What will it take for 40k to go meta? Part 2

Option 1: The Game Itself – Strengths and Weaknesses

Hello everyone, welcome back to my series examining the likelihood of the Games Workshop Universe “going mainstream.” If you missed my first article you can read it here. In this next installment I will be examining the  Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats the games in the 40k Universe possess in relation to helping Games Workshop reach a significant level of cultural influence. This will be in contrast to rising to prominence through the expanded universe, books video games etc. In all likelihood if Games Workshop does reach this level of cultural influence it will be through a mix of the two but for the sake of simplicity we will bifurcate them for the analysis.

Existing Examples:

One of the best examples of a game that has reach a degree of cultural penetration through the game itself is Magic the Gathering. While I am sure many people (including yours truly) have no idea what the story is behind the setting (I wasn’t even aware there was one for many years Many of us are aware of the game existing and its referenced in various ways in pop culture (with some tournaments being broadcast on ESPN thought the last one was in 2000). Other examples include many common board games such as Chess, Backgammon, Settlers of Catan etc. While these may not be perfectly analogous (I am not holding my breath for a Backgammon film as part of the extended board game universe) they serve to show that it is possible for games to become popular on their own merits unattached to a larger narrative. 


When it comes to the game itself, it is easy to quickly identify some obvious strengths. Games Workshop has long defined itself as a models company and this is borne out by their work. Their minis are usually on the cutting edge both of style and technical ability, and they offer a breadth of factions that isn’t matched by any other single distributor. A second major advantage is that the community for their games is widely distributed and fairly well entrenched. After all it doesn’t matter how great a game is if you cannot find anyone to play it with. Another strength of the games themselves is their (relative) longevity. While Age of Sigmar is technically younger than 40k you still have models you can use that stretch back years. As with the concern about lack of opponents, having a game that has survived the ups and downs of the market will provide a degree of security that is lacking from newer games that may just be a flash in the pan.

Additionally, the game itself strongly encourages players to consider game modes other then strict competitive matches (narrative, open, crusade, etc). This makes it easier for new players to learn the game while also providing space for casual gamer who won’t wish to constantly skim the internet for updates. Finally, the ability to individually craft and customize your army is a great way for people to personally invest and create an emotional bond (pun intended) between you and your plastic people. 


While the strengths of the game are manifold so are the weaknesses. The most obvious issue is the price. While I don’t think building and maintaining a collection is much more expensive then some other hobbies (on a yearly basis), the core games do struggle with a delayed sense of gratification. If I wished to sit down and spend $600 on a gaming console and some games I would be able to enjoy them almost immediately. Compared to spending that amount on 40k or Sigmar products that would take up to a year to build and paint (at my speed) granted you could fit them in a game after just building granted. Furthermore, it takes time to build up the skills necessary to build and paint well and some people feel embarrassed about their lack of ability (especially if you assume the images on the 40k reddit represent the average player). 

First time painting minis go easy on me

A less obvious weakness of the game is of a more fundamental and critical nature. When I was in university,  I remember my marketing professor discussing the use of a popular fast food chain offering $5 foot-long sandwiches. While the campaign was enormously effective he pointed out that it would be difficult for the chain moving forward as they couldn’t increase their prices without backlash. In a similar way, the Games Workshop games have an issues with the lifespan of their models. Implicit in the purchase of every model is the idea that you will be able to use this for a significant (if not indefinite) period of time. Thus Games Workshop faces the issue that once a customer buys a certain number of products, if the game is unchanged, they are set for life. You could see some push back occur in the shifts in 9th edition with the removal of certain popular models and some….

Not so popular models. 

This is also where the customization of the game becomes a weakness as it is difficult to remove models form the game without demoralizing or enraging your player base. Thus you are either left with the choice of having bloated product lines that choke out retail space for high sellers or you remove models from circulation and risk looking greedy. Quick turnover works well for card games as their is significantly less time investment needed to play the game but for table top gaming it works less well.

The final weakness of the game is it’s complexity. While complex games provide a degree of tactical depth that is deeply satisfying, they can also intimidate new players. I think Games Workshop knows this and has been working on slimming down the rules (as you can see with the direction they took in 8th Edition). However any game that places a strong emphasis on army building is inherently more difficult to encourage casual gamers to try. Since few people are willing to devote 2-3 hours to playing one game (not including list design time) it will be difficult for either game to go mainstream.

One awkward item I had trouble fitting into either section was the community aspect of the games. In my experience I have found the communities centered on these games to be overwhelmingly positive, yet at the same time, have had a number of profoundly bad experiences. One of the issues of niche games is that there is a high degree of variance dependent on your geography. If you live in an area with a low number of clubs you may find it difficult to play if you don’t get along with the other members. So while a good community can really cause the game to flourish and nurture young players a sour one can quickly quash any growth.

Originally I was going to include the Threats and Opportunities in this article too but it was pushing the page limit to four pages singled spaced so I will save them for next time.

As a whole, I believe Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40k have more strengths then weaknesses in relation to their ability to spur Games Workshop into the national conscious. In the next section I will examine the Threats and Weakness that might hold the game back from achieving this goal.

Agree or disagree with my thoughts? Post below and let me know what you think!

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!



6 Responses to “What will it take for 40k to go meta? Part 2”

  1. Rob Butcher December 12, 2020 1:44 pm #

    Hobby ?
    Toy soldiers ?

    Magic cards is still seen as toys used by Geeks … go into pub and talk about it, people will think you’re mad … Magic cards is also a minority of players, compared to the games consoles in most homes (and some of thsoe games are licennsed by GW).

    Really not sure of the purpose of this article either academically or professionally.

    • Jace December 12, 2020 3:53 pm #

      I think it’s just sharing thoughts and an opinion, surely not too foreign a concept?

  2. Zweischneid December 13, 2020 3:48 am #

    GW does a few games that probably fit the bill a lot better.

    E.g. Warhammer Underwords. Fewer models for easy entry, less customisation allowing better competitive balance, much smaller and faster games making them much more streaming/e-sport friendly, annually rotating card decks to keep things fresh and not tied to legacy models in ways the more casual “show all your toys” games like 40K have to be.

    If you insist on the (imperfect) Wizards analogy, those are your MtG equivalents, whereas 40K would be closer to the D&D equivalent – more sprawling, customisable, less tightly constrained – as far as the niche they aim for with their various products.

  3. RossMM December 13, 2020 1:01 pm #

    I agree 40k and AoS are not the best GW games for this. Their scale is also too big for good visuals, IMHO.

    I agree Underworlds would work. Reading this article I was thinking about X Wing as a better game than 40k/AoS to go mainstream due to the size and time to play, and WHU is very comparable.

    I’d also love Blood Bowl to get more love from this perspective, as it’s more focused (being more like a board game in some ways) and has the interesting development aspect.

  4. Mandude December 14, 2020 6:17 pm #

    The main things that are holding back 40k from going mainstream are how free-form it is, along with price.

    Most people these days have far greater exposure to video games with set maps, rules and unit options. 40k is over 20 years old now and still has an unstable rule-set that’s constantly in flux in addition to GW going “just do whatever, man” when asked how to set up terrain or which unit options are actually allowed in games. Compare that to Magic that figured out the basic rule set a while ago and is just adding flavor and card interactions on top of it.

    Then add to that the stance most old-timers have where they “just want to roll dice” and don’t care about the actual game or army compositions and you get this package that doesn’t look attractive to video game players looking to play 40k.

    Basically, as long as Warhammer remains this free-form game with little to no concrete stance from the developer, it will remain niche.

    • Ghosar December 15, 2020 3:03 am #

      Interesting take ! I am a tournament player, I try to win every game, I will steamroll mu opponent if I can (hah hah) but I actually enjoy that “free-form”. Yes that free-form means you will lose some “close” games because of it (games you might even have won with tighter trules, who knows ?)
      Just like I don’t feel the need for video assistance in pro football (soccer) referee decisions. I think people nowadays have a need to take games way too seriously. You absolutely can play a game with a little “free-form” competitively.

      But I must say tournaments I went to before 8th (6th and 7th, did not tourney before these editions) did feel so much like “just do whatever, man” that yes, there was much too much free form before 8th to really take a tourney seriously. ITC helped with that but in France we didn’t have ITC tournaments 🙁
      Psy spells like invisibility alone made you feel that tournaments were kind of pointless in 7th edition.
      GW now offers a much tighter ruleset, with just enough free-form for me (I love video games but I really don’t want 40K to feel like one).

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