Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The long slow death of Specialist Games

If a poster on The Miniature Page is to be believed, Games Workshop are finally in the process of retiring their Specialist games for good. This doesn't come as a huge shock, it had been rumoured for some time, they were never likely to retool them for Finecast and their abrupt termination of Warhammer Historical showed their complete lack of interest in anything outside of their core business. I am surprisingly unbothered, I have all the rules and models I could ever need for those games I actually play. Plus, their are plenty of good alternative sources of models for most of them. I am glad that I scooped up all the Inquisitor models I wanted while they were still available.

It's interesting that Games Workshop should be doing this just as Deadzone is doing so well on Kickstarter. It shows that, for all the accusations of copying Games Workshops MO, Mantic have a very different attitude to the games industry. As Games Workshop consolidates, Mantic expands and with the specialist games finally disappearing they could be in a good position to scoop up some disillusioned supporters.

It can be argued that consolidation makes sense. The argument is that there will only ever be a limited number of people interested in your product and by expanding too far you effectively compete with yourself. The money being spent on Mordheim or Epic should be spent on Warhammer and 40K. Games Workshop makes more money out of its core games and should focus on them.

The problem with this argument is, if you take it to extremes then Games Workshop should only produce a single box of Space Marines and focus on getting everyone to buy it. More seriously, they should certainly drop Warhammer and the Hobbit and focus on Warhammer 40,000 as it is their most popular game. That they don't suggests that they recognise, at least to some extent, that you can't force your customers into buying whatever you feel like selling.

Whether they have the balance right remains to be seen. In the short-term this is unlikely to make much difference. Most Specialist games players are hardcore veterans, long since disillusioned with Games Workshop and focusing their attention on other publishers models. It's unlikely that this will be the last straw that drives anyone away from Games Workshop. What will be worth watching is whether Mantic, or others, are able to take advantage of the apparent gap in the market. We have had Fantasy/Sci-Fi sports and Sci-Fi skirmish, should we be watching for Space combat, 54mm scale or 6mm scale in the near future?

Monday, 29 April 2013

Deadzone and Kickstarter progress

Mantic Games have another Kickstarter up and running, this time for Sci-Fi skirmish game Deadzone. I think you could say it has been quite popular, in the sense that press coverage of Margaret Thatcher following her death was quite generous. The campaign hit it's initial (admittedly quite modest) target within thirty minutes and raised more money in a day than the Dreadball Kickstarter managed in a week. At the time of writing, its at $242,000 and climbing. If things continue at this pace, Mantic are on course to raise potentially millions.

I have thrown money at both the previous Mantic Kickstarters, but in both cases I left it quite late, waiting until the freebies built up until the bundle got too big to ignore. This time, though I got in early chucking in $150 and nabbing the Strike Team reward level.

I did this because I know how Mantic handles a Kickstarter. On the face of it, the initial rewards aren't particularly impressive. The basic level gets you a single starter set of 6 models, including one big one for $40 or about £25. The level I pledged gets me all four starter sets, plus scenery, board, rules, counters etc. All pretty reasonable, but hardly spectacular when you consider how much Games Workshop puts in its starter sets these days.

But as fund have grown, stretch goals have been achieved and with each stretch goal achieved more models get added to the rewards. My reward has gained 17 models and a scenery sprue. It's quite nice having pledged to sit back and accumulate more stuff because other people are pledging.

I wonder how many contributors are in the same place as me. Having watched passed Kickstarters unfold, they aren't wasting any time with this one and getting in early. It would explain the surge of activity. The question is whether this Kickstarter will generate significantly more money than the last two, or whether the funding will be biased towards the start of the campaign. The steady flow of stretch goals should help to attract attention, but there is a theoretical limit to the number of people interested in the game and with the money to spare pledging.

I will watch this one with interest, and not only because I stand to get a lot of models out of it.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Reading the entrails

Over at Quirkworthy, Jake Thornton has been discussing the possibility that Games Workshop may be about to release a limited edition version of Blood Bowl. He has a few interesting points to make about the likelihood of this happening and the effect it might have on Dreadball (short version: not much). Worth a read, but I want to comment on a throwaway remark:

"Either way, it’s what GW do, so we can reasonably assume they’ll do the same again."
I'm not wanting to have a go at Jake, but this sentence struck me because it's an example of a fairly casual assumption about GW that everything they do is part of a predictable pattern.

That might be overstating it a bit, but it does seem to be how people think. A few years ago, shortly after a the release of Warhammer 40,000 third edition, a friend commented to me that within two months GW would release a big boxed supplement full of cards and templates. His reasoning being that this is what they always did. At the time they had done this for Warhammer 40,000 2nd edition, Warhammer 4th and 5th edition, Blood Bowl, Man O'War, Necromunda and Gorkamorka. So it had far more precedent than the current pattern of limited edition games.

In the event, this expected release never materialised. As no less a person that the aforementioned Jake Thornton has revealed, translating all the cards into different languages was proving prohibitive, so boxed supplements were history. And all of a sudden something that GW just do became something that GW didn't do.

Not that I'm saying that you should completely ignore all precedent when it comes to predicting GW behaviour and there are some patterns, like new editions and army books, that seem to be pretty set in stone. But it is worth remembering that they are not actually set in stone. It's funny the number of times I have seen someone insist that a rumour isn't true because GW don't do that or that they can be absolutely certain that GW will do something because they always have before.

Sometimes it feels as though people believe that Games Workshop is like a force of nature, fundamentally predictable and unchanging. The problem with that attitude is that it leaves people thinking that nothing they do or say can ever effect it. That trying to influence it is as futile as King Canute's beach trip. It's worth remembering that GW is just a miniature company, albeit a big one, and its decisions are made by people, albeit people increasingly cut off from their customers.