This morning, I finally took the time to read through Tactical Command's rather lengthy topic regarding Forgeworld's withdrawl from Epic. This discussion drifted back and forth between other companies (namely Dark Realm and Exodus Wars, but others obviously mentioned) miniatures being used as proxies, and why some people hate it, to the beautiful Necron and Tyranid sculpts recently highlighted on Bell of Lost Souls. The way things are now going, there is no way to ensure the future of Epic miniatures.
Here's my thought at a complicated long-term solution. It relies on several basic, yet quite safe, assumptions:
1. There is, and always will be, a market for new, genuine, Epic-scale Warhmmer 40,000 miniatures to be sculpted, produced, and sold.
2. Forgeworld is completely getting out of the scale, outside of Aeronatica Imperialis and their rumored Titan slugfest.
3. Citadel has no plans to produce any new Epic models.
4. Epic is not financially viable for Games Workshop as a third system, and Specialist Games are barely "earning their keep."
Assumption 4 is somewhat tricky, due to the Lord of the Rings license expiring soon. That drifts into a completely different debate, but I'm of the opinion that LoTR/WoTR will be discarded as soon as it is contractually feasible. Which, of course, could bring about the ever-remote chance of Epic reclaiming its mid-90s status as the "third game."
I don't see that happening.
Instead, I look at other options. DRM and EW probably, and feel free to correct me, would not exist if it wasn't for their products' use as Epic proxies. But they will never be anything more than proxies. And while the miniatures are great sculpts and well made, they are no more Epic miniatures than a 10mmx40mm piece of cardstock with "Necron Warriors" written upon it. 99% of Epic and 40k veterans (I'm talking 5+ years in the hobby) are here because of the miniatures, not for the rules or fluff or artwork.
The sculptors of the Necrons and Tyranids (Evil & Chaos and his cohorts at TacCom) said they asked GW for a license to produce them, and were told that "licenses weren't issued." That wasn't the whole truth. THQ, and other video game makers, have had licenses for years. But far closer to the hobby, look at Fantasy Flight. They WERE granted the license, and have made and are making numerous Warhammer and 40k products. So licenses obviously exist.
Why was E&C denied one? One needs to look back into the early 90s for an answer. Once upon a time, Citadel wasn't alone in the production of models for Warhammer and 40k. Marauder Miniatures was licensed to produce fantasy, and several pre-Forgeworld resin sculptors (all surrounding the legendary Mike Biasi) produced kits for 40k. This ended by the new millennium. Why? Were the licenses no longer profitable for GW? No. Did GW perceive a level of competition on their own products? Yes.
Marauder wasn't simply given a single army within Fantasy and told "hey, this is yours." They were given carte blanche to produce whatever they wanted in Fantasy, and their products ultimately competed with GW's on merchandise. It was sales that GW felt should have been theirs, even though they received the fee and issued the license.
So here's the problem with Epic. E&C asked for a license to produce Necrons and Tyranids for Epic:Armageddon. He was denied. Forgeworld is also being removed from Epic. In my opinion, the two are related. Games Workshop, even though they don't have the time, resources, or personnel to devote to Specialist Games, want to ensure they have sole control of the Epic product line, with no internal or external competition.
Here's their fear. New player (40k veteran or not, doesn't matter) wants to take up Epic. Best case scenario, player orders the book from GW.com. Worst case scenario, player downloads it. Either way, new player is going to need an army. If that player wanted to take up, say, Tau, or even Imperial Guard to an extent, his solution would be Forge World. Specialist Games doesn't make a sale. Now, what if that player wanted to take up Necrons or Tyranids, but E&C has the license? Not only does Specialist Games not make a sale, but Games Workshop altogether is missing from this equation. In their current mode, it's better to not have any other armies available outside of Specialist Games, forcing new player to purchase Marines, Orks, or Imperial Guard. It seems silly to many, but it does make sense. They don't want to expand the line, but they damn sure don't want to see it split across several different manufacturers. There's only one solution that will work. And Jervis Johnson himself has already mentioned it to a few private individuals, probably hoping someone would pick up the hint.
Someone else has to assume FULL CONTROL of Epic.
That's right... FULL control. Not making an army. Not publishing army lists on a public forum. Not making proxies. FULL control. If someone, (or a conglomeration of, say, E&C and his cohorts, DRM, EW, and anyone else with assets and talent) went to Games Workshop, they could be granted the entire Epic product line. Let Specialist Games and Forgeworld get completely out of the business... minis, books, support, advertising - the whole thing back to the hands of those who love and support it.
Here's the kicker. Games Workshop is horribly unlikely to sell their Epic molds and designs. So if someone was granted the license, they almost certainly would have to start from scratch. For every army. Which means to be viable at all, they would have to have an Ork, Marine, and Imperal Guard range released with the new book. I'm not going to make a huge deal out of the books themselves, because the fan community has demonstrated time and time again that the books can be created, and created well. It's just a simple matter of finding a small-scale publisher (even Lulu would work fine) and getting it into print.
If this happened, the license owner would be able to focus entirely on Epic, even if it meant allowing all their other product lines to die. Given the size of the Epic global community and the quality of miniatures produced by the "other guys," this should be given serious consideration as an option. One company's devotion would return Epic to success unseen since the mid-90s. New 40k Codex and product line released? No problem, here's the Epic miniatures to go with it, and the revised army list is already on TacComs and the company's internal forum. Miniatures that have always been missing? Sisters of Battle, Dark Eldar? No problem, here's a box set and half a dozen blisters. We'll revise the line when their new 40k 'dex is released.
I have absolutely NO idea how much this would cost someone (or a group of someones) to do. I don't know how much Fantasy Flight paid/pays for the license, I have no idea if GW would sell the old molds or the book or if the licensor would have to start from zero like I suggested... but I do know this is the ONLY way that we will ever see Epic being supported the way we all wish and hope and dream it could be.