PART 2 of 2: what to publish?
To Catch Us All Up: In the previous installment of this two-parter, back in JUNE, I ruminated on some of the limitations of bringing wargames (of the traditional hex and counter variety) to the touchpad desktop market, typified by the market leader Ipad device. I’ve been meaning to get back to this subject, since the market is changing as we speak, and since June, some other considerations that will affect how hex-and-counter wargames will be brought to this device have arisen. Of primary interest is the rise of inevitable market competitors for the Ipad– there are a host of Ipad knock-offs either waiting in the wings, just entering the market, or already in stores. So the first question a developer should ask NOW is suggested by the change in the subject line: Android OS or Ipad/Ipod/Iphone OS? Both of them have strengths. Ipad has a dedicated market/distribution channel in Itunes. This can be a blessing to small developers that don’t have the money to invest in a large scale marketing effort. However, the market may be changing; Android is gaining wider acceptance and the introduction of new tablet Ipad lookalikes running the Android operating system can’t be ignored. There will be a large group of consumers that will buy into the ease of use of Itunes without bridling at the limitations of of Ipad platform. There may be a group just as large that will be seduced by Android tablets with a lower price point than the Ipad, performing similar functions but sporting features that the Ipad doesn’t have– camera, USB interface, etc. The next question developers will inevitably ask is “How do I make money with a gaming app in Android? Isn’t this giving it away?” There ARE distribution channels for commercial Android apps out there. The Android App Store is one such. The Android store isn’t as firmly entrenched as Itunes and might never be. I suspect, however, that Android tablets are going to start making a sizable dent in Ipad’s market share staring 1st quarter of 2011.
Get the picture? The Ipad won’t be the only bull in the pasture, and that will happen pretty soon.
This is a digression, however. I wanted to name some candidates that would work for conversion into Ipads in this post, and I still do.
If I were a MAJOR wargame publisher, if such an industry really exists, I’d wonder how this would impact my bottom line first and foremost. Would it be worth the time and money invested? The answer to that is very likely. The primary market being serviced by “wargame apps” would be the niche market that ALWAYS buys wargames– the true believers. However, a publisher with a foot firmly entrenched in the Itunes distribution channel might reap an unexpected Secondary market from customers who have never seen a wargame before and are attracted to games like first person shooters with a strong historic theme. Would this lead to them purchasing the parent (paper) game? Who knows. One can hope.
Given the market for wargame apps will at least start off with the true believers, I would suggest a 4.99 to 6.99 price point, depending on the game. If the publisher is marketing tie-ins for either new or existing board wargames, then the design work is mostly done– they would have to work on how to transmit the game state changes and how to store the current game state, pbem style.
For starters, I’d build game apps for titles that have the following characteristics:
Name Recognition: If I were a publisher with a large product line that spans more than a decade (okay, seriously, if I were GMT), I’d consider revisiting some of the simpler or most famous, bestselling games in their historical lineup.
Command and Colors series (including Napoleonic). The game mechanics are Igo-Hugo simplicity in themselves, with an added card play element that is easy enough to program into an app. Keep the hexes for the visual reference, but you can ditch the blocks entirely and have miniature figures of troops like the original Battle Cry and Memoir: 44. Pros: excellent name recognition. Cons: actually I can’t think of any– maybe the interface to the card deck. Is this series “too new”, though? Would an app compete with the game itself? It’s hard to say.
Other Block Games: Europe Engulfed, Hellenes, PQ-17, Asia Engulfed, and the upcoming Pax Baltica and Sekigahara would make excellent game apps.
Company Commander Series. This is newer, I know. The mechanics are somewhat more complex than Command and Colors, the interface would be harder to program then Command and Colors. Pros: Great era, game design with good word of mouth. Cons: multiple purpose cards might be hard to program.
Other Systems: Great Battles of History and Great Battles of the Civil War are both excellent systems, but I would not turn them into App games. The games, as written, require a lot of interaction that would slow down game play in multiplayer and two person internet games. The American Revolution series would make excellent game apps– simple, low interaction, beautiful graphics, interesting subject. Pros: Subject Interest, Low complexity Cons: Can’t think of any.
Area Movement, Card Driven Design Games: (Paths of Glory, Napoleonic Wars, Wellington, 30 Years War, Wilderness War) I think these titles (popularized in the early 00s) would make excellent wargame apps. cards can be used for Operation Points (usually) or for the historical event on the card, which doesn’t seem hard to program for. Pros: great names with a lot of draw on many subjects Cons: Cards interacting with each other may be complex.
If I somehow had the publishing rights to older games (oh, say, if I were Decision Games or Multiman Publishing), I’d focus on even older titles with name recognition or perhaps nostalgic appeal. Take, for example, DG’s recent decision to to reprint the entire Folio Series by SPI in modern editions. They would make outstanding tie-ins for simple one-shot low-cost wargaming apps that could be played over the internet or even solitaire. Decision has many smaller scale games beyond the folio series (most of them SPI reprints, but not all) that would work well both as leverage to enter the game app market and for nostalgic appeal with the wargamer niche.
Conversely, you might want to take a behemoth game title with lots of customer support and a proven community, like Advanced Squad Leader, and start producing game apps for classic published scenarios. Imagine “The Tractor Factory” as a single scenario, retro counters and map included, that did all the die rolling and chart work for you. The mind simply boggles. The challenge will always be how to display complex wargame scenarios with multiple unit counters on a tiny screen: How do we handle the landscape problem? Zooming in and out? Multiple screens? I’m sure these are details that can be worked on. Another option would be to create Game “Helper” apps that store lots of arcane information and have the potential to resolve tricky game situations– helpful in the case of Advanced Squad Leader or Star Fleet Battles, for instance, where the rulebooks are literally volumes long.
In general, I don’t find the challenges of bringing wargames to the small screen to be insurmountable, but that’s easy for me to say– I’m not the one taking the risks or tackling the problem. A major consideration will be choosing the RIGHT games to convert. Not every wargame subject that has seen print has the appeal to be a game-changer for a company if they want to start making wargame apps. World War II? Napoleon? The American Civil War? All safe. The War of Jenkin’s Ear? The War of the League of Augsburg? Maybe not so much. Publishers will want to SUPPLEMENT their bread and butter business, not replace it with an alternative that will not make as much profit. So the choices will have to be strategic… the ideal candidates would be established, with good brand recognition and an excellent track record, but not the latest, greatest wargaming bling. You WANT them to discover your paper products, and buy them on the strength of the wargame app experience, yes, but you don’t want them to ONLY buy the wargame apps. Even at high volume that’s a slow route to profits.
One thing is certain; our choices as wargamers have never been bountiful. New designs that challenge the status quo keep getting published, highlighting a creativity that continues to increase as time goes by. When SPI dissolved and Avalon Hill got swallowed by corporate giants, I despaired at first. I’ve gradually realized we had never had it so good. Wargaming is in better shape now than it ever was, thanks in large part to the smaller, efficient companies that are treading where the giants once walked. As Eric Raymond noted in a recent essay, truly, The Golden Age of Wargaming is Now. Publishers are jumping into new marketing channels and have enthusiastically adopted social media as a means of building community support for their products. Can Wargaming apps for touch screen platforms be far behind? Well, let’s just say I’ve had some strong indications that some projects are in the works right now. I know I’ll be an enthusiastic supporter.