Sunday, November 16, 2008

WizKids and the future of bit-based games

What the exact story is behind the surprise announcement by Topps that WizKids will fold is buried in corporate confidentiality. While the game industry is pretty small and the wargame industry even smaller, it's relatively transparent as such things go. There's a lot of gossip that passes around and many of the company's talk a lot about their plans and many of them are pretty good at interacting with their customers.

This is less true for the bigger guys, although I think even Hasbro is better than most wholesale/retail outfits in communicating with its customers. Topps and WizKids seem more in the traditional corporate mold that way.

Still, the WizKids announcement follows an industry-wide pattern of delays and product changes that may very well be affected by larger economic conditions. The global credit crisis and retail retrenchment will, of course, not leave the game industry unscathed, but I think the real impact of that still lies in the future (not the far future, though, just Christmas). I suspect that this year's production issues are related to changes in China, where the vast majority of the nice bits that graced games over the last decade or so were made.

For most of the last 10 years there was a "sweet spot" where low labor and production costs and favorable exchange rates made it very inexpensive for games to include nice bits, especially plastic pieces. It was possible to include large amounts of pieces (War of the Ring, Tide of Iron, Axis & Allies, Memoir' 44, etc.) and it was possible to have hand-painted pieces: (HeroClix, Axis & Allies miniatures, D&D miniatures, Star Wars etc.). It was even possible to have large numbers of hand-painted pieces (Heroscape).

I think that era is coming to a rapid end and will not reoccur for the foreseeable future. There will still be nice bits, but I think there will be more reliance on blocks and counters (Worthington Games, GMT) because it's considerably cheaper to use print instead. There will probably be a more judicious use of plastic as far as quamity goes and less use of expensive hand-painted models.

1 comment:

  1. It is a shame that the standard has now been set so high. I don't know if people would be willing to pay as much for Tide of Iron with counters or even wooden blocks.

    I do think though that Tide of Iron and let's say Rommel in the Desert are both great games. I don't think too much about the components when I play, and I don't think that the wooden blocs or the fancy TOI pieces is essential to either game.

    I guess only time will tell if the "age of bling" in board gaming is over.