From the computer to the tabletop, this is all about games. Updated each week-end.
Golden Ages are generally perceived as something that happened long ago. With miniatures and miniature games, I think we are entering that golden age at the moment. Maybe I’m wrong, and it’s already started.
In years past there was little activity in the industry. There were companies manly in the UK and USA, making historical miniatures enough there to support a hobby scene on both sides of the Atlantic but it was mainly a mail order industry supported by one or two magazines.
On the fantasy and science fiction side there was Games Workshop, and miniatures for use with role playing games, and little else. Every so often a company would have a go at creating a new fantasy or sci-fi miniatures game, but were generally gone within a couple of years. Start-up costs were high, and growth was slow, mainly because the avenues for reaching your audience were not straight.
Growth in interest
The internet has been a great boon to niche interests, and miniature wargames are no exception. On the hobby side there are places to chat, blogs and project logs to read, and clubs to join. There are also many vendors and many businesses all able to better reach their target audience, and for less money than before. Wargames are still a niche and probably always will be, but niche doesn’t have to meant cottage industry. There are now more professional companies making better products than ever before.
I’d like to mention Cool Mini or Not as a case in point here. Started as a site to rate people’s painted miniatures this site has quickly grown into so much more. Many of the worlds best miniatures painters can be found on the forums, and the site has expanded. Firstly, adding a store to sell miniatures products of interest to painters and gamers (but mainly the first) Cool Mini brought many companies from across Europe and elsewhere to where a larger number of potential customers could see them. Cool Mini have gone on to create their own line of miniatures and more recently to publish their own games. Even 20 years ago, this was inconceivable. Now, just a thing that’s happened.
Cheaper start up costs, better quality
Starting up is not cheap, but starting up in the right way is more accessible now than it ever was before. Avatars of War is an interesting start up from a few years back. Talented sculptor Felix Paniagua returned home to his native Spain after an internship with Games Workshop an decided to sculpt miniatures for anyone who was interested. It turns out a lot of people were and are interested in Felix’s work. His company is now a significant local employer, and has branched out from its original line of metal hero models into plastic regiment boxes. Significant and sustainable growth, helped by electronic word of mouth. Yes, the Cool Mini shop sells Avatars of War.
More recently and in the historical miniatures space, Fireforge Games has appeared. Based in Italy, this company has managed to release a massive five plastic regiment boxes and a rulebook in the space of three years. The quality of their figures is top notch, and it should be noted the rulebook, Deus Vult, came later. Fireforge’s miniatures have so far focused on crusading knights and their sergeants.
To start straight into plastic and to turn out a large number of different sets is a fantastic achievement. The role of Renedra in this must also be considered. Started by ex-GW employees, Renedra consisted of a plastic casting machine and the know-how to make it work and to design sprues fit for production. Renedra have been the catalyst for a massive growth in the quality and available of affordable plastics. As well as Fireforge, Warlord Games, Perry Miniatures and Gripping Beast use Renedra.
As that last paragraph of namedropping should suggest, there’s a lot of activity here. Previously all-metal companies have found themselves able to branch out into plastic, including Perry and Gripping beast, leading to some fantastic boxed regiments for a variety of historical settings. I have glossed over a lot of other companies here, so great is the recent activity, especially in the historical miniatures space.
Along Came Crowdfunding
Into this vibrant mix comes crowdfunding, which is enough for an article in itself. Crowdfunding, at least to date, has served to accelerate the trends I’ve described above. Established and emerging companies are able to access the wallets of a gaming public ever hungry for more games to play, and more great looking models to play them with. Using Kickstarter and the like is not a guarantee of funding for a venture and likewise giving to a crowdfunding campaign is not a guarantee of getting a product for the gamer. Still, the Reaper Miniatures Bones fundraiser has become something for others to aspire to. Cool Mini and associated companies have used Kickstarter to successfully launch new miniature-heavy board games. As gamers we find ourself in the middle of a seriously large snowball.
The snowball is still rolling down the hill, and I don’t know where this ends, or what the snowball will look like when we get there. 3D printing looks like the next evolution. The idea of buying miniatures essentially as plans or sprue diagrams before printing them out at home does appeal, and I think it will bolster rather than replace the existing retail chain. Right now though the future looks bright, and success looks guaranteed. By that I of course mean on any roll other than a 1.