Sunday, 3 April 2011

Abandoning Metal

A few days ago another miniature company, Heresy miniatures, announced that it was putting up its prices. This is becoming all too common, particularly in the UK where the rising cost of metal has been accompanied by a hike in VAT which has hit particularly hard.

I have to give Heresy considerable credit for taking the time to fully explain the reasons for these increase and to note that the cost of metal used is at £23.75 per KG. The consequence of this was that much of the discussion on the miniature page was sympathetic, even supportive. It is worth noting, however, that Heresy are still trying to keep prices as low as possible understanding that there are limits to how much people will pay for a miniature no matter how justified. This lead one poster, by the name of JoeKGusher to speculate that there might come a point when we look back on this time as a golden age of miniature production as we play with paper chits.

It's a very strong statement, but it did lead me to think back on how miniature gaming has changed in the last few years, particularly when looking at Fantasy and Science Fiction. Games Workshop have always been in the business of selling large scale, mass-battle games, but if we look at the rest of the industry there appears to have been a shift. Five or Six years ago two of the biggest non-GW players were Rackham with Confrontation and Ragnarok and Privateer Press with War Machine. The former produced a skirmish game that was intended to provide a bridge to a larger scale game, the latter was designed to scale up to almost Warhammer size.

If we look today at the Fantasy and Science Fiction games being produced we find Malifaux, Anima Tactics, Helldorado, Infinity all skirmish games with no pretension at being anything bigger. Other than GW, the only company pushing a mass battle game is Mantic who are focused on ultra-cheap plastics. The new norm appears to be metals for skirmish games with no more than a dozen miniatures aside and plastic for mass battles with metal used for personalities and resin for big things.

We haven't quite gotten to that stage with Historical miniatures, but that is very much the direction of travel. More and more plastic historicals are being produced, and companies like Warlord are increasingly using metal only for specialists, characters and extra parts. It has always been cheaper to produce historical miniatures than fantasy and science fiction, which may support metal for a while longer, but if the price of metal continues to rise then plastic may be the only choice. Historical miniature companies are by no means immune to rising costs in any case and a number have put their prices up.

So the future of wargaming is looking to be plastics for mass battles and metals only for skirmishing and personalities. In a few years time it is likely that the bulk of most people's armies will be plastic.


Since I wrote the above, rumours have been all over the Internet about Games Workshop giving up on selling metal models. The details are unclear, and vary from a temporary hault in production, to switching to resin, to making metal miniatures available only through direct sales. Games Workshop have said, as yet, nothing.

If this any truth in this, I can't see them dropping all metal miniatures at a stroke or shifting to resin. There are too many armies that are dependent on metal miniatures, if only for characters, to make a dropping all metal are viable proposition. At the same time, GW's target market of young teenagers, many of whom will have never played a wargame before, makes a shift to a toxic substance that would require warning labels and leave their products unable to bare the European toy safety kite mark impractical.

If it does happen, I suspect the most likely result would be a shift to plastic/resin similar to the stuff that Mantic and Privateer Press use. This has the virtue of being cheaper than metal, but holds detail well and is not actually toxic.

Either way, this does seem to support my view that for mass battle games, metal may be dying off, though I am surprised to see it being apparently abandoned even for character models.

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