Former Managing Director at Games Workshop
Ronnie has over 30 years experience in the miniature wargaming world. He joined Games Workshop in 1989, straight from university, when the company only had £2-3m revenue. Ronnie ran the UK, opened Germany for GAW, and spent 4 years as Global Marketing Director before leaving in 2007 to start Mantic Games, a miniature wargaming business. Mantic has launched Hellboy licensed games and created proprietary IP such as Kings of War which Ronnie still works on today. Read moreView Profile Page
Disclaimer: This interview is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment decisions. In Practise is an independent publisher and all opinions expressed by guests are solely their own opinions and do not reflect the opinion of In Practise.
Ronnie, can you provide a short introduction to your background please?
Yes; I grew up enjoying and playing with miniature war games and toy soldiers and I thought rather than working for a living I'd make that my career. Back in 1992, I joined Games Workshop after finishing my undergraduate degree – 10 fantastic interesting years – as the company grew and I grew until I realized I was 30 and had children on the way. At that point, I did what is called the divorce MBA which is the executive MBA working five days a week and studying the other two days, just as the children arrived, so great planning skills. I spent a further five years at Games Workshop before setting my own company up called Mantic Games, 10 years ago.
How big was Games Workshop in 1992 and what were the products?
I knew Games Workshop from 1981 to 1983 when I was 10 to 12 years old and sold Games Workshop products in the playground, because you couldn't buy them anywhere near us. The local Games Workshop store – one of only six at the time – was in Manchester 20 miles away. I got to know some of the people then and I would go to their open days. At that point, it was turning over maybe a million pounds. When I joined from 1989, because I didn't think I would get my A-levels, they were turning over £2 or £3 million. By 1992 I worked with them in store through my summer holidays, while at university in Leeds, and they just had the management buyout. The original founder had gone, the current management team were in and they were turning over £6 to £7 million and starting to ramp up growth.
Who was involved with the management buyout?
Tom Kirby, who worked there several years, bought it from the MD, Bryan Ansell, who sold his shares last year for £150 million. He owned them since the early 90s so it was a life dominating investment for him. I think he only sold half of them so he is a wealthy guy now. They bought it for £10 million back then, with private equity money, floated in the mid-90s and grew up mostly in full view of being a PLC.
Can you describe the original Warhammer game dynamics?
Warhammer was a combination of several things. We all built Airfix kits when we were young and that is what we call modeling. That is where you glue them together, paint them and you all built the Spitfire. Maybe your generation did not, but from my age and older, everybody grew up on Airfix kits. There was also another geeky group called war gamers. Back then, they were all historical war gamers who would recreate the Battle of Waterloo. You would line up all your figures, which you had probably painted, and would move them around by throwing dice. HG Wells wrote the first war gaming book and Rick Priestley brought the fantasy angle which came across from the D&D and Lord of the Rings genres. Those miniatures were combined with historical war games rules.
The first fantasy world was created which had Orks, dwarves and elves, but instead of painting and collecting them, you put them on the gaming table to war game with.
What makes that so special?
It is a combination of all those factors above. We like to go off to our geeky room and sit there and paint for a few hours. Very often, you spend most time painting and the second most time buying things. Similar to other hobbies, a camper spends their time on camping sites looking for new widgets and a fisherman will buy a different lure. No matter what your hobby is, the geek gene means you go in, get to know about it, collect it all up and get obsessed about it. But then there is also that gaming angle. It is not dissimilar to chess in that there is a board and pieces, but instead of the same pieces and no chance of luck, we have dice and battle fields to fight over. I am less bothered about game play than painting it all up and making it look nice. I play but that is secondary. Someone who loves chess is serious about the game but how it looks is less important. It is a hall with many houses in, but it panders to several geek urges.
Do most people paint the miniatures?
Yes, some enjoy it and some only do that. Many spend weeks on a single figure. Others see it as a necessary evil and paint them all quickly to get on the gaming table sooner. One of the charms of the hobby is that whatever bit you do, particularly in the time of the internet, you can find like-minded people who also enjoy that aspect. You do not need all aspects to enjoy it. You can game predominantly and paint as a necessary evil, or you can spend ages painting, learning new techniques which is quite creative. There is a sense of satisfaction once your army is painted. I have mine over there on the shelf; when you have painted your gang, you feel great.
How has the way people approach games and paint their armies evolved?
There has been a big change. When I was at school collecting this stuff, you were very much in the geek crowd for doing such a thing as opposed to being in the cool kid collection. It was very niche; people did not understand it and very much poo-pooed it. Similarly with people who read comics. Over the past 20 years there has been an adoption of fantastical stories, from Warhammer all the way through the whole Marvel universe, the Lord of the Rings movies, Batman and Spiderman films, and what is great is the adoption of the creativity, being able to be told. CGI meant that what we used to have to imagine, can now be put on screen. That brought all the geeky imaginative hobbies into the main stream which changed everything.
Has better CGI in Marvel and Batman films reinvigorated Warhammer?
In 1989, the first Batman movie came out where Batman was a serious character. He was properly acted in a big budget movie that was different from the slapstick Batman of the 60s. I recently watched Aliens with my sons, which back in the mid-90s, was the pinnacle for sci-fi geeks. This was the biggest title at the time with big actors and directors, and they had to be careful because making CGI believable was difficult. There is one point where they fly across from clouds, which is clearly a model, and my kids laughed.
This was the holy grail of gaming, this was the first, this was when it came. My kids are so used to seeing Thanos stomping across the green, not realizing it's £1 million of 2nd TV work. We forgave them for that and Star Wars but with bigger budgets, people got braver. By 2002, Lord of the Rings spent £250 million on three movies, but they get a billion pounds back each. Hogwarts, Harry Potter, suddenly wizards are cool. There was a shift from the 80s where it was all weird and satanic to now everybody is watching Marvel, Thanos and Harry Potter.