17 Jan 2014

Random musings #1 - The Rise of the Consumer-Games

So having passed the dreaded seventh day mark of any blogger I figured I'd better get going and write something again. Not so much because I fear for losing whatever audience I have, but rather because I made myself a promise (or resolution, if you will) that I should really write more in this new year - there's only one way to get better at something, sheer repetition.

However, luck would also have it that I've been mulling over a topic as of late that I'd like to present to you - the wargamers out there - the rise of the Consumer Game!

What do I mean by a Consumer Game? To me it is a very specific method of promoting your wargame wherein you actively encourage people to always buy new miniatures, new books, new stuff and even more stuff for them to have an equal footing with their peers down at the club where they are usually played. Some also refer to them as Boutique Games, because of the beautifully sculpted but extremely expensive miniatures; I've also seen them referenced as Coffee-table games as they can usually be played on an area similar to a coffee table.

But, to me, these classifications both miss the mark of what I feel these games really are - Magic the Gathering with Miniatures; a collectable game that you need to do all the work for yourself, with only a single driving force - money. They are wargames, as such, but are driven by corporate entities whose sole purpose is to create games that can be sold as a complete package for maximum profit. Games Workshop is the worst such example, but the wargaming community is slowly flooded by the likes, with their overly specialized miniatures, set-piece-combo-rules and what have you. It's not a hobby, it's a product disguised as a hobby.

I'm not going to argue it that much; money makes the world go 'round and if you want to make it in this world of ours then you need to make some yourself. I'm fine with these companies trying to earn a buck or two - but I do feel that in their drive towards earning said buck, then they make games that are ultimately soulless and neither fowl nor fish. They have all the trappings (miniatures, terrain and dice) of a normal wargame, sure! And they do look fancy and great on display - but when you actually start to play the damn thing then it all goes wrong.

There's little joy to be had from a game that you lost before you even got to deployment. In my eyes, almost all of these games could be played on a squared off board, 8 by 8 squares and that would have all of the effect of what the miniatures and terrain actually do in these games. Manouvering and tactics are out the window as soon as you deploy your troops; at the very instance the deployment phase is over you know whether or not the game is lost - and the rest is just going through the motions.

But why is there then such a surge of these games? I mean, except for it being rather like printing money, then there must be something there that the hobbyist would like to get in on. I'm guessing that it is because of the percieved low buy-in on said game; Warmachine had long claimed that you could buy a starter box and be able to play the game and have fun - which is similar to saying that you could by a squad of Space Marines and have fun playing Warhammer 40.000; a highly theoretical kind of fun because there's little tension in having two squads of Space Marines fight each other. It mainly comes down to the luck of the dice. Even though I don't mind a bit of luck to win the day, then there's a time and place for everything. And without "access" to the rest of the miniature catalouge then how much fun is a game of Warmachine then? If all you have is the starterbox, then you're disadvantaged before you've even started the bloody game!

It would appear that the main selling point of these games is the fact that you have fewer miniatures to paint in order to get a game in - which is perfectly understandable, but also a bit of a false promise. Because people seem to think (or at least a lot of the people I've talked with seem to think) that if they can't paint to the Golden Demon standard of the packaging of these miniatures, then they're not going to paint them at all. I've lost count of the number of Consumer-Skirmish-Games that I've seen being played with unpainted miniatures with the justification always being "I'm just going to try..."

And who can blame them? If time is at such a premium, then why are you going to spend your minimal spare time on painting up miniatures that are going to be out in the next edition or just won't work at all in the current edition? But then, why keep playing a game where you can't just use any miniature that you'd like and still have a fun game?

I guess I just don't get it, mainly because I'm much more of a story-telling gamer or an old-school wargamer that thinks wargaming should be about gaming war. But when all that is available for skirmish games are these overly specialized combo-building game, where you are looking to utilize specific synergy combos in your armylist to win; it becomes a game of mechanics and thus, in my opinion, it loses its soul as a wargame.

Personally I find this trend rather disheartening. Which incidently coincides with my other resolution - make more games. If you don't care for a trend, then try to buck it. So that's what I'm going to do; buck the trend and make logically progressing skirmish and battle games for science fiction and fantasy. Fingers crossed!


  1. Good luck, that has always been my wargaming philosophy

    1. Cheers! It's not exactly a new idea for me as such either - I just needed to vent a bit of frustration as there seems to be no end of willingness in my local area (the whole of Denmark) to jump in on any commercially produced game rather than to try and have fun as defined by you and your gaming group. To an extend it's either go big (named-brand) or go home (anything else). And that truly irks me.

  2. I think that a lot of these consumer games are so succesful simply because they can afford to hire really good marketing people and they have enough financial backing to out-sell the competition. If you can open your own games store selling *only your games*, with staff on hand ready to do the hard sell, a window full of fantastically painted figures, be ready to host games so people can come and play on your excellent scenic batle boards then it's almost certain to do better than a small side street specialist shop run by a single dedicated gamer selling a wide range of disparate games, many of which might not have their own figure ranges. Thank goodness that the internet allows those of us who like something a little different to share ideas and inspirations!

    1. Exactly! It is, as Tim Snoddy states below a double-edged sword to be succesful enough to hire good marketing, because then you need to keep inflating said marketing department and what not to keep the momentum and cash-flow going. Now, I know that's how you run a real business but I can't help but think whether or not it's that much of a benefit to the hobby as a whole in the long run. And yes, both as a hobbyist and now also as a producer I'm eternally grateful for the internet and the sharing of inspiration and ideas!

  3. In my local gaming community we have talked about it being "a golden age for gamers" but this is a double edged sword. There is far more interesting and visually appealing rule sets, boardgames etc being produced than ever before. How many have merit when you get into them is questionable. Take Dropzone Commander compared to Fireteam Andromeda. DC has some nice figs and readily available cheap terrain. Why do I play FA and DC even though it would be easier to get opponents. I don't want to buy into a system with it's own overpriced figures. Nor do I believe there will not be power creep, that is, the latest models will have the biggest bang for buck points wise. I think there is a novelty factor with kickstarter at the moment. Surely we are reaching saturation point in the style of skirmish games described above.

    1. Doh, should have previewed that was I play FA and not DC.

    2. I can see the point of running a kickstarter when you're a new company (coughTwoKnightPublishingcough) that might want to get into starting up an actual business of sorts (which is a post I really need to get around to type up at some point. For yes, it is a golden age of dualism where on the one hand it's easier for people like Duncan and I to get our products out to a general public but it is also equally easier for a bigger company to get even more exposure. I'm glad to hear that you play Fireteam Andromeda - and I do hope that I'll reach my goal of giving it a good once over and getting it revised this year (but as with all well laid plans...) - but yes, I fear that the marketing/hype/must-buy-new-stuff is going to be the downfall for many a b-list company in the long run. Look at Mantic, for a more succesful method of doing things - their fantasy/sci-fi miniatures are sold on the miniatures merits alone, not because they're '├╝ber' or anything of the sort in their game systems. And they still manage to sell their miniatures. Sure, they can also be used in Warhammer, but I'm steadily seeing people using their miniatures in a lot of other games and settings - which is something I'm getting a bit irritated about as well; the lack of non-overlyspecific miniatures. Where's the good old 'sci-fi soldier advancing' pose of yore... Ahem, sorry, got carried away there :D

  4. Fancy pictures and marketing will get you a long way in the wargaming biz. Most people buy the game by the ideas and narrative it creates in their head when the see the box art, or the rulebook cover, or they read the back of the sourcebook. At that point most of these big companies just want to make sure they don't scare you away with complicated (or seemingly so) rules, so they tend to aim for the lowest common denominator.

    I think the way to get around this is to have that awesome art or blurb on the back of the book, and then to ease people into the game with tutorials. I think youtube tutorials are a great way to do this. It helps to introduce a game to a new area. Most people (including myself) got into a game because their excited buddy at the game shop showed them how to play, let them use his minis, etc. It's very hard for a game to succeed somewhere where you don't have that excited buddy.

    But if you have youtube videos, and great tutorial articles you can create that excited buddy who can then infect all their friends at the game shop. This way to don't have to dumb down the rules, you just have to have a good presentation.

    Those are my thoughts any ways :)

    Great article!