False Flag Marketing?

With the “leak” of a credible looking version of the (supposedly) upcoming 6th edition of 40K, I am prodded again into thinking about the curiosity that is False Flag Marketing.

It’s a term I made up rather than read, though the principle is an ancient one. To explain what I mean: “marketing” we all know as the planned relationship between company and customer of which advertising, brand management and so on all play a part.

The term “false flag” is mostly used in reference to covert shenanigans by the CIA et al. It refers to people carrying out operations that appear to be by one group when they are actually by another, often with the intent of throwing off the scent for pursuers, but also for implicating the supposed perps. Cassus belli are often imagined to be (or are) false flag operations. It’s a favourite subject for conspiracy theorists. For example, the suggestion that the 9/11 hijackings were a false flag operation by US intelligence agencies to provide an excuse to put a military presence in the Gulf. Even if all the actual perpetrators of the event were non-US citizens and believed they were working against the States, they may still be working for the CIA if the spooks are doing their job properly. The beauty of this type of operation, when done well, is its deniability.

But back to games. False flag marketing would therefore be the idea that you can manage your customer-company relationship by doing a bunch of stuff that’s set up to look like someone else. Of course this happens all the time and probably has a name already if you study the subject at college. But is is as cool a term as false flag? That’s the important thing 😛

In the specific case of the leak of the new edition of 40K rules, we have some intriguing confluences and new developments which have implications. Most important of these new developments is the recent Chapterhouse ruling in the US courts, which changes the way in which companies have to protect their IP. It was a big change, and something of a surprise decision. Couple this with some European laws, and you get the situation where nobody should be showing off illustrations a day before their models go on sale or they run the risk of being sued for producing their own model. All very strange.

These days, movies are routinely pimped to the public with viral marketing campaigns, some of which are obviously linked and others of which are more sneaky.

In games the sophistication is rather less. However, there is no reason why the same principles could not be applied. It’s interesting to note that it was a very similar stage at which the last major leaks came out.It could be that this is the point that the leaker gets hold of the copy. It could equally well be that this is the stage in the marketing plan where GW put it out themselves. Deniability 😉

Whilst it’s the concept I’m really interested in here, let’s look a bit closer at some possibilities with this 40K leak.

Firstly, it could be a disgruntled Games Workshop employee sticking a document on the web as payback for some real or imagined slight (or to make himself look important, or as a public service, etc). On the whole GW uses a system that makes such leaks traceable, at least in general terms, so one could expect to hear of the fallout from this. If this leak is unintentional on the management’s part, then it shows nothing more than the fact that it’s hard to maintain product security completely in a large company, and that it doesn’t take a big leak to blow a big product. On the whole I think GW are pretty good these days at keeping most stuff under their hats till they choose to talk about it. They will know at what stage and which groups will guarantee leaks and rumours, and this is part of their release strategy.

If the “leak” is false flag marketing, then you have to ask why. Well, it generates a buzz around the impending release, gets people interested and talking about things. It’s a way of announcing stuff without actually officially announcing it. If they use false flag then they deny all knowledge, claim it’s not true and avoid the problem of everyone postponing their purchases till after whilst still promoting the upcoming release. Nobody wants a dip in sales. So, false flag would be a win for GW there.

It’s also really cheap. Most advertising costs a lot, and if this is a false flag leak then they get all the advantages of the interest and coverage without having to pay for anything. They already have the document anyway. Another win.

By ensuring that no art is included they avoid the Chapterhouse problem. It’s going to get increasingly hard to trail new releases because of this court ruling, and this false flag leak is one way round the problem.

Nor will the leak harm the sales once the real book comes out. Everyone will want the official thing, with the minor, but important changes they ensure are in (plus all the cool art, photos, etc). So what are the downsides of false flag like this? You look a bit foolish, though I expect the excitement overrides this. I also think that people don’t really expect complete secrecy as they see so many leaks from larger and more powerful organisations in the news.

Whilst I have no real idea whether this is false flag marketing or not, it seems to me that it should be as it’s pretty much all good for GW 🙂

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48 Responses to False Flag Marketing?

  1. The thing I find interesting ironically are all the conspiracy theories and is it real or not chatter… not the rules themselves. lol. The Chapterhouse rulings in the States are a strange one it has to be said and I wander what the wider implications are, not just for wargaming.

  2. Ben says:

    I didn’t realise that had been a ruling on Chapterhouse case. What was the outcome of that one?

    • Basically that you can’t stop people making there own versions of things. Especially when you don’t provide them yourself. Artwork does not mean you own the right to the image in 3D basically. If I draw a pretty new Tyranid for example and show the artwork off. Take 4 months to do or show the mini, if in the intervening months someone produces said mini, guess who owns the rights to that mini. Or that is how it’s been relaid to me. There seems to be a bit of the car spare parts argument here, insofar as I can’t buy a new none branded badge for my Merc is the old one is knicked, but if I don’t want to buy the official disc brakes I’m fine to do so. I had someone explain it too me and some of the legalese went right over my head, but that seems to be the gist of it.

    • Forest Ramsey says:

      There hasn’t been a ruling yet. It’s still in the “squabbling over discovery” phase, although the judge has attempted to push that forward.

  3. Sami Mahmoud says:

    What Ben said…. I’m subscribed to several topics and I’ve seen no update yet 😦

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I may have this slightly backwards as I’m not a lawyer. However, just so you know what I’m thinking… last I heard (and I’m sorry I can’t recall where – possibly TGN) was that the ruling was that there was a difference between 2D and 3D and that one did not protect the other.

      So, if someone publishes a drawing of a new creature that they have invented from nothing, and write a full description but do not make a model of it, then a different company can come along and make a model without any legal comeback. Let’s imagine that Games Workshop created a Tyranid monster with words and images but no model. Chapterhouse then made a 3D model that looked exactly like the 2D art. That, apparently, is fine.

      What’s particularly strange is that if the first company then makes a 3D model like its own concept art the second company could theoretically sue them for copying their design. It’s all about who gets to market with the 3D model first as they get the rights.

      Personally I don’t understand why this isn’t passing off, but like I said, I’m not a lawyer.

      • wow psychic link or what!!! lol.

      • Sami Mahmoud says:

        I only deal with the financial aspect of contracts but as I understand it you have an automatic right to produce derivative works of your own work, so even if someone beat you to the punch on your own model, they wouldn’t be able to sue you for it when you made yours.(I think an actual lawyer cited the relevant law in one of the Warseer topics).

        • Forest Ramsey says:

          If anyone wants to get into the active court documents in the CHS case, you can go to this site:

          Other than that, there are some good discussions on Warseer and DakkaDakka about the GW vs. CHS lawsuit. (There are also many instances of having to explain the same thing over and over as well.) So far, the only thing I’m aware of is that Paulson who was sucked into the CHS case has been dropped from the case, having come to a settlement with GW (which he is apparently forbidden to discuss due to a confidentiality agreement).

          I think that the ongoing case is definitely affecting how GW does things, although I’m not sure if they’re really pulling a False-Flag Marketing Operation. (FFMO?) It only generates buzz among the forum-following wargaming crowd which is a relatively small portion of the customer base. And with that particular subset of the community it is just as likely to have it backfire on them as it is to build positive impressions.

          The only thing about that kind of program that would make me think that GW would try it, is that it is an incredibly lazy way to market a product. They’ve shown repeatedly that customer engagement is not something they value. You can look at any number of other smaller gaming companies and see that there are ways to build a lot of buzz about products that are far more effective. For instance, some game designers actually run a blog and answer questions about games… 😉

        • Quirkworthy says:

          FFMO. I like it 🙂

  4. Davey says:

    But, FG, that would mean admitting that we’d downloaded them… and surely none of us would do such a thing…?

    Good take on it all Jake – interesting and insightful as always (sorry, that’s a bit brown nosed of me!)

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Here, have a tissue.

    • Davey I didn’t download it. Somebody emailed it to me 😉


      I wander, could it be an ‘official’ leak? I too actually felt the lack of images given recent event actually did make it more likely to be legit, not less lie some peeps thought.

      • GWs quite good these days when it comes to viral marketing…

        • Rich_B says:

          Not really, they’re pretty crude 🙂

          As a company they really haven’t embraced web, let alone mobile technology and seem quite happy to try to ignore it as much as possible. Whether that’s a legacy of the original GW forums and their perpetual cycle of negativity, or simply a reflection of the attitudes of the people in charge, I don’t know… Then again the tabletop gaming industry as a whole isn’t very good at utilising new technological advances…

          For my money this has all the hallmarks of a FFMO. If it is a genuine leak then it’s got to be the same person at the same point in the production chain who is doing it, it’s too great a coincidence that WH40K 5th ed and WFB 8th ed were both “leaked” at pretty much the same time window and state of completion as well. If that were the case I’d have expected to hear the sound of someone being crushed over in Lenton from here – news like that travels quickly inside a couple of square miles 😉

        • Well, the forums tell a different story, most aren´t aware where the leaks/rumors really come from.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Not being aware is part of the idea. If it was obvious it was GW it wouldn’t be a good false flag 🙂

          And I think that Rich has a point. It’s highly coincidental. When I worked at GW every major leak story ended up with someone being taken out and shot. They were taken very seriously and there was no quarter given for staff. It was even stricter with the playtesters.

          If the WH8 was unintentional then I’d have expected to hear the aftermath story, just like Rich.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      And why would downloading it be a problem? I thought it might be a joke when I saw it. There’s a lot of folk who like doing things like “I Am Legend 2” trailers full of Rick Astley and I thought it might be something like that.

      I like jokes 🙂

  5. wachinayn says:

    But… what’s your opinion on the rules? 😉

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I didn’t read them thoroughly enough to really say. The only thing I did notice was the evasion (EV) thing where you use the shooter’s BS and the target’s EV, with EV being a calculation you do on the fly each time a unit is shot at. That sounds a little cumbersome on paper, but I’m guessing that with the tiny number of modifiers it’d get reasonably quick after a game or two. On the other hand, I’m not sure how it’s a major leap forward, and it’s certainly not an area of the game I’d put anywhere near the top of the list of priorities if I was picking things that could do with reworking. Those who are more familiar with the current edition can correct me if I’m wrong, but does EV make any real difference?

      • Rich_B says:

        Sufficient to make it worthwhile.

        Basically it means that your base roll would be exactly the same as in old 40k, i.e. a Guardsman hits on a 4+. If he’s shooting at a fast moving target with the jink ability he’d need a 5+, against a massive or stationary target he’d need a 3+, and against a massive stationary target he’d hit on a roll of 2+. Your to hit rolls never get better than 2+ or worse than 6+.

        Mind you he’d still not hurt it with his Mag-lite 😉

        I guess the really interesting thing will be when they start creating units with non-standard EV stats…

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Or adding a bunch of special rules…

          Wasn’t any of this factored in anyway? It’s ages since I played. Wasn’t there something in for dodgy Eldar bikes anyway?

          I think what I found when I read it was that it seemed a rather cumbersome way of getting to that result.

        • Rich_B says:

          Another interesting thing is that intervening friendly units don’t give an automatic cover save any more, but can choose to stand up and take one for the team giving the unit behind them a cover save. If you pass any cover saves the intervening unit takes a hit.

          Sounds strangely familiar 😉

  6. Poosh says:

    My 2cents, but I have seen and read a pre-release version of 40K 5th and it is very much like this “leaked” document. Almost no pics or diagrams.

    On the other hand, one might fully expect 40K 6th to be released in a £50 hardback like Warhammer 8th.. The “leaked” document does not fit this layout at all.

    I don’t understand why GW can’t have a public Beta test or whatever you call it, for their games.

    • Rich_B says:

      Agreed, an open and honest public Beta test would be the gold standard and would reflect much better on them from a PR point of view. Arguably it would be even better from a marketing point of view as it would get players actually playing the game and thinking about adding units, rather than just talking about it. It would be more expensive though, as they would need to collect, collate and analyse all the data…

      Bear in mind as well that the leaked document is only the rules section, The colour, fluff and hobby sections are usually created as separate documents before being collated into a complete work.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      @Poosh – I think Rich is right. Although it’s almost certain to come out in a glorious doorstop of a book, the bulk of the page count won’t be rules and that’s all the leaked doc is.

      As an interesting aside, many rulebooks these days are less than half rules, which makes me wonder if they need another term 🙂

      • Poosh says:

        I did do very quick cross-referencing between 5th and this “leaked” book, in some areas that are not new rules. Some paragraphs are EXACTLY the same as the 5th rulebook (word for word), whilst others are similar but with different words and perhaps better clarity. This suggests to me if this is authentic then it is a working draft etc. They’ve gone through the old 5th rulebook and rewritten it according to the old layout, and probably printed it off for test gaming – the actual language, one might assume, when the doorstop is being put together, and the final layout, would be created later. Or it’s a very clever, dedicated fake… which would be, pointless?

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Well there’s no accounting for individuals so it could just be a dedicated 40K fan. They’d get some kudos from telling everyone it was them and being the ones who fooled the net if they did a big reveal just before the real launch. It’s a lot of work though.

      • Poosh says:

        FluffRule Book

  7. pancake says:

    one things for sure its got everyone talking about it and 40k so its done its job….

  8. Matt says:

    EV is daft in the current book, fast skimmers have taken a real hit in survivability as have bikes it also makes no distinction between how fast you have moved , moving a soldier one inch is as hard to hit as running flat out ?

    I pray these rules are BS

    Cheers Jake

    • Quirkworthy says:

      It is not unknown in such false flag ops for deliferate mistales to be left in as seeds to start discussion. It adds the bonus of the company being seen to be listening to their customers when they “fix” the problem (which was never really there).

  9. Coach says:

    Games Workshop already have a precedent set for releasing rules in a pdf that contain no images or fluff. If you download the Blood Bowl rules in the guise of the Competition Rules Pack you will see exactly that.

    I downloaded this leaked document to take a look at the formatting etc. (I’ve not played 40k since 2nd ed so no interest in the actual rules). This is a very well formatted document with borders around areas that the images should be. Compare that to the CRP which is offered up as an official document downloadable from their own website and it is a much higher standard of publication.

    While I can’t say for certain this does look like a “false flag” and I think it is a good idea. In fact I think it is such a good idea I don’t know why they didn’t just put it up on the GW website. They can get some initial feedback and even have a direct feedback email or contact form. Mass play testing by your customers are more likely to spot something that perhaps needs addressing before you go to print. This will lead to less need of FAQs clearing things up, that cuts out arguments and the need to have extra documents to prove rules are meant to work x way etc.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      A couple of reasons why they might not want to put this up officially would be:

      1) they’d have to pay the staff to sort out the feedback. Well, they could ignore it, but doing so would be counter-productive if everyone spots something that you miss and it goes to print with the mistake in.

      2) sales would drop as everyone waited for the new version. Perhaps not by a lot, though they may fear it happening enough to want to avoid it.

  10. Stig R says:

    Sorry, I have no opinion on the leak at this stage. I just wanted to throw this in here, on the subject of rickrolling. 🙂


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