Wednesday the 13th March, 2013 marks the 26th Birthday of Warhammer 40K. Games Workshop who publishes and sells the game and its components has reported a 40% rise in profits following the launch of the Warhammer Sixth Edition in 2012. With over 500,000 active players worldwide and almost three times as many collectors, Warhammer 40K remains as popular as ever. Despite the enduring appeal of Warhammer 40K, the cost of participation and the gigantic profits reaped by Games Workshop remain a controversial issue. Many Warhammer enthusiasts claim the expensive prices of models, scenery, rule books and codices are not only unfair but also make the game elitist and elusive. Although Games Workshop have constructed a table top empire, in which their monopoly on production of Warhammer 40K prevents external competitors from undercutting their prices, this article asks whether the costs involved are in fact an integral part of enjoying and participating within the game?
The Cost of Participation
A brief look at the Games Workshop catalogue may be enough to deter any budding Warhammer novice from joining in the game play. Basic individual figures start at £8.20, yet models such as the as the Ravenwing Dark Talon kits can cost up to £90 per item, and specialised scenery may cost up to £175. It costs around £200 pounds to establish a reasonable army and to play at tournament level. A starting box set which includes two armies, the rulebook, dice, measuring sticks, etc costs just under £50 pounds (approximately £100 if bought separately). Building this up to an army worth over 1000 points costs approximately £150, and this does not even include the paint. It is not uncommon to find Warhammer enthusiasts owning collections worth over £10,000 pounds. As these collections are often being transported to and from tournaments and conventions, players are often required to take out specialised insurance akin to the gadget insurance one might take out on a laptop or mobile phone.
Why are the costs so high?
On average the production costs of Warhammer models, including design, materials, implementation, packaging and shipping, are about 15% of the retail price. Ordinarily, such a high mark up would lend itself open to the risk of being undercut by competitors. However, Games Workshop and the Warhammer 40K brand have such a strong monopoly over their game and their product, they are able to keep prices very high. From a manufacturer/ business point of view Warhammer 40K can be considered the ideal product. Games Workshop who publish and sell all Warhammer products also construct (and sell) the rule book. A rule book which not only states that in order to play the game you need to buy X amount of components from our shop, but also if you want to be good at this game and compete at the highest level, your chances of success will increase dramatically if you buy more and more items. When you think about it there are very few other competitive games which adopt this approach. Imagine if Wilson, the makers of tennis rackets, were also allowed to decide the rules of the game and the equipment which is allowed to be used. Furthermore games Workshop are able to make further money, by constantly renewing the editions of the game every four to five years, requiring enthusiasts to purchase new models, rule books and army guides.
As stated above, the game of Warhammer 40K operates within a closed system allowing games Workshop to maintain high prices which cannot be undercut by competitors. However, despite the fact that Warhammer fans consistently bemoan the escalating costs of participation, would the game be the same without it? What has to be remembered is that players do not buy in to the gamesmanship, fantasy and craftsmanship of Warhammer alone; they also enjoy the collectable aspect of Warhammer. The fact that Warhammer figurines are both rare and expensive increases their value as a collectable product, and the enjoyment of Warhammer as a collector’s pursuit. Furthermore collectors pride themselves upon the individuality of their battalions, both in terms of selection and the time spent constructing and painting the models. If players weren’t interested in this aspect of the game, Warhammer 40K could just as easily be played using coin like tokens or cards. But the fact is the collectable aspect of Warhammer 40K is part of what makes the game so special. Like so many collectable pursuits, Warhammer 40K does not invite the amateur to start competing at the highest level. Rather, the amateur must earn his stripes, dedicating time and money in order to build up specially crafted collections over several years or months. This is an essential part of both the game and the enduring appeal of Warhammer 40K.