Is the “Golden Age of Wargaming” coming to an end? In the last several weeks, several gaming companies have been shutting their doors. The biggest may have been Spartan Games, but there have been many others. Perhaps the barriers to entry were lowered by Kickstarter campaigns (All Quiet on the Martian Front- though thankfully revived by Ironclad Games) but the reality of business is that the vast majority of businesses do not survive more than 5 years. We often only think of the big success stories when we think of business. However, for every success story there are 50 to 80 companies that did not make it. Therefore, we should not be surprised when a company of any type, even long established ones; end up dying. It is the nature of business.
It is even more common that a game itself will die off. The company may live on but its offspring are left to wallow and fade away. On this very blog you can see examples of this phenomenon such as Aeronautica Imperialis. The game is no longer supported by its parent company and no new materials or miniatures will be made. It is at this point where you have a “dead” game; i.e. one that is no longer supported.
In addition to dead games there is also a type of game I like to call a Stand-alone game. These games were never intended to have long term support. Instead, the company simply published them and moved on. These are typically “rules only” affairs and are frequently range agnostic. The Osprey Wargames Series is the classic example.
Osprey is a publisher so naturally publish books. They leave the rest of the business of a wargames company to others. Such an arrangement allow all involved to focus on what they are good at doing and not try to take on challenges outside of their scope or operations. Think of Frostgrave. Osprey publishes the rules, while North Star makes the official lines. This allows both companies to do what they do best!
Wargamers are an odd breed. They like to have “support” from a game company. To most wargamers this means a few different things:
- New products to buy! – They want new shiny! New models, cards, rules, FAQs, custom dice etc. All things that expand or build on the game.
- Supported Play!- Many gamers want some sort of organized play or a community at the least. Frequently this takes the form of tournaments. However, it can also take the form of online campaigns, forums, other players.
- Company Sponsored Content!- They want the company to keep putting out “new” stuff for them to read or interact with. This takes the form of battle reports, fiction, artwork, etc.
If these wants are not met, the game is considered unsupported. Wargamers do not seem to like “unsupported” game lines.
For me, I see “Dead Games” as an exciting opportunity. Granted, I know my perspective on games is a bit different than a large and vocal segment of the community. That is cool. I am glad they are having fun doing what they do. Many gamers are only interested in what is allowed. In a “living” game that is fully supported with the points I outlined above what is “allowed” is the heart of the matter. Gamers what to play within the confines of what the game manufacturer says they can do with the product.
For example, if you want to play in a tournament (or with people who go to tournaments) then they are mostly interested in things that they can play at said tournament. They are only interested in what the rules allow and what the game allows to be played. This makes sense since everyone at a tournament needs the same base understanding of the rules in order to play a tournament. Otherwise, it would be like playing a game with a 4 year old that constantly changes the rules as you go.
However, once a game is “dead” you no longer need to be interested in what is allowed. There are no tournaments. There is no organized play. There are no pre-set models or new releases. What is allowed in the game is irrelevant since the game is “dead”. Now is when a game gets interesting to me. It is no longer about what is allowed, but instead what is possible. Once a game is “dead” the game is no longer in the realm of purely the manufacturer but in the hands of the community or player. They are the only ones who can keep it going, keep it relevant, and keep it from stagnating.
Once you own a ruleset, it never dies. It can always be played. In a sense, a game is like an undead thing. It can go on living a strange new life even after it is “dead”. The community and players no longer need the game designers to spoon feed them what is allowable. Now it is up to the players to define what is possible. Once a game dies, it is an exciting time to be involved.
Of course, I hope all of our “Golden Age of Wargaming” favorites keep being supported. However, for most of us the chances are very high that our darlings will die. That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die. The game is dead! Long live the rules!