Monday 27 February 2023

Wargaming is Changing


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.

1 comment:

  1. W.r.t. rules: I expect a shift towards pdf's only, and one prints them at home (or on demand when ordered).