Happy to go by the moniker PullsyJr for this one, though I may regret it! :-/
With the rise of Kickstarter, Indigogo and the like, the gaming market has seen a massive spike in releases from both established and new companies. But is this a good thing, or will it actually damage the already small wargaming market?
A little background
Prior to the rise of Kickstarter (and others) there were a handful of miniature producing companies. The biggest was of course, Games Workshop. The larger competitors (though not a comprehensive list) included Privateer Press with the Iron Kingdom setting, Rackham Games and their Aarklash-based Confrontation series, and Battlefront Miniatures provided some modern historical love with Flames of War.
Each of these games had developed a following of varying sizes; indeed it can be argued that the later companies “stole” a not-insignificant chunk of audience from Games Workshop. These were the people who who were after something more: smoother games mechanics, a system that more accurately reflected the setting, better/different miniature lines, or better value for money. Some people wanted only one or two things, some wanted all of them. There will always be the dedicated gamers too, who simply buy whatever is released because they want to collect them all.
Indigogo came onto the scene in 2008 and Kickstarter followed in 2009 quickly becoming the best known crowdfunding platform. With a quick look at the Kickstarter games category we can see the following systems that are either currently in progress, or have been successfully funded:
- Sedition Wars: Battle for Alabaster
- Judge Dredd: Block War
- Rivet Wars
- Gates of Antares
- there’s more, but I don’t want this to just turn into an unending list
So now we have a niche market fracturing into even further segments. That list above doesn’t include such projects as Kingdom Death: Monster or Dreadball, both games which impinge on the wargaming market but which may not be a wargame in itself.
The dominance of the gaming market by Games Workshop cannot be ignored. As they refuse to provide anything other than the most bland public relations releases , or even publically admit that other companies exist, their audience is forced to assume that their competition was hurting them: price rises occurred more frequently (from one every couple of years or more, to annually), their already aggressive legal departments went on a massive blitz of “cease and desist” to anyone who looked funny at the company, and the core profitability of the company took a beating. However they did seem to increase their capacity for releasing new miniatures (in existing lines only of course) with more detail and their products in general became a lot prettier. For example, check out the difference between the old Ork Codex and some of the later ones.
Wargamers, like every other section of society, have finite funds. Kickstarter takes some of these funds away from established games and puts it into other areas. For the most part, every dollar spent on a Kickstarter wargame is a dollar not spent on an established game like Warhammer/Warmachine/etc. As well as the Kickstarter monies, we have the games that begin and people collect rule books and models for. This is the more critical aspect of this discussion as the bulk of cash goes into this. Even “cheap” games like Infinity cost a couple of hundred dollars to begin – that’s a noteworthy chunk of bucks that aren’t going towards the larger companies.
So why the problem with crowdfunding? Well, it’s coming up with so many alternative games, at such a rapid pace, that the above threats are very real. Where a new system may have appeared every two to three years before Kickstarter et al, we’re now seeing at least one new system every six months. A massive amount of money is moving away from established production companies. Kingdom Death: Monster took two million dollars in pledges, Sedition Wars made almost a million, and Relic Knights got another nine hundred thousand. Including the one hundred thousand that the Judge Dredd Block Wars game grabbed, that’s a whopping four million dollars that went to just four alternative games.
It remains to be seen how this affects the bottom line of the established publishers, but I can’t imagine their accounting teams seeing rainbows and unicorns. Are we already seeing an effort from Games Workshop to reclaim their lost revenue? The rapid releases for Warhammer 40,000 are outside the norm for them (but may be explained away somewhat by needing to keep up with the new edition) and they appear to be a lot more on the ball when it comes to updating Errata and FAQ. Are Privateer Press moving into their Colossal line to recover lost ground?
[The assumption here is that almost all of that money is derived from people who already play wargames. It’s impossible to confirm this detail though.]
In addition to this is the effect on the local gaming scene. As those who pledged on Kickstarter go to play with their new toys, the existing systems are left behind. The player base dilutes in the region – it becomes harder to find a pick up game for either system, and tournaments end up competing amongst themselves attendance numbers. Speculatively this will result in one of two things (most likely a mixture of both):
- Newer systems are left to gather dust as people return to “old faithful” where they are more confident that they can get a game in.
- Wargamers lose interest: they've seen the perfect system (for them) and can’t go back to an old game. Instead their gaming time dwindles into nothing and they essentially leave the hobby altogether.
Two questions are raised from this phenomenon.
1. Will this crowdfunding surge will cause enough damage to throttle an established company?
2. Is it possible that reduced player bases will hurt the very wargaming population itself?
So what do people think; is crowdfunding good for gaming, or will it hurt the hobby?
In my opinion, the pace of crowdfunded game releases is not sustainable. I can see a lot of people getting burnt out from trying to maintain a hold of multiple systems, released or upcoming. These customers will become a lot more discerning of the product they back as they simply can’t afford to throw money at publishers yet maintain their current game systems. In addition to this, the dilution of a games’ player base will come back and bite a lot of people on the bum. A system may be AMAZING but if you can’t find any opponents in your area, why bother?
For what it’s worth, I believe crowdfunding can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Of course the problems I’ve listed above are evident and important, but Kickstarter etc allows for more ideas to come into the gaming world, as well as enabling unpublished writers to get their names known. The less of a hold that the big businesses have on the industry (as with any industry), the more competition and options we see.
Whilst this is something to consider for wargaming, RPGs are in even more risk of immense dilution. It’s far easier to produce a single role playing game book, than it is to create a line of miniatures!