Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Gamers Will, uh, Find A Way

“Life will not be contained. Life breaks free. It spreads to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh, well, there it is.”
-- Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Jurassic Park

Fantasy Flight Games recently announced it will no longer distribute future releases for the popular aerial combat game Wings of War (read the entire announcement here). Although at first glance some initially viewed this as the end of game support and new releases, it’s clear the game’s creator and manufacturer, the Italian company NG International (a.k.a. Nexus), is taking on the role of selling directly to American game distributors. While Fantasy Flight Games will continue to sell off its existing stock to gaming stores and direct orders, NG International will release future new product (and sell stock no longer available through Fantasy Flight) using the three tier distribution chain of manufacturers/publishers, distributors, and retail stores the gaming  hobby has mostly followed throughout its short lifespan. From all the online scuttlebutt it seems like NG International has already established relationships with major American game distributors for some of its other games, so the availability of Wings of War and its new releases shouldn’t be adversely affected by this distribution change.

There’s a good deal of talk on the internet among the game’s many fans. After clearing the initial confusion over what exactly the change meant to the future of the game, most discussion has focused on how effectively NG International can work with American game distributors to move product into the retail market (the “friendly local gaming store,” or FLGS) and into the hands of the game’s enthusiastic players…and most people have adopted a “wait and see” attitude rather than getting too upset. NG International’s already been proactive with the Wings of War fan community by posting an FAQ about the change on its website.

I’m a fan of the game, specifically Wings of War: The Dawn of World War II, and tempered my initial impressions of the announcement with some reflection on the resilience of gamers and their imaginations. I’ve written about this topic before, but it bears mentioning again: in an imagination-based hobby like gaming that attracts intelligent and creative participants, gamers will find a way to continue playing, modifying, and enjoying games even after a publisher discontinues them.

The Wings of War hobby has already proven this. Gamers have an ability and a hobby that allows them to create their own material to play a game indefinitely, whether they’re creating their own scenarios and campaigns for a favorite roleplaying game or designing new cards and miniatures for a game like Wings of War. The Wings of War Aerodrome provides a common online forum where fans of the game can share new materials, including new airplane cards, maneuver decks, target cards, gameplay aids, and campaign resources. Even seeing the game played at conventions demonstrates fan innovation. The first time I attended Guns of August, a gaming convention in Williamsburg, VA, several tables hosted Wings of War games, from basic demonstrations to more involved games featuring original bomber models and maneuver decks to interpret the abilities of newly created aircraft.

At this point fans are waiting to see how NG International’s distribution will differ from Fantasy Flight Games’ -- whether new releases will flow on a more regular basis, whether they’ll make it into players’ usual local gaming stores, and how much additional online and convention support the company will provide for the game. I’m not aware of Fantasy Flight Games’ degree of convention support for Wings of War events, and its free online support offerings remained limited to PDF copies of the game rulebooks (unless one wanted to register with them, a threshold some aren’t always willing to cross); here’s hoping NG International offers a bit more on both counts…certainly the game’s fans already have.