How Games Work­shop turned plas­tic fig­urines into solid gold

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Business - By Luke Mintz Warham­mer Warham­mer Warham­mer

When Sony, Nin­tendo and Mi­crosoft be­gan to pull in bil­lions from video games, many be­lieved that the days of the old-fash­ioned plas­tic gam­ing fig­urine were over.

The fate of Games Work­shop, once al­most ubiq­ui­tous on the UK high street, seemed to con­firm this. The Not­ting­ham-based re­tailer, known for sell­ing models of gob­lins, aliens and other fantasy char­ac­ters, has had a dif­fi­cult time in re­cent years, hit in 2015 by dis­ap­point­ing Christ­mas sales and a slow­down on the high street.

But the com­pany has now made a dra­matic re­cov­ery, with its rev­enues and pre-tax profit soar­ing in 2016. Last week the busi­ness an­nounced that its prof­its would be “well above” last year’s – with div­i­dends now stand­ing at 35p per share – to send the com­pany’s share price rock­et­ing by around 10pc.

Just what has brought about this re­ver­sal of for­tunes?

The dig­i­tal revolution

Games Work­shop has been pump­ing out its plas­tic fig­urines to a hard­core com­mu­nity of gam­ing fans since the Seven­ties. But the busi­ness did not make the mis­take of try­ing to fight the dig­i­tal revolution.

In­stead, Games Work­shop ac­cepted that gam­ing could well be shift­ing on­line and has ex­panded its range to suit, launch­ing sev­eral apps for

– its big­gest fantasy game – in re­cent years. In­deed, be­fore 2015

fans of­ten com­plained that they couldn’t find any apps for their favourite game. Now, ac­cord­ing to one fan web­site, the app store is “full to the brim with the damn things”.

In­ter­na­tional market

It would be a mis­take, how­ever, to think that Games Work­shop’s come­back is en­tirely down to its dig­i­tal tran­si­tion. Much of its success in 2016 was in fact driven by old­fash­ioned means: sales of plas­tic fig­urines over the high street counter, or through the “snail mail” post.

In­deed, the com­pany took £30.2m from mail or­der sales in the year to May 2017, a 20pc in­crease on the pre­vi­ous year, and brought in £58.7m in tra­di­tional re­tail sales, an 18pc jump. For this, Games Work­shop can thank the grow­ing in­ter­na­tional ap­petite for its tra­di­tional plas­tic fig­urines; the re­tailer opened 14 new out­lets in North Amer­ica in 2016, as well as five in Asia and five in Aus­tralia.

A grow­ing en­thu­si­asm for plas­tic fig­urines may, in the age of Playsta­tion 4 and vir­tual re­al­ity gam­ing, seem like an anachro­nism. But it’s not as sur­pris­ing as you might think. Across the gam­ing world, a nos­tal­gia-fu­elled fond­ness for “vin­tage” board games is prompt­ing many gamers to turn away from their com­puter screens and to­wards their plas­tic col­lec­tions – and Games Work­shop is cash­ing in.

Brexit

Games Work­shop opened 26 new out­lets out­side the UK in the year lead­ing to May 2017, bring­ing its total num­ber to 315. Three quar­ters of all sales are now gen­er­ated out­side Bri­tain. This grow­ing for­eign pres­ence gave the busi­ness cause for cel­e­bra­tion in June 2016, when it was able to cash in on the sharp fall in the value of the pound fol­low­ing the Brexit vote.

While the re­tailer posted rev­enues of £158m in the year up to May 2017 (a 34pc in­crease on the pre­vi­ous year), this fig­ure would only have been £143m (a 21pc in­crease) at a con­stant cur­rency rate. Brexit, and the sharp fall in the pound, is clearly cru­cial; dur­ing the pre­vi­ous year (up to May 2016) cur­rency fluc­tu­a­tions made al­most no difference to rev­enue fore­casts.

Roy­al­ties

For the last 40 years, Games Work­shop has sold mil­lions of phys­i­cal prod­ucts – fig­urines, board games, model weapons, and a host of other geeky dreams. But it has also cre­ated a brand, a com­mu­nity of fans loyal to the

cause.

Now, this global (and grow­ing) rep­u­ta­tion is be­gin­ning to pay rich div­i­dends in the form of roy­al­ties, with Games Work­shop mak­ing £7.5m last year from the sale of its in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty. This marked a 26pc in­crease on the prior year.

With vin­tage board games once again in vogue across the global gam­ing com­mu­nity, Games Work­shop’s brand looks set to grow ever stronger – and the re­tailer is ready to cash in.

Video games and film spin-offs, such as War­craft, have not dented sales of fig­urines

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