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Tuesday, 28 August 2012


I recently blogged about the excessive use of hyperbole in political and business language. You could, if you wanted, call it hyperspeak. That’s what I’m calling it. So, after the rant was over, I was curious to see how the corporate side of Games Workshop shaped up. Would they also fall victim to over-enthusiastic generalisation, or to over-use of words like "engage", "reach out", "touch base", "create value", "offline"? Would they beat around the bush like so many other companies, who seem ashamed to admit that one of their primary functions as a company is to make a profit?

Games Workshop staff are renowned for their enthusiasm and excitement. I think of them as a cross between a puppy and a cave squig. Such a combination does not necessarily produce a calm and purposeful business strategy (calm and purposeful are my new favourite business words). For instance, here is how they describe Teclis of Ulthuan on their website:

Teclis is the greatest living Mage in this age of the World and his mastery of the magical arts isunsurpassed by        any living creature.

Wow. That’s pretty categoric. Teclis sounds awesome. I’m imagining the Chairman’s biography right now.

Tom Kirby is the greatest living businessman in this age of the World and his mastery of the Company Report is unsurpassed by any living creature.

What about how they describe The Empire?

Since its founding the Empire has endured terrible invasions. Through years of bloodshed, this land of Men has stood fast through faith and steel, its tireless citizen soldiers and valiant heroes, surviving against the innumerable foes that assail it from all sides.

Sounds bad. Innumerable foes? Terrible invasions? All sides? Imagine the annual report…

Since its founding Games Workshop has endured  a terrible business environment. Through years of recession, this company of hobby gamers has stood fast, its tireless hobby centre managers surviving against the innumerable foes that assail it from all sides.

But all that froth about the miniatures, and the armies, is to be expected. Their games are meant to build excitement, they’re meant to be epic and heroic. Would this translate into their business model? Despite my irritation with hyperbole, I was starting to look forward to reading that annual report. It could be…different, that’s for sure. I popped over to their Investor Relations site to find out more.

First up, their business model:

We have a simple strategy at Games Workshop. We make the best fantasy miniatures in the world and sell them globally at a profit.

First impressions? Good. They say what they do, and they say why do it. They don’t have some misleading statement in their vision that would belong better in a not-for-profit organisation.

What about their Chairman and how he runs the company? This is from his preamble to the 2011-2012 Annual Report.

My favourite graph in our internal reporting shows the sales in each country going as far back as we have records. 1988, I believe. The really great part about it is that it has over 20 years of data. You can see proper trends over 20 years, and if your intention is to build a business that lasts, which mine always has been, then ‘long term’ means decades.

Oh. So far, so very sensible. Plain English. No hyperbole. Long-term strategy. I’m not sure whether to be pleased or disappointed.

But then in the business model I found this:

                We call these Games Workshop Hobby centres because they show customers how to engage with our hobby of collecting, painting and playing with our miniatures and games.

Engage. They could have said “get involved.” However, it does actually fit with the sentence, and it does make sense in this context. Bah. Nothing to complain about here either.

I looked through the whole website, and the only part I could really quibble with was this:

                Here we employ wonderful young men and women, who are recruited for their enthusiasm and willingness to help others.

Enthusiasm and willingness. Good. Wonderful? Not so much. Are they really all wonderful? Are they really wonderful at all? Full of wonder? Honestly?

I didn’t like one sentence in a thirteen paragraph business model. Coca-Cola failed at the first, second, and third lines. Of a three-line vision.

The rest of the site (apart from the Chairman’s Preamble) is all voting rights, codes of compliance, and share price charts. Nothing too hyperbolic in any of them.

The Chairman’s Preamble is also written in plain English, without vacuous over-exaggeration, and generally left me feeling that he was a pretty sound person.

I particularly liked this section, which is the closing paragraph of the preamble (to the annual report 2011-2012):

More shareholder value is destroyed by managers making dumb short-term decisions to enable them to produce glowing quarterly reports than ever is gained in the laughably inappropriately named ‘transparency‘ they are supposed to bring. If you would like more transparency on Games Workshop, come to our annual general meeting. You will see our facilities, and maybe be quite surprised by how interesting they are. You will get to meet all the people who do the important things and talk to them about their jobs. You will also get, if such is your desire, a foaming pint of Bugman’s best in our famous bar. No, shareholders do not get a discount on beer. We don’t do discounts, not even for you.

And just when I thought it was getting all a bit too boring and businessy, they went and threw in a metaphor about moats.

Our continual investment in product quality, using our defendable intellectual property, provides us with a considerable barrier to entry for potential competitors: it is our Fortress Wall. While our 400 or so Hobby centres which show customers how to collect, paint and play with our miniatures and games provide another barrier to entry: our Fortress Moat. We have been building our Fortress Wall and Moat for many years and the competitive advantage they provide gives us confidence in our ability to grow profitably in the future.

I’d tell you all to go out an buy shares immediately, except I am not qualified AT ALL to provide financial advice, and the shares are currently the highest they’ve been for the last 5 years, and I know nothing about investing in the stock market.

What I do know is that Games Workshop, a small UK company with a history of hyperbolic over-enthusiasm for their hobby, manage to write more calm, measured, and sensible business English than some of the biggest companies in the world.  And that, quite frankly, has made my day.


  1. Nice. I thi k you're being too harsh on the use of "engage". We use it quite a lot when talking about how switched on/ apathetic kids are in class. :)

    1. Yeah, it's just a word that I have grown to hate. I don't mind it so much in the way you use it, or the way GW has used it. I hate the way Coke use it when they mean "do business".

  2. Seriously, where do you get the energy? I'm impressed.

    1. I know have the worst cold ever, perhaps the energy comes from my immune system, :)