Monday, January 16, 2023

Wargame Design: Wargames as Product


All the rage in wargaming right now is a marketing concept I call "Wargame as Product".  This is a model that I first observed with Games Workshop products, and has quickly spread across the game producing community as THE model for making money off of wargaming.  Now you can see this model being used from Battle Front, to Atomic Mass Games, Warlord Games and beyond.   

Defining the Model

To my eyes, there are two major paradigms for making money off of wargames in play at the moment.  The focus of this post will be the Wargame as Product model.  However, for completeness I will mention them both so we can compare and contrast them as we proceed.  

Wargame as Product
In this model, the wargame rules are simply one component used to drive a revenue stream for the producer.  That means, they also try to create revenue streams from additional rules content publications, models to play the game, terrain to play the game on, boards to play the game, and monetizing components of the game for sale.  Therefore, when consumer purchases the game, they are often given an incomplete product or a product that only allows for basic or entry level game play.  Additional levels of play and components for a "complete" game are additional purchases from the producer.  

Wargame is Product
In this scenario, the producer is selling the game itself.  The components and other elements may not come with the game, but they are also not purchased from the producer themselves.  In this case, the producer is simply selling you a method to play a game, and that is it.  Further components maybe licensed to other producers to "spread" the potential profits for the game across a larger group of producers; but they may also be created independently of the initial producer or not on the market at all.      

A Hybrid Model
In this scenario, the producer may try to monetize some, but not all the components of game play.  These additional components may come from another source, either licensed or independent.  

Examples of The Models in the Wild
I am sure we have all experienced these different models for selling games in the wild at the local game store, and have seen them in action up close.  Below are some examples of the different models in action: 

Wargame as Product
  • Games Workshop
  • Atomic Mass Games
  • Fantasy Flight Games
  • Corvus Belli
  • Privateer Press
  • Warcradle
Wargame is Product
  • Osprey Games
  • Avalon Hill
  • Ambush Alley
  • Various indie wargames publishers
Hybrid Models
  • Catalyst Game Labs- Miniatures are made under license by other providers
  • Warlord Games- They produce miniatures for the games, but do not control the IPs due to their Public domain nature
  • Battlefront- Similar to Warlord Games, as they do not control the scale or IP of the product
I am sure we can all think of other examples as well. 

Why does this Matter? 
This blog is about creating wargames, with one of my core goals to create base and model agnostic wargames.  The very idea of a model and scale agnostic game is anathema to the idea of "Wargame as Product".  This decision has shaped the marketing and revenue streams available to me as I move forward.    

The first step of creating a game is setting your design goals.  The decision of how you want to create a revenue stream will strongly impact your design goals going forward.  For example, if you wish to monetize game components, say dice; you will want to create a mechanic that warrants the custom dice you wish to sell.

A classic example is The Walking Dead game by Mantic.  In this game, there are various colored dice with different faces.  The mechanics are designed to utilize these dice that only come in the boxed starter set, or sold separately.  

When you go into the design, looking to maximize your revenue stream, it is not hard to find many, many areas that you can do that.  However, it is much harder to do the opposite; create a stand-alone game and then go back and find ways to monetize existing mechanics.          

A Word of Warning

If you are reading this blog, and you are interested in wargame design; there is a likelihood that you do not work for a large corporation, or a government think-tank, or a similar organization.  You are most likely a dabbler in game design as a side-hustle.  If you make anything, it will be as an Independent, self-funded wargame designer.  

Speaking from the above perspective, designing a Game as Product is very difficult for any one or even small dedicated group of individuals to do.  It CAN be done, but it requires a capital investment, time dedication, and industry knowledge that very, very few people will have.  It is very difficult for the garage Indie designer to create custom components like dice, measuring tools, and boards.  It is difficult to create a line of miniatures to go with your products.  It is very difficult to get content such as artwork, rules, and fiction produced.  

That does not mean that it can not be done, but the barrier of entry rises considerably.  In today's world. it is easier than it has ever been before!  3D printing, connections via the internet, simplified world wide logistics, means that Game as Product model is easier than ever.  However, I would council that it is not the right fit for a majority of games and game designers.  

You may look around at games like Warhammer 40K, Infinity, Malifaux, and War Machine and think that is the only path to create a "successful game".  However, that is simply not the case.  You can make a very successful game utilizing a different model.  A designer like Nordic Weasel and 5 Parsecs from Home or Joseph A. McCullough's Stargrave are better models for the Indie, part-time game designer.  For every Infinity there is an All Quiet on the Martian Front, AT-43, and Vor: The Maelstrom.  

Final Thoughts
When you set out to create your game, it is important to think about how you plan to generate your revenue stream, and build that directly into your design goals.  If you are going to be a self-published wargame designer, then you may want to lean into the Game Is Product model to establish a baseline first.  Making this decision will likely change the way your mechanics will evolve and the solutions you devise for the 4Ms and Chrome you will want to build into the game later. 

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  1. To help me get the writing juices going, what were you interested in learning about?

  2. I'd appreciate a more in depth look at the wargame is product approach. With "as product" the art, miniatures, etc. are all developed in-house towards a common theme and miniature use for images is obviously allowed because they are the ip of the same company. Short of being a one-man band virtuoso or publishing a clip-art grade product how do you navigate producing in the "is product" model without the support of someone like osprey providing the illustrators, etc?

    This would likely be several articles if you got it all in depth, but even one would be much appreciated!

    1. Sadly, I may not be the best to provide that insight as that is not the model I use. However, with 3D printing, online publishing and easier access to production tools than ever before the "Wargame is Product" approach is easier for Indie designers than ever before. I could see a case being made for an Indie to try it out.