Why is Warhammer So Expensive?
We've all heard the complaints time and time again: Warhammer is too expensive--Games Workshop is ripping us off!
But are they really? Is the cost of Warhammer reasonable, or is it truly a money grab?
Why Is Warhammer So Expensive?
There are three reasons why Warhammer models cost so much: Cost of Goods, Brand Name, and Niche Market. Let's look at each in turn.
Cost of Goods
I did some internet sleuthing, including uploading a 3D CAD file to a plastic injection molding company's website, to get a gauge on how expensive plastic injection molds really are. The results, both from that website's cost estimate, and also from other Google searching, is that the cost of a die mold for a detailed plastic sprue would be somewhere between $28,000 and $60,000. And that's just the price for a single die, for a single sprue. Now imagine that a box has three different sprues--that's somewhere in the neighborhood of $84,000 to $180,000 just for the steel dies. That doesn't even include the price of the plastic that gets injected into them. (I couldn't find a good cost estimate on plastic per sprue. I imagine that the cost is no more than two or three dollars per sprue.)
But then you get into the issue of the factory that is churning out those models: that a LOT of plastic injection molds, a lot of plastic, plus all of the labor involved. There are either people or machines who are removing sprues from the molds, inspecting them for air bubbles and errors, and then packaging them.
In addition to the salaries of the people who work in the factory, we have to add in the salaries of everyone who works for the company: yes, the artists are definitely going to get a cut, because they developed the models, and there will be artists who did the preliminary drawings plus the box art. But then you have the painters who make the models look good, and the sales and marketing teams who make sure that those products get sold. There's the distribution and supply chain team who make sure that the products can get where they're supposed to go. (Insert Cursed City joke here.) There's the staff who work in the stores, and, of course, the executives.
That's a lot of people who depend on the price of those miniatures for their livelihood. (And we haven't even begun to add in the cost of the facilities of all the factories, headquarters, and stores around the world.)
So, yes, while you may look at a single sprue of plastic and say "What did this cost to make? Three dollars?" the truth is that that little sprue has to carry a lot of weight.
But let's not kid ourselves. Warhammer 40k and Warhammer Age of Sigmar cost more than similar plastic model kits. And while a good portion of that is because their models are, frankly, superior to the vast majority of the competition (compare a brand-new 40k model to a brand-new Warlord Games model, or a brand-new Mantic model, or a brand-new Privateer Press model), the quality of the miniatures is not the only reason that Warhammer demands a premium.
That reason is brand. When the vast majority of people get into role playing games, they're going to get into Dungeons and Dragons first--yes there are thousands of RPGs out there, but Dungeons and Dragons is the biggest kid in the room by a huge factor.
The same goes for wargaming. If someone is going to get into wargaming, 9 times out of 10 they are going to get into Warhammer. The games are ubiquitous. Games Workshop knows this, and they do absolutely everything in their power to make sure that it always stays that way. (See my article on why the reason that Warhammer Fantasy Battles died because it stopped drawing new people into the game.) Games Workshop has 40k and Age of Sigmar as their backbone, but they're constantly trying to draw new people in with Warcry and Kill Team and Underworlds. They know that if they hook you in the universe on a small scale, you might get hooked into the universe on the big scale.
Contrary to popular opinion, there's nothing underhanded about this. Games Workshop has a product that they're trying to sell, so they try to hook customers as young as they can get them. If this is immoral, it's no more immoral than Lego selling Duplo to toddlers.
The truth is that Warhammer, in all its varieties is a quality product and while there are definitely arguments to be made that it's not THE best quality wargame or miniatures game, it is absolutely top tier. While, yes, there is truth to the idea that the masses can be fooled into liking something dumb just because everyone else is doing it, generally those fad products do not have the staying power of a 40-year -old brand.
To put it simply, they must be doing something right. The saying from Publius Syrus, which goes back to 50 BC, is that "Everything is worth what the purchaser will pay for it." So if the public is willing to pay $200 for a new starter box, then that is, by definition, what it's worth.
Finally, the thing that we need to look at is that wargaming is a niche market. Games Workshop is absolutely the Big Daddy in the wargaming world, but it's still, comparatively, a very small market. When a manufacturer churns out more products, the price per item will go down. When they sell fewer of an item, the price per item goes up.
Let's look at a different plastic-injection-molded toy and compare: Mattel's Barbie line sold approximately $1.16 billion in 2020. That's just for one single toy line. Games Workshop's entire revenue, worldwide, during that same year, was $379.85 million.
In other words, economies of scale dictate that it's going to be cheaper to make Barbies than it's going to be to make Warhammer models, because there are just so many more of them. Price per item drops as number of items produced goes up, because the fixed costs remain the same.
(Now, if you want to feel bad for someone, think of smaller wargaming companies like Perry Miniatures or Wargames Atlantic who churn out some truly great plastic kits and who get little-to-no press.)
Is Warhammmer Really That Expensive? Really?
Warhammer is a game that is attractive to pre-teens, teens, and adults, but it is,, by far, the adults that are doing the most shopping for models. Let's compare Warhammer hobby to other hobbies that are played by similar demographics:
The cost of a Space Marine army:
Codex: Space Marines $50
Combat Patrol: Space Marines $140
Two HQ Units (Chaplain, Librarian, Captain, Lieutenant) $35 each
Assault Intercessors $60
That's a pretty average 2000 point army list, and it comes in at $537. Add in paint and brushes and we'll call it an even $600.
So that's our base cost: $600 for a playable army.
Let's look at console gaming:
XBox Series X $724
Crap, we didn't even add in any games. Let's try again:
Sony Playstation 5 $760
Alienware Aurora R12 $1099
So let's get away from gaming hobbies and turn our attention to something more on the creative side. Let's say that you want to get into woodworking. (List taken from The 9 Best Woodworking Tools of 2021)
DeWalt Tablesaw $807
Ryobi Orbital Jigsaw $64
VonHaus Chisel Set $40
BeaverCraft Woodcarving Knife $20
BOSCH Palm Sander $69
Metabo Hitachi Drill $129
Keter Folding Worktable $95
Craftsman Miter Saw $186
WORX MAKERX Wood & Metal Crafter $43
Grand Total: $1453
We could go on and on into hobbies for teens and adults: Homebrewing, skiing or snowboarding, fishing, hunting, traveling.
And yes, of course there are hobbies that are cheaper than Warhammer. We haven't forgotten about Netflix, or Chess, or Gardening (within reason), or discovering new music, or perhaps cheapest of all: reading. All of these are great hobbies and as long as you don't go overboard with new garden tillers or attending a lot of live concerts you won't be paying Warhammer money for any of them.
But if the question is: is Warhammer unreasonably expensive, then the answer, frankly, is no.