Friday, 12 August 2011

Mantic, Games Workshop and Substitute miniatures

An editorial on Tabletop Gaming news has had me thinking. The article talks about the virtues of Mantic Games 'non-competitive' approach to wargaming, producing models than can easily be substituted for existing Games Workshop ones and allowing you to produce armies compatible with both companies games. Its a good article, but what I found fascinating was some of the comments below. Most notably:
Please show me one single model that they’ve produced that isn’t a direct analogue of a Games Workshop model. I don’t see Mantic making anything other than a token effort to produce a set of rules so their lawyers can point to them and say “Look – we’re not trying to horn in on Games Workshop’s IP – honest!” They’ve put no effort into producing any sort of background or context for the miniatures, and definitely haven’t come up with any new concepts of their own as far as miniature design.
From Guinny. I'm going to take a look at this, not to pick on him specifically, but because it neatly reflects and attitude I've seen before and because its an interesting point of discussion. I've seen this attitude a lot, suggesting that Mantic are attempting to rip off Games Workshop and suggesting that there is something unethical or immoral in their approach.

Firstly, its worth noting that Games Workshop are not exactly slow to send out cease and desist orders when they feel their IP is being infringed. That Mantic have been left alone suggests that Games Workshop don't feel they have any kind of case on this score.

While it is probably true that most, if not all, of Mantic's releases can be substituted for similar Games Workshop ones, its worth looking at exactly what they are producing: heavy armoured dwarfs, elves with bows, Orc warriors, skeletons, zombies, ghouls, vampires. All of these are standard fantasy types, you could just as easily accuse them of ripping off Dungeons & Dragons. If they really were stealing Games Workshop's IP you would expect to see copies of their more distinctive creations. Where are the Gyrocopters? The Varghulf? The Arachnarok? The closest they get is the Abyssal Dwarfs, and that's more filling a niche that Games Workshop set up and have largely abandoned.

The supreme irony for me, though, is that producing models of standard fantasy archetypes is exactly where Games Workshop started and I regard this as very much a good thing.

Wargaming remains a niche hobby, while Fantasy and Science Fiction are very broad genres. Only the most successful and visible properties are every likely to be licensed for official wargames, which is why we have games for Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and little else. The advantage of producing a game based on archetypes, or even cliches, is that players can bring whatever they want to the game. Warhammer is a world that takes many of the high fantasy stereotypes popularised by Tolkein and developed by his imitators, and adds in gothic horror and a concept of Chaos that owes a debt to Michael Moorcock and H P Lovecraft. If you are a high fantasy fan, its not hard to take your favourite novel, comic or film and use it as inspiration for your Warhammer army.

For the most part companies seeking to carve out a niche within the niche of Fantasy Wargaming have tended to either reinterpret the archetypes (Chronopia, Confrontaion) or actively move away from them (Malifaux, Wargods, Anima Tactics). Mantic are different, in that they have decided that they can do the archetypes as well as Games Workshop or better.

That said, Games Workshop are hardly unique. Wargames Foundry, Wargames Factory, Renegade and Black Hat miniatures all have ranges of fairly traditional fantasy models, and thats just off the top of my head. The difference is that these ranges are one among many and don't have the profile of Mantic. Consequently they avoid the charge of 'ripping off' Games Workshop. Not to mention Avatars of War, which is far more explicitly aimed at Games Workshop players than are Mantic.

There's a venerable tradition in producing miniatures and games that can 'substitute' for a wide variety of source material not lucky enough to have a licensed game of its own. I am a fan of anime and manga, and there is a not insubstantial overlap between wargamers and that particular community. However, Japan has no home grown wargames industry at all, surprising when you consider the enthusiasm for model kits and miniature figures. Consequently, there are almost no licensed wargames based on Japanese IP, Privateer Press' Voltron is the only example I can think of. This has left a gap in the market for companies 'inspired' by the manga/anime aesthetic, notably Anima Tactics and Soda Pop miniatures.

Some companies have gone much further to attract the attention of gamers seeking unlicensed products - Doctor Who is a case in point. Black Tree Design still has a range based on the 'classic series' that ran between 1963 and 1996, but the only miniatures based on the recent series were produced by Character Options, who produce the Doctor Who action figures, and were clearly aimed at children. They were small and not well detailed, though plenty of gamers have gotten good mileage out of their Daleks and Cybermen. However, the free, unofficial Doctor Who miniature game remains available to download and both Heresy and Crooked Dice have a range of figures that in no way resemble the Doctor, his allies or enemies.

But the crucial question raised by the above comment is 'would we want it any other way?' I can understand why Games Workshop might have an issue with Mantic games, though they couldn't easily criticise without being accused of hypocrisy, but why would gamers? If you don't like what Mantic has to offer fine. Games Workshop products are still widely available. But surely all gamers benefit from an industry that is able to produce unlicensed substitutes for expensive or non-existent products?

1 comment:

  1. I'd also take issue with the bit about the rules being a token effort. I actually think they're quite slick and well thought out. Sure they don't have the same amount of depth as Warhammer but equally they're not burdened with its baggage either. I mean, seriously, who wants to spend most of their evening hunting through a rulebook that long? Sure there are some issues with Kings of War 2nd edition, but the whole point is that it's still in development. Mantic wanted as many people as possible to be part of that process as possible and they do take on board all the feedback they get.

    On the subject of background, again, its because its still in the development phase. Mantic left it open for gamers to use their imaginations (and most gamers I meet tend to have pretty good imaginations, it sort of goes with the territory) and a lot of the fan fiction and home-grown background people have come up with has gone into creating the world of Mantica, which I am told will be a big part of the 3rd edition hardback rulebook (the 'finished product' if you will).

    So I say good on Mantic, I can't think of any other company that's given ordinary gamers quite this level of input into the process.