When I was in high school in the late 80's the gaming industry seemed to be in great shape, there was SPI, GDW, AH and others. I went to college and found beer and girls, and then the working world and just didn't keep playing. In the past couple of years I've been trying to get back into it and I see that much has changed.
So what happened - was it the end of the Cold War, was it computers? (Iv'e never understood some of the antipathy to computers and computer gaming, seems very complimentary to me)
Anyways since I really didn't see it happen, I'm just curious...
What happened? Much has been said, but much more still needs to be said:
-- The commercial wargame balloon burst. SPI went under and TSR took over with mixed results (yes, I'm being generous here). Thank goodness for Decision Games--Chris Cummins rescued a lot. Avalon Hill went under shortly after that; it was bad enough when SPI went under, but nothing ever really replaced old AH. Hasbro certainly hasn't; we're just lucky they licensed out ASL and a few other games to MMP. GDW followed shortly thereafter...GR/D rescued Europa until it too disappeared and we're still waiting to see how that series and it's related brethren (GLORY, etc) fare. The good news is that a number of giants rose from the ashes....GMT quite possibly the powerhouse publisher now, but others are doing some great work (Decision Games, Clash of Arms, Columbia Games, OSG, and many others too numerous to mention). And, it's been said, the quality is so much better now than it was. Night and day. Bottom line is that we lost some people to other genres/other hobbies when they're favorite company went down.
-- Complexity versus playability. Let's face it, there was that phase where monsters and ultra-realistic simulations just scared off the new guys. While there was a small effort to create "introductory games," most didn't work out too well. They came across as a bit of condescending piffle from the grognard hardcore. Sigh. We're recovering some of those "competitor" players with WBC, simpler (but not simplistic games), and higher quality of titles and topical treatments.
-- Other genres. Dungeons and Dragons and other RPGs certainly siphoned off gamers--I was a big GDW Traveller fan for a while (Sci-Fi RPG). Computer games siphoned off other gamers. And then came Magic: The Gathering....
-- The demise of retail store sales. Who knows when it started or why? Some will blame "blockbuster" games like Magic, The Gathering, others the tendency of game companies forced by simple business economics to offer direct sales, and--it must be said--ease of ordering games online via the Internet. Today, people don't get into gaming by seeing them in the bookstores, hobby shops, and toy stores. Most of my friends got into gaming that way. I got into gaming that way. Today, it's by word of mouth and/or friends--social connections--mostly.
Has something happened to wargaming? Certainly something has since its heyday in the last 1970s and early 1980s. Bad--we think--is that the active player pool is smaller. Good is that players tend to be more mature, the "weird" component is much less (remember some of those really wild Nazi-glorification player clubs that we had in the 1960s and even early 1970s? You don't see any of those any more!). Bad--we lost a lot when SPI, AH, and GDW went down. Good--the new games and game companies are producing what I must call "definitive" treatments and very playable, top quality titles. Some of these games/systems/series are lasting quite a long time. ASL is now over 20 years old and still has a very strong/powerful following! More good--look at how many player conventions there now are going on all over the country. And the quality of these is generally high (some notable exceptions do crop up from time to time).
Sure, I'm nostalgic a little for those "good old days"--until I really remember them. Then I realize how good we have it now....we really do....
A thought crossed the mind. Maybe our version of the dot.com bust was good for wargaming. Nearly everyday you can see a post on ConsimWorld or elsewhere that a wargamer has come back into the fold. Also, after the home-boys of wargaming and their company folded a phoenix of great game companies have come out of the ashes with game that are higher up the simulation poll while still being playable with much better graphics and playability. Personally I prefer more of the games of today than more of the older style games. My miniaturized version of the War Room (tm) has shelves of wargames, mostly GMT with a good following of The Gamers/MMP, some old standy games from Avalon Hill an Victory Games. On top of the single shelf unit is my two L2DG games with games from SPI, OSG, West End Games, Moments in HIstory, GDW and some others. I have too many games to play this week.
Great comments, Skip and Eric. Now I'll add my spin.
My observation of the hobby's rise, fall, and now dare we say rise again, albeit in smaller proportions tracks close to the phases of life in which its participants find themselves in.
We all know that wargaming got a huge infusion of teenagers and young men in the later 60's through the 70's. Those guys were US!. Then what happens? We get older, get married, have kids, have a mortgage to pay, and it takes a while to get a little more mature and settled down to the point where we can say, "okay, I have time for gaming again". And here we are, guys. In the CSW welcome folder, nearly all the noobs start off by saying "got out of gaming 10/15/20 years ago, but saw at so-and-so's house and I got sucked back in". I think the impact of RPGs and computer games is overrated - I think it's just life cycle stuff.
The question remaining is, where does the next infusion of teenagers come from. Well, I also see that a lot of gamers are raising little gamers. I have a few already, with some younger ones still in the "potential" column. When I see most convention pics posted, there is a good smattering of kids in the room, and not just flicking paper footballs at each other - they're playing real games.
So I think the hobby will continue due to "organic growth" such as described above, but I still think publishers need to put more effort into marketing. When wargaming was young, many of us were first exposed by seeing either a display in a toy store or department, or even print ads. SPI's advertising in that little science fiction digest that Asimov started was very powerful for me.
Today we have the power of the Internet, and I don't see ANY of the publishers expending an effort commensurate with a desire to grow sales. There are other places to find potential gamers besides online as well, but I've played this tune many a time on CSW and in many a folder, so I won't bore y'all any further.
OUI did it! Oops, I mean Wii did it. It's all Wii's fault! Game systems like that pull many kids and grups (grown ups) in.
On the other hand, perhaps there is a pacifistic tide running in the minds of many store owners with regards to wargames; the war in Iraq/Afghanistan has made people sick of war in general. Why have games that remind people of war?
Shoot'm uppers? That's not war, it's just a game. Right?
Or, if you put a game display of the latest "shoot'm upper" against a boxed wargame, which will sell first? Even if a first-person game contains so much gratuitous violence and gore, it's action man!
A wargame is like a chess game; kids have to think?? Forget it!
Twelve pages of rules just to play a wargame??!! Kids read in school. Why should they have to read a lite magazine just to play a game?? Krezzy man.
As it has been said before, wargames are a niche market. So, it's in our niche(er) to pass it on....
I think I see the next generation - I have a nephew that is very interested in Pokemon and Star Wars, and everytime he comes over he stares at my bookshelf where I've got my wargames and PC games. I think that he will definitely game in the future, he's hinting I should teach him some of the games (but I just don't think he's ready for Assault or Eisenbach Gap). I've noticed he doesn't differentiate between computer and board games - and I think this is the biggest difference I've seen. I also think the generation of kids who played Pokeman are ok with gaming but not just hex and counter GDW/SPI/AH games... They may want miniatures, they may want to play on a computer - it just won't matter to them.
I think the collective sentiments here are correct. I got started in wargaming just as the bubble burst. It was a confusing era to start. I got a copy of Axis and Allies and wanted more. The next thing I found was AH's Tobruk. It was just too big a leap. There just were not a lot of transition games to be found. Fortunately, I bumped into Origins when it was in LA. I might have given up on the "hobby" but encountered miniatures there for the first time and was hooked. That was enough to transition me back into more complex forms of board wargaming.
I believe that wargaming's contraction from the mid-80s relects the hobby's failure to adapt to the life cycle shift in its baby-boom, demographic core. Kids, job, spouses -- they are not 8-hour game friendly additions to life. And for a time in the 80s, that's what the hobby was shoveling out. Games were being bought but rarely played. That can only last for so long in any hobby. So, if measuring by something like Squad Leader, which sold over 200,000 copies, something like 3/4ths of the hobby fell off.
Fortunately, online play has really saved the hobby in a couple of ways. First, innovations like Cyberboard make an 8 houring game playable over several settings. So even more complex games are palatable. Secondly, the internet has allowed wargamings dwindling numbers to connect and find opponents.
BTW, if you have not tried Wargameroom.com (on line real-time play of most CCGs) I highly recommend it. Now I think we are seeing some Euro sensibilities in wargame design as well, bringing shorter play times and cleaner rules to bear on the problem. So, I while there are fewer of us, I can understand the sentiment that this is a golden age of wargaming.
I also think that short but intensely interesting games like GMT's Maneouvre may well bring more blood into the hobby. Sure, it's a fun game that has a good bit of depth--best of all it's tense, exciting, and SHORT!!!!!
Maybe we can use such games to "bridge" the new blood into a few more serious games...
Yes my fondness memories are too of the late 60's and the 70's. And when SPI died I felt a large part of the hobby died too. then went GDW and the most recent AH( the grandfather of this hobby).
But when The Gamers ,GMT and Clash of Arms came into being I saw them the successors of the big boys,Well they are now. and the explosion of the smaller game companies plus all the great DTP games we have now are fantastic. I think we are in a new Golden Age for the hobby. We had the first golden age in the 70's then we slipped a lot in the early-mid 80's but have now rebound so well. I think Euros have helped also make the hobby better. yes they aren't true wargames but they give every gamer another outlet to play in.
For me I don't do the computor games like I did 20 years ago.I loved SST and their gaming line back then.
To tell the truth, I think that anything has not occurred. As for the current state of Japan, the number of players doesn't increase.
And, because the existence of the game for the introduction is thin, the environment that brings up a new game player is not in order. I think that it is an environment that embarrasses that cannot be played even if there is a user who wants to play because the existence of the aerial warfare game of the strategy class is thin.
I want the existence of the game for the introduction because it is acceptable even if it is somewhat unsatisfactory.
It thinks in the game player in the future in an unhappy age it though various games are comparatively owned because I am a game player from 80's.
Blue, even though the translation isn't perfectly clear, I think you have some very good points. Many of the introductory board wargames are made for kids. M44 and Tide of iron follow the Axis and Allies mold that use toy figures to a pretty successful end. I believe the toys lend more to the miniatures portion of the hobby, but it is a step away from the computer, it does involve social skills and it could lead to even more basic understanding of history. It could, with more gamestore involvement, expand into an actual wargame as we know it, even a small interest in our history can be rich and involving eventually.
Look at the Games Workshop stores in the shopping malls for instance. They instigate a following by selling the miniatures kids need for their games. Again, it is a positive for our hobby. Lots of miniature players interact with board wargaming. At this point, most of us will be old and grey before we know the hobbys trend. We need fresh new players to add to our hobby.