It was a short hop by plane to picturesque Varese near Milan in early April for what promised to be two days of sampling the forthcoming releases from Slitherine and Matrix Games, two companies that merged twelve months ago to form the world’s largest producer of historical and strategy computer games.
Slitherine’s J. D. McNeil opened proceedings by telling us that, thanks to “the profound impact of digital distribution”, the games industry was in a “huge state of transition” with the “wishes of real wargamers suddenly becoming paramount”. Aiming to combine “historical accuracy and realism with fun”, J. D. added that Slitherine had “the most active and dedicated forum for all types of games” with 10,000 online at any one time being normal. Hailing FieldofGlory, launched two years ago, as “the most successful historical wargame release to date”, J. D. added that there were now 20 companion books, FieldofGlory Renaissance already in the market, FieldofGloryNapoleonics due in 2012 and FieldofGloryFantasy in development. Product launches have furthermore been fully supported by localisation into other languages and Play by Email (PBEM), he added. Since its launch in 2009, PBEM “has won more awards than the rest of our games put together” and a tournament system has recently been added.
More recently, Slitherine has joined forces with the BBC to launch WWII game BattlefieldAcademy last autumn and “a solid community has been built over the last few months”. The “next major project” is a fully localised version of the Matrix website to be rolled out in every major market worldwide “to remove language barriers between gamers”. “These games don’t just happen – 100s of research hours are put into them”, J. D. concluded, “We love this niche, our gamers and our developers and we engage gamers in social networks to bring them into games development.”
As evidence, Marco Minoli of Matrix Games pointed to the forthcoming Operation Market Garden expansion to BattlefieldAcademy, the development of which involved the gaming community. The scenario design started as a spontaneous development by players which was then adopted officially by Slitherine. An Operation Sealion expansion is also due for release later this year. Marco also promised that “very soon” FOG and BattlefieldAcademy will be integrated into Facebook, which is a “great tool to expand the community and allow customers to share their enthusiasm”.
New platforms for games are also high on the list of priorities for the twin companies. Commander:EuropeAt Warfor PSP was the most successful portable wargame ever and there are plans for versions for iPad, Android, XBox 360, PS3 and Mac. By the time you read this article, versions of Egypt:EngineeringAnEmpirefor the iPad and GreatBattlesMedieval for Android will have been released too.
Finally, both companies see much potential in leveraging the traditional boardgame into the digital age. The classic WWII game Worldin Flames is to be reborn for the computer at the end of 2011 or in the first quarter of next year and digital versions of both the Eastern Front wargame Conflictof Heroes by Academy Games and a forthcoming spin off boardgame of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld are also in the works.
Clearing the FOG Moving on to the detailed presentations from games developers, Erik Skea of HexWar Ltd explained that the FieldofGlory computer game had been inspired by the traditional tabletop wargame and uses the same troop types and combat resolution but with a single phase for impact, melee etc. Erik announced that EternalEmpire, an Ottoman-themed book, is coming and on his ‘wish list’ are versions for the iPad and Android tablet. Demonstrating that computer games and conventional wargaming needn’t be mutually exclusive, J. D. added that players used the digital version to try out ideas before buying figures for tabletop games. He added that the fantasy version of FOG was already being discussed on the FOG Forum “so we don’t want that to go
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