Thursday, 22 November 2012
Making a living from wargaming, a modern holy grail
Few people making a living out of hobby wargaming.
Many wargamers are outstanding specialists, who know a great deal about particular aspects of the most diverse hobby of wargaming. Some of these are fine rule writers, excellent at organising games, figure painters worthy of artistic accolade, great board game designers, clever model makers etc. A bold generalisation could be that practically any wargaming club in the land has some people who are very good at the hobby. The problem is that some have sufficient self-awareness to recognise their expertise, expect others to recognise this and then anticipate hobby to reward them with a living.
Games Workshop, like them or loath them, with a 2009 turnover of £61 million, are an outstanding commercial wargaming company in the world. They produce figures, rules, paint, scenery and fiction (based around their fantasy/ science fiction). In 2009, they reported a net debt of £11 million. By factory efficiencies (using cheap labour, such as paying staff in figures), reducing staff numbers (and age, making them below the minimum wage for ages 21+), moving shops to lower rent locations, they expected a profit of £14 million for the tax year ending April 2010. The decline in sales of Lord of the Rings figures almost finished the company.
Apart from Games Workshop, there are not many companies of 25 staff +, making money out of wargaming. There are a few board game companies, a few computer companies who produce products most wargamers would acknowledge as ‘proper wargames’ and many, many small companies jostling for entry level positions.
The reason for the scarcity of major or even medium sized companies in wargaming are due to inherent characteristics of the hobby itself and do not reflect a lack of desire, enthusiasm or effort on behalf of various entrepreneurs who turn to the their much loved hobby of wargaming in an attempt to get rich. SPI found that its 80,000 Strategy and Tactics subscribers received 6 issues a year and on average bought 6 more games per year. It seemed that for most wargaming consumers, this was enough material to keep them happy for 12 months. In today’s terms, they would be spending a mere £200 to sustain themselves in their hobby.
Wargaming armies are not that expensive, especially if one is willing to use plastic or second hand figures. Shopping around with £100 would get a good army (or more) at a local show. The problem for making money out of wargaming is that figures, scenery and rules have a relatively long shelf life. Once painted, with a bit of care, armies can be used, sold and resold many times. Some rule books become out of date, but many are still entertaining decades later. Well made scenery seems to go on forever. I am using a bridge which was painted by Charles Grant (the first one) from 50 years ago.
To participate in the grand hobby of wargaming does not need a huge expenditure to sustain it, there is a large second hand market, an investment in a set of scenery could be utilised over a whole lifetime. A single set of rules with a suitable army can keep a wargamer entertained for months.
The conglomeration of these factors creates a sector of business where it is very hard for entrepreneurs to make significant amounts of money. Few people making a living out of hobby wargaming.