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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Karnak? If only I was that accurate.

What changes will come to the gaming hobby over the next 10 years?

Going last on this one is hard. I've skimmed the prior posts but haven't read them closely. Hopefully I don't duplicate too much.

To get a handle on this, let's look back at 1996:

We were in the throes of the CCG boom. Alliances was the big 1996 M:tG release. (Since 1996, Wizards of the Coast has released 28 limited edition expansion sets for Magic. Twenty eight.) Other CCGs released in 1996 were Battletech, Highlander, Netrunner, Star Trek (and Star Trek Next Generation), XXXenophile, and Yu-Gi-Oh! (among others.)

El Grande won the Spiel de Jahres and the DSP. (other SdJ nominees were Ab Die Post!, Campanile, Carabande, Mu, Reibach & Co, Sisimizi, Word Whizz, Speed, Top Race, and WatnDat. Other top-rated games released in 1996 were Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, Settlers of Catan Card Game, Age of Renaissance, and Entdecker.

Avalon Hill was still a bit of a force, but only four games came out that year – AoR, Hannibal, Air Baron, and Stonewall's Last Battle. AH had only two years of existence left.

Some interesting miniatures games came out in 1996. Crossfire (a WWII game designed by Arty Conliffe on a dare – there's no measuring), Chipco's Fantasy Rules!, Inferno (a miniatures game based on Dante's book), and Stargrunt II (a great sci-fi skirmish game). GW pretty much owned the Fantasy/Sci-fi market at this point. The only game that really challenged 40K was Legions of Steel, and the aforementioned Fantasy Rules! was the beginning of the “generic fantasy miniatures game that uses anybody's figures” movement.

Since then, a lot has changed.

Arguably, every niche of boardgaming is in its heyday except for hex-n-counter wargames. Gone are the days of 250,000 printed copies of a game like PanzerBlitz. The only strategy games getting sales figures like that these days are SdJ winners. There are more and more quality eurogames being released each year. Yes, some years are weaker than others, but I'd be surprised if the number of published games has ever decreased year-over-year. The number of companies producing high-quality miniatures has exploded in recent years, and what was considered state of the art 10 years ago is borderline archaic now. CCGs have severely declined since 1996, but they had (and still have) a long way to fall.

Where are we going from here? Here's my thoughts. (BTW, I pay zero attention to the RPG market any longer, so I make no predictions there at all.)

1: The rise of electronic board games. Devices such as the Entertaible are the early harbingers. This will take a chunk out of both the board game and video game markets as the social aspects of boardgaming over video gaming become emphasised. A yet-to-be-formed company will have a level of success relative to what Days of Wonder enjoys in boardgaming solely due to games released for a device like this. My personal hope? Cyberboard (or Vassal) gets ported to this kind of device.

2: We've had collectible dice, cards, miniatures, and “constructibles.” What's left? Beyond WizKids figuring out how many different things can be punched out of a credit card sized piece of plastic, what else is there? Look for emphasis on media/entertainment tie-ins in this space. With the video game, music, and movie industries all moving towards the same core issues (too many releases, no originality, and poor quality) cross-marketing will be huge. Topps sells WizKids to Disney.

3: All “wargames” will be produced via a p500-style preorder system. They will no longer be carried by distributors, and as such will not be seen in stores except in direct-order situations. One of the major wargame companies will either fold or be acquired by a different company.

4: Yes, there will still be brick-n-mortar game stores, but they'll be few and far between. No more than 1 per major metropolis.

5: If 3d printers become affordable, somebody will revolutionize the “DTP Wargame” market and merge it with miniatures. You buy a data file, and “print” out the figures.

6: Games Workshop will finally lose its stranglehold on fantasy/sci-fi miniatures. An economic turndown will come on the heels of yet another price rise, and their sales will plummet faster than anyone expects. It will be dramatic, and cause the closure of a number of independent game stores. GW will be bought by a publicly traded entertainment company, and they'll revamp the entire pricing structure. Quality will plummet, and they'll be replaced by Privateer Press as the top fantasy/sci-fi company.

7: The same economic downturn causes the international market for eurogames to shrink dramatically. Many mergers occur, and only three or four major publishers remain. Lots of small publishers try their hand, but distributors balk at most offerings. Look at the comic book market of 10 years ago for an example. However, 7 of the top 10 games on boardgame geek at the end of 2006 are still in print (or at least easily available) in 2016.

8: Battlefront will dominate the historical gaming market. They'll effectively complete their Flames of War WWII offerings, and redo the rules to mixed reviews. The rumored Napoleonic game will be a huge success, and leads to the introduction of either a WWI or Seven Years War line. (Those are about the only remaining conflicts with large appeal that have enough nationalities involved.) Persistant rumors of an Ancients or Medieval ruleset will not come to fruition.

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