January 1998, by Bruce Biskup
As a wargame designer myself, I am keenly interested in the topic of the death/decline of the wargaming hobby. My take on the problem with the lack of interest in the hobby is that the companies publishing games today are making games for the wrong type of consumer. The wargaming industry remains totally committed to the intermediate and experienced wargamer at a time when there are many different options for leisure activity. Consumers today are not going to spend much time playing games when they can spend time doing many other activities instead. The wargame publishing industry continually produces new games that are complex, expensive, and take a long time to play (more than 6 hours). Games like this are not going to attract new players to the industry so sales of titles stagnate and slip to the point where a 1200–2000 print run is considered successful. Smaller print runs cause retail outlets to stop stocking titles which reduces the exposure of the industry to the consumer and helps to reduce sales and shrink the industry.
What I believe the wargaming industry needs is to focus attention on creating simple, inexpensive wargames that can be sold through alternative retail outlets to attract new consumers to the hobby. I believe that these games should take less than 6 hours to play and cost less than $20. The goal is to attract new consumers to the industry by giving them an enjoyable experience so that they continue supporting the industry by purchasing more products. The introduction of these games would give the publishers a high/low mix of games in their product line and allow them to broaden their customer base.
These new games are not going to be marketed to the established, experienced wargame enthusiasts such as those who would be purchasing games like The Gamers’ DAK or GMT’s Typhoon/Southern Front games. However, these large, complex games can be used to create these introductory games. Most game mechanics for any game are fairly simple once the detail is removed. It should be possible to take the proven game mechanics of these existing games, focus the topic on a particular engagement, and make a sellable product as described above. Not only does this simplify the construction of the new game but makes an ideal tie in to the more expensive and complex high end game. Consumers who enjoy the low end game might become more interested in the more expensive, high end game.
New retail avenues will need to be exploited to sell the new games since these games are not intended to be marketed to the established hobby enthusiast. The idea should be to attract new consumers to the industry. Direct marketing through the Internet and specialized game stores tend to support the established wargame consumer and not the potential customer. I think that we can all agree that wargames are never going to be sold in the large, retail toy stores since the volume of sales will never be large enough to support those retail channels. However, I think there are three under exploited retail channels that the industry can use to expose their product to customers.
The first retail channel that should be exploited is the “educational” toy store. Several such stores have opened up in the Houston area and I cannot believe that the idea is localized here in Texas. These stores carry all types of merchandise to include games. This is an ideal distribution source for introductory wargames since consumers are already looking for education products to begin with. Games with military topics would not look out of place in such stores. Another retail channel that could be exploited is the mail order book clubs that specialize in military and history topics. Wargames are historical by definition and would fit into those retail channels quite easily. The last retail channel outlet to be exploited is the numerous military or technological museums around the country. Having been to the Shilo US Civil War battlefield, the USS Texas (BB-35) monument, and the Nimitz museum in Fredericksburg, Texas, I am amazed that the gift shops will have rather esoteric books on the topic that cost over $50 but not a single game.
These ideas might not return the wargame industry to the glory days of the 60s and 70s but a successful implementation of these ideas might attract new consumers to the hobby which is really what is needed.