The nature of hobby wargaming is changing, as all hobbies
do. As an academic, author, professional gamer, publisher etc. I try to keep
informed about the trends. Of course, of more importance is perhaps playing
games on a Sunday afternoon at my local wargaming club, Lincombe Barn in
Bristol (UK). Rarely a meeting goes past without someone opening up a new rule
book or game and apologising as this is the first game with the rules.
A generalisation is that younger games often include
computer games and virtual games as part of their hobby; they are not fixated
on only playing with toy soldiers on a table top covered with terrain. Most
clubs will have members who are playing some game virtually most weeks in
addition to the traditional face to face meeting.
Already the new wargaming figure manufacturers are
struggling in the face increasing range of cheap alternatives in every scale
and period; compounded by almost every wargaming show having one or more tables
selling off an entire collection of a wargamer who has moved on to pastures new.
Talking of terrain, 3D printing and laser cut MDF kits are flooding the already
crowded wargaming terrain market. Wargaming terrain is an environmentally
friendly product as good quality scenery has a long life, some pieces passing
from wargamer to wargamer for decades. We have some robust wargaming scenery in
my club store that has been in use for decades.
At some point you will not be able to give wargaming scenery
away at a wargaming show, with the proliferation of robot ready painted scenery.
Along these lines it is likely that vehicle and miniature figures will also be
produced almost on demand. The only requirement will be to base the figures. I
can see a wargamer of the future waking up one day and saying I want to play
with 10mm Aztecs on Sunday, then the army arriving all painted within 48 hours.
I think it would take a university department perhaps five years to come up the
prototype figure painting robot, all using existing technology and software.
Most wargames rules and board games will continue to be
relatively straightforward to learn and play. Wargaming competes with other
time pressures of life for many people. Therefore games that can be picked up
and enjoyed rapidly will continue to dominate the games market. Modern
wargamers play a far wider range of games and scales than those of even 10
years ago. Older wargamers can all remember people who used to say I am a
Napoleonic Wargamer or I am an Ancient Wargamer (no pun intended), and that is
all they used to play, every week. These people had nothing in their
collections outside their chosen period. In the future, wargamers will have
preferred periods, but most will play a very wide range of wargames.
One of the urban myths of our hobby is no-one makes money
out of wargaming. This is not true. Games Workshop is bigger than Marks and
Spencers in terms of stock market value. There are a lot of people out there in
small pockets making a sensible income from wargaming. You see them on eBay
(with the 100,000+ feedback scores). Some second-hand dealers are proactively
seeking out wargaming collections that suddenly become available, snapping them
up at a bargain price and reselling at a viable profit (of course they also get
landed with large amounts of stock they cannot give away, e.g. some old
figures). My best guess is there are some who are on the crest of the MDF
printed scenery wave, followed by those printing unusual 3D scenery, who are
earning good money at the moment. Of course, at some point the sales wave will
break and the opportunity for a good return will have passed.
Rule writers are in a financial quandary. High production
value, hard back sets of rules grab the market attention for a short while, but
the financial risk behind them is large. If you print 30,000 sets of rules (to
get a good price from the printers), you may need to sell 15,000 in order to
break-even. As the market moves onto to the next new product, the suppliers can
be left with large amounts of stock that they cannot give away (I know, as
occasionally box loads of unsold rules arrive at my door). Osprey’s solution is
to go for a reasonable standard production value rulebook, not too long. Print
run of perhaps a 1000 and a huge warehouse to store them in for the next 20
years if necessary. Of some good rules sets such as DBA, HOTT, Alien Squad
Leader, the Portable Wargame sell despite the lack of gloss; quality of rules
trumps the lack of high-cost graphics.
In 10-20 years time, I think that the local wargaming UK clubs
will look much the same. Mostly figure games, some roleplaying, some board
games. The figures and scenery will be uniformly excellent, nearly all at what
we call display standard now. They will be playing with elegant rules, full of
clever mechanisms, but not too long to learn. Who will be supplying (and making
a profit from this)? Firms with small staffs, but with teams of robots and
printers. These businesses will supply figures, terrain mats, scenery in every
scale. A handful of these firms will be the new Games Workshops of the
wargaming world- but which firms they will be will depend on which
businesses can invest with enough capital (at the right time) and provide world
class quality service.