The Economic (sort of) of war gaming

I was tooling around the different gaming news aggregator web sites earlier in the week and I came across an interesting post on “the economics” of wargaming, Games Work Shop and WH40k in particular. First, I want to be clear that, despite what will follow, I am not throwing Game Workshop directly under the bus.  What they do is not fundamentally different from what many other wargaming companies do, so there is no special vilification intended here. However….


This post, located on the Spikey Bits URL and linked to here ( ) discusses how pricing for Space marines boxes have not REALLY increased dramatically over the past 25 years (only 25% over 25 years with more bits and customizable pieces now) and this argument is all well and good. Im not going to argue with anyone over their method of econometric analysis when it comes to specific maths. I was a political science major after all, not Milton Friedman. However, this article just reminded me why Critical Snail has opted for no IP specific miniatures required. We don’t sculpt them, we don't contract others to design copyrighted miniatures for us, etc. We have always said that we want the gamer to use the models that they want to use. To support this, we provided conformity rules that are flexible and give creative freedom without losing the plot.


Fast forward to Sunday morning. Im enjoying my morning kuppa and sifting the internet and I find my way back to Spikey Bits (credit where credit is due after all, more on gaming news aggregators another time) through an article about Chinese sprue recasters selling recasts of the mammoth Imperial Knight Titan for something like 25% of the retail list for an “authentic” model. (blog located here Legal issues aside, lets go back to qualitative economics. While I said that I won’t argue econometrics, what I WILL argue is this: if there is room enough in the profit margin to justify investing the capital to pretty effectively scan and recast original sprues, then it ought to be seriously considered whether that model is priced way too high.


The wargaming crowd has always been an interesting set of borderline contrary characteristics and requirements. You have to provide supplies (rules, models, paints, etc) to play the game at all, so money is always involved. But you also have to provide creativity and cleverness for success, neither of which cost a nickel. And, despite best efforts, it seems that the demographics have largely always been young (teens to mid twenties) or middle-ish age and older males. Economically these two groups (typically missing he late 20 ’s through 30’s crowd, likely as a result of rearing a family and career responsibilities is my first guess) are equally disparate. Generally either, limited incomes or relatively decent disposable income. So theres another gap, the economic group of people with a LITTLE disposable income, but not much. Of course, its possible to only have a little money when you're older, or to have a lot of money when you are young, the point is, neither of these strata seem to be on a continuous spectrum, there are gaps. Yet, the things that allow for success are access to the right tools (units or models) and the ability to use them effectively. Being able to use a unit or model effectively is no good to you if you can't afford to field the damn thing to begin with. So here we are, near hits between the money side and brain side. The most successful of anyone engages both sides.


When I first started war gaming, I never wanted to play against the guys with all kinds of spending money, because 1) we were never on even footing with respect to access to troop selections and options. My money was tight and my purchases were necessarily strategic. why buy a model that wouldnt be functionally effective in your army if you could make your force better with a different purchase? 2) While I always worked my best on my hobbycraft, I never looked great next to the commission painted force that just got unboxed. Yes, these are both emotional concerns, but they impact the fun and entertainment of the game. It wasn't fun to go play games and be reminded that I still didn't have the resources I wanted. The older players were tough to play against as well, apart from money, they had TONS more tricks up their sleeve and we had very little to connect with in the game banter. Again, the quality of game experience is affected.


So how do we have a fun game, that ties all levels of economic demographics together and provides better game interactions? You decide your own models. You decide how much or how little you want to spend on your Silitech Phantom Battle Tank, or your Unit of Terran League Colossus  Flight Corps. Get a screaming deal on Eldar Guardians from a guy on Craigslist? Perfect, for $30 you now have 45 Alpha Centauri Legionnaires. Do you REALLY love the Privateer Press Khador Widowmakers mini’s for your Vega Recon Soldati? Fantastic, you’re plopping down $20+ for a unit of 3-5 models and thats okay too. 


The thing about gaming economics, is that it doesn't matter to the dice and it shouldn’t keep someone from playing a game. There will always be those people that garner self-satisfaction from overpaying for things, or having the newest, freshest thing, etc. If you want to do that with Aggressor, sweet. But you don't have to and the game won’t reward you for it. This game rewards calculated risk, verve and tactical guts. Economics never enters into it.