Commercial Development, Iconic Golden Age

John Cooper’s website is the bomb. Tell him DefLing sent you. And Pat Summerall. If you’re too young to get that, well then, I don’t know what to say.

At this writing, games are subjected to vicious opportunity competition in the market space. Commercial publishers don’t have the latitude for too much artistry. The market is divided between novelty and nostalgia. Games which bridge the gap do well.  Patience is certainly a virtue. With luck a publisher hits on a perennial title like Twilight Struggle or the Command and Colors franchise upon whose coattails a publisher might follow his star to more obscure or contemporary subjects like 3LW/NWL. Games publishing is content to let design progress at a slow pace. Accordingly, publishers’ understanding of development is conservative.

Yet even during wargaming’s first Golden Age, there was an injunction to make it new. It is a bitter irony that the call came from Strategy & Tactics (S&T) magazine, the longest continually-published wargame magazine, now put out by Modern Warfare’s publisher, Decision Games. What gets published in the pages of S&T has always had the appearance of being subscriber driven, via regular polling on a curated list of subjects. Speaking for S&T fourteen years before its Decision Games incarnation, Richard Berg wrote, “To simply do a subject over again because it is your favorite is not enough; make sure there is something to say.” Moving the conversation along used to be part of S&T’s DNA and presumably remains among its developers’ goals. The magazine is still fertile ground for would-be designers — not necessarily for the right reasons. Along with this model of novelty emerging from tradition comes the notion of integration with previous designs but also contention. Berg sets out a creative and synthetic designer-developer relationship:

“At SPI a two-man team handles a game: the designer does the research and initial conception; the developer then takes it from the designer and polishes the product, consulting with the designer as he proceeds to a conclusion. This system has several major advantages. First, it puts two people’s experience into a game….”

James Dunnigan, twice S&T’s editor, wrote in 2005 — after development between digital and manual titles had had enough time to differentiate — that cheap-to-develop manual games led to publishers putting out a multitude of titles. There is a novelty-driven thirst among game consumers that might be profitable to feed. Publishers of all kinds have to play a long game in hopes of breaking even. Manifold titles is a way of dispersing risk. Even on the digital side, as practices were worked out, seek tight control over costs.