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Wargaming Is Dead

Popular sentiment, at least in the corner of the internet where I do my reading, is that PC Wargaming is “dead.” The area of historical simulations is seeing some activity in board game development, but very little in computer games. PCs games as a whole seem to be taking a back seat to mobile game development effort.

But I’m not sure I agree.

Long Live the Wargame!

While the number of new games are down, there are still great games released recently and being released. Historical PC game development is clearly still underway.

It’s not the same market as, say, ten years ago when dozens of games were released every year, and where one could drool over the lists of games under development. These days, the pace of development has slowed way down, but there are still some intriguing new titles as well as many decent games that are being supported and improved.

Once upon a time, wargames aligned with the “blockbuster” game model. Games were released and fought for good shelf space at the Gamestops and Best Buys. While wargames never competed with the top-tier commercially successful PC games, it was possible to have a “hit” and serious financial success. That, in turn, justifies serious investment in the development of new products. However, to command top billing, the games had to be polished. When you, the player, got your new game home, read the manual, and then put your CDs (or maybe floppies?) into your system, you expected the game to work. Patches could be obtained, but a big patch often seemed to be all-but-impossible to download without errors over available internet connections. So any patching, bug fixing, or customer support was just “cost” eating into the profits from that original game sale. But the developer who tries to balance those books by turning out “Game of War II” would risk losing the goodwill of the original “Game of War” customers who resent paying AGAIN for simply providing what they thought they’d purchased when they bought the original game. So, unless the new version also expanded upon the original fan base, there might be a decline in profits as compared to the original version.

Profits, I might add, that were split between retailer, distributor, producer, and maybe even developer.

Today’s environment is very different. Distribution of products is almost entirely digital. In any software, frequent patching is the norm and no longer seems like such a indictment of the product. Combinations of free and low-cost paid content (DLCs) now are common, and seem to provide a structure around which a different kind of profitability model could exist.

The variety of publishing models, from DYI to Steam to more traditional publishers, should create an opportunity for developers to avoid the publishing traps that have sunk them in the past. Development platforms (such as Unity) hold out at least a promise of rapid development of decent content, resulting in lower development costs.

Will some combination of this actually create a sustainable environment? I think it will. But it could also mean that the industry is devouring itself chasing less and less money from a smaller and smaller user base. Only time will tell.

The model for success these days, at least in terms of quality product,  seems to be the incremental releases. The best wargames of the day seem to be those in their second (or third or fourth) iteration.

But I’m not a wargame developer. I’m a wargame player.I’m certainly pleased with the quality and support for a few of the best titles that are active today. But there are so many older games that are still “new to me.”

A Virtual Bargain Bin

The “bargain bin” of decades ago was the place to augment your wargaming budget. Games that weren’t quite worth the risk at $45 might be worth a try at half price. Under $10, could be worth a shot in the dark and, for under $5, if the box art looked cool, well why not? The problem was, that bargain bin had only limited selection, and you may or may not be checking every so often. So despite the occasional lucky find, the bulk of purchases came of the main shelf.

As the digital store replaced brick and mortar, it certainly became easier to grab something that went on sale. But prices only went so low. Then there was shipping to consider.

These days, there is a vast digital bargain bin. On Steam, on GOG, plus other discounts like Humble Bundle. With a little bit of patience and perseverance (yet considerable less than it took to sift through the bins at Gamespot), one try out many, many of the top-dollar titles of years past for pennies on the dollar. And no shipping to boot.

As an added bonus, my circa-200x gaming machine is not at all disadvantaged when playing circa-200x games. But maybe that’s just me.

Historical Games: A Walk Through History

Lastly, this cornucopia of games of all shapes and sizes encourages a new approach to choosing which game to play. Rather than playing whatever is the most interesting to come out recently, I am choosing games from this vast digital pile based on theme. Over the last year or so, I’ve been playing groups of games comparatively. I pick a battle, or theme, or era in history and play multiple games (three is good) that all address the same subject. It can end up being a comparative review of different games attempting to do the same thing, and how each one gets it right or wrong. It can end up being views of the same battle, looking simultaneously from the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.
In any case, I hope to be able to share what I’ve learned and am learning here on this forum over the coming months.