The Flare Path: Faustian Packed

How does this sound? I describe my last Steel Beasts Pro Personal Edition battle then show you the emails that three publishers sent me following last week’s “old wargames are too expensive” rant. In return you give me ten minutes’ worth of a substance more precious gram for gram than saffron, platinum, or petrified rainbow. Deal?

Ah, the old walking away gambit. You win! Fine, I’ll also throw in a picture puzzle so fiendish no individual can solve it unaided.

eSim’s compendious contemporary tank sim Steel Beasts Pro has been wearing a ‘4.0’ after its name since August 9th. The $40 upgrade (the full sim will set you back $125) introduces a plethora of improvements including smoother terrain undulations, 3D crewmen, better weather effects and pyrotechnics, and an RTS-style overhead order mode. It expands an already sprawling estate of angry houses with twenty-six new apoplectic abodes.

(New crewable vehicles in 4.0)

Tanks: Leopard 2A6, M60A3(TTS), Sho’t Kal, T-55A m.1970, T-72B1 m.1985, T-72B1 m.2012

PCs: AMV XA-360, BMP-2, BTR-60PB, BTR-70, M113A2G, Marder 1A3, Pandur 1, Pandur 1 (RWS), RG-31E 4×4 MRAP, VEC-M1

Trucks: Dingo 2A2, Pinzgauer 710M

Artillery: M113G4-DK/FO, Piranha-IIIC TACP

Others: M113 G3/OPMV, M113 G3/Repair, M113 G4-DK/OPMV, SPz 2 Luchs A2, Wisent AEV

I’ve spent several evenings this week getting to know the M60A3(TTS) – a thermal sight-equipped version of that Cold War stalwart, the Patton MBT. Many hours have been spent ‘lasing and blazing’ on the range (Your proficiency in this practise space determines the skill of your gunner when you’re driving or tank commanding during scenario play).

When the time came to move on to more dynamic and hostile environments I was a little disappointed to find that each of the new vehicles doesn’t come with its own clutch of singleplayer challenges, but a quick trip to the community scenario repository and a brief session with the friendly embedded mission editor soon rectified the situation.

My baptism of fire starts quietly in a still, snow-shrouded hamlet girdled by pine woods and frozen farmland.

Between my Pattons (x4), Marder IFVs (x2) and Pandur APCs (x2) and an objective a few miles to the SE is an unknown number of randomly generated Warsaw Pact enemies. Keen not to be bushwhacked by these Red rascals, I begin by sending out a scouting screen of IFVs and APCs.

It’s not long before the leading Marder in the western scout group is trundling backwards with gouged armour and shaken crew (BMP-2 near farm P24!) and the Pattons are heading south to engage two vehicles observed by the Pandurs in hamlet P20.

One of the P20 pair – a suspicious hatchback very reminiscent of a Skoda Favorit I once owned – perishes predictably swiftly. The other, a lone T-72A survives a sabot round to the flank, before succumbing, in a shower of sparks, to a beautiful turret-ring killshot.

So far, so good.

Teleporting via the map from the atmospheric interior of an M60A3 turret to the somewhat cruder driving seat of the unscathed Marder, I proceed to WASD my way into a wooded spot in LoS of the BMP-2.

One of the joys of singleplayer SB Pro PE is the control freedom. You can spend an entire scrap controlling things from low-flying helo height à la Combat Mission or Wargame. You can play using nothing but the map view, or, if you prefer, you can restrict yourself to one vehicle, or a single station in a particular vehicle. Personally I like to flit about, using all the facilities available. One of my AFVs moving into a promising position? Time to select it and dab F6 (gunner) or F7 (commander).

The Rheinmetall autocannon burst that nails the BMP-2 is unleashed by an AI gunner, but moments later I’m back in the lead M60A3 when my TC spots another stationary Soviet IFV through the trees and helpfully rotates the turret in the direction of the foe. My first emission collides with a conifer trunk. The second threads the shelter belt provoking a cool but approbatory ‘Target!” from the AI presence just behind me.

Another one down.

Things start going wrong for Task Force Tardy (see on) soon after I order the Marders to move forward into the fields north of P24. While the Pattons edge towards the objective along the central highway, eliminating exposed infantry and the odd distant MT-LB as they go, away to their right the Marders find themselves under close-range RPG fire from a burning barn and an innocuous-looking shack.

Before I realise the seriousness of the situation one of the German IFVs is kaput and the other is sitting immobilised in open ground. I flap like a wet hen until a wire-guided Spigot AT missile fired from somewhere in the south-west simplifies things.

In the four minutes following the Marder murders, the M60A3s exact a terrible revenge. Drawing level with P24, my MBTs spot multiple enemy AFVs and infantry clusters to the west of the objective and set about savaging them.

I’m so busy personally contributing to a kill tally that quickly reaches double figures, I don’t immediately realise that one of the missiles that flashed across my sight at the height of the exchange has claimed a victim.

The Patton on my right is now a lifeless hulk.

A little nervous about the stretch of wood-hemmed road that leads to the next hamlet (P30) I decide to go it alone in a single M60A3 from here on. I’m about to emerge from the ambush-friendly block of forestry when something grey and angular protruding above the ridge ahead prompts some hasty braking and lasing. A sabot round streaks towards a doomed vehicle that – with the help of SBPPE’s event-highlighting post-game battle recordings – I later identify as a Shilka SPAAG.

Rather than hare down the highway to P30 and the objective beyond it, my M60A3 now veers left onto a track that climbs steadily to a small group of houses with, I hope, commanding views of my goal. I’m following this track, my turret at three-o’clock ready for action, when the exotic fellow pictured above decides to announce his presence in the traditional manner. When frantic horizon inspection fails to reveal the exact location of the shell-slinger (a T-55 mine roller) I pop smoke, pause and consider my options.

It’s at about this point that I glance at the mapside clock and realise I’m running horribly short of time. The allotted hour is almost up and I’m dithering in a smoke cloud on a tactically insignificant hillside. This really won’t do! None of my other units have a hope of reaching the objective, but if I stick to the high ground and head south, while the remains of my force deliver a diversionary feint along the line of the main road, victory might still be possible.

Unfortunately, this blighter ^ clearly doesn’t understand how Flare Path AARs work.

From the way Red Rambo here with his impressive collection of RPGs and amazing talent for impersonating inconsequential debris, puts a fatal PG-7L into the backside of my lonewolfing M60A3 moments before it speeds to a memorable eleventh hour triumph, I’m guessing he doesn’t realise FP battle tales never ever end in embarrassing defeat.

* * * * *

 

Last week’s FP was born of frustration. The unwillingness in some quarters to price-slash old wargames and sims, and sell through popular vending systems like Steam and GOG, means many elderly titles are left to gather dust in relatively obscure virtual boutiques when they could be out earning and entertaining thousands. From where I’m sitting (a deckchair on the sundeck of RMS Boracic) the current prices and profiles of series like Squad Battles and Decisive Battles feel distinctly unhelpful. Keen to understand the thinking behind £30+ tariffs for decade-old war and flight fare, I asked all the parties featured in my ‘Slash or Spurn’ piece whether they’d be willing to explain their positions. John Tiller Software, Slitherine Group and Shrapnel Games accepted the invitation.

 

Rich Hamilton, John Tiller Software

“Well, for me it boils down to the fact that these are still actively supported titles. Using your Proud and the Few example, we have supported that title through 4 subsequent Microsoft OS releases (with the leap to Win 7 completely breaking all games that were designed to run under the \Program Files directories, per MS development standards and a complete abandonment by MS of the .hlp file format), multiple major video driver vendor issues (NVidia anyone?) and a slew of enhancements rolled out for free after later titles in the series introduced these new items. When a person buys this title today all of the features are rolled up into it the initial download. And as of writing this we still support it and will be ready with an update in the event MS or another vendor out there breaks it again through no fault of the customers. I don’t think anyone else is doing that… at least not for the length of time that we do.

As far as low price point introductions we have the apps for multiple platforms – there’s a free intro app for each of the 4 series represented & then multiple low priced games for the 3 major series. A good way for people to get exposure to us without a large investment. And if they like them they can always dive in to the full bodied PC versions.

We also have free demos for the PC versions of Panzer Campaigns, Squad Battles & Napoleonic Battles which can be found here.”

 

Marco Minoli, Slitherine Group:

The price of Battles in Italy was halved in response to the piece. Sadly, at £17 I fear it will still struggle to turn curiosity into custom.

“We spend a lot of our time reading data and analysing trends. We are obsessed by product life-cycle and the examination of numbers is one of our core, daily activities. We build a market knowledge that goes far beyond anecdotal assumptions and gut feeling suppositions, because we know that the wargames market is different from the mainstream videogames market, so we need to understand its rules and act accordingly.

First of all, these games target a niche audience. This means that a minuscule portion of gamers have interest in these products. They are either experienced fans who will buy this type of game at launch price or interested players who will wait for the promotional sale to add a game to their libraries.

The real challenge is how to attract new customers and price here is not the only key element in play. Actually, it’s the least important.

Think about wargaming as a hobby: any hobby out there has an expensive entry barrier in price, because the number of potential customers out there will never be a big enough audience to sustain low prices in the long term.

Second, these games have a very inelastic demand curve. This means that sales volume is not affected greatly by fluctuations in price. So when you reduce price you increase sales, but not by enough to make up for the revenue you have lost from people who would have paid full price. The more hard-core a game is the less elastic its price. As a game gets more mainstream and its production values rise the price elasticity increases significantly, but it also tends to have a lower shelf life. This is one of the main reasons why we try and do frequent sale activities recently, rather than permanently slash prices; so that we can extend the shelf life and still manage to keep the catalogue fresh and current. Of course the wider the potential audience is for a game, the bigger the discounts we are going to try.”

 

Timothy Brooks, Shrapnel Games

“One of the comments to your article (by Shiloh) got it right: These are niche offerings and selling them for next to nothing will not increase sales enough to make up for the reduced price point.

Your article makes what we feel is an incorrect argument, that because a game is old, the price should be reduced. Is the game less fun or interesting because it is old? The fact that it has been around for several years and can still sell at the original price point, shows the strength and timelessness of the game design.

You must remember, these are not mainstream games and will never sell as such. We have in the past experimented with Steam. The number of games sold on our site exceeded the number of our games sold on Steam by 10 to 20 times during the same time period. This is because we promote our games while Steam promotes Steam. Only when Steam has a bundle is any real promotion done for their games (the games in the bundle). And those bundles can sell well. But you can’t maintain a sales path off an occasional bundle.

Also, some of our games go through regular updates. Camo Workshop’s winSPMBT: Main Battle Tank and winSPWW2 comes to mind. These games are updated every year. The developers could not do this if the game was regularly sold at $15.00.

Now, having said that, we do, quite often, offer sales on our games. By getting our newsletter or just following our website, many people get our games at a discount. This is perfect for those looking for an occasional deal.”

During my email exchange with Timothy Brooks, I brought up the thorny subject of All American: The 82nd Airborne in Normandy. Staggeringly late yet still available to pre-order, there’s been no news of this 101 follow-up for years. Asking why the game hadn’t been removed from the Shrapnel store and efforts made to compensate pre-orderers, I was told:

“The game is still in development, although no date is set for release. We have let those who pre-ordered know that they can get a refund, if they want one. ”

And, in a later response:

“People who preordered the game know how they can get in touch with us. I have asked the team to look at the web page to see if there is any changes that need to be made.”

* * * * *

This way to the foxer

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47 Comments

  1. rambo919 says:

    The games are over expensive because they sell on the “feature” of being niche. The idea is that being more expensive makes it more special and generally more valuable than than other “normal” games…. yeeeeah whatever I don’t like snobs anyway so even MORE reason for me not to buy.

    • Feedim says:

      It does rather reek of that. They should have done themselves a favour and not responded

    • Sarfrin says:

      That’s not what they say at all. They’re saying that not many people buy these games and price cuts don’t change that much. If cutting prices doesn’t increase overall revenue or the size of your player base, there’s no reason to do it.

      • rambo919 says:

        Sometimes it’s what someone does NOT say outright that means more than the shadows they throw at you.

        • ButteringSundays says:

          Quite, but in this case the meaning is perfectly clear.

          When your target market is limited (i.e. niche), then the unit cost must increase. A game that’s likely to sell a million copies can afford to charge £2 because that’s £2mm revenue. If the title is expected to sell 200 copies then that price is financially unviable. This is true of both physically manufactured and digital goods, it’s basic economics.

          • rambo919 says:

            Except that anything even remotely related to art only conforms to those rules in the short term, it’s the long term effects of such snobbery that tell people “this is not for you plebs, it’s for us special dedicated people”…. you have to be pretty damn dedicated to pay that kind of money for a lot of the time old game. Yes they still get updated but a lot of them still look like win 95 era games at best.

          • ButteringSundays says:

            However I will add that the insistence of not reducing prices over time due to once-every-4-years patching, or because the game doesn’t get less fun, are a little short sighted, IMO.

            When making a game like this you’ll have a target revenue, some kind of projection. Realistically 90% of the people that will ever buy the game will buy it within a pretty small window.

            6 years after release is exactly when you CAN expect to have a bump in revenue due to a sale – especially on a storefront like Steam. Once you have your core market on board at full price it’s time to start bringing in the stragglers. Id posit that a 6 year old game will sell more than twice as many copies at half price – so I do think the devs are a tad naive here. I do agree however that discounting anywhere close to release (even within a year or two) would be throwing away money away though.

          • alexgem says:

            I was about to post that (IMO) the attitude shown by these devs is shortsighted and that it will only help keep the niche from any possible growth when I read your comment from 14:48, I think you nailed perfectly. We can’t expect to see big price drops as soon as in other genres, but seeing games, such as those pointed out by Tim, with such a huge price tag ages after release can only drive away people who might otherwise be interested. So, make it 4, 5 oreven 8 years but please lower your back catalogue prices guys :)

      • JoeD2nd says:

        “That’s not what they say at all. They’re saying that not many people buy these games and price cuts don’t change that much. If cutting prices doesn’t increase overall revenue or the size of your player base, there’s no reason to do it.”

        So then they’ve attempted to lower the price to see how many more customers they could get? Yeah. Not likely. Let me know when they reduce it to a reasonable price. Not $70 down to $60 or some other nonsense. There are plenty of war games on Steam that have large followings. It sounds more like these guys think their shit (software) don’t stink and they want to have this air of superiority about them by selling boutique games. This is software, not hardware. This is not like comparing a Lamborghini with a Toyota (Toyota could buy and sell Lamborghini by the way). The scarcity model here is not the same. For all intents and purposes, once the game is made, there is an unlimited supply of the game to be sold (no scarcity). The idea that cutting their price wouldn’t increase the player base is absurd. Again, you need to be reasonable. Steel Beasts is going to have to cut it a hell of a lot more than 50% to see much of an uptick. It’s already priced most gamers out and will need a much larger cut before anyone jumps on board. But hey, maybe they like that. Maybe they life that fact that it’s old farts who will buy these games and spend that extra money and keep out the immature a-holes who play COD, and that’s fine, that’s their business. But at least be honest about it.

    • damaki says:

      I think that if the price is cheaper, they will get more dissatisfied customers. The “hey, that game is cheap, let’s buy it for fun” will never work for most old and/or rigid wargames. Wargaming is mostly a niche with austere UI and absent ergonomics, and a massive lot of knowledge need to appreciate the games. And no, it will not lead more people to buy their recent or future games.
      A niche market does not respond to the same physics as a mainstream market.
      Disclaimer: I am a wargamer noob and have been disgruntled buy how much homework many titles do require. I think that the pricing is also a disclaimer that this game is not for the average clueless joe and that you are ready to invest a lot of your time to match the price.
      Examples: Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations, World in Flames, The Operational Art of War

      • rambo919 says:

        Getting a wargame for “quick fun” is stupid, end of story. It’s not the game’s job to stop users being idiots and not at least trying to read proper reviews of it.

        • P.Funk says:

          I disagree somewhat. There is nothing about wargaming and its complexity and depth which forgives atrocious interface design or opaque decision making. Plenty of wargames have made functional and useful interfaces that have made utter nublets feel comfortable having a go for fun, losing badly or maybe surprising yourself and doing a little okay, and then coming back for more after a better reading of the manual.

          Decisive Campaigns: Barbarossa comes to mind. I’m really not much of a hex player, at all. I’m much more real time dynamic tactical type. I was however intrigued by the whole high command politics minigame and found the game easy peasy to get into thanks to a legible interface and some easy to access information mid turn.

          Wargaming is terrible if you want to win handily and feel in total control without effort. Losing can be fun, as the DF boys say, and fiddling around is made easy by making complexity accessible via interface and easily accessible information. Good decision making is about experience, but bad decisions with no hint of how to make better ones is borne of a total inability to gain the necessary information which is usually the fault of many wargames.

        • damaki says:

          Unless you never want to begin to get interested in wargames, no it is not. First, the complexity rating of the game is damn vague and based on previous knowledge of either military strategy, tactics, operations or existing wargames. Easy or accessible just means zilch in that context. Panzer Corps and Unity of Command are viewed as simple, but the lack of stacking adds a counter-intuitive layer of complexity, this annoying waltz of units. And when I have played several simple games, am I ready for the more substantial ones? (Spoiler: no) What must I do to be able to play these?
          Computer wargames do not have clear complexity ratings and their requirements are not well defined in most of these games. Seriously, we would need a clean checklist such as:
          – NATO notation
          – understanding of logistics
          – Napoleonic wars deep knowledge, politics, weaponry, tactics included

      • DEspresso says:

        I think its more a matter of accessibility. Some (most?) seem to ignore the maxime of easy to learn hard to master.

        For example you can start a Game of unity of Command or Panzer Corps and have some fun/success while discovering the underlying game mechanics. Doing that in ToEndAllWars will just frustrate :/

        Yet I guess that is more a critique of Tutorialization?

      • Jason Lefkowitz says:

        I think that the pricing is also a disclaimer that this game is not for the average clueless joe and that you are ready to invest a lot of your time to match the price.

        I’d phrase it slightly differently: the pricing is a way to scare off mass audiences who might complain about lazy developers who can’t be bothered to put in the effort to make their games usable and accessible.

        Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations is a really good example. Here’s a game that’s got everything needed to be the modern-day Harpoon, except that it’s held back by having the exact same Windows 3-style user interface that Harpoon had 25 years ago. Too many of these developers are like insects trapped in amber.

        • P.Funk says:

          To be fair to CMANO its basically a war room simulator. It looks like a BLUFORCE tracker. The entire game is abstracted into this interface. I’m not sure what you do to make it look better that isn’t literally aesthetics for their own sake.

    • Lowbrow says:

      The price is what keeps me from picking a lot of these up on a whim. I have a hard time paying that much for something with such poor UI. I don’t know if the problem is the age of the guys building these games or the mentality of the genre, but anything sold today with that kind of interface seems really half-assed. I’m told that crazy amount of work and thought goes into these titles, but they don’t seem willing or able to polish the brass. I’ll wait for my generation to make a wargame I guess. Unless there’s a good Seige of Malta/ Battle of Lepanto simulator out there that’s worth holding my nose for?

  2. Pulstar says:

    I really want to return to SB Pro, but would rather wait for a terrain overhaul.

  3. kulik says:

    How is the infantry aspect of SB Pro compared to Combat Mission and Graviteam games?

  4. wombat191 says:

    one thing is for certain you will never impulse buy these games considering their price

    • Pharaoh Nanjulian says:

      Indeed. Once again the Flare Path has a column full of games I enjoy reading reports about. However, I can’t imagine playing them as the initial cost is just too high, on top of the cost of building and running a decent computer.

      Wargame I got from GOG at a reasonable price, and jolly good fun it is too. All too often I follow links from interesting items on the Flare Path and discover that if I want to make my own screenshots and similar AARs I’ll need sixty squids to do so, plus addons. I think many of these games could be very appealing to the many thousands who play games in a similar area, from Flashpoint to Total War via various board games. I won’t quibble with Slitherine’s expertise on numbers, as presumably they know what they’re talking about, but I do wonder if perhaps it’s not so niche as there must be others like me around.

      Perhaps it more reasonably reflects the work and effort than the discounted AAA titles (much like we have got used to paying too little for food), but then the issue is an industry one in which all prices need to be more homogenised. I remember when I could buy new boxed games with manuals for 20 guineas, and thought the move to DVD cases was supposed to bring down prices.

      • wengart says:

        Classic wargames companies are stuck in, what I think, is an old line of thought.

        They have their games mentally couched as in opposition to board/table-top games. The Combat Mission series is ruinously expensive if your frame of reference is modern videogames. However, if you are comparing it to something like Advanced Squad Leader it suddenly is much more “affordable”.

        The developers also commit heavily to the idea that *a game*, in particular their game, will give you hours upon hours of enjoyment. I’ve seen this time and again in the Combat Mission forums. “Our game is such a great value, hundreds of hours of gameplay for such a low cost!”.

        These are both technically true. Combat Mission is a great and affordable replacement to any number of expensive board games. It also has hundreds of hours of play time in it. On the other hand I don’t think these arguments ring true in 2016. Sure Combat Mission (or whatever wargame you want to mention) is a much more affordable and manageable than the board game of the same topic. However, I have never purchased a board game, and will likely never make that purchase. It isn’t a legitimate comparison for me. I will also not spend hundreds of hours with their game. I have a steam library sitting north of 600 games. I play a number of F2P games (hello Dota). I am not buying Combat Mission to spend all of my spare time playing the thing. I might play it once in a blue moon but it won’t ever be *the game* for me.

        Essentially their target market seems to be people who would traditionally spend a lot of money on table-top war gaming who also commit heavily to a small set of games. And if you spend time on any wargaming forum you will find plenty of longtime customers who fit that description to a T.

  5. ExitDose says:

    At least the people working on the tabletop side of wargaming are forward thinking. It may die on computer, but should stay alive there.

  6. Premium User Badge

    corinoco says:

    I was hoping the Strike Fighters series might tempt me, but I just can’t quite tell if it’s worth it. What film I can find of it on the MeTubes dates from 2013 which is about 200 years ago in real time. Will it run on Fenestra Decem? Will an X52 work with it? Is it a 900 button festival like Falcon 4? Will I be able to even start the engine successfully? Will I be able to (dare I say it? Dare I?) have fun? THE SHOCK! Fun? In a serious simulation? I’m too scared to buy Prepare3D because I hear Lockheed and the CIA will bomb you with a drone launched JTag if you dare to have ‘fun’ while using the poor remains of FSX.

    • Kolbex says:

      “Fenestra Decem” = modern systems?

    • feamatar says:

      visit combatace. Ask around, the community is helpful. There are tons of mods, more than you can imagine, and it is a light sim. However some people had some issues on Win10, so yeah, maybe it is not ideal.

      The stock game is also cool.
      1. Buy the first game for the cool mercenary campaign where you can manage your fighter squadron
      2. Buy Vietnam for Vietnam. Vietnam is cool, lots of cool bombing runs and you have carrier based missions and useless rockets yay.
      3. Buy Israel for variety. From Meteor to F-16, from gunfights to bvr, the game changes a lot. And also… KFIR!!!!!!
      4. Europe, total war, A-10, brrr.
      5. North Atlantic: F-14!!!

      I have some vids from this year:
      Me flying MiG-21F13 intercepting Mystere IVs
      link to youtube.com
      Me flying Mystere IVs in fighter sweep:
      link to youtube.com
      Me flying Kfir intercepting Il-28
      link to youtube.com

      The engine is old unfortunately, the environment was never good, and the HUD is a bit broken, and there is a 15 km limit on lod if I remember correctly, and no LABS-IP and some more interesting technologies. But… you can fly everything from the last 50 years and the game is fun.

    • SamC says:

      Will it run on Fenestra Decem?
      – Yep, runs fine on Windows 10.

      Will an X52 work with it?
      – I would think so, been using a Logitech Extreme 3D Pro and Track IR with no issues.

      Is it a 900 button festival like Falcon 4?
      – Not even a little. No clickable cockpits, simplified targeting and systems.

      Will I be able to even start the engine successfully?
      – Very much so. Nothing like a Falcon BMS learning curve.

      Will I be able to (dare I say it? Dare I?) have fun?
      – If you’re willing to trade some fidelity for ease of entry and broad stable of flyables, yes?

      Also, a massive modding community that lets you fly almost anything from WWII on in a surprising number of theaters. The mods can be a little rough around the edges, but if you want to fly F3H Demons in a Cuban Missile Crisis gone hot or drop nukes on the Fulda Gap in a F-101A, this will let you do that.

      I only wish there was a Falcon style persistent dynamic campaign. I want to be able to get that campaign experience without memorizing the 15 minute button ballet required to warm up and fire Mavericks in BMS.

  7. ButteringSundays says:

    “Release: Projected for 2009”

    Translation:

    “WARNING! WARNING! This product is a blackhole, please close the page immediately”

  8. Jake says:

    To be fair Shrapnel and John Tiller do offer demos…which is great. I’ve always felt that demos are a missed opportunity and are fairly simple for wargames to do. Just give one or two scenarios to wet the whistle and you can usually decide if the game is for you or not.

    Sliterine has been doing more discounting which I applaud them for as thanks to those I have close to half their catalog now. Now to find the time!

  9. ThierryM says:

    The prices they compare themselves to are the prices for hex-and-counter board games, because they are in the same niche. The few wargames that are not board games ported to the computer (Unity of Command, Ultimate General) are actually closer in pricing to video games standards. Likewise, a game like War in the East is priced like a table top monster game, even though there is no similar increase in costs due to having more physical components.

    • P.Funk says:

      In other words their metrics are skewed from the start because they already value their product in a way that causes them to immediately disregard those who see value at or above $80 as a joke.

      They’re like Ferrari or something, you know, where they won’t even sell you the high end car unless you meet their standards.

  10. Zeewolf says:

    Sharpnel Games are still around? I bought a few games from them 10+ years ago, but thought they were dead since there isn’t anything from them on Steam or GOG.

    • Zeewolf says:

      As for Slitherine, they do seem to have come around. They have a lot of games with decent pricing, and most of them seems to be available on Steam these days. Plus, they actually have some proper discounts. I’ve bought a couple of games from them that I would never have taken the chance on full price, but that were discounted enough for me to buy them. Like Advanced Tactics Gold.

      • ExitDose says:

        The interesting thing is that at one point Slitherine was saying the same things as these other companies were. Then they dipped their toe into the Steam marketplace and before long were selling their games like everyone else there.

        • Hedgeclipper says:

          I think when the big money in games was all about shelf space and advertising and AAA titles niche pricing made sense. But that’s all changed now, there’s no more shelves, websites and word-of-(forum/twitter/friend’s list) carry much more weight and there’s a huge audience willing to spend (perhaps modestly but in numbers) on what might have been considered niche games. In a world where developers are making fortunes on walking simulators, farming simulators, truck simulators and so on war gaming suddenly doesn’t seem all that niche.

          Although as others have mentioned updating the UI and polish to something modern wouldn’t hurt either.

          • P.Funk says:

            “In a world where developers are making fortunes on walking simulators, farming simulators, truck simulators and so on war gaming suddenly doesn’t seem all that niche.’

            The one thing to bear in mind is that those game types you mention are like the PC version of a cell phone game. They’re frivolous, involve low skill ceiling high repetition tasks to fill gameplay with the sense of accomplishment being the slog itself, seeing whats there, enjoying the memetic quality of piloting a Goat through some elaborate game world, etc.

            Wargames are picky buggers that punish you for not playing them properly and even punish you for playing them properly but poorly. Not quite the same, but yes I think the penchant for frivolous game buying could also lead to people trying out something like a wargame.

            I just think that the wargame makers need to fucking wake up and make a half decent tutorial and actually make a legible interface. The ones that have started to show success on Steam have all these things, and I don’t just mean the relatively simple and straight forward Unity of Command. A game like Decisive Campaigns: Barbarossa is engrossing because it has a gameplay hook that doesn’t require you to do anything in particular but as you get better your choices in the high command political game become more useful to you.

            I think they use niche to defend their own shortcomings as much as anything, like actually making something that’s functional and its worth noting that going back to the earliest days of 80s PC wargaming they always had shitty interfaces even for that time. They’ve always suffered this problem. They need to figure it out.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Syt says:

    Shrapnel, SSG, HPS, or JTS fall for me into the “very niche” category. They cater mostly to “traditional” wargamers, and their titles IMHO follow in the mold of the games of the 80s, with a prettier interface. For niche products I understand that higher prices are the norm, though it would be nice to do an occasional promo sale.

    That said, sales usually make sense once you feel most people who would pay full price have picked up the game – and if there’s still enough people picking it up for full price then more power to them.

    The price point can also be a vetting process. At the price levels of those old games, gamers are likely to do some research whether they would enjoy the title. If you bundle all Squad Battle titles up for 10 bucks, you might draw a lot of people who buy it on a whim, find the game is not what they expected, and become very vocal and hostile about it.

    Slitheratrix/Matritherine are on the other side. I’m happy that they’re on Steam with many games now (and glad for the 12 year forum membership vouchers I got from them recently :-P ), making it easy to archive their games and not having to worry about installers, download links etc. And while I buy games on subjects I’m interested in often at launch, I will pick up titles I earmarked as “maybe” during sales, even if it’s years later.

    Awkwardly between these groups sits Battlefront with a high priced niche product and a somewhat convoluted system of base games, expansions, and paid for enhancement patches (some of them as bargain bundles) that made me quit their otherwise awesome games altogether.

  12. chrisol says:

    I guess another aspect is that they aren’t trying to maximise sales of 1 title (if they did, then trying to pick up a tail end of customers by reducing the price after 5 years would be a good plan), but maximise the profitability of their catalogue. It wouldn’t be sensible to have your newest full price release being beaten by competition from your cut-price older release when these games require significant time investment and people might only buy 1.

  13. farrier says:

    I think these publishers know exactly what they’re doing, and they’re content with their sales numbers. Of course, like any business, they’re interested in gaining new customers, but these particular businesses do not seem interested in taking risks, at least where pricing and art design are concerned, to gain those customers. I wonder what the trends are for their annual sales figures: flat, gaining, losing, etc.

    Anecdotally, I would buy more games if they were cheaper. For me, the thing is, when I see a $40 price tag for a visually aged and rough looking game, that’s a wall I’m not going to scale. And yet, I’d be willing to spend more than $40 on multiple games. But of course, that is then divided between the publisher and multiple developers, so that’s probably where their concerns come in about lowering prices.

    Regardless, the end result is I’m spending nothing on their games. And statistically, this is good business for them. So there it is.

  14. Fuligin says:

    It’s absolutely infuriating to deal with grog developers with prehistoric attitudes towards the wargaming genre and the idea of usable tutorials, UIs, and digital platforms like Steam, especially when any examination of an “off topic” forum section reveals that those attitudes extend far beyond wargaming. There’s absolutely no reason this “niche” hobby couldn’t grow if devs were willing to seriously amend their practices, but why go through all that when you can just shit out another Combat Mission with an interface avowedly hostile to any ordinary human being? And what the hell is Brooks even trying to say about “Steam advertising Steam”?

  15. morganjah says:

    Their arguments seem weak to me. Then again, I am not in their position.
    As a consumer, I will gladly buy four or five games for $10, and have them sit on the digital shelf to pull out when I want to tinker. I then get about $10 worth of entertainment out of them. But I am way too busy to devote enough time to a single wargame that would justify $60 to me.
    The proof is that I often buy games on sale that I rarely play. It would seem, that after this long of a time, that the publishers might want to try an empirical experiment…

  16. Hartford688 says:

    I won’t repeat what others have said better above, but two items:

    – It is OK to charge a high (even very high) price if you truly deliver an exceptional product with very high production values. I find SBP:PE even at $125 is worth it; it is significantly updated continuously, and no other tank sim even comes close, while controls and access are decent or good and improving. I will pay for that. Similarly, Panther Games deliver something exceptional in terms of implementation and AI. These other designs by contrast creak with age (and yes, when interfaces and presentation have moved on and standards raised, these archaic games ARE less fun)and are not worth premium prices. And yes, I have bought games from most of these suppliers.

    – The comments about All American would be laughable if they did not border on the deceitful and wilfully ignorant. That page is a scam. Not updated in 7 years, “Coming!” it shouts. Release: Projected for 2009. Timothy Brooks should be ashamed for trying to defend that.

  17. jim_nihilist says:

    I have no problem with some prices on some games. John Tiller Games – okay, Gary Grigsby Games, Combat Mission – that is all okay. Those are well maintained games, which certainly live up to their price tag.

    After Matrix/Slitherine opened up to Steam I certainly bought 90% of their released games since then. They now make sales and new releases are sensibly priced. No problem with that. BUT my love/hate relationship with Matrix/Slitherine is their back catalogue.
    It is a minefield and instead of your life you lose hefty amounts of money. Sure enough there is a warning on the games page “compatible with Windows XP” and so on and on some games even “this game doesn’t get no maintainance”. But then… we have the year 2016 and you really sell games for 50 Euro, which are five to ten years old and run only in Windows XP (a little bit exaggerated because it angers me). There is no demo, no money back guarantee. I bought GERMANY AT WAR: OPERATION BARBAROSSA. Sure I run Win 8.1 and it is only compatible with Win 7, but honestly, should I have a museum of old PCs just to play Matrx Games? On GOG I can buy ten 10 year old games and all run on my machine that is full updated and I spend a fraction of the money. It turned out there is a bug. It is known by the deveolper for nearly 2 years now. A patch never came. 20 Euros down the gutter. Thanks.
    Next is TIGERS ON THE HUNT. I don’t mind ugly graphics and slightly difficult to handle UIs, but this game is an utter clickfest. Play it for some hours and your hand aches. If you mention it on the forums, there are always some 600 years old wargamers which downplay, your critique, because it is such a fine game and just like Avalaon Hill Games from 1540. 40 Euros down the drain.

    I LOVE many games from Matrix/Slitherine, but the next buy can always be a bitter one with Matrix/Slitherine. I really don’t know why they release half finished games from devs that clearly need the help of their publisher with graphics and UI design. And I don’t know why I can buy games that modern machines can’t run and at the same time, there is no refund policy whatsover. That is a disservice to all customers. I probably spent 150-200 Euros on games from them that don’t run properly or have other problems.

    For me those Wargame-Publishers just make the big mistake to think that they will survive on high prices and telling everyone who listens that they are sooo nichè. It is like a selfullfilling prophecy. One day all those Avalon Hill Gamers are dead and then? What is the plan to survive that? Where are the entrance games that create new Hardcore Wargamers? Some of those publishers just look like dinsoaurs and we all know what happend to them.

  18. Niente says:

    Which Shrapnel games are/where on Steam? I’ve been a Steam user for nearly 12 years and have never come across their games on that platform.

    Also Brooks seems to think Steam (Valve?) run wargame bundles? Bundlestars, yes, HB, yes, but not Steam. He clearly doesn’t know what he is talking about.

  19. Solrax says:

    I always look forward to Fridays and “The Flare Path”. When there’s an AAR – bonus! Love your writing, keep it up!

  20. Panzer Max says:

    Great game and one that earns its high price point. Face it, if the price is too steep for you, stick with the cheaper games. Quality costs. Can’t get a Jaguar for the price of a Ford, boys.

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