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“We have a customer base that devours everything we do”

Jon Gillard, global head of licensing at Games Workshop, talks making a multi-billion-pound industry out of selling miniature models to play strategy games and its plans for Licensing Expo.

Games Workshop has had amazing success recently, which is incredible for a brand that’s so established and also one that embraces the non-digital as well as the digital. What’s the secret to this success and how do you continue to innovate?

I’m not sure it’s a secret as we say it all the time! We’re very focused on making products, either ourselves or through licensing partners, that are high quality, and then delivering them with an extraordinary quality of service.
Having been around for decades there’s an ever-increasing number of extremely passionate Warhammer fans – they may not all be involved in every product type all the time, but the IP is in their blood and whether their current thing is miniatures, books, action figures, animation, video games or just wearing a t-shirt to publicly profess their love, they are a very engaged customer base. So, knowing our audience intrinsically and providing them with products they want is the key, and they value that enormously.

Innovation means never standing still and that has always been a part of our philosophy.

Nobody thought 40 years ago you could make a multi-billion-pound industry out of selling miniature models to play strategy games, but through focus, passion and sheer force of will we have built a market and customer base that devours everything we do.

So, we continuously look for new ways to talk to existing and new fans, and we are seeing the results – White Dwarf magazine continues to buck the downward trend in magazine sales, our video games are reaching new audiences and selling millions of units, and last summer we launched Warhammer+ a subscription service for the Warhammer hobby, covering  animation series, weekly in-house hobby shows and premium access to products and all official Warhammer events amongst many other things.

What are the biggest trends – challenges or opportunities – facing licensing and retail?

From our perspective the biggest opportunity for us is the continued growth in popularity of sci-fi and fantasy as genres. What for so long was seen as niche and only to be found at specialty retailers such as Forbidden Planet and Gamestop, can now be found in almost every retailer. For us, White Dwarf magazine has trials in Walmart and Target in the US alongside listings for other Warhammer products. Not only will this help further demonstrate the popularity of IP such as Warhammer, but will also help them find new audiences.

In general people are no longer afraid to talk about what they’re passionate about even if they were once considered ‘uncool’ and we’re lucky enough to have vocal celebrity fans such as Henry Cavill, Ed Sheeran and Rahul Kohli help break down that stigma further.

Are you exhibiting at Expo for the first time? If so, what are you hoping to achieve from being on the show floor?

We have been at Expo before although after two years it seems a little bit like our first time again, and we’ve grown our licensing business enormously in that time. We’re just really excited to get face to face with so many of our partners, existing and prospective and speak to retailers about all of the great opportunities we have coming up over the next few years – Space Marine in particular.

What can visitors expect to see on your stand?

We will be talking about our big franchises – Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, Total War: Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. And we’ll have loads of great products from our fantastic partners to show off, as well as the opportunity for attendees to try out some of our biggest games.

Games Workshop is one of the British organisations exhibiting at Licensing Expo, which runs 24-26 May in Las Vegas. You can register for free by clicking here.

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