Interesting opinion from Druchii.net: druchii.net/posting.php?mode=quote&f=176&p=938394
...And yet it was so unpopular that it killed the franchise.
This is me speaking as someone who used to work for GW and still has friends there. The flow of new people into the WHFB side of the hobby pretty much disappeared thanks to 8th edition.
Hardly anyone who didn't already own hundreds of pounds' worth of minis was ever going to be willing to get into a game where even elite units had to be 30+ models strong to be worth a damn. Not at GW prices (over £100 for a single Witch Elf regiment). So virtually all GW's new customers just played 40K instead, because you could get a reasonably usable army for the cost of that Witch Elf regiment. The entire WHFB range's sales dropped to less than the Space Marine Tactical Squad alone.
I don't dispute that 8th edition was fun for the people who already had established armies and/or the time and money to field huge units. But it was a disaster for GW.
There's some merit to this argument, but I'm not wholly convinced. I think the real demise of the franchise came from a perfect storm of factors, of which 8th edition's attributes played a role but it was not the only force at play.
It is certainly true that 8th edition raised the cost and time threshold higher for younger players to get into the game - 30 witch elves was a lot of money to buy. Even the boxed set wasn't really playable out of the box because it didn't have enough models, which was a bit unfortunate. Yet, the example is a little specious (you have taken a prime example of a very expensive non-plastic set of models to prove your point, but most entry level models were plastic and a regiment box of dark elves, for example, was still quite affordable and playable with, especially if your buddies had similarly sized starting forces). The cost of GW's models have been going up for years, but the cost of a new army from start to finish was still in the same sort of ballpark as buying a new games console with a bunch of games.
It is also true that rumours and first impressions killed a lot of the fervour for the game amongst veteran players. In my gaming group, there were mass defections away from the game as a concept after 8th edition was released.
On the surface, then, it would seem that the reaction to 8th edition (quality of the game notwithstanding, as argued above) caused it a lot of problems and that is true. BUT it was not the defining factor because there were a myriad of other dynamics that contributed and these would have hit the franchise anyway, regardless of whether they remained with 7th or released a more 6th or 7th ed like version instead of 8th.
One: the rise of computers, consoles, smart phones, and other video games. For years, GW has been battling against the rise of competitors for the disposable incomes of kids and their parents, young adults, and adults. As video/computer/phone games have become better in quality, more prevalent in circulation and societal acceptance, and easier to learn and play, and this has hurt all of its franchises. Dawn of War gave 40k a huge boost, but there was no comparable win for Fantasy to help it ride with the storm (ironically, Total War: Warhammer had this potential but it came after the plug had been pulled on 8th ed). Most importantly, though, phone games have been changing the attention span level that gamers possess. Fantasy was always a slower and more gradual build up of a game than 40k (with its whizzing deep strikers, jet bikers, flying transports, and guns of all sizes with big ranges, etc) and so it was hurt more by gamers wanting a quicker and more instant gratification experience as a result of changing expectations than 40k.
Two: the rise of other miniature games. 8th edition led to massed defections by my old gaming group but, in a vacuum, that would not have happened. What facilitated my buddies leaving the game was the arrival of a whole host of other games such as Warmachine and Malifaux. In fact, looking back, it was not that everyone was playing 7th edition and then 8th edition came along and everyone dropped it, it was that we were already not playing 7th edition anymore in favour of these other games. The shock was that when 8th edition came along, it didn't pull the group back in for more than a couple of months, after which most of my buddies went back to playing the other games. I'm not sure that a continuation of 7th or even a reversion to 6th type rules would have had any better impact than what happened with 8th.
Three: model saturation. The reason 8th edition placed so much emphasis on big units and tons of models was not wholly because it made the game better and more epic (which it did), but because GW was desperately conscious of the fact that most established players already owned all of the models they needed and that they didn't have enough newer players joining the game to compensate (they had mostly been flocking to 40k or video/computer/phone games for a while anyway). That was a problem GW was already facing at the end of 7th and was not a problem created by the arrival of 8th.
I think the overall point I'm trying to make is that Fantasy had been rolling downhill towards the edge of the cliff for some time before the arrival of 8th edition. The rise of popular alternatives to miniature gaming for people wanting a war game fix, a reduction in attention spans amongst players (including not only kiddies but also many adults), the rise of other more specialist gaming systems for miniature purists, and the saturation of GW models amongst older players (and ebay options for younger ones) had all been taking their toll. Did 8th edition help save the franchise? No, it inflicted its own wounds, but the state of the game's player base had been in poor straits for quite a while prior to 8th edition even being conceptualized and to blame it all on 8th would be missing a good chunk of the picture.
So, I think the idea that re-releasing 6th edition as a specialist game would be better than re-releasing 8th because the former would draw more players doesn't hold water. Those players who dropped warhammer didn't drop it because of 8th, they had already dropped it or were on their way to do so in the near future. I would rather GW went with the better game version of 8th ed over the unlikely idea that re-releasing 6th ed would do better in terms of player take-up.
Of course, the whole debate is somewhat moot because GW isn't going to re-release either version. *sigh*.
- druchii.net contribution: The 9th Age - Dread Elves
Social Media Team
UN Coordinator, aka UNSG