The Flare Path: Slash Or Spurn

Recent research at the Flare Path Institute of Ludology has identified the chemical that prevents some wargames and sims from depreciating over time. High levels of myopium sillycate means certain martial and vehicular entertainments can go ten or more years without a tariff drop. In today’s FP I highlight some particularly distressing examples of price paralysis and urge the publishers and designers responsible to think again about the business strategies that are ensuring thousands of potential customers never encounter or purchase their wares.

Things have definitely improved in the three years since I wrote my last piece on the wargame industry’s baffling unwillingness to cash-in on its extensive and exotic back-catalogue. Slitherine Group, by far the biggest fish in the sector, has embraced Steam and participated in some hearteningly bold bundling. There are still too many overpriced oldies bowing the shelves at its online emporium but call-in regularly and you may eventually strike lucky; that geriatric piece of hexiana you’ve been meaning to try for ages, may be sporting a seasonal SALE sticker on its box.

Sadly, many of Slith’s smaller rivals remain wedded to pricing models and business practices that guarantee very few uninitiated gamers stumble upon or impulse-buy their products. Sizeable oeuvres that could be enjoying Indian summers and earning respectable incomes for their creators, gather dust while the folk that are meant to be marketing them mutter defensively about ‘niche pursuits’ and pretend the computer games market hasn’t changed since the turn of the century.

Here are a few old games I suspect I’d own if they were A) priced realistically, and B) more widely available.

War Plan Pacific

KE Studios’ debut release was the Unity of Command of 2008. Discerning wargame inspectors like Troy Goodfellow (www.flashofsteel.com and the Three Moves Ahead podcast) and Jim Zabek (ex-editor of Wargamer.com) praised its freshness and its friendliness and its feel for history. I remember enjoying the four-turn demo enough to pen something for RPS but deciding to wait for price shrinkage before shelling out for the full Monty Nimitz. Little did I know I’d be waiting more than eight years.

The concept still appeals. Simple strat map island hopping. Interesting fleet organisation decisions. Tense granular battles. If it wasn’t for that pecuniary Yellow Jack, I’d have purchased years ago. How many of the hordes that bought Unity of Command, Panzer Corps, Vietnam ’65, and Atlantic Fleet would be willing to take a punt on WPP if it was reasonably priced and convenient? We’ll never know unless someone at KES or Shrapnel decides to change tack.

Squad Battles: The Proud and the Few

Dear Mr Tiller, Are you aware you’re sitting on a small goldmine? Teeming games souks such as Steam are, thanks to series like Panzer Corps and Order of Battle fairly well-stocked when it comes to introductory tactical hex wargames. However, when new and nostalgia-hungry grogs eventually tire of Panzer Generalities there are few obvious places for them to go. Enticingly priced, the long-running Squad Battles series would, I’m convinced, attract significant numbers of migrants. For every grumpy user-review dominated by ‘dated graphics’ and ‘antiquated interface’ complaints, I wager there’d be at least five raving about the dramatic engagements, and the staggeringly well-researched maps and scenarios.

I’ve singled-out The Proud and the Few simply because it’s one of the older SB games (2002?) and focuses on a WW2 front rarely recreated (the series has visited many unusual troublespots over the years). The John Tiller Software and HPS Simulations websites are crammed with Tiller titles that deserve greater exposure and less intimidating price points. Defenders of the current prices can cite pizza and cinema ticket costs all they like but if you’re a spoilt-for-choice penny-watcher like myself, the idea of spending $40 on a wargame more than ten years old still seems faintly ludicrous.

Strike Fighters 2: Vietnam

Another dev determined to hide its light under a bushel is Third Wire. The studio’s range of overlapping and interlocking post-WW2 mid-complexity combat flight sims is available in very few places. The Steam habitué overwhelmed by DCS World and underwhelmed by HAWX may never stumble upon the agreeable gap-bridger/bridge-gapper that is Strike Fighters 2: Vietnam.

Currently on sale for $24 (the usual price is $29), SF2V is very close to the OPPPP (Optimal Price Point for Profit and Pleasure) determined by Flare Path’s frequently sober team of professional priceolgists. A modest tariff reduction together with greater visibility would increase Third Wire profits by… just need to do a couple of calculations… A Surprising Amount – certainly enough to finance development of SF3: Vietnam, the trequel with the flyable MiGs and the SAM Simulator interoperability.

Silent Wings and Condor

If Yours Truly ruled the world auto-renewal of car insurance would be illegal, muesli bar packaging would have to accurately reflect muesli bar size, and nobody would be allowed to go near a combat flight sim until they’d spent at least six months with a fastidious gliding recreation like Condor or Silent Wings. Every serious armchair aviator needs a good specialised soaring sim in their library but preposterous price pickling means recommending one is becoming increasingly difficult. Neither Silent Wings AS or Condor Team seem willing to admit that their offspring are now almost teenagers.

The £34 entrance fees won’t put off the real-world glider pilot looking for an off-season training tool, but it may well deter the FSX or X-Plane-owning window shopper intrigued by talk of 3D isotropic turbulence and terrain-influenced thermals with realistic life-cycles. The Slovenian and Norwegian devs seem content to sell to a scant few when they could, via some overdue price pruning and outlet embracing, introduce high-fidelity virtual soaring to a much bigger group of Sunday simmers.

Battles in Italy

I wonder how many copies of Battles in Italy Matrix Games sold last month. One? Three? None? Attaching a £33 price tag to this well-reviewed-in-its-day-(2005)-but-now-past-its-prime-and-technically-troublesome operational offering from Australian hexmasters SSG is akin to smearing it all over with fox excrement. Far better to price-slash it to within an inch of its life and make a little hay while the sun still shines.

If you’ve got your own list of ‘Wargames And Sims That Are Now Too Expensive’ I’d be interested to read it. Who knows, perhaps if a particular title crops up often enough in the comments, someone influential may notice and something may eventually get done.

* * * * *

This way to the foxer

Sponsored links by Taboola

More from the web

From this site

18 Comments

  1. Shiloh says:

    Some interesting thoughts there Tim, and I certainly take your point about pricing (I too look at Matrix’s catalogue and think “Really??”) but I think ultimately hex-and-counter wargaming will remain a niche and pricing Tour of Duty at $15 would still not tempt people to try it. Their loss, obviously, but then I’m an old school grog and still regularly play wargames I bought 10 or more years ago.

  2. wombat191 says:

    yeah i love a lot of the older war games but the price of some of them is frankly dumbfounding matrix games and battlefront are bad for it.

    these days i might get one of their games every couple of years or so vs owning their entire catalogue if they were reasonably priced.

  3. peterako1989 says:

    is strike fighters 2 vietnam the same as wings over vietnam?

  4. Hartford688 says:

    Totally agree. I’d love to try that WPP – but $40? Really??

    Given that is not exactly a high traffic website, I cannot imagine they sell many (if any).

    I managed to lose all trace of my copy of Carrier At War from Matrix, and post World of Warships fancied some more carrier action (albeit of a different kind) and so thought of rebuying. Now this is an enjoyable game from 2007; but no monster title with tons of scenarios and endless depth. What is it on sale for? About $40 again (EUR 37.99 on Euro store). Nuts. Closed the Matrix shop window and went on to do other things.

  5. Stugle says:

    I’m someone who likes the IDEA of wargames a great deal more than actually playing them. So every other Flare Path Tim brings up a game that makes me think “Hm” and I’ll carry it in the back of my mind for a while, but I’ll never buy it – given my lack of playing time and resistance to having to learn new things, I just am not going to spend $40 – $60 on a game that (due to my own personal faults) I probably wont get my money’s worth out of.

    That said, I have bought things like Vietnam ’65 and Atlantic Fleet (and the cheapo original Combat Mission Beyond Overlord). I don’t play them a lot, but for $10, I’m willing to gamble some money and dabble.

    I’m never likely to buy something like Gary Grigsby’s War in the East, even if it only were $20, because that’s not the game for me. And I’m not saying it should be that cheap: it’s obviously a massive game with a ton of work put in it.

    I agree with Shiloh that there’s a limit to how big the pool of potential buyers is for games like WitE. However, for the games that are less all-encompassing, I do think there’s a broader market if they’d lower their prices – people like me, who will pick stuff up because it looks more approachable, more playable in small chunks.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      I’m also someone who likes the idea, although in practice I tend to start thinking of the couple of hours getting to grips with systems involved in a new game and end up playing something less demanding. Still buy them though if they’re at a ‘what the hell’ price and I’ve got WitE on my Wishlist in case it ever gets a sale.

    • Shiloh says:

      Hi stugle, re the complex hex and counter stuff, I think you either “get it” or you don’t – I’m a hex and counter board game player as much as I am a PC wargamer these days, and some of my happiest childhood memories are playing ASL and 88 at wargame club (which me and my mate founded and which was pretty much an exclusive club of two) at school in the early 80s.

  6. froz says:

    I suspect the publishers position on this is that they are afraid their old games would make a competition with their new games. Because let’s be honest, this is a genre when you often cannot easily tell if the game was made this year or 10 years ago. Usually there is almost none progress in graphics (which is fine) nor UI (which is not fine) areas and newer games are simply different, not necessarily better, at least not in ways that would be easily visible.

    However, I think that choosing this pricing strategy, those publishers are effectively pushing themselves into the “niche” corner and they are actively discouraging new players from trying their titles.

  7. Walsh says:

    What’s even worse is the archaic, time limited download systems these developers/distributors use. I have repurchased one or two of Battlefront’s games because I was unable to find my old keys and installation files. They’ve changed their systems a few times and I lost my information.

  8. jgf1123 says:

    I still have yet to purchase Rule the Waves ($35 since release). I got XCOM2 on sale for about that price, and the not-on-sale price for HoI4 is $40. RtW is an interesting idea, but I’ve got hundreds of hours of unplayed games in my library, so I’m not exactly rushing to spend $35 to add RtW to that pile.

  9. p-donkey says:

    Battlefront modules are repeat offenders. It’s the recycling of the art assets combined with very hit or miss included scenarios which don’t have any real difficultly rating system.

    You end up paying say $260 for largely overlapping western front content for example. At the same time the more interesting original content (at least to me) like early Barbarrossa or modern NATO is slow in coming and presently MIA.

    By way of elaboration look at the Normandy base game, Commonwealth module for Normandy, Market Garden and Ardennes title and the Gustav line module for CMFI. Plus the $10 engine upgrade for Normandy. Oh and the $20 vehicle pack which you need for the $20 content pack. Almost the same content (a Sherman M4A1 is a Sherman M4A1), almost indentical timeframes and yet three base games and two modules covering essentially 1944 on the western front. The German art assets were then largely recycled for the 1944 eastern front game Red Thunder.

    While I’ve purchased most of this content every time I feel ripped off and frustrated with the standalone point of sale which has been under redevelopment for at least a year but is still not fixed. They can’t even provide a license that works on both the Mac and PC versions.

    The Battlefront forums are empty. There are still no alternative points of sale and there are no meaningful discounts on what are now 6 year old titles. Effectively it’s a DCS model done in the most extraordinarily clunky way. I think for their own good they boys at Battlefront need a shake up.

    • mrskwid says:

      i think what is most annoying about battlefront is you can buy the first CM game from GOG.com for ten buck that’s a good price but if you want something as advanced as afrika korps you have to go to gamergate.com and it’s twenty-five dollars!
      i just don’t get it.

  10. mrskwid says:

    the first time i said “what?” to a war game’s price was war in the pacific it seemed so fun and interesting but sixty duck (eighty for the admiral’s edition)is just a little much for what even at the time was a decade old game even it’s two smaller sister games uncommon valor and war plan orange are 20$ a piece pretty reasonable but still most games that came out the same year are much cheaper.

  11. GT5Canuck says:

    Re: John Tiller’s Squad battles I can’t give you hope, but this was just announced for Panzer Battles.

    link to grogheads.com

  12. Damn You Socrates says:

    When Tim speaks, the world listens. Battles in Italy now 50% off

    link to matrixgames.com

  13. poliovaccine says:

    To me, someone who frankly has no experience with wargames because I know they aren’t my thing, this article is a testament to the staff at RPS. And man, it is rare I like an anything enough to shill for it haha. But the thing is, I clicked this article cus I remembered seeing this discussion arise earlier, I think in some Have You Played but really I have no idea, I just know it was in the comments somewhere before. It was a big conversation, this all about the pricing in particular. As an observer, used to pricing in other genres, the figures I skimmed did indeed raise an eyebrow. Yeah I guess the old-fashionedness and stuck-in-the-past sense of it all is oddly suited to these graphically-dated historical simulators, but still…

    And so now that discussion has been taken up, in the interest of the many who clearly feel the same (tho I’d never known they all existed before then), by someone who shares their sentiments but is also in a position to present those sentiments somewhere prominent. And so it took what would have been an invisible little comments-section potboil and got results for all involved. Now that is a site that’s worth reading and commenting at, hot damn..! Haha

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>