I'm Lauren League, an artist, writer, and designer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Sep 18, 2023

The Genius Business Model of Games Workshop (Warhammer 40k, Age of Sigmar)

Have you ever heard of Warhammer?

I sure hadn’t, until I met my partner.

It’s a tabletop war game that works kinda like Fantasy Football, but it’s for nerds. On some Saturdays, my partner gathers with other men in their 30s at one of his friend’s houses. Each man brings a special carrying case filled with plastic, painted figurines of monsters or angry-looking dudes—their army. At the house, a table (sometimes multiple) is transformed with miniatire terrain to make it look like a colorful, sprawling battlefield. This is where the game is played.

I don’t know the rules of the game. All I know is that it is extremely complex. The draw of the game seems to be based on the boyish joy of playing with action figures with friends, but Warhammer adds chess rules and a point system to it.

I’ve sat on the couch nearby while a game is going, examining one of the many Codexes—a rulebook + artbook—and marveled at the exceptional art throughout. Meanwhile, the guys are playing the game. There’s lots of casual chit-chat and jokes at first, but it dies down as the game gets more intense. Soon, there’s just the pattering sound of dice rolling, a short pause, then gasps and cries of indignation.

I glance over there and someone’s scribbling marks down on a piece of paper. The guys are moving members of their miniature armies in different configurations.

A different strategy.

Maybe this one will work.

The whole time, there’s an energy of focus and fun surrounding the table.

Bonding is happening. There’s lots of joy.

This is a wonderful thing, I think.

Then my thoughts shift and I start pondering the business model of the whole thing.

What is it, exactly?

From what I can tell, this company (Games Workshop) owns the IP of Warhammer 40k and Age of Sigmar. Both are tabletop wargames utilizing plastic models (that their own customers are expected to paint!) and compelx rules. This company also has a publishing arm called Black Library, filled with books about the lore, the various armies, the races, and heroism in this bleak setting. There are Youtube channels devoted to this, brick-and-mortar stores, tournaments, conventions, and an entire community surrounding it. There are no major competitors, either.

Games Workshop also has the perfect target audience:

Dudes in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who work in tech and have that sweet, sweet disposable income. A few of them have familes, some of them are DINKs, and a lot of them are single with no additional financial obligations. Best of all, it seems like this particular demographic has a lot of devoted super-fans ravenous to spend their money on these products.

So, it seems that the company makes these injection-molded monster dude models which probably cost somewhere around 10 cents to create, sell them to the perfect customer base at $100-$200 per box, and keep the profit.


The models come unpainted.

You heard that right.

Somehow, Games Workshop has convinced their customers that painting the models themselves is part of the fun. And guess who owns the rights of the paint for these models?

That’s right—Games Workshop.

This dual-purchase strategy is a common tactic in the business world and is nothing new. What’s absoluely fascinating about requiring customers to paint their product after purchase is the amount of time and attention the customer must spend staring at the model.

You could pay Facebook hundreds of thousands of dollars to show ads to your target demographic, hoping it’ll stick in their mind and they’ll eventually buy your product.


You could get your customers to purchase your product, THEN get them to purchase your paint, THEN get them to willingly stare at and rotate your product for hours on end while painting it.


You know how much businesses would have to pay for that kind of marketing exposure? For that level of attention on each of their products? Millions, if not billions of dollars. But that isn’t the case with Games Workshop—they found a way for their customers to willingly hypnotize themselves by spending hours in a relaxed state, getting to know every detail of each miniature and thinking about buying even more things from this company.





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