Popularity Contest? Warmachine MK3 versus 40k 8th Edition

A recurrent topic that I hear locally and through the social media grapevine, is the inverted success and struggle between these two game systems: Privateer Press’ Warmachine (3rd edition, aka MK3 or Mark 3) and Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 8th edition (aka 40k 8th edition). 

I enjoy looking at data and finding trends or patterns (it’s part of my profession). So, I decided on a lunch break to do some pseudo-empirical internet research and analysis.

Of course, the easiest way to simply gauge interest in a gaming system is to see how often people search for information about said game on the internet.

Google Trends as a Tool to Understand Topic Popularity?

Google is the most popular search engine in the civilized world, and has a useful online tool called Google Trends. Google Trends allows an individual like you or me to examine the search for terms and result patterns from different regions of the world or demographic. It can also restrict data output to specific periods of time. For example, I can see the volume of searches for term XYZ between 2010 to 2018, and just in the past two hours today. 

Powerful, yes? 

Google Trends has Limitations

With any empirical tool, there are limitations. So before I get into the quick and dirty analysis that I did just in the time I had to eat a sandwich and down a cup of coffee, here’s where Google Trends is limited:

  1. Google Trends measures phrases, not people. People who are commonly searched in one form (“Barack Obama”) have better results than those who are searched in many different ways (“Benedict XVI”, “Pope Benedict”, “the Pope”, etc).
  2. Google Trends measures searches, not people. People who have generated some specific widely-searched event (see Michael Jackson and his death) have better results than those who are widely-known but don’t generate many events (see Queen Elizabeth).
  3. Google Trends is biased towards more Internet-aware audience.
  4. Google Trends is biased towards English-speaking audience.
  5. Google Trends outputs normalized search volume data. This means that data can only really be compared within a search term, unless a control search term is used  (i.e., a control term is one that has an output that is already known).

As you can see, there are some things that make Google Trends inaccurate if you don’t take into the account some of these assumptions. But, given that we’re investigating the popularity of a gaming system there are a few things that we can reliable say is okay if we’re careful. For example, I’m assuming that all gamers who play tabletop know how to use the Internet and use Google more than other online searching systems. I also assume that everyone who plays Warmachine/Hordes knows English (I think this is okay given that the game originates in the United States). 

Data Search Methodology

Okay, the data gathering approach was simple, as follows:

  • Searched for “Warmachine” or “40k” – there are other terms, but these appeared to be the most popular within their respected gaming sections in a preliminary study. 
  • Restricted terms to those related to the “game” category – we don’t care about Iron Man’s counterpart, the other Warmachine from the Marvel Universe. And, most people use 40k to imply they want to know more about games rather than the misspelled 401k retirement program in the United States.
  • I also restricted the dates to approximately the past ~10 years (between early-2008 and late-2018) – selecting to also including the initial release dates for Warmachine Mark 2 (January 2010). Also note here that Mark 2 transitioned from the earlier Mark 1 (or PRIME) in a public field test that lasted months prior to the MK2 book release in 2010. This point comes up later in my interpretation for transitional data between MK2 and MK3.

Results from Google Trends and Interpretation

Here are the results. I’ve overlaid the screenshot graphs from Google Trends to show the release dates of the newer editions from each game system. The y-axis is for normalized search volume between 0-100; the x-axis shows the ~9.7-year time period between April 1, 2008 and present data.

Figure 1. Results from Google Trends search for “40k”

There are notable differences within the Google Trends graphical outputs for search volume over time (Figure 1 and 3). In general, Games Workshop’s 40k appears to show steady interest in the past decade (Figure 1). In the time-series of the rule editions before 8th edition (“all previous editions”), there are peaks that correspond with the releases of prior editions and/or news information from Games Workshop or Forgeworld.

The graph also shows that there has been steady online search for 40k, despite the changes in edition over the years. Even with the very popular release of 8th edition, it seems that a similar number of searches for the game have occurred. This suggests that 40k has maintained global interest throughout its previous 10-year lifespan on the market. People are familiar with the brand and the data implies that GW’s has created a legacy game that could carry itself reliably into the future. 

Figure 2. Games Workshop stock value over the past 10-years. 

Interestingly, a look at the Games Workshop stock (symbol: GMWKF) shows a steep increase in value starting with the release of 8th edition in June 2017 (Figure 2). So, even if the popularity of 40k remained constant over the past 10-years, GW as a company has increased its revenue; meaning people increased their spending on their variety of products and/or new people have begun to engage with the many, many GW intellectual properties (e.g., video games, board games, etc).

As with the stock market, so many factors play into price values that with just a snapshot it’s hard to really speculate with good confidence (although it’s fun to think about).

Although Privateer Press (PP) is a much smaller company than Games Workshop, and does not have public stock trading for its company, PP is still a very influential entity with a a high share of market; second to none of the other tabletop or role-playing game miniature publishers and distributers (source).

Figure 3. Results from Google Trends search for “Warmachine”

In contrast to GW’s 40k, Warmachine (and Hordes by extrapolation) also has a steady popularity over the past 10-years (Figure 3); however, the search density/volume has peaked maximally following the official release of Mark 2 (which from all previous anecdotal and local account was a huge success). Following this peak, Mark 2 cruised along for several years until the announcement of the Mark 3 edition.

Before I get too far into some less than enthusiastic interpretations, I personally enjoy Warmachine/Hordes and prefer it in many instances

As you see in the graph (Figure 3), Google Trends detected a small peak for Warmachine search volume with the initial release of Mark 3 in June 2016. But, this peak was much smaller than the peaks observed indicating the release of the Mark 2 (in 2010) or the Wrath book (in June 2011), which brought new warcasters and theme force lists. 

Following the release of Mark 3, there was also the notable lack of the slower peak decline that we can see happened after the Mark 2 released. This is seen as a slowly declining search volume from 2008 (peak maximum) to about late-2010.

In other words, the area-under-the-curve (AUC) was more “favorable” for the Mark 2 release than the Mark 3 release of the game. Of course, this is not surprising given all the scuttle chatter about how Mark 3 was a poor transition with faction imbalances and clunky rule interactions (which the community integrated development was/is supposed to address).

On the bright side, it seems that Warmachine/Hordes as a game system has reached steady-state, based on search volume. 

A Bigger Picture….

An interesting thing we can do with Google Trends is pull back the curtain even further into the past to see how the normalized data changes the context for understanding the data today. 

Despite the obvious popularity of 40k in today’s market/communities, it appears that 40k still hasn’t reached the popularity that it once had more than 14 years ago (Figure 4). 40k must have been incredibly popular at the turn of the century (before I was playing any of these games myself – I was still in school and broke).

Figure 4. 40k seems to have declined if we look further into the past

Okay, compare this to Warmachine (Figure 5). It seems that Warmachine interest has been steady since it was released as a brand new game (in 2003). Even with Mark 2 released, the internet search volume/interest remained reliable and constant. But, in the 1-2 years prior to the release of Mark 3 in June 2016, with rumors abound in the communities of the transition, and perhaps with some emerging issues with rulesets, game balance, and mechanical concerns with list building (e.g., colossal releases and theme lists were released to the public in this time period) the game had a tangible loss of interest. 

I do recall a other miniature gaming companies releasing new products or hyping their current lines during this time, (i.e., Dropzone Commander, Infinity the Game, Dystopian Wars); not withstanding the fact that GW had released 8th edition in this time period. 

Figure 5. Warmachine looks to have declined steeply in the past two years (since the Mark 3 release), if we use older data to normalize the time-series

Maybe, Privateer Press had some bad luck and lost market-share due to a combination of two things:

  • increased competition
  • poorly received new game ruleset (Mark 3)

What do you guys think? 

The Bottomline

As I mentioned earlier, within the limitations and assumptions of the data, we can only speculate on what is happening with the overall popularity and interest in each game system. At the end of the day, it’s fun to think about and data can be useful for making interesting arguments and interpretations.

  • 40k continues to have a relatively steady trend through its lifetime based on internet searches
  • Warmachine/Hordes has had its ups and downs, even remaining very steady in the past; but online search data does show a marked decline in recent years since the release of Mark 3.
  • Comparisons with Google Trends can help find patterns, but even these patterns are limited for comparing interest and popularity across various search terms/topics.

I hope you guys enjoyed this article. Do you play 40k or Warmachine, both? Which do you prefer? Leave a comment below!

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5 thoughts on “Popularity Contest? Warmachine MK3 versus 40k 8th Edition”

  1. Really interesting information here! I haven’t played Warmachine, but I did look into it a little when I was first getting into 40k. For my part, it didn’t seem to be offering a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t get from 40k, so I stayed away. Again, I haven’t played Warmachine, so it might be really interesting, but at least at first glance, it doesn’t really seem like they’re offering a unique product that could draw 40k players to their system.

    1. Thanks for commenting! Yeah I agree with you. 40k is pretty dang fun right now with 8th. Warmachine is a bit more of a chess match, which is a different kind of game. If you’re invested in a community I’d stick with the game they play at the end of the day.

  2. So, I play Warmachine and I really enjoy the ruleset. I’ve never played 40K, but I’ve tried out Necromunda and while there were a lot of things I liked about it and I feel like it is the perfect second game for me, I just wasn’t that in love with the core mechanic. I just like the bell-shaped probability curves of Warmachine and the risk/reward aspect of the focus/fury system over rolling a bunch of d6s only to not do a lot after a couple rounds of saves.

    I think Mk.III is the best that Warmachine has been from a strictly rules-based perspective (remember how back in Mk.II, you were sold a game about wizards controlling giant robots only to find out that giant robots suck and you should play infantrymachine?), but there are a myriad of factors behind it seeming to lose some market share. Some of those were mistakes that PP made, some of those are long-standing issues with how Warmachine positioned itself limiting its appeal to certain groups, and some of it is just external factors beyond their control like GW getting their act together.

    Personally, I hope that MonPoc takes off. I think it would be good for PP and good for Warmachine for the company to diversify a little bit.

    1. Yeah, there are a lot of factors involved in how popular a game is, was, or becomes… It’s hard to tell why things happen, but for the most part, people drive the economy of play, so if you have a good community, then you’re probably immune to many of smaller, subtle external ups and downs that a particular game system/company experiences. Thanks for reading!

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