Skip links

From respect to celebration: What Warhammer can teach healthcare about community

My son is a big Warhammer fan. He has tried to get me involved, but honestly, I don’t really have the patience that he does when it comes to applying multiple layers of paint to a tiny model troll. Despite this, I agreed to take him along to Warhammer Fest, up at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, a couple of weekends ago. Please bear in mind that the thoughts expressed in this post are those of a novice outsider.

Warhammer Fest 2018

The Ricoh Arena is not small. The Warhammer event took over the main exhibition space as well as multiple secondary areas and lounges. I would estimate that there were 2000 to 3000 people attending, with an average age of maybe 35, predominantly men. So, in an age of digital interaction, why should such an event flourish?

What is a community?

Many definitions of communities simply identify participants as having a common location, interest or idea. However, for me, there is a far more important consideration that defines a community – that is a desire to interact with other members for mutual benefit. This definition from Cambridge Dictionary has it in a nutshell:

“…a group of people who have similar interests or who want to achieve something together”

Collaboration is the very definition of a community.

Community thinking

The event offers Warhammer fans a chance to connect with their community. As a primarily physical game, the online interaction is not elemental in the way that it is in Fortnite or CSGo. Online video games are generally characterised by light touch social interactions – players in teams competing together for a shared objective, but little reason to connect in the real world. Warhammer fans have little interaction for the majority of their time preparing the game, even though (based on my son’s commitment) it can take up to hundreds of hours to prepare an army for battle.


The respect between Games Workshop, the business behind Warhammer, and the players is immense. The fans feel a real connection to everything behind the game, not just the game itself. The characters, the rules, the intent. This is, in part at least, due to the openness of Games Workshop to share their expertise.

Warhammer scenery designer sharing his skills
Warhammer scenery designer sharing his skills

There were dozens of designers, writers, artists who attended and were showcased by Games Workshop. The game designers felt like the heroes of the game and, by enabling the community to share in their thinking, their passion and their strategies for the future involved the players to own the outcome.


It certainly felt like the Warhammer rules designers listen and engage with their audience, testing and refining their thinking with them as part of the creative process. Listening to the Head of Middle Earth share their plans for future Warhammer generations of Tolkien’s world, there was a real interest in the crowd’s input to his ideas and opinions.


Participants in the Warhammer Community are connected in a number of ways resulting in a common bond and a common connection. The language used, words that have meaning and history, that bonds the community.

Indeed, there is even a community-created Wiki site ( which has over 150,000 pages. There is a passion and respect for the game and this forms the basis of the community.

Seminar on the future of Middle Earth.
Seminar on the future of Middle Earth.

A key part of the experience was an opportunity for the community to share things they are proud of, and to have those things recognised and celebrated. An entire room was dedicated to contributions of the community across a huge range of categories. And there were some serious trophies (and kudos) on offer for the winners.

And so, to healthcare…

What did I learn, and how can this be applied to healthcare?

  1. Listening is so much more than hearing. To really actively listen implies making a conscious effort to understand what audiences are really saying, why they are connecting, what they are sharing and what they are looking for. This is fundamental when it comes to participating in a community of shared interest. As a healthcare provider or a pharmaceutical manufacturer, you have an opportunity to connect to a community, but that is not the same as a right to connect. Don’t start from “What do we need to communicate?” but from a humbler position of “What could we do to earn a place in this community?”.
  2. Share your passion. I have met so many people in healthcare who are passionate about what they do and why, and most of them live well behind the corporate firewalls. Here’s an idea! Instead of taking endless sales and MSL teams to congresses, bring a selection of people who are united by their passion for helping the people who make up the community.
  3. Involve your community in defining and refining your strategies and plans. Not just in a small focus group or a service design exercise, but at an event that really allows the community to act as a community, not just as interested individuals.
  4. Celebrate participation. There were more prizes and awards than I could count at Warhammer, celebrating junior model builders, game performance, scenery painting, every aspect of the game that you could imagine. How can Healthcare recognise individual contributions to a disease or therapy area? Care Challenge is one way in which Sanofi celebrate ideas shared by the nursing community, but even here, there is so much more that can be done.

There is power in community, and Warhammer really understand this. They work to build the trust and confidence of their most loyal customers through engaging, respecting and celebrating their community. They don’t own the community, but they do collaborate and they are stronger for this.