The announcement by Wizards of the Coast that they are ceasing production of their prepainted Dungeons & Dragons plastic miniatures had prompted a number of people to comment that this is the final nail in the coffin of prepainted plastics. Others are scratching their heads as a development that was once heralded as the future of miniature gaming seems to have all but died out.
The development of prepainted plastic miniatures and specifically collectible miniatures followed a similar path to that of collectible card games some years earlier. In both cases a genuinely new game idea arrived, took off like a storm and had the old guard fearing the end of gaming as we new it. CCGs were going to kill roleplaying, CMGs miniature wargaming. In both cases, the initial success fizzled out somewhat and the gaming industry has carried on, changed but not revolutionised. But CCGs, including the original Magic the Gathering, are still very much around. The market has contracted somewhat since their hey-day, but they remain in place on the shelves of friendly local games shops. In contrast, CMGs seem to be all but dying out. So why the difference?
It's interesting to note the parallels in the development of CCGs and CMGs. In both cases, the concept was kicked off by an independent game that existed in its own universe (Magic the Gathering and Mage Knight) but was followed up by a number of games based on existing properties.
CCGs based on television and films such as Star Wars and Star Trek appeared as well as CCGs based on existing game universes including Vampire: the Masquerade, Lord of the Rings (based on Iron Crown Enterprises Middle Earth Roleplaying) and Dungeons and Dragons. They received a big boost with the arrival of the Pokemon game, based on the video game, and Yu Gi Oh, based on a Manga. Similarly, after the success of Mage Knight, Wizkid games biggest success came with Heroclix. Wizards of the Coast started producing D&D and Star Wars miniatures from existing licences. Video games followed, with CMGs based on World of Warcraft and Halo. Even Horrorclix, Wizkids suposedly independent game licenced Call of Cthulhu, Aliens vs Predator and Freddie vs Jason as well as borrowing concepts from films and TV programs.
Games based on unlicensed concepts were produced, of course, but for the most part failed to have the impact of the licenced products. It's significant that WOTCs only original CMG universe, Dream Blade, was also its most shortlived (a shame as it contained some interesting concepts and very nicely produced figures).
The advantage of all these licences was that it broadened the market for the games. The Star Wars miniatures, for example, were bought by existing Star Wars fans as much as wargamers and roleplayers. As well as the traditional games shops, CCGs and CMGs went on sale in comic shops, book shops and video game shops. It was this crossover appeal that helped these types of games develop ino a craze.
Both markets have declined, possibly because the novelty has worn off, possibly because in a rush to jump on the bandwagon some less successful games were produced. But CCGs have carved out a niche for themselves and now have shelf space in most games shops as well as a number of comic shops and video game shops. CMGs have not proved quite so resilient.
But there is another factor at work. Below is a list of the major CMGs and their manufacturers, I can't claim it's totally comprehensive, but I think I have most of the major ones
Wizards of the Coast - Dungeons & Dragons
- Star Wars
Wizkids - Mage Knight
- Halo ActionClix
- Mech Warrior
Sabretooth Games - Lord of the Rings Combat Hex
Upper Deck - World of Warcraft
Privateer Press - Monsterpocalypse
Wizkids were bought up by Topps and then dropped when they stopped making enough money (or so the official story goes). They survived, but one gone for about a year and in that time most of their games died off. HeroClix is back and Halo ActionClix has returned, but without the power of Topps behind them they are seen much less than they were, at least in the UK. HeroClix were once all over the comic shops and Game Shops, now a few boxes can be found at much higher prices.
Wizards of the Coast dropped Star Wars along with the Roleplaying game, officially, because the Licence proved too expensive to be worthwhile. Dungeons & Dragons had never been very successful as a game in it's own right and now WOTC seems focused on cheaper cardboard tokens instead of miniatures for its RPGs.
Sabretooth cut their losses with Lord of the Rings when the films ended. Upper Deck lost the WOW licence in dubious circumstances.
The point is that when one or two companies are responsible for the bulk of all CMGs available it just takes one to go down for the market to collapse. With Wizkids going out of action for so long and returning in a diminished state and WOTC pulling out of the market then the market itself contracts hugely.
Of course the fact that one company sees no future in CMGs and another couldn't support itself with CMGs alone doesn't say much for the future of the concept, but the small number of companies providing products of this type means that circumstances specific to those companies can play a very large role in determining the fate of the market as a whole.
So CMGs as a concept may still have some life left in them, but maybe only if Wizkids recovers or a new company decides to invest the time and effort to push a new game.