Thursday, April 10, 2014

Arranging Deck Chairs - The New GW Web Store

by: CaulynDarr (This is my first time posting here as a guest author. )

I really was done talking about GW and their games.  At least for a while.  But as a professional software developer, I couldn’t let their new website go by un-critiqued.  Especially when it is so…awful.  I mean really.  The surest way for a site or an app to fail is to produce one not knowing what the user wants and needs.  So this is just another example of how GW has no clue what their customer want or need.

First off the home page:
So far so good

Flat and simple is the currently favored design ascetic.  It’s nice to have at least some color in your theme; something soft like a gradient so that things don’t look too boring.  The “Why Shop with us” ribbon” is a little superfluous.  It’s not like there are any other websites to buy their stuff from anyway.

…oh…wait…what’s that gray thing poking up from the bottom.  Is it one of those annoying scroll out adds like the ones on wookipedia that I hate?  No, just the shopping cart.  Stuck on the bottom of the screen.   You don’t strictly have to do things like everyone else when designing a UI, but users do expect things to work a certain way.  When 90% of the time web-stores stick the cart in the upper right part of the screen, you need a really compelling reason to put in anywhere else.  Hopefully, something a little better than, “Hey look I wrote some javascript and HTML 5 to auto-hide this panel!”  It’s too big when hidden, and gets in the way of screen content.  Plus while they look slick, the average user has trouble with them.  Stuff animating and moving around on them can be a point of frustration.  It also doesn't handle window sizing of the browser so well.  
Almost gone in the right corner

Pop-outs and small screens don't mix.
This isn't even the real web-cart.  You only see that by clicking the edit cart button.  The only way to get to it it seems.

So what If I want to find something specific?  I’ll click the 40K button and play a round.

Again, so far so good

Shows a bunch of random stuff. And a filter panel.  I guess I have to filter.
Not so good anymore

Yep, selecting Imperial Guard just dumps 8 pages of random guard models into the main view.  Default ordered from price high-to-low.  Because most players buy the $140 kits every day.  Units that a shopper would reasonably buy most of the time barely make it onto the 4th row of the first page; way below the scroll on most screens.  Order by relevance and popularity!  Their sales data should allow them to reasonably score a product's popularity and put the big sellers first.

And yes, for some reason they decided to list them by model and not product.  So instead of showing the bane blade or shadow sword kits, it lists them as every separate things you can build from those kits.  The fact that it’s a multi-model kit is only shown after clicking a “Read more” text break on the product page.

Filters make more sense when the site can return 16,000 random things
The old website was a bit dated, but at least they organized the product in a way that made sense in the context of the game.  This filter list doesn't help the user find what they want.  It’s not overall a bad feature for a web-store to have, but it makes more sense on a site like amazon where I might be getting 10,000 results of my search.  With this site it took me a minute to find the core rule book.  And I was looking for it because I know it exists, and I am an expert user who has a pretty good understanding of where a UI programmer might stick something like that.

A domain like what GW’s web store covers can be pre-filtered because they should know what the user is going to be looking for 80% of the time.  And the old store managed that well.   The only problem with the old store was that it looked ugly and ran slow(and was broken on mobile devices).  But the functionality and organization where much better than this incarnation.

What GW thinks you need to know

Notice how they devote as much screen real-estate to the shipping and returns policy as to the product description.  The key to every gamer’s heart is apparently the basic retail stuff that every store under the sun offers as standard.  FREE RETURNS you say!  Well, here have ALL OF MY MONIES SIR!  Oh yeah, and apparently these guys are baldest bad-asses short of Space Marines.  Whatever big-whopdee-doo, DID YOU SEE THE PART ABOUT SHIPPING WITHIN 2-9 WORKING DAYS!!! YEAH!!!

Let’s talk about a few things I couldn’t find. like FAQ’s or any type of content other than product pages.  As far as I can tell it’s gone.   The site search gave me this:
Who needs a FAQ?
The googles gave me this:
Dead space marines apparently

Unacceptable.  IBooks Space Marines Codex force builder level of unacceptable.  GW could be selling self-sealing stem bolts for all the context this website provides.  I’m convinced this website is basically a canned product they bought that reads from a GW filled database with very little customization done(yep, it is.  These same guys do the Lego web-store, I knew certain elements looked familiar.  The Lego store is better implemented and organized by theme, so it's not all the platform's fault).  

I was able to find only two hobby related items.  A pair of instructional videos hidden halfway down the Painting and Modeling section.  The What's New blog still exists, but it's hard to find.  You have to click on the picture of the white dwarf poking out of the banner on the home page.  They didn't bother to import the old post so it only has the new web-store announcement and a link to the only social aspect of the site: the GW Flickr stream.  In a market where everyone is trying to bolt social aspects to their products(whether it makes sense or not) this site further retreats from the internet at large.  No event announcements, review options, or even Facebook like buttons.  It's a site for buying things and nothing else.

Having to take the website down for a day was also pretty weird.  Competent IT can do that kind of switch seamlessly.  You get both sites up and running at the same time and then just redirect traffic to the new site when it’s ready. Even if there was a problem they should be able to rollback or resolve it in an hour or two.  If they self-host it means they don’t have the hardware to handle both sites simultaneously for a short period of time.  If they don’t self-host it means that they wouldn't pay out for a few days of extra virtual servers to support the transition.  And we aren't talking massive sums here.  Dollars per hour at the most.  

I've also heard that they blew away all their user accounts in the transition.  I tried to confirm this, but I have forgotten my GW website password.  I tried to recover my password and didn't get the recovery email like I should have.  Either that feature doesn't work, or the above statement is indeed true.  Amateur mistake.

I looked at the site in a script view briefly as well.  It has quite a few TODO's and test's left in the code, so it looks like the site is incomplete.  Though I have to say the most cringe-worthy thing I saw was the help bubbles for the entering you email and password.  "Enter your eamil" and "Enter your password" respectfully.  HEADDESK-HEADDEASK-HEADDESK

I didn't test out how checkout works.  That would require me to buy something from them.  The one improvement is the mobile version of the site.  It still sucks, but it does at least work.  The only improvment of the previous site they made.

When a company is failing, everyone runs around trying to do something.  Anything, to try and fix things.  The problem is that they don’t know what to do.  They are too scared to take the risks and invest the time and money to do things the right way because if it fail things will get worse.  I've worked at companies in that situation, I can see it under the surface here.      


  1. You're an idiot. Spend your time doing something useful.

    1. Thanks, I'll take that under advisement.

    2. Thanks! That's why we've got dayjobs.

      shotgun negativity is also partly why some of us don't even bother posting much. Somewhere, some people got the idea that only GW, and more specifically, PRO-GW stuff should be published here.

      if you wanna read pro-40K stuff, I advise you to go read 3++. Or stick to trolling Dakka.

      a Lot of us have stopped drinking the Kool-aid, and apply critical thinking to what we do.

      if we were all just sycophants, we'd still be in the Dark Ages. Without innovation. or in the 41's Millennia, the Drimdark Ages.

    3. Actually, Dakka's been harsher on the site than I've been

    4. "if you wanna read pro-40K stuff, I advise you to go read 3++."

      Uuuuh, you really think that? That wasn't the vibe I got.
      Most certainly not with the last articles.

      That aside, thanks for the article.
      No FAQs makes me sad.

    5. @Link
      3++ is still probably the biggest mainly 40k site. Even BOLS has diversified. Big Red might have 50% GW. I think 3++ is possibly a higher percent 40K. I'm pretty sure they're most likely to have GW-positive articles.
      There are still a few bastions of pro-GW out there. blogs of big tourney TO's are still positive.

      A few years ago a lot of bigger blogs started realizing that diversification was going to be necessary. Several of us knew something was happening with GW. Price increase after price hike, a new edition with some pretty strong money grab aspects, more price hikes. It's been a rough couple of years for GW games.
      Necromunda and Blood Bowl are still good. (and cast aside by GW.)

      and I agree with you, not being able to find the FAQ's is kinda unsettling.

  2. I just want to add, that the gripes on the layout and navigation are a bit nitpicky, the real problem is that they stripped away all the context.

    Why should you buy widget A over widget B. There is a little effort to link models with hobby items in the design, but it's all just one jumbled mass of widgets otherwise. Where do I start collecting a 40K army. What rule books do I need? What units make a valid army? What's it all about? The old website at least played lip service to helping you pick the thing you needed to at least attempt to sell the game.

    The website lets me buy things, but it's not trying to sell me anything other than what cost the most.

    1. "the gripes on the layout and navigation are a bit nitpicky"

      Nonsense. I tried to find the new, just released book for the scions 'tempestus militarum' or something like that this morning on the site. I gave up after 10 minutes of fruitless searching, not even the site filter could find it. The books only shown are the new codex & limited edition version of it, the tempestus book itself apparently no longer exists.


    2. Hell, amazon doesn't even have it, is it not released yet? Regardless, I agree with the less than desirable navigational ease of the new site. Not that I ever shop on the site anyways...

    3. I found it. lol I had to go to the Scions then they suggest it on the bottom of the page under the title we think you'd like.

    4. Oh cool! 'lol' is correct though as it illustrates the lack of ease of use for the new site...

  3. FYI, the mobile version of the site seems to have some issues on the most popular mobile operating system in the world:

    Also... why does a website that you aren't logged into, have a timeout period that forces you to reload the website?

  4. I quite like the site, it seems better at displaying the more obscure products more readily. I don't like the way the sidebar changes position as you deselect things and it compresses submenus but on the whole it seems faster and cleaner. It's obviously very mobile oriented and geared towards a touch interface but it's quite nice overall.

    I dunno about not being able to find things or it not selling you things. The collapsing menu system means you're presented with stuff of increasing relevance to you as you filter down the search. Putting apoc models at the top of the page is questionable but the core concept is sound and it might be an alphabetical thing.

    The rulebook I found very fast. You click "Warhammer 40,000", then "Warhammer 40,000 Books & Digital" then "Rules & Expansions". Is that hard or confusing? You can also type "40,000 rulebook" into the search menu. It would be nice if they told it that 40k = 40,000 and that it put the books from the language you set the site to on the top of the list, but it's not nearly as hard or as arcane to use as the old site.

    1. But you know 40K and GW products. Try looking at it from the standpoint of a new customer. A parent buying little Timmy a birthday present or something like that. If you know your kid play's Imperial Gaurd and go to buy him something, the first thing you see is 9 models costing 140 bucks. If you know nothing about the Warhammers, how do go about finding what you need to play? What do you buy first?

      In most respects they improved the technical and visual aspects of the site. But the website it really the only advertising they have outside of White Dwarf. It needs to introduce a potential player to all aspects of the game and hobby. I think it fails in that regards.

    2. Well, from a gift perspective, I don't think the site is designed to educate said parent to the game. Roll the thinking back to how a person buys a gift for someone's hobby that they know little-to-nothing about.

      Some options for the gift are a) using Timmy's wishlist and b) sorting by price range based on what they wish to spend. (and hopefully at least a basic knowledge of what game and army he plays)

      While I agree it's not ideal customer-focused design, the above scenarios seem more likely than the un-40k clients actually learning about the game to make their choice.

      Absolutely agree that they shouldn't sort by price as default, but I do like the fact that the mult-build kits are separate item entries. "Timmy wrote down he wanted a Banehammer tank" gets you to the right model, whereas before you'd have to figure out that it's a sub-variant of another kit.

      The default page seems to have some sort of "featured product" mojo working, but that's not much better.

      The FAQ faux pa and lack of "getting started in " sections is just badly done.

    3. I wouldn't really call it mobile oriented. On my iPad you can only expand the category filters by tapping the little plus signs. Not the big-ass, easy to tap button. But the little teeny plus sign inside it. Requiring me to pinch-zoom WAY in to do so.

      I actually do know a guy at my church that used to work for GW's IT team. I'll run this by him for a comment. But my wife does server consultancy for a living, and routinely gets new servers/sites up with zero downtime in the switchover. 24 hours down and a crappy, bug-ridden template-site scream cost-cutting to me.

      But what can you expect from marketing pukes? They think their problem is image and perception instead of the shitty value their products offer compared to competitors. If they put half the energy into understanding their market that they put into increasing their margins, the business would turn right around. But they're currently incapable of perceiving the difference between a good product/site and a bad one.

  5. The user accounts are indeed gone. I had to recreate mine this morning. They also tell you as much when you got to sign in to the page "Please note: accounts from our previous webstore are no longer active."

    I did find it interesting to list things by product and not sku. When I went through to reset up my wish list for the wife's reference, i had to make sure I picked the primary product on the box so that if she went into our FLGS she could find it on the shelf. As someone pointed out this could make shopping for the non-gamer frustrating.

    1. There's no excuse for losing your customers' account data. None. That should be backed-up off-site and easy for a competent IT team to transfer to a new system. Because only the database calls, and not the actual data, would change.

      What this says to me is that they've got amateurs in charge of their IT. Who probably had all their data on one server, and accidentally blew away the database as they shut down the old site and installed/copied over the new one to that box.

      Maybe they have/had a RAID in place for drive failure protection. But if the data isn't there anymore, then they weren't running off-site backups as they should have been.

    2. However, you still receive the news emails, which means they've kept their mailing list and maybe not backed up any customer info. That's incredibly shoddy and could lead to Data Protection issues here in the UK. ISO time!

  6. My favorite issue with the GW site is going to Investor relations and asking for the share price. It takes you to a page that says that the stock can't be found for one of 3 reasons: 1) Bankrupt, 2) When out of business 3) Was bought by someone.

    I found this to be a good chuckle.

    1. that is good. I just looked at it.
      they're so secretive, they've gone totally private with share prices....

      I also like how on the investor relations news page, they've got 1 story listed 3 times, and another twice, with 1 other story listed once as a downloadable PDF.

    2. Those are statements of voting rights with different dates. Two of them are Nomad Investments selling off their stock. So the notification lists the %thresholds crossed as 9%, 8%, 7%, 6%, 5%, 4%, 3%, 2%...

      The other is a new fund buying in and crossing the 5% mark.

  7. The FAQs are up now...on the Black Library website,,,and some are missing,,,


out dang bot!

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