Let's Hunt Some Orc!
29th Aug 2006 | 10:56
Games Workshop been involved with computer games since Spectrum text-only adventures. Their names aren't exactly legend: HeroQuest, Talisman, a racing game called Battlecars that got 66% in Crash magazine. Step forward in time and the Warhammer world has been used in enjoyable RTS games like Dawn Of War, but so-so FPS affair Fire Warrior and one aborted attempt at placing the Warhammer world online have made sad misuse of a license that could provide the gaming equivalent of catapulting off Barbara Windsor's bra. Soon, though, they'll be moving centre-stage with their whopping new Warhammer MMO, Age Of Reckoning, and tasty RTS affair Mark Of Chaos.
As such, we judged the time was ripe to visit their HQ, concealed behind Nottingham's Castle Marina. But, if Warhammer means little more to you than what the less sporty kids used to talk about in school, perhaps background knowledge is required.
I have a history with Games Workshop - from the days when my imagination was strong enough to sustain incredible worlds away from what my eyes insisted on seeing. You only had to say "Skill 10, Stamina 18", and I'd already conjured a fearsome demon with 12 multi-elbowed arms and a top hat hovering six-inches above its head. I loved the mix of madness and order; the fact that these people hadn't thrown the rulebook out of the window - they'd just written another one, more complicated than the original and using many more dice.
From general fantasy, Blood Bowl was my introduction to the world of Warhammer. A grid-based sports boardgame, its position in the Warhammer universe is inexact - as are most things in the Warhammer universe. But reading the manual, with all its 'fluff' designed to entertain and encourage you to give in to its conceit, I realised that these people took their fantasy extremely seriously, but still managed to be pretty damn funny. The effort, love and sheer craft that went into the game made my teenage brain ache with envy, as it presumably did for Cyanide, the guys who ripped Blood Bowl off with Chaos League and have now been granted the official BB licence. I resolved that I'd create my own world, with its own intricate rules. Sadly, I discovered alcohol, and spent the next three years of teenage spare time singing in a park.
Walking into the Games Workshop HQ in Nottingham showed me the world that might have been, had I stuck at it. The child has grown up (in a strange, obsessive way), earned money and gained power, but still keeps enough of itself to say: "I want a 12ft space marine outside and the reception has to look like a dwarf's made it". You're in the boy from the Twilight Zone's house now, so play by his rules.
A cheerful man approaches me and gestures at the themed reception: "It's a public company, so expenses like this have to be justified to shareholders. You have to convince people that this stuff's important for the business. I mean, we know it's important, but they have to know it too." And if a bar completely decked out in the manner of a Dwarven tavern is deemed important for business, then so be it.
STEP BACK IN TIME
Rewind 30 years to a time before shareholders. Games Workshop has the same bedroom roots as England's other pride, Viz. In 1975, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone realised how rubbish traditional boardgames were, and homeproduced a magazine called Owl And Weasel. This got into D&D creator Gary Gygax's hairy hands, and from that, Games Workshop landed the break of becoming sole distributors of D&D in Europe. Success forced them out of the mail order business and into their first retail outlet in Hammersmith in 1978. Owl And Weasel was revamped into White Dwarf, and now you're almost up-to-date with today's Games Workshop.
Only today, there's 3,000 employees, and they no longer sell external products - just the novels, miniatures, magazines and artefacts they conceive and produce themselves. The profit margins are better, for one, but on a more idealistic level, it's the stuff they love. It's why they're here, and it's why they never leave. In the museum, which contains every available miniature, licensing manager Erik Mogensen tells me: "We have two guys who spend all day here, painting figures. Then they go home and paint more. It's what they do."
My eyes widen, and I quickly adapt my instinctive response of 'what the f***?' to look like I'm saying 'wow!' "Well, it's not like you go home and don't play computer games, is it?"