One of the perennially interesting questions to engage in is: What would it take for the Warhammer 40K or Age of Sigmar Universes to go mainstream? Now, in a sense, the games themselves are already mainstream within the miniature gaming community. To define what we mean by “Mainstream” my definition would be that the average member of the public would have heard of one of these two universes (even if they were fuzzy on the details). Examples of similar franchises would be Star Wars, Game of Thrones or even Dune (arguably a reachable goal). The average person may not be able to tell you who Wedge Antilles is or what the words of House Reed but they are aware of those franchises.
Through this next series I will be examining two avenues that Games Workshop could pursue to reach this level of relevance:
- Through the tabletop games.
- Through their Intellectual property.
The following articles will unpack these ideas in more depth so I will finish this article by providing a defense of why I chose these two items and whether Games Workshop should even strive to this level of popularity.
Why would you want to go Mainstream?
At first blush it’s easy to sweep this question away as ridiculous, but it is a valid question. It is not easy to establish oneself in the national consciousness, even for a brief period of time (short of committing a significant criminal act). Thus to achieve this goal would take a serious commitment of resources. This would hamper a company’s ability to improve it’s product, can cause you to lose focus on the purpose of your company and might even get you attention that doe not translate into revenue. Furthermore, broadening the appeal of your product can water it down in such a way as to remove it’s original appeal. We have already seen the 40K universe shed some of its grimness in order to appeal to a wider audience (if you wish to learn more seek out some people who have played since the first editions of the game, they are never shy when sharing their opinions). In addition, the tone of the Age of Sigmar universe, while not exactly cheerful, has a level of color and energy that did not exist in the Warhammer Fantasy setting. Finally, it is worth mentioning that many companies are perfectly productive and profitable while remaining unknown to the wider public. What matters to a company isn’t that it is known by all people, just that it is know to the right people, its intended customers.
My response to these questions is to begin by pointing to an example of a setting that is quite mature and grim but still found broad appeal: Game of Thrones. Granted this argument worked significantly better before the show ended in the disastrous fashion that it did.
But what the show does prove is that there is a market for more adult themed stories and universes. You can even look at the Mandalorian show which has some decidedly grim moments nestled between the shots of baby Yoda that provide depth missing from some of the films. Thus it is possible to have setting that isn’t “kid friendly” but still successful without watering it down. The second objection I will address is that just because more people know about Games Workshop doesn’t mean that sales will increase at a commensurate rate. To this response I would argue that while that is possible, Games Workshop has a diverse set of product offerings that could still generate a significant amount of revenue outside of the cores games. If you subtract the miniatures from the two leading games that Games Workshop offers for sale, you still have the entire Black Library range, as well as countless other boxed games. True, Games Workshop mainly produces games (shocking I know) but these are spread out over a variety of levels and interests. When you factor in other merchandise such as clothes and audio books there is wide array of branded accessories available.
I am sympathetic to the argument that Games Workshop currently does not possess the manufacturing or retail infrastructure to make the most of a sudden boom in popularity. However, for my analysis I will be assuming these booms in popularity are a number of years off, and could be addressed over the course of such growth.
As this article is already beginning to grow significantly in length I will save my first analysis for the next article. I hope to perform an analysis of both the IP and tabletop games using the following criteria:
Feel free to leave any comments or specific questions you have or would like to see addressed through these reviews. I don’t claim to be all-knowing and am always happy to try to factor in additional variable in my articles.
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