Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Founders of Games Workshop - A Short History

In the early seventies, Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson decided to start a business around their favorite hobby - gaming. They were both friends since meeting in grammar school and enjoyed playing strategy games in their shared flat in London. They named their company Games Workshop and started by manufacturing and retailing fantasy games and models. Livingstone, who had graduated from Manchester University in business, worked for an oil company in London. He spent all his free time running the game business out of their London flat. 

Livingstone and Jackson started a newsletter named Owl and Weasel, which they distributed to others they knew in the gaming hobby. This caught the attention of Gary Gygax, the American creator of Dungeons and Dragons. He needed a European distributor for his role-playing game, and contacted Livingstone and Jackson. Gygax gave Games Workshop a three-year exclusive distribution deal for Dungeons and Dragons. He had no idea the only access the two had to a telephone was outside the hall of their flat, and that the two had no office and no staff.

Steve Jackson (left) and Ian Livingstone in the 1980s
Quitting their day jobs, Livingstone and Jackson devoted all their time to running Games Workshop and distributing Owl and Weasel, now a full-fledged magazine. They left their flat, rented an office, lived in a van, and used the toilets and showers at a squash club that they joined. After Game Workshop opened its first retail store in 1977 to a waiting crowd of 200, Livingstone said, “I think we’ve got something.”1 As wargaming and role-playing become more popular, Games Workshop became more profitable opened more retail stores in Britain.
Up to this point, Games Workshop had sold mostly games from other companies in its retail stores. In 1981, a Games Workshop employee named Rick Priestly combined role-playing, miniatures wargaming, and miniatures collecting to create Warhammer Fantasy Battle. That same year, Games Workshop acquired Citadel Miniatures, a manufacturer of lead miniatures for role-playing and other games. Citadel Miniatures started producing miniatures for the Warhammer game. Owl and Weasel became White Dwarf magazine, and in it the company began promoting Warhammer.

Games Workshop started producing other games; (many based off the same Tolkien mythology used in Warhammer). Due to the popularity of its own games, Games Workshop concentrated solely on promoting and selling only its own games. Livingstone and Jackson left Games Workshop in 1991, but Games Workshop continues to keep many gaming enthusiasts on its management staff.

1. H. Kunzru, “Not Connected: Not Playing When He Plays Wired World: The Dungeon Master Hari Kunzru Meets Ian Livingstone.” The Daily Telegraph, December 8, 1997.
2. M. McGrath, “A Visit To The Fantasy World Of Ian Livingstone.” Independent, June 6, 1998.

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