English-language interview with wargame publisher Iain McNeil.
By Joachim Froholt
Iain McNeil is development director of Slitherine, Matrix Games, Ageod and Shenandoah Studios. Back in 2014 I wrote a story about wargames, and he kindly answered several questions for me. I’ve published them here. Be aware that my questions were tailored to fit the article I was writing, and are mostly about the wargame market and the challenges of being a wargame publisher.
Is it possible to say something about who the typical computer wargamer is, and what do you think they look for in a game?
It is very tricky to generalize here as there are definitely a number of subsets to the community. At one end of the scale are players who are primarily interested in the gameplay and mechanics. They are looking for a tactical or strategic challenge and they do not mind if it is Roman, WW2 or sci fi. They generally do not mind what graphical style you go for or how accurate the game is, but want something which is polished and looks good. They care about balance and gameplay and would rather have a fun game than one that was extremely realistic.
At the other end of the scale are players who are primarily interested in the history and setting and care less about the mechanics. These guys are looking for an authentic experience all the way from the look, to the historical accuracy and research through to the details of the scenario or campaign design. They prefer realism over gameplay.
These are the two extremes and most player sit somewhere in the middle. There are players how are only interested in specific periods, for example World War II, Musket, Ancient, Fantasy etc. Some gamers are interested in a variety of periods. Others are only interested in very detailed simulations such as War in the East. This obviously means there is a huge range of requirements for wargamers.
To the outside world it may look like one homogenous group but in reality the wargamers market is very fragmented and complex making it a challenge to produce games that appeal to enough players to generate enough revenue to support it. This is one of the challenges we face on a daily basis and why our model is very different to other more mainstream games developers and publishers.
What’s the market like for these games? Is it growing? What role is, say, Steam and mobile platforms playing?
It’s hard for us to say. We know that each year we sell more games to more people than ever before but we also know there are many many potential customers out there we haven’t reached. At this point we don’t feel the growth is because we have grown the market, just that we are continually reaching new parts of the market.
As I mentioned above the community is so fragmented with each group having their own specific period of interest and little overlap with other groups, making marketing to them very difficult. There is no central place to promote your games. We have to work very hard at the grass roots level to get individuals inspired to talk to their friends about the games.
While there are few connections between groups interested in different periods, individuals may be members of multiple groups and by connecting to the individuals and giving them ways to talk about the games to their friends we are steadily growing our reach, especially via Facebook and twitter. Steam and iTunes give us more visibility and boost the rate at which we can reach new customers but they are just a piece of the puzzle.
Can you tell us a little about your approach to publishing and how it might differ from that of a more «typical» videogame publisher?
I’ve covered some of the difference above. One of the other key differences is that our games don’t date as quickly as other games. Many games rely on the graphics to sell them, while ours are all about the gameplay. While graphics are important they are not the USP and as a result the games have a much longer shelf life. AA games often go on discount a few months after release and in a year are bargain bucket. They get a little support at release but soon they are abandoned as the next big gets worked on, and with the game being sold at such low prices there is little money or incentive to support the game going forwards.
Our philosophy is very different. We support the games for a long time. We still have support and patches coming out for games over 5 years old. While we do have sales from time to time the general prices of the game do not drop over time. The ongoing revenue stream is extremely important to us and allows the developers to continue to support and update their games.
We build a long term relationship with the players and many of our sales are from repeat customers – a much higher % than is the norm in the wider industry. The attach rates for our DLC content can be well over 50%, which again is extremely high. We’re building a community where wargamers can come to get anything they want. We’re a one stop shop. We have hundreds of wargames covering pretty much any period you can think of. It is a very different model to almost every other publisher but it works extremely well for us.
Spillhistorie.no is a Norwegian website mostly dedicated to indie-, niche- and retro games. If you liked this article, we have some more content in English.