It cannot be denied that Games Workshop has successfully segregated its own brand of tabletops from the rest. There are magazines, catalogues, even paint brands dedicated solely to “the Games Workshop hobby” (quote), to the exclusion of other wargames, and there are Games Workshop stores all over the place where obsessive care is taken that the customers do not come into contact with players of other games (as I found out personally). That was part of a highly successful marketing strategy that incidentally aimed at younger gamers and antagonised the segment of older, more experienced players that had started out with the Rogue Trader universe.
From Games Workshop´s point of view, that was a good move. The older audience tended to be more skeptical, more conservative in spending their hard-earned quid, less brand-conscious (and more inclined to buy proxies). They also had experience with other games and were able to compare Nottingham´s product against those. The youngsters were more excitable about new releases, easier to impress, and, most importantly, they were the market segment with the most cash to spend on leisure.
Necessarily, the miniatures and background started to reflect the target audience, becoming more garish and cheesy, loaded with super-human abilities and impossibly huge weapons. (Actually, it cannot be denied that this in turn influenced the look of competing products like Chronopia and Mutant Chronicles to no small extent!)
Sounds like the soulless evil marketing machine taking over wargaming, pushing their product to kids and wringing all the fun out of it for cold, hard money, right?
I´m with David Hume, though. Nottingham´s economical choice was definitely never motivated by any desire to advance the hobby, but it has benefitted the scene nonetheless. Games Workshop stores and games have attracted thousands of young gamers – the ones that would never have shown up at the games stores and clubs if they hadn´t heard of GW´s shiny product by their peers at school, the annoying young ones that we older elitist bunch never would have stooped to inviting to the table. And they grow older, and mature into able gamers, and over the course of their wargaming career, some of them become disillusioned with GW and start playing other games. A huge segment of today´s wargamers started out with “the GW hobby”. We didn´t make the conscious choice to recruit young blood (many of us actively discouraged them!), but GW did. And they did us an immense favour. If they hadn´t applied sound brand marketing principles to the wargaming hobby, the scene´s population would be a fraction of what it is today.
The rich and varied background of the Warhammer universe (which isn´t exactly my cup of tea but – again – was consciously designed to appeal to a wide variety of gamers) has in turn forced producers of other games to come up with similarly interesting storylines. Where at the time of Rogue Trader tabletop games tended to be background-generic or came with a thin story that left much to imagination, in the wake of Warhammer´s success background-heavy games proliferated. (Unfortunately, GW´s recipe of overblown abilities and monstrous shoulder pads has also infected many of those games, but, well...)
If you are one of those who have become disillusioned with Games Workshop but still enjoy the background (which is a quite common phenomenon), there are a few things you can do. If you are ready to switch to 15mm, there are quite a few miniatures ranges that can be used as proxies. It´s not advisable to put them on a forum (Games Workshop has an annoying habit of scanning wargames forums for mentions of proxy ranges and then bringing copyright lawsuits down on the producers), but if you´re interested, I can eMail you a few links. Many of those proxies take the look of the game back to the Rogue Trader days, but that´s not a bad thing in my book. A positive side effect is that 15mm miniatures are ridiculously cheap – I just bought a complete army of over sixty troops, complete with a whole fleet of vehicles, for less than 85 pounds, which included shipping from Britain to Germany.
Other games, especially generic ones like Tomorrow´s War or StarGrunt II, lend themselves readily to use with the Warhammer background and miniatures (and may well be superior to Nottingham´s own ruleset which is – it must be said – simultaneously much too basic and way too complicated). I´ve noticed that this is an easy way to wean other gamers away from GW, because they can keep using their collected armies and the background they are familiar with. Most of the complaints from Games Workshop victims are not about the outlay of collecting an army in the first place, but about the constant cost of keeping up with all the new developments in rules and new miniatures. Switching to other rulesets eliminates that need while letting you keep your previous investment in terms of miniatures and enabling you to still play with your friends.
Games like Chronopia and WarZone, which after all were designed for a background not too different from GW´s, aren´t hard to convert. It´s easy to shake a few stats for Space Marines or Eldar from your sleeve, and at the end of the day a boltgun isn´t all that different from a Panzerknacker in its effects.
In fact, once you have begun converting stats, you will quickly notice that many of the special abilities that GW places on their miniatures are hugely and unnecessarily complicated. Most fancy weapons turn out to do the same damage that normal guns do, just in a more convoluted way. An Ogryn´s excessive strength or a Striking Scorpion´s mandiblaster will both translate into a higher close combat score, without the need for special rules. This, by the way, is the biggest complaint I have against Games Workshop: their rulesets are the worst atrocity ever to be visited on the Marshman Rule. (For those who aren´t familiar with it: the Marshman Rule says that a game is only good if you can take away all special rules, play a game with only the most basic of troops, and still have an interesting fight. It´s kind of a Bechdel Test for games.) Again, this is for marketing purposes; unique powers and abilities make a new miniature appear special and desirable, and can be toted in detail in the brand magazine, which also has to be bought to have the rules reference – you get the picture.
Points costs are going to be the greatest obstacle to stat conversions. Without a formula, it´s hard to compare troop abilities and come up with a proper points value. On the other hand, all costing systems are horribly arbitrary anyway, so you´re in good company there. If you´ve got a relaxed opponent, it´s probably easier to use rule of thumb and just put something on the table that looks balanced to your instinct instead of fiddling with points.