Monday, May 20, 2013

Has Kickstarter Ushered in a "New Age" for Wargaming?

     Much faster than anyone truly expected crowdfunding has become a staple of the wargaming industry.  Projects and properties from unknowns that never would have seen the light of day even three years ago are now able to find $50,000-$100,000 in backing or more, and better known companies are able to rake in ten times that.  Is crowdfunding the way of the future for wargaming?  Well... maybe- but not entirely for the reasons you might think.

     If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere
     Believe it or not, third party micro-games aren't actually a fad, and they aren't new.  People have been releasing their own products into the void practically since a small company called "Tactical Strategy Rules" did it in the 1970's.  I have a couple milk crates worth of little known, oft-forgotten games in my basement so obscure that I don't even remember what they are, I'm just pretty sure I saw them in a discount rack at Allied Hobbies  or some such store somewhere along the line, and either thought the cover or some blurb about "new revolutionary gameplay" was worth checking out. In actuality, these games were very rarely revolutionary- actually in a lot of cases they were very rarely playable.  Which only made it harder for the competent micro-games to rise to the surface.  Through the 70's, 80's, and even 90's you either took a chance on something you saw in a discount bin (HINT: if it's in that bin, it's because nobody's buying it, because it's not good!) or you mail ordered something based on an add in the back of a magazine where you really had no idea if that company even really existed, and you probably knew no-one playing their games.

     Wargaming becomes "Scifi"
     Okay, I'll admit that might be a little over stating it, but if you told any of us wargaming in the 80's and early 90's that one day, one glorious day in the future, there would be a way you could walk to your computer (or take your phone out of your pocket!) and suddenly be connected with hundreds of locations and communities made up of hundreds of thousands of gamers discussing the pros and cons of various products, we could have told you that you've been playing too much Buck Rogers.  The fact is nobody aside from a few visionaries ever thought this level of communication would exist in our lifetimes.  And it's this "Communication Age" that has truly changed the face of Wargaming- crowdfunding is simply the most recent aspect of it, and it needed to come after all the others. Let's look at what they are, and why.

     "The best in the Industry"
     There's a company that loves to tout that they have "the best creative minds in the Industry," and that's what makes them the best and worth their exorbitant pricetags.  And you know, I'll give them that there was a time when yes, they really did have just about every genius sculpter, every laurel-winning writer, and every crack rules designer available.  However, as people age their lives go in different directions, and for any myriad of reasons a lot of these people are no longer with that company.  Enter the Communication Age Effect.  Before the interwebs, if these people left it was really hard to find out where they went, really hard to get a hold of them if you wanted to hire them, and really hard to follow their work with other companies if you were a fan.  Now, you just go to their Facebook page. Or hit their own personal web page.  It's no longer one industry giant verses a ton of never-been/never-gonna-bees. It's an industry giant verses an industry full of people that giant used to tout as "the best creative minds in the Industry"... and that changes the field.  A lot. 

     Tell a friend, and they tell their friends...
     So now we have multiple companies able to hire quality people to put out quality products.  Technically that could have happened before the Communication Age, and it did on occasion. The difference was even when people did form the wargaming version of Supergroups, those companies didn't have their own press.  They had to hope and pray their either street teams got the word out, or  an independent retailer "took a chance," or someone in your wargaming group "heard form a friend" that you had to see this game.  Enter the Communication Age Effect.  You know, all of a week after Salute last year, I was hearing about a brand new unknown gaming company that stole the show.  I was seeing high-definition pictures of exactly what stole the show.  There was even YouTube video of their stuff.  And for those who don't know, Salute is in England, and I'm in Philadelphia.  That never could have happened before, and what was the first thing I did?  emailed a copy of the link to six other people.  Wargaming news is now viral. 

     Rapid Response means Better Products
     There's a model that is infamous in wargaming as "the ugliest model ever put in production."  It's earned that title through multiple "Ugly Model" contests, and even the parent company and sculptor Gary Morley's own admission.   However, let's look at why that happened, in Gary's own words:
"It was my first big Multi-part mini I had ever attempted. and it certainly went through many versions in sculpting. (In those days concept drawing were very sketchy and I had very little input.) But only one version ever made it to the moulds. However, there are two head versions the original head was based on the design that I was given, a more Zombie looking type. And that was the one that my design manager and I (at the time) preferred. But at that time all miniatures had to be approved not only by the design studio, but also by the sales management. 
This is where it came un-stuck! They didn't like it, and preferred to have a Skull...? Much to my dislike. Now because of release dates and schedules I had one day to put it 'right'. So preferring the original I went ahead and made the alternative. Now, I never thought for one moment thought that they would approve the (laughing clown) skull and would revert back to the original. 
The Joke back-fired. And to my horror it was approved and they released it!"
Mr. Jingles     And there you have it: no communication.  What should have been an epic model instead became an early rallying cry of the "what are you pushing on us?" crowd.  Enter the Communication Age Effect. By contrast, Prodos went through four (I think, maybe five?) completely different renditions of their Bauhaus Troopers in a span of two weeks- digital images shared via the Kickstarter and their forums generated pages of replies, and both the company and the artist knew what fans liked and didn't like (and even when those things conflicted) to try to make a product everyone wanted. The only gigantic maniacally evil laughing clowns we'll get from now on are intentional .. like this guy.  

     And now... Crowdfunding
     Even with all the changes up to this point, there was still always one thing that was unaddressed: getting in games.  Sure, I could read one man's views on a game, or read one woman's views on a product, but that never gave me the opinion that I'd be able to play it myself- to me, they're just some Eldargal or some Pie-loving bloke I'll never meet in real life.  You always had the opportunity to try to talk a couple of your mates in your gaming group into picking up a mail order with you... but let's face it, mail order is always just a little bit sketchy, and you're unlikely to get a lot of people joining you.  Enter the Communication Age Effect.  Crowdfunding takes everything that has come before and encapsulates it, enhances it, magnifies it, and throws it right back at you.  You can see models going from concept to render to master.  In some cases you have input on the rules of the game itself.  You know, for example, that Alessio Cavatore is helping pen the new rules for your game (although that was kind of a safe bet, because the man is everywhere... he's like a Ninja Santa Claus Timelord).  You know that Rick Priestly or Ernie Baker, or Andy Chambers, or Bob Naismith, or Micheal Perry, or who ever your personal Hobby Rockstar is, is involved in this project.  Most importantly, you can see backers.  This is a powerful, powerful selling device for games.  If I see an ad, the only person I legitimately know that cares about this project is me.  If I read Natfka or Johan Märs  or Hendeybadger write about something, now I know two people are excited. Maybe more, if I see some positive comments.  By contrast, if I look at the Deadzone Kickstarter right now at 11:30 Eastern Time on Monday Morning, I know that 2,755 people are interested in that game- more if they pooled their resources to buy bigger packages at a discount.  

     And that's the real magic of Crowdfunding- it lets me know I'm not alone in thinking this project is awesome.  It gives me the hope that I'm not just adding to that milk crate in my basement full of games I'll never play. It builds a ready-to-play community for new projects even before they are released, which gives independent retailers a far better sense for if this game is something they should look to stock or not. 

     Multiple companies putting out singular products that each have a flair and a style all their own, sculpted by some of the most creative minds in the history of the industry, all competing on equal footing in a direct-link marketplace.  Maybe it's not a Golden Age- certainly there's still some lame ducks out there, and certainly some solid products will get overlooked (I'm looking at you, Dominion of the Gods...). But the rules are changing. The players are changing. And every single hobbyist benefits from it.   See you on the other side of the table

The Second Class Elitist


  1. You speak my mind mate, with some more point. We're now at the eve of changing our way to buy games, end even choice them. I think (hope?) it's the end for some Greed Working Company here, because why you should buy an new amy each month with crap rules & design when yo can buy for the same prices GAMES? Almost each month see some successfull kickstarter, with numbers who could make you dizzy.. Some games have made more than 1 or 2 MILLIONS bucks. Last one was Robotech, Kindom death of course was a huge success, warzone made a huge comeback with more than two hundred thousand dollars, and even some historical game like ny Fire and Sword made a tremedous 75000+ $, amazing for some niche game. When you add scenery (secret weapons 300000+ $), it's a brand new way for our hobby. It's now players who have the power to choose, and very easily, so no more only one company out there to buy your models. I thinks those 2-3 next years will be interesting because we see some market changes, with GW the looser in the end. During last years they lost lots of custumers and money, money which surface on KS. Does KS will make some company shut down? Not by itself, but by the choice he offers, choice made by gamers, for gamers, and not by some financial market studies.

  2. I love KS, i think I have become addicted almost. I have funded so far Spinespur and Deadzone. Add in a video game my son wanted and i am looking at a 3rd kickstarter. I am still on the fence on it. I will ask 2CE what he thinks about it. Anyways GW has lost me as a regular. I do not even want to paint my GW minis anymore. I am so busy painting spinespur and zombies, GW seems complicated and very un fun. I hope GW feels better about not allowing me to purchase their product online except through them, all they did was make me fund 2 other games and looking for more :)