Saturday, 1 August 2015

When is a Game "Supported" - and does it matter?

Thinly disguised rant incoming...

Often when I am on forums, when people ask others about a game, I see people commonly respond with:  "this game is great - it's really well supported."  "The designer is active on the forums"  "He's a great bloke"   "They have an active yahoo group"    "there's three new army books/supplements/etc out already."

It's like it's the most important reason to buy the game.  It tends to make me roll my eyes. I mean, aren't there more important reasons, like, is it a fun game to play? 

What do they mean by "supported" anyway?

Is it there are minis for the game?
I mean, if you can't buy minis for it, you could argue it is not supported.  For example, I'd like to get a Battlefleet Gothic fleet, but you can't buy the damn models (not without selling a kidney).  And the universe and game is designed around very specific models which makes proxying difficult.  That's a game that's not supported.  Fair enough.    However many rules are designed to work with generic minis. 

Is it an energetic presence on forums/social media?
But do we really need  the lead dev to regularly update his Facebook page?  My teens at school are adept with social media but it doesn't mean they can make a good wargame. 

Does an active yahoo group really mean the game has good mechanics? (Actually, I'd suggest it often means the opposite - they are often full of confused people who found the rules incomprehensible) I'd suggest it's likelier having a yahoo group shows the game company (a) is a small operation or (b) doesn't have a clue about the internet and fails to realize how uselessly 90s and unintuitive yahoo groups are. 

I don't even care if the designer is a jerk or not. E.g. I don't know the Infinity designers from a bar of soap - they could be awesome guys or complete wankers, but it doesn't effect my enjoyment of their game in the slightest. 

Is it a regular stream of supplements?
Do we really need 100 supplements and "DLC" (supplementary PDFs, codexes, army books, campaign books) for the game to be good?  The videogame community seems to think so.  Periodically being milked for money seems to make something "good" to them.  And judging by the success of the TAC rules over at the Wargames Vault, there's no shortage of wargamers willing to be nickle-and-dimed. (Yes, you pay $2 for each aircraft profile. Even GW would be proud of that)

If there's a new army book out a month after the core rules were released - it suggests to me it was content which was already prepared, perhaps simply "cut" from the core rules in order to make a supplement. (This practice actually happens, by the way)

Finally: Is the game so bad/boring that everyone will stop playing it unless there is weekly new content?

Can a game die - or even be "killed off" officially?
GW pensioned off Mordhiem years ago. It is definitely not officially "supported."  But I come across people all the time who still play it and enjoy it, more than newer, "supported" pretenders.  There's fan sites all over the net who don't care that Epic Armageddon is not supported.  As long as people play it, a game is not "dead." And in the internet age, its easy for them to connect, share and spread their enthusiasm.

"As long as the game is supported it won't die."  Actually, no.  What is "dead" anyway. "Official" support is not needed. If the game is good enough, it will be unofficially supported on fansites etc.  I mean, if there isn't an attached miniature line, why would we care?  We still have the same rules we had before.  It's not like anything is taken away from us.  And if the rules themselves go OOP, we have the internet to "source" copies from.  Just because an official forum goes dark doesn't mean they'll come to our house and repossess our rulebooks. 

Can wargames go out of date?
I'd argue wargames, unlike videogames, cannot truly go "out of date."  It's not like a 1990s rulebook and minis are suddenly incompatible with your gaming table.  Newer minis and rulebooks may be shinier, but not always. And the gap is not even comparable with that of PC games, I mean, compare 1980s "Pong" and the latest "Crysis 3."  The difference is vast.  Then compare a 90s miniature and a brand new one.  Not so much.

Even game mechanics - which do "date" as new trends and certain game design theories become dominant and others fall out of fashion - do not automatically become obsolete or unplayable.  Try telling Battletech fans to stop playing because their game is too old.   

If you had a game you really loved, and you had a core of local gamers who loved the game to, would the fact no one else likes your game diminish your enjoyment of the game?  Would you say "well, no one is playing Great Rail Wars anymore, so guess we gotta stop playing too."

Videogames suffer if they have dated graphics.  Sometimes they don't run on your machine (shakes fist at Windows 7/8).  I get it's important for a videogame to be supported.    Although there is a certain point where a videogame (if it isn't fatally flawed) shouldn't really need to be patched/updated anymore.  But I understand videogames get dated. I mean, some of the games I enjoyed back in the 90s make my eyes bleed now.  But can a good wargame be truly dated?

Are we confusing "supported" with popular or well publicized? 
We want to know other people will be playing our game, so we won't be left with the only Dark Age army and rulebook in our game club.   But if you're an early adopter, there's no guarantee your game will be popular locally anyway. For example, locally Attack Wing, Warmachine and Infinity rule the roost. If I rocked up with my shiny new, much-hyped Age of Sigmar stuff I might be a mite disappointed. 

But I'd say a nice glossy rulebook, fun rules, cool fluff and a knockout miniature line should be enough to "sell" a game to your mates.  Is a constant stream of paid updates and a energetic social media presence really necessary to enjoy the game?

"Hey Marv, do you want to try The Latest New Wargame?
"Hmm. Dunno.  They've got awesome rules, and the minis are epic... ...but..."
"But what?"

"They haven't updated their website this month. And there hasn't been a new supplement or army book this year."
"Cripes, the game must be unsupported.  Good spot - I almost bought into that. Kevin, Bob and Jim were all about to order it too"
"I'll let 'em know. Hope they haven't ordered it yet!"
"Phew, that was a near miss."

I started this blog so I could review wargames for my friends and have an accessible place to store them. The reason I started doing reviews for them, was often reviews I read were sycophantic, overly gushing, and devoid of detail on the mechanics and how the game actually played. Some were thinly disguised ads.  I wanted reviews that explain the mechanics and content so people can make up their own minds.  I think the best compliment I get is when someone says "Your review was negative, but I got the game anyway, because you explained the mechanic and why you didn't like it and I decided I would like that aspect of the game."   So when I see on forums people repeatedly recommending games simply "because it's well supported" it irritates me.  What does it mean? Am I missing something vital?  Perhaps I'm misunderstanding what they mean by "supported?"

My Burning Questions
When is a game "well supported"?
What does "well supported" mean to you?
What does it mean if a game is not supported? 
Does it matter to you?  Why?


  1. I think its more interconnected - publisher/author support and fan loyalty go and in hand and in general drive one another. I think a wide

    TFL has a good balance of providing new options without overdoing it. They have biannual 'special' mags with articles and scenarios for their games, and for CoC they have started the 'pint sized' supplements - 20 odd scenarios in a specific campaign for 3-7GBP (the price of a pint of beer or 2). Neat support without hacking you off or destroying your wallet.

    Of course that isn't always the case - GW's specialist games range is a perfect example of great fan bases decades after the game was dropped by the publisher. But I wouldn't take GW as a model of business acumen...

    All in all, I want a game for which I can get opponents readily enough and perhaps find some inspiration or additional material - published or fan based off the www

  2. Player Base is the issue. A game not getting support or new releases is a game that the manufacturer has decided the play base is not big enough for their time and investment. This generally maps to small and scattered groups and no one around you who plays who was not already part of your group. This leaves the locating and recruiting players in your hand. New blood is generally important since life(kids, moves, jobs etc) often gets in the way causing players to slowly bleed out of any existing group,

    For board and skirmish games it is easier to recruit players since existing players can generally spot recruits forces to give the game a try but the larger the investment the harder this gets. I can spot someone any Blood Bowl team they want to try and any Chainmail faction but only have 3 choices in Epic.

    This issue will continue to grow with all the kickstarter and new games that come and go now. It is hard to get someone to invest in an older game when all this new stuff is constantly appearing.

    1. Good points. Which comes back to the issue of some sort of continued publisher support providing injections of new life into the game to maintain player base interest. That might/may/possibly be an infrequently large expansion (but certainly not multiple times per year...), but is IMO better to be a modest and not compulsory model (a scenario pack for example). Of course, that doesn't bode well as a business model, but that is a whole new topic...

  3. It depends a little if it's an "indie" game or a bigger production.

    If it's the Warhammer/Infinity/Battletech style of game, glossy books, own miniatures line etc. then it tends to mean "can the figures be purchased and do people at the club play it?"

    In the indie field, I'd say from personal experience: "Is the response time if I email the guy about the game less than 9 months?"

    The latter goes for miniatures too btw...

  4. Much of what I see as "well-supported" is a means to promote the game.

    A well-supported game in my mind is one where I can either email the author, or get on a online board and ask a question concerning game mechanics. The support does not have to be from the publishing company. For several rules, I directly emailed the author and have had my questions answered.

    The bottom line for me is that If I like the game and understand the rules, all of the extra support is not important to me.

  5. To summarise the comments section so far:
    "Well supported = Player Base" (which I think is not the same thing - a game can be popular without being well supported and vice versa)
    "Well supported = Response Time for Rules FAQ" (not needed if rules are clear)
    "Well supported = Supplements to retain Player Interest (not needed if game has a modicum of depth)
    "Well supported = Availability of Minis (a fair call sometimes, not relevant if rules are generic)

    Well, at least I seem to have got the same definition as everyone else. Perhaps I'm just a grouchy old man *shakes walking stick*

    "Get off my lawn!"

    1. "Perhaps I'm just a grouchy old man *shakes walking stick* "

      Perhaps you're just a new Dad up in the middle o the night feeding his offspring yet again...

    2. It's like DLC and preorders for video games.

      We all say we don't want it, but it still sells enough to make it worth doing that way ;)

    3. I'd like to find those people and stop them.

      I don't mind the old videogame supplements - you know, a expansion with dozens of maps, playmodes and complete new singleplayer campaigns.

      Nowdays, it's just an excuse to sell us an unfinished game, or to sell us the game in increments. This "season pass" nonsense used by all the AAA titles means you pay $70 for the game, and $50 for the DLC - most of which is complete at the time of launch.

      It makes the old subscription-based MMOs look like a bargain.

    4. Some companies ar epretty good about it, but not a lot.

      I don't mind shelling out if its a substantial expansion for a game, like an actual expansion pack.
      Or if its truly "bonus" content that is not at all required to play the game and isn't mentioned in-game. Like adding a few extra guns to a game that already has a decent selection of weapons.

      I don't think I've ever bought a season pass, htough the one instance where I'd consider it is Paradox titles.

  6. People like stuff that is new (and chase that feeling of first encountering wargames), and improved (2nd through nth editions), and especially stuff that is both new and improved. Support is either people available to help you with the product, or all the documentation/etc that helps you figure out how to do stuff. Where wargames are also products, people like the idea that they're part of an active community, and companies need to sell something.

  7. I've lost track of the number of people I've seen saying "What will fill the warhammer-shaped hole in my life now that it's gone?" Err...hello? It's still there - just because GW won't produce any more supplements doesn't mean that you can't play it any more! Look at the growing 3rd edition "Oldhammer" movement!
    With the vast amount of fantasy stuff they've produced over the years, it'll be easily available second hand for decades to come, plus Mantic and a host of other companies all porduce figures you can use.
    All it means is that a lot of the tournament power-gamer types who min-max the rules will move on to something else. Those who just play for a bit of fun can carry on...

    1. No, now there's going to be no 9th edition, all previous copies of minis and rulebooks will self destuct. It's official. You may no longer have fun playing the game!

      I'm hoping eBay will provide cheap WFB minis from people selling collections now its "died" - I think I got $2000 worth of LoTR minis for about $200 back in 2009 or so when everyone sold up in disgust because it "died"... now I can't complete the armies I want because they're now "collectibles" and "OOP" and now worth 4x as much as new... :-/

  8. The "official" mindset of many gamers has always confused me. I can see why a game company values it, but I do not know why the gamers do. It makes no difference to me if a game is supported or not. I have all the skills I need to support it myself. Heck my favorites have been "dead" for ages.

    1. Thats what annoys me. Sure, if there is a steady stream of new supplements etc - it might be nice for some. But to use it as the primary (and only) reason you'd give someone on why to buy a game, seems stupid.