Saturday, 26 February 2011

You have six years left to enjoy miniature wargaming

Here’s a little piece of fun for you all - my predictions for the future of the mini industry. Things are a-changin’...

2011 - iPhone/iPad apps

Following the success of the (ill fated) Ex Illis system and Fantasy Flight Games’ Arkham Horror app, all the major tabletop gaming companies begin to release apps for portable devices. Each app typically includes custom dice, random cards and stat generators. The micro-payments resulting from the sale of these programmes amount to significant revenue and over the next twelve months every company’s core titles are supported by apps.

Late 2011 - retro-clones

As the current trend for retro clone (or “simulacra”) fantasy roleplaying games dies down, it is picked up the the miniature wargaming community. Small indie publishers begin producing rules sets based on 70s and 80s games. These arrive as PDF downloads which are carefully crafted to mimic the low production values of the originals. Small miniature manufacturers follow suit and produce one-piece all-metal castings of adventurers and dungeon denizens. The trend lasts for about 18 months but the market is so small that, once the initial enthusiasm has passed it fades quickly. Fantasy Flight Games detects the trend and re-issues more old Games Workshop titles with retro-clone inspired artwork. These games outlive the trend in the miniatures market.

2012 - New Games Workshop movies

Following the success of Ultramarines GW commissions a series of straight-to-DVD releases which are also available as downloads. These boast higher production values than the 2010 film but retain their all-star cast of voice actors. The films increasingly attract favorable reviews from the mainstream press and subsequently offers from Hollywood for a big-budget production. The company is put in a difficult position by this courtship and has to decide if it wants to release its IP to the movie industry and reap the financial rewards, or continue to keep a hold of its ideas and pursue its present business model. The shareholders choose to follow the money and, as a result, Space Marines are seen on billboards the world over as the first American-funded title is released. The universe the movie is set in is toned-down and many in the gaming community eschew the film. The film receives a lukewarm response from cinema-goers but is commercially a modest success. The success of the merchandising sees Games Workshop position strengthened.

2013 - Touchscreen tables

Large multi-touch surface devices become available to consumers and find their way into living and gaming rooms across the world. It is not long before the game publishers develop birds-eye-view battle simulations which blend tabletop wargaming with the strategy games previously seen on desktop computers. These feature the purely plan-view of the traditional miniature games with animated units and real-time action. Those who prefer the gaming aspect of the hobby flock to this new technology. All the major publishers breath deeply and then invest heavily in producing or converting titles for the new iTable. Traditional miniatures and tabletop games continue to exist, but over the next three years the revenue they generate dwindles.

2014 - Home 3D printers

Simultaneously Epson and Canon release home desk-top 3D printers. These devices are quickly adopted by modelers who can now print CAD files for any object up to 512 cubic inches (8”x8”x8”). The first generation of devices have a physical resolution of .07 mm but this gradually shrinks. Soon model companies and miniature manufacturers are selling CAD files over the web to consumers. This has two consequences. The removal of production and distribution costs means that enthusiasts begin sculpting and selling their virtual models (known as “digital garage-kits”). Some of these sculptors become successful and make a living from crafting virtual kits. The second consequence is that a huge white market emerges as hobbyists either distribute CAD files illicitly, or 3D-scan old model kits to produce digital files which they then circulate. In the following years the hobby industry is entirely reshaped.

2017 - 3D printers go colour

The next generation of 3D printers are colour. Initially they produce objects with 16 colours, but this swiftly increases to photo-realistic colour up to 600dpi. The result is that the toy and model industry is further reshaped. McFarlane toys pioneers the print-and-play concept for their boutique lines and they are quickly followed by giants like Hasbro, Bandai and Disney. These lines are accompanied by paint-by-numbers software which allow the customer to choose the colourways they want for their toys. The miniature industry, now reduced to producing boutique sculpts for collectors and modelers, follows suite. Traditionalists insist that the “hand-painted look” is superior but many take a hybrid approach of printing their sculpts with the basic colour applied digitally and adding highlights by hand. However, the ever-increasing popularity of touchscreen-table wargames and the near-ubiquity of CAD-file piracy means that the miniature industry is effectively dead as a commercial venture.