That’s a great post, Brooski. I agree with your take all the way.
Since I was a kid - a long, long, long time ago - I would get interested in an wargame, but after buying it and before playing it, I would go buy numerous books on the battle/campaign/war and read them first. I’ve got a pretty large library of military history books as a result. To this day, I prefer paper books over kindle when it comes to military history (though there are some for which I have both, since it is much easier to read large history books on the plane on long trips on the Kindle vs. carrying 50 pounds of books. ;)
If i wasn’t a military history buff I don’t think I’d be very interested in computer wargaming just for the sake of gaming.
Oh, yeah, history and wargaming are intimately connected. That’s one big reason why the hobby is in the position it is in today, for good or ill. It’s also why I am skeptical about broadening the base of wargaming, because I think it’s inherently limited to people with an interest in military history. Now, there may well be a lot of folks out there in that demographic–goodness knows the History Channel makes a mint off of military stuff–but how much of that goes beyond liking to see stuff blow up, or liking to watch Nazis I am not sure.
One of my favorite wargaming memories is when my dad got V For Victory: Market Garden and we watched A Bridge Too Far. Being able to visualize what was in each of those hexes and what my guys were fighting for made that game come alive to me in a way that doesn’t happen often.
Looks like GOG has all five of the original Close Combat games now, as well as some of the Slitherine updates like Cross of Iron!
That was an interesting answer @Brooski. I know you’re a fan of Butterfield, I am not as I actually think Dean Essig and The Gamers are the best, but entering into a “Pirates vs. Ninjas” type of discussion isn’t going to be very interesting.
You make a very good point re what makes a war game a game rather than a glorified spreadsheet application with a map on one of the “sheets”: you need to create an immersive environment. You don’t need to be a “software developer” to fail to achieve that: many of the “serious” war games you see out there (like those inspired by Phillip Sabin) aren’t very immersive, but are great historical sandboxes. Some very good “games”, on the other hand, are terrible historical sandboxes in the sense that, yes, there’s plenty of pretty desert sunsets to gaze at but you only get to see them from a train running along some very straight railroads and the occasional bifurcation.
That can be done with props like a well thought out user interface, a beautiful area based map and capsules of historical anecdotes packaged in snazzy, inspired graphical design. Shenandoah got right all of these things, AGEOD the latter two with their first and finest game. That can be done dumping the player into a fully realised 3D environment, with NPCs riding to you with dispatches, like Scourge of War and its predecessors. It can be achieved with painfully complex rulesets, like Advanced Squad Leader.
The last - as hardware and know-how has evolved - type of “immersive” war games is to be “sandboxes” that focus on the simulation and in allowing the player to provide “inputs” to it (like CMANO, Combat Mission or even ARMA if you play “tactical”).
As you say, all of the above call with particular strength to different audiences and personality types. But of course, they cannot be engaging to every personality type, somebody is going to fall off the wagon.
Certainly, the cost is higher. Yet it doesn’t help that they chose perhaps the worst platform/market to sell their games. In a niche where customer fidelity is a premium, the planned obsolescence of all things iOS is poison.
The reasons to invest in digital - flexibility, increased reach, exploiting immersion opportunities open up by computer hardware - need to be balanced out with the economics of digital products, which may be at odds with the sustainability of a business.
For that, there’s no digital competition :)
Field of Glory 2 - which is designed by Richard Bodley Scott - is perhaps one of the better designs to come out recently on a computer. Certainly it is way cheaper than getting into the miniatures. And I wouldn’t play FoG, or any ancients miniatures ruleset “solo” in my man cave. Which is too small for a board game, but just perfect for a computer :)
Whenever it changes, it will change.
Another problem with wargaming is time. I remember, mostly fondly, summers in college when we’d set up a SPI monster like Terrible Swift Sword in someone’s garage or basement, assign different corps or divisions to people, and over the course of the summer refight Gettysburg. We’d even communicate solely through notes that couldn’t be opened until a messenger counter made the trip across the hexes from one HQ to the other sometimes. But I don’t think we ever actually finished the game, or anything else like it, from Wacht am Rhine to Atlantic Wall to Highway to the Reich. And then there were attempts to do GDW’s Europa stuff…
Even single-map games of much less scope would, between setup, play, and clean up, take an entire evening, with little guarantee that you would finish. So many games ended up with “well, based on what we see now, I think you’ll win.” Just sorting the counters, deploying them in the proper way for reinforcements and what all, and then reversing the process to put the game away took more time than it took to play some other types of games to completion.
One thing PC games do is allow you to get around the physical and temporal space requirements, because you can save and come back later. The experience is quite well aligned with playing board games solitaire, as it replicates that pretty well (I usually even play both sides if the game lets me, even on the computer), but it’s not very good in comparison to the experience of playing a board game with other people (in the right environments, with the right people).
The thing is, I suspect that for many gamers, the particular game isn’t as important as the particular people; I know for me, I’ve had great times in gaming groups with stuff like Titan or a bunch of railroad games I can’t recall the names of or that game about Imperial Rome where you backstabbed each other, or even the original Civilization, much more often than I’ve had really great times with wargaming in groups.Yet I tend to really enjoy the type of gaming that wargames offer solo more than I do many other types of games that have physical counterparts. To some extent, I think perhaps wargames on the computer target this aspect of the hobby specifically, the individually-experienced focused exploration of a historical conflict. That certainly makes it possible to get away with spreadsheet and data-dump games because those approaches at least fit well with how many people experience computer wargaming anyhow. Developing a fluid, elegant, and sophisticated game with great AI will probably not be profitable (if you can even do it). The people most likely to appreciate it are going to be playing meeple games with friends, and the typical grog is going to bitch about where the numbers and inventories of rifle lubricant went.
I’ve just recently discovered this practice myself – playing both sides rather than relying on a notably deficient AI. It’s actually better than soloing a board wargame since the PC game still imposes FOW when you’re playing the other side. Not complete fog, but you can’t usually see the opposing data like you would in a board game. In a large enough game, that obscurity is often enough to make playing both sides a good experience. I recommend it.
Jr High and High school were a great time. I was lucky enough to have a game store in town where they had weekly game nights, plus the folks there gamed a lot on other nights and didn’t mind that I was a kid. Every fall we had a Statis-Pro football league, complete with a draft when the new cards were shipped by AH, and we played all sorts of games. Kremlin, Civilization, Diplomacy, Titan, Dune, and so many others. On weekends games were started of World in Flames, and Empires in Arms though I don’t think we ever finished those.
It is no accident that a substantial part of the interest I see on solo board or war games on the Internet comes from older “gamers” who have got a bit tired of computer screens. The social aspect is kind of hard in a digital environment… I remember playing online Command Ops with Skype open on the side… which was kind of rough since broadband wasn’t all that great 7 years ago. Supposedly now, with platforms like Discord gaming can get more social… I find ironic to find myself relying on a fancy IRC server to make for the social interaction.
That’s a very insightful observation @TheWombat. Recently I had a very fun discussion at work around CMANO, where one guy said “but it doesn’t look like a game… it looks like something you WORK with rather than something you PLAY with” while shaking his head. I think he totally nailed this diversity in expectations.
When “profitable” means generating a huge short term windfall to fund the next game I totally agree with you.
I don’t think of people that complain of the latter as “grogs” to be honest. They’re chrome addicts.
And yeah, “profitable” is a variable quality. Sadly, to get investment, the definition of profit tends to have to be short term ROI. But I agree, if you can sustain yourself over a longer period of time with more modest returns, you should be able to make the sorts of games we are talking about. It then becomes a case of opportunity costs–do you sink that time and effort into something that will return so little (in monetary terms)? Only someone who is making games for their own sake really–or who has sources of income that both are sufficient for their needs and don’t take up their time–can really do this.
But we can hope!
Sadly, to get investment, the definition of profit tends to have to be short term ROI.
There’s also crowdfunding which was used by Shenandoah Studios as well
or more recently
but that’s kind of opening a can of worms, right? Would this perhaps like getting a one-time grant (there’s a few projects out there which have combined grants with crowdfunding? Early access sales? Early access kind of worked for this guy
if the probably less than 1,000 units he has sold on Steam (assuming that there is a 10 to 1 ratio between buyers and reviewers) can be considered to have helped (morally, I’m sure they did).
Only someone who is making games for their own sake really–or who has sources of income that both are sufficient for their needs and don’t take up their time–can really do this.
At the very early stages of the project, I think that’s pretty much the only way to go. Maybe @lhughes42 wants to join the conversation…
Shenandoah Studio was much more than crowdfunded. They had significant investor money, including outside $$ such as these:
Unfortunately, their burn rate was significantly higher than the industry average - you can guess at it just by looking at the staff in that photo. I was terribly sad when they failed, because it was a bunch of incredibly talented and accomplished individuals all doing what they really wanted to do: make games. But I question several of their business decisions, including the failure to immediately port Bulge to the PC via Steam. Turns out that the game had been written to specifically take advantage of the iOS and porting was going to be very time- and resource-intensive, which I think showed on the Slitherine-released PC version. I always wondered how much of an audience they were going to reach by going iPad-only. I think they could have been successful (or at least stayed afloat longer) had they made different business decisions. I don’t think they considered PC as a platform at all until close to the end. There is more but I don’t know that I am at liberty to disclose it - at any rate it would likely make everyone even more sad.
Thanks very much for sharing that little bit, but no need to share any more thant that, @Brooski. I am actually sad they went out of business, I didn’t love their games but I think they were indeed pushing the envelope when it came to presentation and immersion. They also showed that alternative approaches to bring war games to the computer, whatever the form that computer takes, are enjoyed by many.
It is not uncommon that successful crowdfunding campaigns then result in having an easier time to attract investment. You do at least prove you have an audience… even if you made all of your sales, as I am afraid it happens too often.
Um, so do you like pirates or ninjas?
That’s a pick that reflects quite some erudition on your part! I completely agree that Dean Essig is a design genius. His designs are only accessible, or at least only reveal their true brilliance, to the people who are willing to engage deeply enough with historical wargaming to have suffered the pain of having stumbled through a thousand Ty Bomba designs. I think it’s hard to appreciate how many problems he solved without first running into other designers failing to solve them.
Oh, yeah, The Gamers’ stuff is fabulous. I actually still have some of those, because I can’t bear to get rid of them. Don’t actually play them, but i admire them!
There are definitely a few designers that I think have really elevated the craft. There are a bunch too that seem to never go away even though (to me) their work simply doesn’t deserve the longevity it has enjoyed. That’s art I guess.
One of the things that is really good about developing in Unity for instances is that, with a modicum of thought, you can simplify multiplatform development. It’s one reason Unity is by far the most popular engine our Game Studio students work with (Unreal being the other, also fairly portable). I’ve had teams in my senior game capstone switch mid-semester from the PC as a platform to tablets with remarkably few hitches. Even had one team go from a game specifically developed for phones and tablets turn it into a PC game for an interactive display without batting an eyelid. So if college seniors can do this I’m pretty sure a professional development team should be able to. Admittedly, these senior games I’m talking about are not usually quite as extensive or complex as many commercial products (though not always–some of our teams sell their stuff right after they graduate, or already have commercial products while they are in school), but I suspect the big problem with cases like Shenandoah is, well, PBKAC.
Burma is probably my favourite hex and counter war game ever. People sometimes rant about OCS being fiddly… and I love that in that game the IJA player can use the cattle counters used to track ability to push supply as… supply. Ha!
FWIW, I’m also leaving my 30s and taking resolute steps into my 40s…
Something I appreciate immensely from OCS is the logic underpinning the design… I found OCS super easy to learn. Eric Young’s work on V4V/WAW comes close to it, btw.
Also, over the past 15 years or so I have tried 4 or 5 times to implement that system on a computer. Guess what? Many of its elements just not make sense when you’re not constrained to resolve the rules deploying chits and looking up entries on CRTs. But capturing the spirit… I really look forward to that Desert War game to satiate that itch to see the dynamics of operational warfare to follow from first principles.
We need to thank Miguel de Icaza and his personal fools’ errand for that.
Indeed, Unity is the most promising platform for cross-platform development. I have used it for pro simulations and AR stuff and I was frankly impressed with the tools and the portability. The only issue I have, me personally, with it is that it you need to swim against the current to implement true and tested best practices that allow projects to scale up while still being maintainable. Also a PBAKC issue, I think :)
I mean, I know I didn’t kickstart them, but I did buy their iOS games. I don’t know that I would have on PC, since they fit a space I was looking for on mobile.
Would they have been able to stand out on PC? That’s the question really.