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On Looking at the Size of the "Wargaming Industry"

Saturday, October 19, 2013
How big is the "Wargames Industry"? - it's hard to know.
Over at Shed Wars there is an interesting post about the estimated size of the Wargames Industry. This is a subject which various people have tried to address over the years, and the guesses (and that is truly what they are) have been all over the place. That is no fault of those who are doing the guessing; there is really very little hard evidence to base a judgment upon, and what data and evidence exists is subject to varying forms of interpretation. There is always an American view, a UK-centric view, and a global view—all of which may read the data from a slightly different perspective.

The Shed Wars post does differ slightly from many similar estimations in that, while it does look at the possible number of gamers, its real point is to illustrate the potential size of the industry in dollars. Starting with a guestimation of how many hobbyists are on line—which is admittedly very difficult, if not impossible a task, it moves on to project an annual industry spend based on an average annual amount per-person. The estimation of approximately $200 (converted from UK pounds) may or may not be valid; there is really no way of knowing. Some wargamers spend practically all their disposable income on the hobby; others may go for a year or two spending nothing at all—especially when life's “distractions” pull them away from the hobby for extended periods of time.

This latter point is another reason why basing any kind of projections on TMP registrations is sketchy, since the site has been online for so long, there are probably a high percentage of visitors who have registered years ago and have long since left the hobby for other pursuits. As a result, it's hard to know how many of these registrants are “active.”

Indeed, the available data that the post offers seems to point in all different directions. TMP registrations seem to indicate that there are 5000 members based in the UK. And yet the UK's largest game show, Salute, drew over 10,000 visitors. Some quick geographically-based calculations and projections provide a final estimation of about 50,000 hobbyists in the UK, and a simple “double-that” for the USA. Again, using the $200 per person spending level, a $180 million worldwide market is projected.

Interesting, but again—because the data that the calculations are based upon is suspect and conjectural, the results must be as well. This is revealed again at the end, when released global sales figures for Games Workshop of $240 million are given; it is then argued that Warhammer players are of a very different sort and that their numbers and spending must be counted separately from historical wargamers, with the result that the GW sales total is simply added onto the original $180 million – for a global total of $420 million.

Again, going back to the very beginning of the calculations, I would ask—yes, but how many of those TMP registrants were 40K and fantasy gamers, at least on a part-time basis? I would guess a significant number—as a look at many blogs makes clear, a number of dedicated historical wargamers also may dabble in GW and other fantasy realms from time-to-time (Warhammer Historicals, anyone?). Even taking this lightly into consideration, the overlap between the two markets makes it clear that claiming absolutes in this area is not highly recommended.

In the end, what we are left with is an admirable attempt to make sense out of the meager and suspect data that we have available. I believe there are flaws in some of the calculations and assumptions—but in the end, while we may disagree with the exact final tally, I cannot dispute the final verdict:

So we are not really a big market – we are very niche. To put it into context the UK sells around £700m worth of bananas a year.”

Yes. Exactly. Well said.

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I've been interested in wargaming ever since I started playing with my Marx toy soldiers in the backyard in the mid-60's, and then again when I came across Don Featherstone's Battles with Model Soldiers at the local library in the early 70's. About 20 years ago I started painting some medieval knights for my son as a Christmas present, and became re-acquainted with the hobby...[more]