The Importance of Army Builders
I just heard that the Batman Miniature Game Bat-Builder provided by Flashback Generations is no longer available. Flashback Generations was providing the free army builder to support the game and promote their miniature wargame army builder business, which is apparently a thing. It sounds like it was costing too much to run but you can read their announcement here.
Fans of the game are calling on Knight Models to provide an official army builder program. Judging by the amount of work that could go into improving their main website I’m guessing that this wouldn’t be a simple solution for them. Would it be worth it?
I can’t say from a financial, quantitative viewpoint. I don’t know their numbers and I don’t have any data on how an army builder would effect sales. I bet Corvus Belli could tell us. Their Infinity Army 5.0 is one of the best free army builders I’ve seen and it is being maintained and supported by the company. Privateer Press also produces a mobile army builder program which can also be used to track the game state and is so handy it almost makes me want to play Warmachine. If they are savvy they have an idea of how much of a difference the army builder has made to sales. Meanwhile most other games rely on third-party products such as Wolf Lair Development‘s Army Builder or fan-brewed options like the iOS only MayaNet for Infinity.
What are the benefits?
The biggest benefit, and perhaps the only one worth mentioning, is that an army builder makes it easier for players to make armies. In the worst case a complicated army creation process will act as a barrier for entry to new players. I recall a game where players built armies by selecting units and then adding or upgrading models within the unit. A model could be upgraded from one type to another, and then that upgraded model could be further modified. Understanding and documenting the options was a nightmare.
So the worst case then is that a complicated army building process can lose the company sales from players who abandon the game due to the complexity. What about the best case scenario?
A game like the Batman Miniature Game doesn’t have a complicated army selection process. There isn’t much customization of models so it is nearly a case of picking units until you reach your agreed-upon points total. In this case not having an army builder wouldn’t prompt people to not play the game. It does reduce the amount of casual army building that players are likely to indulge in. This in turn may reduce the number of miniatures they buy for a game. If the cliché that “to a hammer, everything looks like a nail” applies to building armies, meaning that a player is more likely to build an army out of the miniatures on hand, then we might say that having a good army builder is like walking through the tools section of the hardware store where surely you can find a use for every tool. I think it’s self-evident which scenario sells the most tools.
I think this is even more true for games where the stats come with the models. It’s hard to decide what you want to buy if you don’t know what the value would be. Even without stats not knowing the points cost makes it risky to try a new faction. You could buy a selection of models and discover they don’t fit together in a coherent army. For someone on a budget it could be very upsetting.
What are the drawbacks?
What then, if army builder programs theoretically increase sales, is preventing every company from automatically producing an army builder for every game? The reality is that even free things cost money, and since game companies are not operating as not-for-profits it is the customer’s who ultimately pay for everything. App development is not cheap and the software has to be maintained as browsers and HTML standards are changed, not to mention adding or changing units or rules. Having an army build developed is a risky proposition with uncertain rewards and it isn’t surprising that more companies aren’t making their own.
Cost considerations aside a bad army builder can be a real detriment to the game. If it is inaccurate it will cause conflicts between those players who use it and those who don’t. If it is buggy it will foster anger amongst the game community. If someone in the community decides to build their own it can feel like a waste of time and money. Of course it wouldn’t be, but perception is a powerful thing.
Fan-made Army Builders
In a perfect world this is what companies hope will happen. Their game will prove popular and some of the players will make their own army builders. This is how the majority came to be. Even Corvus Belli‘s Army Builder started as a fan project before it was supported and eventually absorbed by the company. The advantages of this are obvious as the initial risk and cost is taken on by fans which are then rewarded by official support.
I’m not saying that all companies should leave army builders for their fans to create. My point is that being able to leverage fan enthusiasm is a good thing. I’m not sure what kind of deal the original designers of the Infinity Army Builder received for their efforts but I hope it was fair.
I do think that companies should make an effort to support these grass-roots efforts, even if it’s supplying the raw data that would be used to build the application. In a perfect world companies would be savvy enough to maintain an xml of their army lists which programmers can then parse for their creations.
What do you think? In the modern world of smartphones and tables are army builders something we should expect for every game? Do you mind paying for a good army builder or after buying rules and miniatures do you expect it to be free? Let me know in the comments. You can also find me on Twitter and Google+. Don’t forget to subscribe for more.