From: Canberra, Australia
ORIGINAL: Slick Wilhelm
So, how do wargame developers decide what their first or next game is going to be? I wonder if most companies got started by making the game that they wanted to make, or if they had a long-term plan all mapped out?
Also, with game engines that have proven to be big hits(Panther Games' engine, "Commander" engine just to name a couple), how do companies decide on where to head next with their engine? Surely it can't be by listening to us whiners on the Matrix forum?
Just curious, that's all.
Oh, Aruna, if you're reading this...."Tannenberg" or "Schlieffen Plan" are my suggestions if you've ever thought about bringing the PG engine to WWI. Early WWI, before the stalemate.
Good questions. I started designing wargames back in the early 1980s primarily because I am creative. I had been playing wargames since 1970 and was getting frustrated with the designs then on offer. I wanted a more realistic way of simulating warfare and I had some ideas on that. Our first wargame was a boardgame called Trial of Strength. This was an East Front WW2 strategic game. It introduced our CLIMACS system - Conventional Landwarfare Integrated Movement And Combat System. In effect this integrated movement and combat rather than treating them as separate or discreet events. It was still a turn based hex based game but had the first elements of what eventually led to our pausable continuous time system used in computer wargames now.
Why did we choose the east front. Well because I had played many east front wargames, studied the military history of that period and it ticked all the boxes - both sides get to attack, scope for surprise, good canvas of options that allow the players to shift focus, time pressure, a huge range of different force types and qualities from raw to elite, market acceptability ( everyone loved east front games back then ) etc. These factors still apply today to choosing our next game. In fact we are going through such an exercise right now and this will continue for a few months after Battles from the Bulge (BFTB) is released.
Though once you have released a product there are other factors to consider, like how can I leverage off the work I have done so far. Back in 1996 we embarked on designing the first game in the Airborne Assault series. We always envisaged developing an engine and evolving that over time with successive titles. We had ambitious plans that required a huge investment of time and money and we knew we couldn't recoup that investment with just one title. But also we knew that we couldn't design the perfect engine in one go, so we focussed on building the foundations first - ie the user interface, map, estab and scenario editors, basic AI game mechanics ( fire and movement etc ) and basic strategic AI. In our initial titles we knew we had to choose battles that we could cover within the limitations of the engine. With each title we have added functionality to the engine and hence expanded the scope of battles we can cover.
This evolutionary approach has been a necessity because we didn't have the resources to build everything up front. But in many ways this apparent handicap has been a great blessing, because it has allowed us time to mature our ideas and processes. In effect the development of our engine has been a project in which we have conducted original research and development - ie we are blazing a trail, that no one has gone down before. In doing so, you invariably go down blind alleys and have to change tack.
Eg we originally designed our forceGroup class to represent a force comprised of superForces and subForces. Because space was so critical when we started development, we had a very compact and efficient structure. But as we developed Conquest of the Aegean ( COTA ) we realised some fundamental limitations with this structure, namely that we couldn't save the cross attachments that occur down the line. What we really needed was to use a tree structure to do that. So this was one of the first tasks to be done for BFTB. This has allowed us now to provide a great Order of Battle display and model cross attachment of forces much better than before.
We chose to do BFTB for many reasons. We went out on a limb with COTA in that we covered what many see as a side show of WW2. It was different and refreshing but let me tell you there are many wargamers who just were not interested in that theatre and this handicapped sales. So for our next title we knew we couldn't afford to take the same commercial risk and so we had to focus on a more mainstream battle. For marketing reasons ( ie the US is our main market ) we knew it had to have American forces and had to be well known to American wargamers. We examined the options and ruled out those that didn't give both sides a chance to attack and didn't tick the other boxes mentioned above. We then filtered out the remainder based on the features we would have to add to the engine to effectively model them. The Bulge, for instance, would require automated bridge and ideally we would like to have cross river assaults, but we could get away without this feature by starting the intitial scenarios just after the German cross river assaults. Normandy on the other hand would require cross river assaults, amphibious assaults, off map fire support for naval and air and minefields. So it was filtered out as requiring too much developemnt effort. Anyway you get the idea.
As to how profitable wargame development is, that's simple. It ain't. Don't bet your house on it. I lost mine back in 1991. Cash flow is cyclical and dependant on the success of your product. If your game is a success you get a few months of heady sales income. Then it tapers off, hopefully to a steady trickle sufficient for you to get your next product out. Invariably I have found this to be insufficient to keep me and my family in the style we would like. Hence why we also seek defence dollars where we can. So I strongly recommend having another income string to your bow.
As to how much market research we do. Well first off, effective market research can require a lot of money and as mentioned above, that's invariably in short supply. So, much of it boils down to gut feel and reading the tea leaves. I monitor the forums daily and where I can participate in discussions. I find this keeps me in touch with that segment of our market willing to be involved in the forums. I recognise this is a subset of a niche market, but it's better than nothing. I also follow the Rock Paper Shotgun site and drop in occassionally to a few of the other mainstream gaming sites to touch base with developments there. We also rely on what our publisher advises. They have more resources for this than we do. But ultimately we rely on our own assessments. Sometimes these fly in the face of so called empirical research data. This can often be scewed by many biases. In the end you have to be comfortable with the direction you're heading. It has to be a good fit with what you think the customers want, what type of work and what subject matter you personanly want to work on, what you need to do to position yourself for the future and what you need to do to survive today.
As to WW1 battles, are you volunteering to coordinate a WW1 data design team then?
< Message edited by Arjuna -- 7/18/2009 3:38:14 AM >