project, UK-based Warhammer franchise owner Games Workshop has come around to forbid distribution of the film just as it was being readied for release. What's more, they've amended their IP Policy to forbid any such projects in the future. At the heart of the matter appears to be Continental European copyright law, which grants the German film makers certain irrevocable rights to their creation which they cannot sign away. Given that the owners of the other two SF mega-franchises, Star Trek and Star Wars, have been able to come to terms with such issues and arguably benefit greatly from the media attention paid to popular fan productions, it would seem that Games Workshop still has to learn a thing or two about how to capture fan enthusiasm for their benefit."
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Games Workshop Forbids Warhammer Fan Films

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  • Preposterous (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Control Group ( 105494 ) * on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @02:20PM (#19828193) Homepage
    Well, congrats to GW for taking my general disinterest for their products and elevating it to actual dislike of their organization.

    Ignoring my personal purchasing decisions, though, this is still stupid. I mean, it's not like Games Workshop actually sells games. They sell miniatures. They encourage purchase of the miniatures with something like a game structure (so it's a little more advanced than playing with toy soldiers...but not much more advanced than the games I invented for my various little figures when I was 10. Except for Blood Bowl, of course. That game is two shots of high-proof awesome.) that requires you to buy more miniatures if you want to play by the rules and an (admittedly) pretty compelling universe to set your encounters in.

    I would, in fact, make the case that the universe is more important to their income than the "games" are. I know plenty of people who play Warhammer with pretty major departures from the rules, but I don't know anyone who plays Warhammer without Orcs.

    So when presented with an opportunity to, at no cost, generate fan excitement and greater exposure, you'd think the smart thing to do would be to run with it as far as possible. Squelching it - moreover, squelching it in a way that makes you look like a bully, an ingrate, and general underdog-trampler - would seem to be the worst thing you could do.

    I mean, aside from kicking puppies and smogging out rainbows.

    (As an aside: the bright spot in all this is, should some miracle of rationality prevail, and GW manage to figure out that blocking this is a bad move, it should generate plenty of publicity for the project)
  • by ArchAngelQ ( 35053 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @02:29PM (#19828317) Homepage Journal
    They've done a lot to undermine their fans for years. That they are now buggering this up surprises me not at all.

    They have many creative individuals working for them that I respect, but as a company, they have basically sucked to be a fan of for YEARS.

    And really, their background material is largely 'borrowed' from other fantasy and sci-fi sources anyway, so that they should be so very protective, when the movie will just bring them more exposure and act as a huge advert for them, seems utterly ridiculous.
  • by lena_10326 ( 1100441 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @02:34PM (#19828391) Homepage
    ....for fans to submit work? Videos/art/themes/scripts/mods/etc.

    GW gets the credit and any revenue generated; fans get to be creative.

    If I was their CEO, that's the way I'd do it.

  • Re:Preposterous (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Phanatic1a ( 413374 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @02:47PM (#19828539)

    I would, in fact, make the case that the universe is more important to their income than the "games" are. I know plenty of people who play Warhammer with pretty major departures from the rules, but I don't know anyone who plays Warhammer without Orcs.

    And the ironic part is that the Orcs are what aren't necessary to play the game. They make (relatively) inexpensive rulebooks and horrifically expensive miniatures. It would be entirely possible to play the game by buying the inexpensive rulebooks and using a bunch of scraps of paper with "Orc" written on them in crayon in lieu of the expensive orc miniatures. But as you said, nobody does that.

    They're an an enviable position of having valuable IP that's *hard to reproduce*. But they still end up being dicks over it.
  • Hey (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Ren.Tamek ( 898017 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @02:59PM (#19828675) Homepage
    Hey! These guys are masters of business here, they've been in charge of the miniatures market in the west for 25 years, they know what's best for their business, even if it seems like it might not be in the fans best interest. I heard they once pumped thousands in development costs some some crappy RTS, and then had the forethought to ditch the company before the whole money sucking company before it they released it and it went under. Good thing they jumped off that sinking ship, lemme tell you...
  • by 3chuck3 ( 512455 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @03:02PM (#19828705)
    And Tryranids and Necrons...
  • by alexgieg ( 948359 ) <alexgieg@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @03:28PM (#19829025) Homepage
    An e-mail I just sent to Games Workshop Customer Service [mailto]:

    Dear Sir,

    Over the last months, since I discovered about the Warhammer 40,000 franchise, I had read many positive reviews on what seems to be a really nice fictional universe with some pretty good games based on it.

    However, after reading today's Slashdot article (link below) on how Games Workshop is bullying the producers of a German fan movie based on the Warhammer 40,000 universe, I must confess your misguided approach to the situation caused my interest to drop into nothingness.

    Link to the Slashdot article:
    http://games.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/07/11/ 1536240 [slashdot.org]
    (I advise you to read both the article and the community comments below it.)

    Thus, I'm sad to inform you that, effective today, I'm not only utterly uninterested on your games, but actively boycotting each, every and all products based on each, every and all pieces of Games Workshop intellectual property. I'm also advising all my contacts (those who play games and video-games, and those who read fantasy and sci-fi to do the same.

    The moment you drop your bullying tactics towards fans is the moment I'll think about becoming one. Before that, sorry, but it's too risky.

    In the meantime, I hope you take the backlash on your decision wisely, for your PR and legal departments certainly don't seem to understand how the fan/producers relationship is developed and maintained in the new world of 21st century Internet. The geometric progression you'll experience on this matter in the following days will surely be instructive, provided your management shows some willingness to learn from it.

    Farewell, and good luck.


    Alexander Gieg
    Sao Paulo, Brazil

  • A Lesson Learned (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tentac1e ( 62936 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @03:36PM (#19829115) Journal

    The links don't provide any details on what "go ahead" means, and there was no link to this copyright law they are talking about, so maybe I'm wrong. But it looks like these people spent years on a project without getting any clearance in writing. It sucks you had an unwritten agreement, but this will teach you to do your research.

    A few months ago, I was in a short that went through the process of clearing the rights to a song by The White Stripes. The director contacted their management, who took a look at the film and a few weeks later sent a contract (signed by Jack White) licensing the song. They didn't charge us a cent, but stipulations include not distributing the film commercially. Was it annoying jumping through legal hoops for one song? Yes, but that's how copyright law works, and that's how real filmmakers make films.

    You can either get written clearance before starting the project, accept that your film can be yanked at any time, or take the road of greatest artistic integrity and create original source material.

  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @04:02PM (#19829417)
    On one hand, I know the law-weasels need to defend the IP to prevent someone else from coming along later and saying they have a right to it since nobody else was speaking up for it. It is an unpleasant but necessary bit of stewardship. On the other hand, ham-fisted and draconian enforcement will cause more harm than good. Why not have the fan filmmakers sign an official licensing agreement and just set the cost as something nominal like $1? GW can then show that the IP was defended, the movie was legally produced and distributed, and thus IP is defended and the realm is secure?
  • Re:Jolly Roger (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sorak ( 246725 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @04:06PM (#19829485)

    I suppose they could sue Games Workshop, but that would drag on for a rather long period of time. By the end of the lawsuit, the movie will be irrelevant regardless of the outcome. And after 4 years of film development, that's a really cruddy result. Especially since it sounds like the only problem is that Games Workshop wants 100% control and they can't have it. Well duh, it's not your film. It's a fan creation that you *should* be finding a set of guidelines under which it can be distributed.

    The real tragedy is that after four years of working on a project, just to have the company that originally gave you permission say "throw it away. We changed our minds and would like for you to undo all of your work". After that, how hard will they try to get it distributed? Someone may put it out there just for spite, but I doubt it will ever be the labor of love that it once was.

  • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @04:33PM (#19829869)
    If GW gave them the okay and they can prove this, and the people making the film invested time and resources into the project in the belief that they were allowed to, only to have the plug yanked, then that puts them in a position to sue for their time and money.

    It seems ridiculous to even suggest that one should fight with the very group that inspired them, though. The whole world-wide hoopola over intellectual property we're investing so much time and anxiety into these days is totally nuts. --I've talked to teachers who tell their kids not to copy pictures out of books because it's copyright infringement. How crazy is that?

    Of course, I also find it interesting to note that War Hammer is all about hyper-competitiveness, focusing every last atom of one's soul upon the annihilation of your opponents. With that kind of crazy-selfish thinking, is it any wonder GW is acting this way? "I AM THE KING OF THE HILL. MINE! ALL MINE! NOW, DIE!!!"

    You don't see the Harry Potter franchise trying to stomp out fan fics. Or who knows? Maybe you do. The world is crazy enough.


  • Re:Preposterous (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Seraphim_72 ( 622457 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @04:33PM (#19829891)
    I tried this once with MTG. A bunch of my friends used to play, so one day we sat down at the table and everybody got out their carefully crafted decks and I brought out a large deck of cards.

    "What is that?"

    "My deck, it is a black green deck, mostly rares, should work well together."


    You see I had scanned in the cards from one of the "recognition manuals" printed them on a color printer and taped them to regular playing cards. The whole room about blew a gasket. One guy, who owned the big 7 (or whatever they were called moxes, lotus, etc) about had a heart attack. This was a guy that for a few of his rares would take a land and write the name of the rare on it in marker and use it in play - that was OK, because he 'owned' the real card. We argued for quite a while about it all. I finally gave up, I gave up MTG a few months later realizing what a money sucking hole in the ground it was, and is to this day.

    Side note, before I gave it up I tried to talk them into what was essential sealed deck games long before they became the norm for tournaments, not a one would do it. It was so out of their mindset they literally couldn't comprehend it.
  • Re:Preposterous (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Control Group ( 105494 ) * on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @04:43PM (#19830069) Homepage
    How is this surprising? I imagine you'd get a similar reaction if you sat down at a poker table and produced a stack of hundreds you had run off on your inkjet. The scarcity of the game piece (in this case, money) is key to the game.

    Similarly in M:tG, the game balance depends on the rarity of the cards. Free access to as many copies as desired of whatever cards you choose does completely change the nature of the game (which is why you always want to play with people in similar financial circumstances as yourself...sort of like poker).

    If your point was simply to highlight that WotC was selling cards rather than a game, fair enough - though I don't think there's anyone who would argue with you. It is, after all, called a collectible card game for a reason.

    If your point was to make a negative comment about either your friends or players of M:tG, however, I think you missed the mark.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @04:45PM (#19830109)
    You completely missed his point. I suggest you read the rest of his comment.

    lena_10326 = eager to jump to conclusions
  • Re: Preposterous (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sawopox ( 18730 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @04:58PM (#19830333) Homepage Journal
    I had to clear up a few things here and there, not just in this post.

    First of all, Games Workshop does *not* produce miniatures of any sort. The miniature models come from Citadel Miniatures. Games Workshop produces games.

    The older models were quite expensive. Lead, and most recently pewter, hand-cast miniatures are not exactly cheap pieces like those found in Monopoly. That, and if you've actually held and seen some of the miniatures, they have FANTASTIC detail. To address the cost question, plastic miniature kits have been produced for almost all army types, lowering the cost. A quality army can be built for $100 or so now, as opposed to $400 ten years ago.

    As an aside, I'd take the $400 army of high quality pewter models over the $100 plastic kits though.

  • by Kitanin ( 7884 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @05:00PM (#19830381) Homepage

    You're funny.

    Seriously, based on the players I see in the two GW stores in town, I doubt more than 10% of GW's base these days knows there's a story behind the minis, let alone that some people in the other 10% were making a fan film about it. This is going to be a ripple, at best.

    And if it gets any bigger, we'll just feed the God-Emperor of Mankind a few hundred more souls today, and he'll smooth it right out.

  • by alexhmit01 ( 104757 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @05:01PM (#19830385)
    I've played GW games on and off over the years, more off then on, but every once in a while someone gets me into it. They decided to bring their GW Stores to the US, which decimated game stores that used to sell GW stuff, not because of competition, but because GW would play games with events, etc.

    They also realized that their old-time base was mostly using their older miniatures, just updating rule books and adding a few neat elements. Their third edition tried to force changes by making the troops more powerful than the specialists, to encourage more purchases as well.

    They found that with their game stores, they were able to bring in teenagers with disposable income, but the other gamers didn't want to play with teenagers... makes sense, if you're in your 30s and 40s and have kids at home, your hanging out with the guys night is less fun if there are 14 and 15 year olds there.

    They found that getting teenagers into the game, who would drop money then disappear when they got older gave them a constant supply of people buying miniatures. The guy playing the same Imperial Guard army for 10 years doesn't generate that much revenue.

    They took a very anti-fan approach, and while it gave them a bump in sales, they have become one of the companies hated by gamers... including those that play their games.
  • Re:Preposterous (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Saxerman ( 253676 ) * on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @05:20PM (#19830691) Homepage
    I'm a fan of Warhammer 40k not so much for the game system for but for the game content. They're created an incredibly interesting game universe which lends itself well to telling stories about the massive conflicts between their various factions. I've been a fan for years, and have witnessed the terrible debacle as Games Workshop tries to define itself. Though out the years, they have been painfully protected of their 'content' and have been 'unusually' picky about who and where they license it. If you compare the vast litany of licensed fan fiction nobles created for the various FASA universes, you can see the relatively sparse offerings available.

    At first they were completely against the idea of creating any computer games, as they were terrified that players would be able to enjoy their content without buying their over-priced miniatures. The few games that have been attempted in the past were largely crap. Starcraft was originally going to be set in the 40k universe, but, again, they pulled out at the last minute and Blizzard was forced to rename their units and rewrite their story. Partly based on the success of Starcraft, they finally agreed to try again with Relic and Dawn of War was the first game they actually allowed to continue to completion that wasn't total crap.

    Strangely, their over-priced miniatures are their major source of revenue. I say it's strange because over the years their models have largely become high priced crap. The exception being for their Forge World [forgeworld.co.uk] miniatures which are much more expensive, but are typically of exceptional quality. They 'control' their miniatures market by being the sole provider of 'official' miniatures for their products, which they enforce by only suppling game shops that agree to their questionable control practices. This is even more strange because the only reason to actually buy and use their miniatures is so that you can compete in licensed tournaments. You could just as easily use pennies and bottle caps to represent your forces to play at home. Of course, as anyone who actually plays and enjoys miniatures knows, that's not the point.

    So I'm not terribly surprised to see them dragging their feet on this again. They've been playing around with movie deals for years, and in typical Games Workshop style they still have nothing to show for it. And now when their fans who decide to put together their own movie... they still have nothing to show for it.

  • Re:Preposterous (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Molochi ( 555357 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @09:48PM (#19833429)
    No. Paper rulebooks. Fantasy Lead/Pewter/Plastic Miniatures. Buncha geeks arguing about obscure game related rules. Deathstalker II playing n the background. Maybe 1 girl in 10 gamers. Nothing like D&D.
  • Re:Preposterous (Score:2, Insightful)

    by z3d4r ( 598419 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @10:41PM (#19833873)
    friend of mine had a tyranid army made entirely out of cheap plastic frogs
  • Re:Preposterous (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Seraphim_72 ( 622457 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @11:37PM (#19834225)
    I disagree, it is more like entering a poker game where you can only buy the cards you are dealt - "sorry bub, I can't deal you an Ace till you dropped $1000 for it" (thus my point). Poker can be a game of skill. Magic quickly descended into who could spend more money. They even started selling "tournament decks" for Pete's sake. Your annalogy might make some more sense if there were "I dropped $500 this month on cards" tables, as it stands, you always walked into a supposedly level field. For all the great "skillz" that every Magic player thought he had in the beginning of the game, it was really who had more disposable income to drop on cards. But you missed my point entirely, and the fact that you remembered (where I did not) the correct abbreviation for it makes me wonder how much of your cash went down that rabbit hole.

    Obviously I didn't miss the mark.

This universe shipped by weight, not by volume. Some expansion of the contents may have occurred during shipment.