Sunday, 6 February 2011

Two Models of doing business with Models

There seems to be a rise in the number of games companies offering generic sci-fi and fantasy miniatures. That is to say, miniatures not tied to a particular game world or with no particular rules set in mind. Some are offering alternatives miniatures for an existing IP, usually Games Workshop. Mantic Games started off like this, before developing Kings of War, but there are others such as Gribbly miniatures or Avatars of War that offer good alternatives to the miniatures GW produce.

Also on the increase are companies offering unofficial lookalikes of characters from TV, films and comics. Examples include, the 'not' Doctor Who miniatures produced by Heresy and Crooked Dice or Harby from Haslefree miniatures who in no way resembles Hellboy or Marv from Sin City. The newly arrived Elodie Mae offer miniatures for fans of anime, manga and Japanese video games. There are also a number of 'not' Buffys, 'not' Lara Crofts and 'not' Jack Sparrows for the gamer who wants to game with an unlicensed IP.

Then there are the companies that produce miniatures with no particular IP in mind and without wishing to produce an entire range, simply supplying miniatures that can be used in a number of different games. Heresy have a large range here, as do Haslefree, with Pig Iron productions supplying Sci-Fi. This isn't even close to an exhaustive list.

Part of this rise can in part be put down to the Internet which has enabled small 'garage' companies to become even more prevalent in the industry than before. Thanks to the ease of marketing and selling to customers through websites there is no longer a need to sell an entire range of models to a Games Store. The rise of generic rule systems has also been helped by the Internet, thanks to the possibility of PDF sales. This in turn increases the appeal of generic miniatures no tied to a specific game as they can always be Incorporated into a generic rule set. Word of Mouth has become more powerful as a marketing tool thanks to the growth of message forums, social networking, blogs and sites like coolminiornot.

But at the same time a very different trend has developed for highly specialised games with a very specific appeal. I have mentioned Anima Tactics before. This is a fantasy game with an aesthetic inspired by Manga and Anime in which most miniatures are specific individuals. The game is skirmish based, requires very few miniatures to play and it is unlikely that most players will buy more than one of most models. Then there is Malifaux, Wyrd Games fantasy/ si-fi/ horror/ wild west/ steam punk/ Victoriana skirmish game with a distinctive card based rule set intended to reflect it's bizarre hybrid setting. And this is just the tip of the Ice burg.

So how is that the industry appears to be trending in two directions simultaneously? Both more generic and more specific? Oddly, I think this is all linked. The same interconnectedness between customers and producers that allows companies to survive with a small range of miniatures also allows games with very niche to find their audience.

There may only be a handful of potential Malifaux or Anima Tactics fans compared with a more traditional fantasy game like Warhammer, but in the Internet world it is possible for Wyrd Games and Cipher Studios to reach all, or at very least most of them. A smaller market can still support a game if that market is reached more efficiently. And this is more practical in a world where the Internet is so prevalent. It's not by accident that Cipher Studios has worked so hard to release Anima and Helldorado in so many languages at once, they know that there audience is diverse and wide spread and they want to reach all of them.

So the Internet allows and indeed encourages companies to both specialise and generalise. Both ways of doing business can work well.


  1. I think the concept of miniatures being "tied" to a game system or the other way around is kinda silly. I don't ever recall seeing a figure that was so silly or out there that it's only real use was inside a particular game system.

  2. Whilst that's true, miniatures are often designed with a particular game system in mind. The generic miniatures I describe as generic are not.

    It's the difference between seeing it from the perspective of the customer or the designer.

  3. We at Ganesha Games are faring well. Our key concept: we sell rules, players provide minis and setting-- so you can play with anything you already have. It seemed obvious to me when I started 4 years ago, but it was not for the majority of players, and this has been one of the main reasons of our success.

    This hasn't stopped us from going in exactly the opposite direction, working on rulesets tied to specific game world and miniatures line (example: Song of Fur and Buttons for Eureka and Song of the Splintered Lands for Splintered Light Miniatures) or produced on a license basis by the miniature manufacturer or a third entity-- as in the case of Song of Our Ancestors, that Zombiesmith derived from our Flying Lead rules to be used with their Quar range, or Shadowsea that Antimatter Games wrote as a "Song of Blades and Heroes" variant to be used with the miniatures produed by Cavalcade. The internet and self publishing made possible all this.

  4. I think it's very strange how few companies have embraced online distribution, either pay-as-you-go like Ganesha or even free like AT-43 was at the end. I work in career development/training, so I know how much it costs to produce books like Games Workshop and Privateer Press. I'm here to tell you... GW isn't getting rich off of rulebook or Codex sales. They're either just breaking even or they're losing money in that area, which requires them to make up for it in other areas.

    But they still lead the industry (size-wise) because of their in-store presence around the globe. Which wouldn't be possible without the pretty books. So they're between a rock and a hard place... they certainly have a desire to embrace new methods, but it would probably hurt them overall.

    I think in another 5-10 years, you will only see games like 40k or Warmachine primarily played by those under 18, or the handful of adults just starting in the gaming hobby, and finally those who absolutely love playing pick-up games with strangers at stores or tournaments.

    The majority of gaming "veterans" and small-group gamers will use 40k (and the like) to get their feet wet and get a taste for the hobby, then rotate over to a set of rules and a selection of miniatures that suits their personal tastes and interests.