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18

The Flare Path: Slash Or Spurn

Old games, bold prices

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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.

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This way to the foxer

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Tim Stone

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