Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Games Workshop to shelve metal Miniatures?

Rumours are rife on the forums of late about Games Workshop discontinuing the manufacture of metal miniatures entirely. The essence of the argument seems to be this, pewter alloy is simply too expensive nowadays for GW to support it, and less certainly that some new wonder material is about to be revealed as the solution to model making.

Certainly it would not be the first time that GW have stated their aim to move towards all plastic manufacture of models, but as experiments like the plastic Empire generals and Orc warbosses showed, there was not enough retail appetite for this route to make it viable. Showpiece monsters, war engines and the like have benefited hugely from computer aided tooling and injection mould creation, it's hard to imagine something like the latest Skaven and forest Goblin monsters coming out in metal at an affordable price, but for single models it is still it seems an economic dead end.

Of course the other familiar material for moulding is resin, typically (and I'm no chemist) a two part epoxy, which is normally drop cast. Forgeworld use this, as do many specialist fantasy retailers, not to mention innumerable historical companies and scenery makers. Unfortunately, it is brittle, prone to imperfections, comparatively expensive, and crucially cannot really be spin cast or injection moulded. So that is out.

New polymers are out there though; Mantic and others have found a material, termed variously a plastic or resin, which can be spin cast and is somewhat more resistant to damage than traditional resin; I've yet to try these models myself, but have only heard generally positive reviews.

So what might GW opt for and what would it mean for the hobby? Well Games Workshop certainly remain the largest player in the industry, and so can afford to invest in new technology and future solutions, so I can believe they may have put research funds into a replacement for metal, but lets be honest, whilst metal is expensive, plastic is a by-product of oil, so it's hard to imagine that getting much cheaper either. Still there could well be options out there. Talk has been open on the forums in speculating on new polymers or new uses of old ones; the key of course is for them to hold the level of detail that metal does, and ideally allow the use of established moulding equipment. If GW is successful, I'm sure other manufacturers will follow in time.

Metal won’t go away however, GW may wish to eliminate it from their business model, but virtually every other manufacturer will carry on with it. The costs are lower and certainly have some way to go to reach a similar tipping point; for comparatively low volume work it is hard for me to imagine the comparatively low production overheads of pewter casting not remaining a strong argument to most historical figure companies, and many smaller fantasy companies. They are not selling toys, and can tolerate a small premium for their preferred material.

Never mind not having the backing or infrastructure to invest millions in new technology.

But for GW this 'could' be the biggest gamble since the late 80's, when they sold off masses of metal stock in an effort to fund their investment in plastic tooling. That gamble paid off, and as a result there hasn’t been a sale since. Who knows if an end to metal production entirely will work for them this time?

The rumours still need to become facts of course...


  1. I don't remember ever buying any lead from GW, it always pi$$ed me off, the price they charged. The whole hobby seems to be going to plastic, as you said, new technologies an all. As long as the prices stay low I can't see a problem with it.

  2. There's a range of tanks reviewed in this month's Battlegames made out of some new "wonder" material

  3. the problem is that in theory if they're making the models out of plastic, instead of the more expensive metal, then the prices should drop. however they're raising the prices which is absolutely ridiculous! it doesn't even make sense (£10 for a PLASTIC space marine general)