I.t started in a small apartment in west London, with three friends selling board games and a fanzine by mail; now Games Workshop is worth more than Marks & Spencer and Asos and is more profitable than Google.
This week, the Nottingham-based company, which produces the fantasy role-playing game brand Warhammer, announced that all of its workers would receive a £ 5,000 bonus after sales and profits spiked during the pandemic.
Directed by Kevin Rountree, a former accountant who avoids the press, the firm counts Ed Sheeran, Fast & Furious actor Vin Diesel and Superman among its legion of fans: British actor Henry Cavill, who plays the comic book hero in the On screen, he revealed his love for Warhammer in an Instagram post during the lockdown last year, in which he confessed his addiction to collecting the tiny Games Workshop figures, describing them as “plastic cracks.”
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The company was founded more than four decades ago when friends John Peake, Ian Livingstone, and Steve Jackson began making their own wooden board games and creating a games newsletter. They found their feet when the American creator of Dungeons & Dragons asked them to become the first distributor of the role-playing game in the UK.
The first Games Workshop store opened in Hammersmith in 1978 and began producing miniature wargame models before, in 1983, creating Warhammer, which organizes bloodthirsty battles between orcs and elves.
Of those updated toy “soldiers” based on a mix of science fiction and the fantasy world of elves and orcs, Warhammer is now a global brand behind books, video games, a magazine, animations, and a planned television show. The company has 523 stores around the world, where fans can learn to create and paint models or play games.
Collectors build large forces of miniature plastic play models, which can cost more than £ 100 each. A miniature can be made up of hundreds of pieces that must be assembled and then painted with colors such as “flesh” and “bone”.A customer uses a tape measure to play Warhammer at a London Games Workshop store in London. Photographer: Alamy
This can be used to play matchups on a tabletop battlefield at home or at events, although some fans never play and compete to show off their creative versions of the models.
The long history of the game’s “lore” is another source of income with books, a magazine and online content that keep fans informed. The group is working to develop Eisenhorn, a real-action fantasy science fiction television series with Frank Spotnitz, the American producer of The X Files.
The latest accounts show that last year the company made sales of £ 361 million and an operating profit margin of 43%, higher than the margin of around 25% from Google owner Alphabet Group.
Designing, manufacturing and selling the vast majority of its products in-house means that the group does not need to hand over a portion of the profits to third parties, such as factory owners or retailers.
Games Workshop share price. Photographer: Refinitive
In recent weeks, news of the company’s success has prompted some former workers to express concern about the low salaries of the army of creatives who come up with the games and design new miniatures. Those who complain about his treatment appear to have moved on several years ago, and the company now regularly pays benefit bonuses and offers a stock savings plan to ordinary staff.
Livingstone, who just wrote a book about his early years, says that Warhammer’s success is its “metaverse” – a world that fans can fully immerse themselves in.
Games Workshop’s White Dwarf magazine, which originally began writing about the role-playing games the founders loved, turned out to be a stroke of genius, helping to create demand from a loyal fan base.
“Traditionally simplistic toy soldiers became a hobby. You can always buy something, be it a miniature, a can of paint or a rule book, ”he says.
Livingstone, who sold his stake in Games Workshop in 1991 and is now chairman of British video game developer Sumo Group, says the group has also benefited from a surge in geek culture, partly driven by the success of the tech entrepreneurs behind it. of tastes. from Google and Facebook. The Internet has also made it easier for potential fans of complex games to meet and learn to play.
The global tabletop gaming sector that Warhammer is a part of will be worth $ 12bn (£ 8.6bn) by 2023, compared to $ 7.2bn in 2017, according to the consumer data firm. Statista, with new entrants able to raise funds from enthusiasts through platforms. as a kickstarter.
At least 10,000 game fans are expected to arrive at Birmingham’s NEC conference center this weekend for the first UK Games Exhibition in two years and more than 200 exhibitors will show their games.
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Kate Evans from Games Expo says: “Every year we see more and more families. People are looking for quality time with more for their money and more social, with people talking to each other. “
In recent years, interest in board games has been fueled not only by increased interest in activities at home during the pandemic, but also by the Netflix drama Stranger Things, where the characters are fans of Dungeons & Dragons, and by YouTube shows like Dash, spearheaded by Wil Wheaton.
“They told us that we were geeks, nerds or anoraks to be despised. He’s doing very well now, ”says Livingstone. “There is a great revival of board games. People enjoy social fun and communication with people while stabbing each other in the back. “