The Flare Path: Parleys With A Warlord

By Tim Stone on May 17th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

Every day is D-Day -1 for the busy Seabees at Slitherine Software. An Epsom-based outfit that started life constructing singular sword-and-sandal TBSs, is now, thanks to a slew of acquisitions and a dazzlingly dynamic approach to talent spotting/signing, the dominant force in PC wargame publishing. During the coming year, company chieftain Iain McNeil will be overseeing more than fifty releases. Realising I knew little about the firm’s founder, philosophy, or plans, I dragged Iain away from a red-hot field radio and a sand table crowded with 15mm Hoplites, Panzer Grenadiers, astronauts and Space Marines for a chat.

RPS: Do you recall your first taste of wargaming?

Iain: Yes very clearly – I was 6 years old and went to a model engineering exhibition in London. It was mostly railways but I was more interested in a table with a wargame going on. My dad bought some toy soldiers at the show and we painted them up and joined a wargames club. I’ve been a hardcore wargamer pretty much since then. At 11 I won the club competition and since then have taken part in almost every tabletop competition that exists, though since I had kids have been forced into temporary retirement. I started computer gaming a little later but got hooked on games like Dungeon Master, Railroad Tycoon, Masters of Orion and Civilization. I still have my copy of MOO2 and boot it up from time to time as there is still nothing that compares!

RPS: Dune 2000, Deus Ex, Urban Chaos… Pre-Slitherine, you were involved in the creation of several well-known games. Were any of these projects especially formative?

Iain: I started out in development at Intelligent Games about 20 years ago now. My first job was as a tester, then production assistant and finally on to team leader & designer. I have worked at every level in a game development company and it gives really useful insights and helps me manage the teams. I worked on Red Alert Aftermath & Retaliation, but the games I was most involved with and were most formative for me were Dune 2000 and Dune Emperor. On these I was the designer and team leader. Dune 2000 involved month after month of long hours and changing goals from a publisher. It was very frustrating and by the end of it I was burned out. I stayed long enough to set up the design of the sequel, Dune Emperor, but needed a change of pace. I decided to try out life on the publisher side.

I joined Eidos as a producer and worked on Deus Ex, Urban Chaos and some others. However it was very unrewarding. There can be a real tension between the developers and the publisher. The developer wants to do things their way while the publisher may want it another. I’d experienced it from the developer side with a publisher enforcing their ideas on us but hadn’t expected to have so little input and control from the publisher side. I found the internal politics of these large companies got in the way of doing the job well and after a year decided I wanted to get back to the action and into development at a smaller focused team. This is when Slitherine was born. While I didn’t enjoy much of the work at Eidos, the experience of dealing with this conflict between developer and publisher from both sides has been invaluable. It really helps me see things from both sides and find common ground.

RPS: Was Slitherine a happy accident or the result of years of planning and dreaming?

Iain: It was definitely more of an accident. Slitherine technically existed before I got involved but in a very different form. It all started when I was the producer at Eidos on Tyrannosaurus Tex, a 3D first-person shooter for Gameboy Colour. Slitherine was the developer and while talented at game development they clearly had no idea how to run a company. I was frustrated as a producer and wanted to get back to development. The plan was to form a new company with Ben, the lead developer on the T-Tex team and take things from there, but it wasn’t to be and fell at the first hurdle. After the initial payments had been made I was due to meet Ben and sign the documents that would give him a 50% share in the new company. When I arrived at the office he wasn’t there. After some time his girlfriend arrived and told me he was on a plane to Australia and wasn’t coming back. He had had some kind of mental breakdown and had taken his computer and run. This is the short version as it was a lot more complex than that, but the end result was we had a company, but it was a hollow shell. We had the source code, but the only person who understood it was in Australia and as it was all written in assembler it was not the kind of thing someone else could pick up. We had to think about what to do next. The obvious decision was to make games that we understood. At the time we were talking to Games Workshop about a license and we made a prototype for a game, but they signed all rights to THQ so that never happened. Instead the prototype evolved in to what is now Legion. I also taught myself how to program at this point, though my code luckily only got used for editors and supporting tools – not the game itself.

RPS: Wargame devs seem to be flocking to Slitherine at the moment. What’s the secret?

Iain: It is true that we have so many developers coming to us for exclusive deals we have had to stop offering distribution deals as we simply don’t have the bandwidth to release all the games being offered to us and must focus our resources on our exclusive developers. I think the simple answer is that developer’s make more money releasing games through us than they can anywhere else. While we have great relationships with our developers, most of our games are developed by small indie companies and they are all looking for the best possible deal for themselves. They don’t come to us and stay with us because of some sense of loyalty. They come and stay because it’s the best place for them to be financially. There are a few key reasons for this

Our community. We have ¼ million unique users through our sites a month and they are all wargamers. There is nowhere else on earth you can get such a concentrated group of wargamers. We have developers who have tried to sell via GoG, GamersGate, Desura etc but we sell more of these type of games on our site than the rest put together. When we told them we were not doing distribution deals any more, only exclusive publishing deals, they decided it was better to go exclusively with us than try and sell through the multiple store fronts.

Our services. Obviously we promote, market and support the games, but it’s much more than that. We get involved as early as possible to help steer the developer in the right direction. We help them avoid various pitfalls, help them with UI design and provide tools for lobbies, server based PBEM, match making and much more. One recent example is a game that was submitted to us for publishing which looked very promising on the surface until we found out it had no single player mode, not even a tutorial and had no asynchronous multiplayer. These two design decisions in our view are fatal to the games chances of success. A simple design decision 18 months ago could have changed this in to a very interesting game. They are reviewing if it’s worth 6-9 months of rework to fix these issues, or to release the game as is, but unless the core design issues are resolved it is not a game we could get behind.

Legal Advice. You would not believe the number of developers who come to us with no legal structure in place and a game that is almost finished. We’ve helped advise on company structure, prepare template contracts for employees and contractors and much more. This is something we try to make sure is in place as early as possible after we get involved. A piece of advice to any developers out there: please agree on day 1 what everyone is due to get in the way of shares and revenue from the project/company and set it out on paper in a contract. If you don’t then everyone goes away with different assumptions and memories of what went on and these inevitably lead to problems and often a complete team break down, which we have witnessed on multiple occasions. We matchmake artists and programmers and set up contracts and report royalties to all parties so no paperwork is needed by the dev teams allowing them to focus on what they do best – make the games.

Funding. On many projects we help fund the developers to complete the games. This takes various forms including paying for music or art to complete the game, license fees, engine fees and monthly milestones. The truth is many of the games simply would not exist without the funding or would be substantially worse in quality.

With the move from retail to digital there is a lot of talk of developers going it alone and not needing publishers. What we’re finding is almost the exact opposite. While digital means infinite shelf space (a phrase I often see thrown about on forums), it is a curse as well as a blessing. There are literally hundreds of thousands of games available now. Getting users to find your game amongst the multitude of others can be almost impossible. This makes visibility the key issue and this is one thing developers really struggle to deal with. When you release 1-2 games a year it’s impossible to generate the momentum that a publisher releasing 1 game a week can. Many try to go it alone and realize it just doesn’t work and this is one of the reasons we’re seeing a huge increase in developers wanting to work with us. Success in the digital space is about 3 things – visibility, visibility and visibility.

RPS: The Matrix Games takeover in 2010 was obviously an important step. Is there any truth in the rumour that Matrix were struggling at the time of acquisition?

Iain: No – Matrix have always made great games and have a huge dedicated community. Both Matrix & Slitherine had particular strengths and weaknesses and together we are a much stronger company.

RPS: How does Wargamer.com fit into Slitherine’s plans? (Wargamer.com is owned and overseen by Slitherine Group)

Iain: The Wargamer is one of the only dedicated sites to cover the type of games we make so it’s very important to us that it reaches as many people as possible – old and new readers. It is one of the best places for developers to promote and advertise these type of games.

RPS: Has the recent success of your mobile games had any impact on the PC side of the business?

Iain: It is hard to say for sure. We’ve seen a 44% increase in sales on PC and Mac in 2012 but it’s very hard to say if this is down to the iPad and the awareness it has raised outside of our core community or other reasons such as our console games, or other marketing initiatives and releases.

RPS: If the option came along to buy Battlefront or HPS Simulations would Slitherine be interested?

Iain: Battlefront and HPS are both great competitors, but at the moment we need to focus on our Buzz Aldrin and Games Workshop deals, as we see these as great ways to expand our audience. It’s interesting that you listed these two companies, because we don’t see ourselves as only competing with digital wargames companies. We see ourselves as part of the wargames industry, rather than the games industry. By that I mean wargaming in all its forms, digital, tabletop, board games, re-enactors, modelers, history buffs etc. Many of your readers are probably unaware that we publish 3 sets of tabletop wargames rules and have published over 25 books in 5 languages. Matrix in the past has also published board games and we’re in discussions with board game manufacturers on some possible projects now. We attend shows like Speil in Essen (boardgames), Salute in London (tabletop miniatures) and Historicon in the USA (tabletop miniatures) in preference to shows like E3. While these board and tabletop gamers also play computer games they do not read the mainstream gaming media and so we can’t reach them through traditional channels. Even though we’ve been attending these shows for over a decade, we still regularly meet people who have never heard of us and when they see the lineup they think they have found heaven. What we have find is that once you’ve made these guys aware of us, they keep coming back for more.

RPS: Assuming money was no object and all present owners were willing to sell, which classic wargaming IP would you most like to acquire?

Iain: There are so many things I’d love to do ranging from the entry level strategy games up to the grognard’s heaven. I’d love to do Advanced Squad Leader, Axis & Allies, Railroad Tycoon (like it was meant to be played, none of this eye candy without substance! ;), Masters of Orion, the list goes on!

RPS: Your release schedule for the next twelve months is pretty crowded. Which projects are you most excited about?

Iain: It certainly is – we have more than 1 release a week which is something we’re struggling to keep up with and have had to take on more staff to deal with this. The projects I’m most excited about are Panzer Corps on iPad, Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager, Pandora, and our Warhammer 40,000  game. There are others I can’t talk about yet, but we have some more big releases coming later this year or early next year.

RPS: What’s the biggest challenge facing the company in the next year or two?

Iain: Our biggest issue is dealing with growth. We’ve grown from a company of 5 to over 25 in the last 5 years. Despite this we’re still heavily understaffed and recruiting, but we have to be very careful at the pace we grow as new team members are a drain initially as they are trained and brought up to speed. We have to balance keeping the company moving ahead with adding more team members. We’re having to adapt the way we do everything to deal with this growth and it’s a painful process. For example, when there are 5 of you in one office, everyone knows everything. Now there are so many of us spread across 5 offices and there is so much going on, there is no way for anyone to know everything. We’re having to create processes and systems just to keep the team up to date. We’ve had occasions when the first someone finds out about a new signing or piece of news is when they read it in a press release on another site which is clearly unacceptable!

RPS: I suspect that PC wargaming ‘nicheness’ – its relative lack of popularity – has more to do with poor GUIs, inadequate tutorials, and limited exposure, than themes or complexity. Would you agree?

Iain: Though this is an opinion shared by many wargamers, I have to completely disagree on this point. It is related to the misconception that by dropping the prices you can massively increase sales. It is true there are many wargames with terrible user interfaces but there are also examples of games with great UI’s, e.g. Panzer Corps and Unity of Command. They are not perfect, but they certainly have no barriers to entry. You could always make them better, but the increase in sales relative to the amount of money invested hits a plateau. There is simply a limited number of people who are interested in this type of game.

This interesting story posted to our site by a user named Vasquez illustrates the point:

“One year ago a retail gaming store (in germany) announced their cessation of business. They had offered a half dozen boxed Version of Battles in Italy (German retail Version) for 1 (one) Euro each. One months later they had not sold one of them. So I bought them all and made a giveaway on my gaming site. We have some wargamers over there, yes, but the majority are shooter fans (since 7idGaming is focused on e-sports and we are hosting servers for ArmaII and such games). Anyway. In short: No one wanted Battles in Italy. Neither for 1 Euro nor for free.

Some weeks ago a friend gave me five GamersGate keys for an almost brand new wargame. So I announced a contest again. The only requirement was to like the developers Facebook site. My article had 280 hits but only three guys were interested enough to like the page for a free copy.”

The price alone does not turn average Jon Doe into a wargamer.

Having said this, just because it has a limited audience it does not mean that audience is small. For example Games Workshop’s core business is that they make toy soldiers. I don’t think you could argue this is anything other than a niche business – I know they certainly don’t. However they have a market capitalization approaching $350m. We know we have come nowhere near the potential of our audience, but it is very fragmented and there is no single place to market to these gamers. It’s a gradual process of making games that will appeal to them on platforms they use, organically growing the audience and finding innovative marketing initiatives to reach them.

RPS: Do you know what percentage of your customer base would, if given a choice, rather see a strong single-player AI in a wargame than extensive multiplayer facilities?

Iain: It varies by game, but on average I’d estimate somewhere between 90-99% of players are only interested in single player. AI is important here, but at least equally important is a campaign layer to the game. Games without a strong single player experience often struggle to sell. There are always exceptions to the rule, but this would be my advice to any developer – make sure you have a strong single player experience and design the multiplayer to enhance that rather than start from multiplayer.

RPS: The debate over the pricing of Pride of Nations generated some interesting comments. Do you really believe there’s a direct link between the price of a wargame and the likelihood of it being valued or penetrated by a customer?

Iain: It’s pretty basic psychology that the more you pay for something the more you value it and that people expect higher value items to be of higher quality. It is one of the main reasons brands exist – we all know many of them use the same products just with a brand logo, or “premium” logo to make people feel better about buying them. There are other factors in effect such as marketing, but a key factor is that people do value things more if they pay more. Think about what happens when someone plays a complex game. What happens when they hit a frustration point such as a badly explained feature or something they don’t understand? Ideally the game would be designed not to have these frustration points but invariably complex games do. In the case where the game was free or very cheap a significant % will give up and stop playing. They invested nothing so they lose nothing. That same person playing the same game which they had paid $25 for is much more likely to attempt to push through the frustration point because of their investment. They don’t want to feel it was wasted. Now obviously this is not universally true but it certainly changes the average level of customer satisfaction. The other point is that if you sell a game for $1.99 it says to me that you are not confident in your game and do not believe it has value. If you don’t believe it has value why should I?

RPS: Thank you for your time.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

Is this an F-102 Delta Dagger which I see before me? No, it’s a Hawker Tempest, a Douglas C-124 Globemaster II, a Learjet, a General Aircraft Hotspur, a Vickers Windsor, a Westland Lysander and a Rolls Royce Avon engine. Watching FurryLippedSquid, Matchstick, and skink74 tear through last week’s Shakespearian foxer was like watching Falstaff eat warm pigeon pie. Textbook defoxing. Never have pairs of foil-and-silk FP undercrackers gone to more deserving nether regions.

Spot today’s covert connection and you could win a delicious meal for two at Flare Path’s favourite restaurant, The Gammon Bomb.

, , , , , .

61 Comments »

  1. FurryLippedSquid says:

    Bomb is a Paveway. Mk 2 “Pineapple” grenade (bottom). M26A1/M61 grenade (top)? Did they have a nickname?

    • Premium User Badge Matchstick says:

      The front of the bomb makes me think it might be a Paveway III model.

      According to wikipedia that gives us the nicknames “Hammer” for the GBU-27 & “Deep Throat” for the GBU-28 – I can’t find a nickname for the GBU-22 or 24

      I was hoping that the picture was from DCS A-10 Warthog which might give us a hint which model it actually is but the DCS website doesn’t list any of the Paveway IIIs as being included in the game

      Could be a picture from one of the LOMAC/Flying Cliffs games but that’s no help as they seem to include pretty much every variant of the Paveway around.
      http://lockon.co.uk/en/modern_air_combat/?PAGEN_2=2#569

    • FhnuZoag says:

      The green tank is a T34-76 model 1942 variant, I think, complete with tank rider infantry. The Germans called it the ‘Mickey Mouse’ apparently.

      The blueprint tank is a Pz II.

    • Premium User Badge Matchstick says:

      The M26 was known as the lemon grenade from it’s shape.

      We may have fruit theme developing here.

      • Premium User Badge Matchstick says:

        The badge in the top left is the cap badge of the Royal Green Jackets.

        They have the nickname The Black Mafia (and possibly also the Falling Plates) and their motto is Celer et Audax – Swift and Bold”

        That’s much less fruity than I was hoping (as it were)

        • Premium User Badge Matchstick says:

          The man in the picture is Iceal E. “Gene” Hambleton
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iceal_Hambleton

          His Callsign was “Bat 21 Bravo” – the 1988 Gene Hackman film Bat 21 was based (possibly loosely) on the story of his rescue after being short down during the Vietnam War.

          • FurryLippedSquid says:

            Goddamnit, I knew I knew the face. The animal link is looking stronger, not sure where the ‘nades fit in. I’ve found a few of those service ribbons but can’t get the overall picture. Possibly a set belonging to a specific person..?

            Whoever it is, they are both a knight of the bath and a knight of the garter.

      • Tomn says:

        Quick suggestion, guys: Perhaps you’re only supposed to be looking for the covert connections in the photos, with everything else being a pretty decoration to spice up the rest of the image (since just four photos would be pretty boring).

        • corinoco says:

          Albatross! Get your albatross! The BOAC airliner is a de Haviland DH.91 Albatross. How that helps I don’t know. In service 1937 retired 1943

          • Premium User Badge phlebas says:

            It’s possible you have something there – we have a Monty elsewhere, and the internets suggest Lynx used a Monty Python song in one of their ads. I don’t see a Python, though (or a connection to the other elements).

          • FurryLippedSquid says:

            It helps because it’s another animal. So we have 3 photos that are linked to animals, it’s just the Paveway that remains a mystery. They were dropped from Nighthawk aircraft during the Iraq conflict, but it can’t be that obscure surely?

          • FurryLippedSquid says:

            Yeah I looked in to that, he had next to nothing to do with the Desert Rats, just one of many units under his management umbrella. You could still be right, but I don’t think Mr Stone would make such a link.

          • Tomn says:

            I might just be lazy, but if it was dropped from a Nighthawk (Wikipedia seems to suggest it was specifically designed to be dropped from a Nighthawk, so it’s not a casual link), then I think we can take the other three animal-themed photos and call it a day. So that’s a bomb dropped from a Nighthawk, a plane called Albatross, a guy callsigned Bat, and a tank nicknamed Mickey Mouse. Seems a good enough pattern for me, and I reckon the other bits and bobs are just extraneous decorations – note the border around the photos that sets them apart.

            Edit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GBU-27_Paveway_III for the bit about them being modified specifically to fit with Nighthawks.

          • FurryLippedSquid says:

            Yeah, seems good enough. Kudos for spotting the covert business.

        • Tim Stone says:

          All the elements in the puzzle have connections to the theme, and that theme isn’t ‘animals’.

          • FurryLippedSquid says:

            Awwwww. Curse you Stone! There goes my Friday evening.

          • Premium User Badge Matchstick says:

            So this is what I think we have:

            Top Left – Cap Badge of The Royal Green Jackets – AKA Black Mafia/Falling Plates

            Top Center – M26/61 Hand Grenade – AKA Lemon

            Top Right – Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein’s medals – AKA Monty

            Middle Left – Iceal E. Hambleton – AKA Bat 21 Bravo/Gene

            Middle Centre – Paveway III LGB Exact Model Unknown – AKA (possibly) Hammer/Deep Throat

            Middle Right Upper – Sd.Kfz. 123 Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf. L – AKA Luchs/Lynx

            Middle Right Lower – de Haviland DH.91 Albatross – AKA Frobisher (?)

            Lower Left – T34-76 – AKA Mickey Mouse

            Lower Right – Mk2 Hand grenade – AKA Pineapple

            Could the link be Golf ?

            Albatross, Montgommery/Monty & Green Jacket would all tie in and you could make a case for Lynx = Links

          • FurryLippedSquid says:

            Lemon, Pineapple, Mickey Mouse and Hambleton all have links to golf too, if somewhat tenuous.

            Doesn’t feel quite right, but green jacket, monty, albatross and lynx are solid.

          • skink74 says:

            I’m a bit late to the party, so thanks everyone for the identification. I think the golf theme is pretty solid:
            Hambleton was rescued with the aid of an ad hoc code based on golf.
            As mentioned the T34 has tank riders => Ryder Cup ?
            The Paveway does look like a GBU-28 “Deep throat” which would be a Bunker Buster.

            The grenades still puzzle me – Jack Lemmon was an avid golfer but that strikes me as tenuous. Pineapple Golf appears to be a German golf equipment retailer.

          • FurryLippedSquid says:

            There’s also a Pineapple course. Some of it seems a bit too wishy-washy though.

          • Midwinter says:

            Both grenades prominently feature the pin – the flag stick in golf.

            Edited to add that the Mk2 grenade shows the spoon very clearly, a reference to the vintage golf club of the same name.

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      The service ribbons are Montgomery’s.

      Quite how that helps us however…

  2. Premium User Badge Gap Gen says:

    “a sand table crowded with 15mm Hoplites, Panzer Grenadiers, astronauts and Space Marines” This was totally what I did as a kid. Pew pew pew!

  3. killias2 says:

    ” I suspect that PC wargaming ‘nicheness’ – its relative lack of popularity – has more to do with poor GUIs, inadequate tutorials, and limited exposure, than themes or complexity. Would you agree?”

    He disagrees strongly.. then cites two games with great interfaces that just happen to be his best sellers…

    • HexagonalBolts says:

      Completely agree with you, I think there are no hard limits to how popular a genre is, you can always attract more people with polish and creativity – I would love to play some war games but I get frightened away by what I imagine to be huge learning curves and high levels of difficulty and so I have never really ventured in

      • wodin says:

        So many times I’ve read this from so many people yet Slitherine just seems to ignore the voices of potential new wargamers and as mentioned on here..buries their collective head in the sand..or puts their fingers in his ears saying la la la la la..with their eyes closed…:)

        • DarkMalice says:

          So they’ve inherited Games Workshop’s business mantra as well as their W40k licence then.

    • Soulstrider says:

      I wholeheartedly agree.

      I’ve said more than once, Matrix/Slitherine have games that interest, specially Distant worlds, but for the price they are asking I must decline.

      • killias2 says:

        Overall, I think their main problem is that they treat all of their games the same. Listen, Matrix, I understand the logic here. However, I’m sorry, Distant Worlds is not the same as Gary Grisby’s War in the East. The idea that a pricing strategy based on WitE is being used for a game like Distant Worlds or, potentially, Warhammer 40k games or even their upcoming Alpha Centauri successor… is just ridiculous. Their logic doesn’t hold at all. It breaks like a dam.

        I think I’m willing to concede that certain kinds of games probably do have different pricing needs. War in the East simply isn’t going to light Steam on fire. However, other games could be -huge- if supported the right way, and I think intuitive mechanics, a solid user interface, and a way to introduce newbies to new rules all can play a role in expanding this set more widely.

        • Arkh says:

          And I completely agree with you sir. I enjoy DW, I would love Pandora but submitting then to the same pricing model as AGEOD of Gary’s games is nuts. I don’t enjoy the games from these devs much, I’m not too much of a wargamer but I love complex games like DW. DW is way more accessible while maintaining the complexity.

          I don’t know. For me, DF proved that very complex games with no graphics and a horrible UI can have a large fanbase if you do things right.

          Anyway, thanks a lot for the interview!

  4. Reapy says:

    Yeah I feel there is a bit of head in sand syndrome with regards to branching out their audience, though I guess the point of them being niche is to remain niche. But he is probably right, there are probably few people like me, curious about some wargames, but only at about 5 to 10 dollars. But are there another 3 people out there like myself for every one of the diehards who will 90% purchase at any price?

    That I’m not sure of, but then again we have different demands than the hardcore, I’ll let plenty of realism issues slide for accessible complexity that is well represented, while that guy who will pay 40+ every time has other expectations.

    Eh, there are plenty of games for “us” out there, it’s ok I think to let the other guys have theirs in this one spot.

    • Zeewolf says:

      I don’t think he is right; I think there are plenty of people curious about wargames, but not willing to pay the insane prices they’re asking for (most of) their stuff. Buying something you’re not sure of is risky, and most people like to take these risks from time to time (to widen their tastes in gaming), but there’s a limit to how much money they’re willing to gamble.

      I am also convinced that their pricing model is pushing away many people who are already part of their niche. I play some of these games, for instance. Unity of Command, Distant Worlds and Panzer Corps are great. So are games like Armageddon Empires, et.c. But since I’m into many other kinds of games, including other strategy games, price matters a lot. If I can get five other good games, in other genres, for the price of one Matrix wargame, I will most probably buy five other good games in other genres. So they’re actively pushing me away.

      I’m not suggesting they start selling their games at $10 a piece, though it’s clear that some of their older titles certainly belong in that price bracket. I’m just suggesting that if they want my money, which it’s clear that they tend not to, they need to realize that most of their potential buyers have quite a few options besides buying their stuff. Wargames is just another genre, and most people like more than one.

    • Premium User Badge phuzz says:

      Indeed, he says “the misconception that by dropping the prices you can massively increase sales”.
      But it’s not a misconception. Valve have shown many times over that they can do massive discounts on Steam, and make up for that in volume
      Ok, maybe that won’t work for niche wargames (although I believe it would work), but it’s not proved. Try a big sale, say 80% off, for a week, and try and get as much publicity as possible (I’m sure RPs would cover it), and see what happens. If it bombs, then fine, you’ve proved that ‘niche wargames’ don’t sell in the same way as other games, but if not…

    • Premium User Badge Zephro says:

      Just incase this is read by Matrix/Slitherine. There is a bigger audience out there as I’d be one. I think the only proper wargames I have are Combat Mission, Scourge of War and Unity of Command. Oh and some really buggy AGEOD games.

      I’d love to play War in the East but I’ve never in 20 years of video gaming spent £55-60 on a game without a demo.

      Other things I won’t pay for are map packs that cost the same as the base game or in the case of Battle for Normandy a patch for 10 dollars, when the base game still has bugs in it.

  5. wodin says:

    I don’t agree with a fair few points but at least we have them around. That if you pay more you value it more is abit odd..usually if you pay more it better be damn good otherwise you hate it more..The sort of products this applies to certainly isn’t games either board or PC..

    I like the “we steer them”..i.e we tell them WW2 and nothing to obscure otherwise no go..

    Also one minute it’s a niche so we charge more or we charge more because that means you’ll like it more…..then we have a 14 million unique users each month through the websites…thats alot of people and gives out confusing messages..

    I think Iain isn’t that good at PR and I also think this interview was poor timing..it just drags everything back up which is silly as the dust had settled.

    Anyway looking forward to the new releases..

    • drvoke says:

      It’s actually a self-serving misunderstanding of the psychological effect that is at play. If you spend more for an inferior product, you’re actually not any more or less likely to have a better opinion of it. What you get are more vociferous JUSTIFICATIONS for your purchase. I know it’s a bit of a fine distinction, but it’s an important one. You’re not saying, “Man, this widget was totally worth all of that money I spent on it,” you’re saying, “I paid all this money, so despite the overall weakness of the widget, I will overcompensate by focusing only on the good aspects of it while ignoring the bad aspects.”

      There’s actually a lot more that is wrong about their reasoning in regards to their pricing model, but this is the most straightforward to point out.

      • Arkh says:

        It’s called Cognitive-Dissonance. People put more effort to justify a purchase, not enjoy it.

  6. nimzy says:

    I’m so looking forward to the new Buzz Aldrin game. We need more info on it!
    Now that the Cold War is over and several countries are busy in space we could potentially choose from several different space programs. I for one can’t wait to learn the secret code that unlocks the North Koreans.

  7. Tomn says:

    It doesn’t really feel like Iain is answering the key questions at all. It sounds more like he’s rehashing old arguments about related, but quite different topics – specifically, pricing. Just about the only concession he makes towards addressing accessibility is that at some point, investment in accessibility hits the point of diminishing returns, which is a meaningless no-brainer. His insistence on wargaming being “small and niche” is bizarre, too, especially considering that he himself then acknowledges that the niche is pretty large in absolute terms. It’s almost like he feels that the point of improving accessibility and and lowering prices is to compete directly with Call of Duty and the like, and if you’d lose that contest there’s no point bothering at all.

    I remember Spiderweb Software’s Jeff Vogel used to be pretty vocal about not lowering his prices, which he justified by claiming that a price point of one dollar is unworkable, despite the fact that no sane person would have suggested such a price point. Even after he reduced his prices to more reasonable levels, he still made a point of saying “Yeah but lowering to one dollar is still stupid, so I was basically right.” Is there some kind of blind spot amongst veteran niche developers that makes them incapable of seeing the sane middle ground?

  8. DatonKallandor says:

    “I don’t sell a lot of games, so my genre is niché. People don’t buy my games because they’re so expensive. I can’t make my games cheaper because that wouldn’t increase sales. Because my games are niché you see.”

    Circular logic at it’s best.

  9. soundofvictory says:

    I’m a tad confused. Iain said Slitherine stopped doing distribution deals, but only exclusive publishing deals. Then why do they have Unity of Command, and it is also on Steam as published by Dvaput? That deal must’ve gone down before that policy went into place, I guess? Or Unity of Command was the exception to the rule as it was such a clear winner.

  10. MachineCode says:

    While I do feel I understand and fully support their view of trying to produce for their actual audience and not chase some nebulous perhaps non-existent “wider audience” (a thing which has led to the death of many great games and developers) that’s not my issue personally. I see here the repetition of a concept: “but a key factor is that people do value things more if they pay more.” This could not be further from the truth for me, in fact its the total opposite; I am a long time tabletop gamer (warhammer/40k, board games in my youth, pen and paper RPG’s up to today), For much of my gaming life I have been playing sims and wargames and strategy games and I still do (I play almost any type of game if I like it, I don’t discriminate much). I have a strong love of history too and am always reading up and looking to supplement my understanding, enjoyment and immersion any way I can (through all media including games). I seem to embody exactly the type of person who should be in their audience, I am even interested in many of their games but the prices stop me. dead. For me the amount of money I pay for something should be representative of the amount of enjoyment I will get from it, but I make that assessment BEFORE I buy the thing. Paying more doesn’t do anything to change that all it does if I pay full price for something I don’t like is make me less likely to make the same mistake again (by not purchasing unless I am certain the balance is right). I certainly don’t somehow fool myself into thinking I’m having more fun that I actually am just because I objectively overpaid for something. Hell if anything it sucks enjoyment OUT of the experience for me.

    Many of these kinds of games (sims, wargames etc) which are dense and complicated and take sometimes a very long time even to learn how to play them before you can actually just play them, a higher price just drives me off completely. I have no issue with the depth and complexity mind, that’s a big part of why I love these types of game, but I’m not going to overpay someone (and to me some of those statements are an admission that they know they are charging more than they are worth) who tells me: “look, this old game, will probably take you two weeks to even learn to play before you can really decide if you like it. sorry no you can’t get it for a few quid and test the waters, if you buy it from me for 40 you’ll love it trust me!” That just doesn’t fly and I can’t help but think. I can’t be the only one surely? There must be more out there like me? at least some. Their talk about visibility was pretty rich too. I am quite certain the majority of the gaming public don’t even know they exist. Hell I’ve described myself in this post in terms of how I think I should be right in the midst of their audience and it was only by chance when browsing some blogs and forums I ended up becoming familiar with them at all.

    • Vinraith says:

      ” I see here the repetition of a concept: “but a key factor is that people do value things more if they pay more.” This could not be further from the truth for me, in fact its the total opposite”

      Interesting, it’s exactly true for me. I’ve stopped buying games in Steam sales (and their equivalents) pretty much entirely because I’ve learned that if I’m only willing to pay $5 for a game, that’s an indication that I’ll never consider it worth my time to play. If I’m interested enough in a title to actually spend time playing it, I’m interested enough to spend $20 or more on it. It’s really that simple.

      This has the pleasant side effect of ensuring I only fund projects I really enjoy, and that those projects actually get a meaningful amount of money from my purchase, rather than spreading my cash out over a wide range of mostly dreck.

      Honestly, most gamers have just become discount horders at this point, building up piles of games they’ll never play that they bought for $3 in some sale and then forgot they owned. A model that relies on that (which is the model basically everyone but wargames has adopted at this point) is doomed to failure in the long term.

      • MachineCode says:

        @Vinraith
        I think we are describing the same thing, or at least very similar things. We are both careful with our choice of game; Not wanting to spend too much on something we wont like or not wanting to waste time and money on cheap stuff we will never play. My point is that the game is the game, paying more for it wont make me like it any more. The mere suggestion is absurd to me. Reminiscent of the business model of some other large technology companies I shall not name for fear of derailment. I think it is the same for you most likely. You don’t like the game because it cost you more, you paid more for it because of how sure you were that you would like it. Plus the more I pay the greater the danger that if I end up not liking the game for some reason I may not buy any subsequent games from that developer/in that series etc for full price. If their price never really falls than that means I wont ever buy them.

        My second point was addressing the fact that due to the nature of the type of games that Slitherene/matrix are involved in. Their complexity serves as a barrier to entry even to me, not because of the complexity its self per se as they may think (as i said I love it) but it increases the risk factor when going for the full price latest release because it obfuscates things and makes it harder to make that judgement of if the experience is going to be worth the price. This could be solved if they simply lowered the price of their older games like any sane company. Allowing people to as I said before test the waters at a lower price point before going for the latest and greatest.

        • MachineCode says:

          Additionally it must be remembered that in this case we aren’t even comparing a company that charges the normal amount for their games (45-55 quid or so) with competitors who have all these deals and sales going on, its much worse really; we’re comparing steam and the likes to a company that charges even higher than normal prices for their games from the get go. Sometimes way higher. That’s even before we start talking about the nitty gritty so to speak like the price point of expansion packs, lack of proper compilation pack deals, refusal to lower the price of previous games in a franchise no matter how old they are etc etc etc. I’m only even surprised because their name isn’t EA or Activision.

    • Arkh says:

      I’m more like you MachineCode. And what the Slitherine head is saying is known as cognitive dissonance, but he is mixing things up. It makes you justify your purchase more, not enjoy it, though that can happen if it helps your brain justify it.
      I’m not discouraged by learning curves or complexity, but price is a stopping point for me, specially because I live off scholarship grants and I have to eat too. I’m saving money to buy from them but it stops me from trying more games from them, as I’m not as willingly to take risks with these games. One thing I also disagree is that their games don’t drop prices with time. It’s undeniable that games assets and engine age, and the game price should reflect that. You can sell current expansions at a top price but I expect the 4 year old base game to be a t least cheaper.

      Anyway, their business, and I wish the best to them

  11. Loyal_Viggo says:

    This is a interesting interview, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the Games Workshop game they are working on. The only thing I’m not looking forward to is the probable price.

    I have Panzer Corps, the expansion and all the DLC and was still stung for around $80 total for these in the yearly December sale which many would still consider unreasonable pricing.

    Slitherine are obviously aware that the price is major obstacle for people, and I personally would love 3-4 titles from Matrix/Slitherine but there is no way in hell that I’m paying $90 (56 quid) for Gary Grigsby’s War in the East (yes that’s how much the digital download is).

    Don’t get me wrong, I love strategy games but there come’s a point when you just think, “fuck that price, it’s only a game.”

    • cptgone says:

      IIRC that price doesn’t even include the expansion packs.

      i’d also love to play Distant Worlds, but i refuse to pay the ransom that requires.

      most other Slitherine games i haven’t even heard of, despite my obsession with wargames, because i stop reading reviews when i see that brand. their quasi monopoly just makes me play other genres of games, genres i like a lot less.

  12. cptgone says:

    i, too, am extremely fond of MOO2 – but had it been a Slitherine game, i’d never have played it.

    Slitherine, where games are starved for profit.

  13. Shiloh says:

    Wait, what, who now? Slitherine, you’re no more than 15 miles away from where I live. Why didn’t I know this? Do you need a good PR guy? Lunch, yeah?

  14. RProxyOnly says:

    “a key factor is that people do value things more if they pay more.”

    Is it just me or is this a pretty crappy reason for price hike?

    I’m well aware that there are a whole slew of products on the market that are priced well above a reasonable price simply because of that reason/branding, but to actually come out and say it to one’s face and expect it to be deemed appropriate….. I’m not too sure how I feel about this.

    • cptgone says:

      they can kiss my old, hairy, unwashed ***, but not for free, or they wouldn’t enjoy it.

  15. Arkh says:

    Mr McNeil said in a forum post:
    Finally, an idea regarding sales of back catalogue from Tim Stone a reporter at RPS has a certain resonance, as coincidentally we have been looking at doing something along the lines he suggests. Firstly we have to hear back from our developer partners, as we don’t cut their prices without consultation and they may not be interested. So how about this for an idea, as Tim seems keen to help us. We host a promotion, sale of the week and run it in conjunction with RPS.

    This is really going to happen, Mr Stone, and how it will be?

    • cptgone says:

      i can see how that will go.
      33% off: only €78 for Gary Grigsby’s War in the East Complete! it’s a steal (from your wallet).

      • Arkh says:

        To be fair, in this week deals they are offering up to 50% off, so for some titles, like DW, it’s as close as it can get to a fair price , for me at least.

  16. colonize says:

    Just registered to add my view, I do agree with some comments about the price mostly for the oldest games, but I feel Slitherine wants to stay small or at least grow slowly.

    I came to know them after reading a review on BA, trying the demo, and after hard deccission spending “big” amount of money. I have never gotten more value from a game (+expansions), the game is a piece of art, its modability/coding is superb, the community is one of the bests with developers replying to the posts on the same day… This comes at some expense, you cannot grow too much, imagine the same board with 10x times userbase, the kind of support we have now would end. And what about the multiplayer servers, need to scale up… and so on.

    I like BA for its gameplay mainly, but a lot of other people give high value to historic fidelity, unit design, multiplayer… Would it sell much more for 5-10$ most probably, but the game is worth its price and you risk too much just for wanting to be “popular”.

  17. GT5Canuck says:

    Very interesting that Iain uses the one example given in a Matrix forum of a game people didn’t want to buy at one Euro as a shaky prop to hold up his argument that people don’t value things unless they pay through the nose for them. He is noticeably silent in regards to the large number of loyal Matrix customers/forum users who at the same time that comment was made said quite clearly that they’d love to buy more Matrix games, but couldn’t afford to risk large sums of money on the track record Matrix/Slitherine had with their releases. The gist, as I recall, was that at $40 or $50 for a 5 or 7 year old game it just wasn’t worth the risk.

    But let him use the one Euro example, I’m sure it gives him a lot of comfort. That and locking discussions on the prices of Matrix games because too many customers are expressing concern most certainly makes it easier for him to convince himself they’ve chosen the correct path.