Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Recent Games Company Cull (Part 2)

In my last wall of text, I related my personal experiences as a gamer/customer in trying to support a Spartan Games product.  In this post, I'll go through some of the pitfalls that Spartan both could have avoided as well as those that were out of their control; if Monday morning arm chair quarterbacking isn't your thing then it might be best to skip this post. 

Halo, being a big licensed IP, was likely quite expensive to acquire as well as maintain.  Additionally, to my knowledge, the Halo Fleet Battles product line was the first to feature outsourced styrene plastic models instead of the traditional resin in house manufactured models in their wholly owned game lines which likely also required a significant initial cost.  That large amount of money needed upfront likely way over and above what Spartan was accustomed to made me wonder why they chose to do a space battle game as their initial foray.  The Halo games absolutely feature some impressive space battle set pieces (one or two of which were playable in fighters) but the game focuses on small unit combat with special characters.  Even in the multiplayer, the largest battle typically seen in most of the games was big team battle wtih 16 v 16.  In a universe that seems to be tailor made for 28mm skirmish combat on the tabletop expandable to the occasional vehicle, Spartan instead chose to do yet another space battle game.  Now I'm a fan of the genre who played my fair share of those types of games from FASA Star Trek (my first ever tabletop hobby game) to Babylon 5 (Wars and Fleet Action) to Full Thrust and even X-wing (albeit that last one is fighter centric and not capital ship focused).  I had tried Firestorm Armada a couple of times and didn't find the bucket o' dice mechanics to my liking nor the resin brick models either.  I was excited that the Halo line would include ship designs that I actually liked in a better IMO material but I always wondered despite my own bias why they decided to not only go with the obvious to me skirmish genre choice but also to cannabalize their own Firestorm Armada sales with a second space ship combat game.

Additionally, I was worried that Spartan's well established reputation of only focusing on one game at a time and switching focus before it was properly taken care of would continue.  I hoped that they would not do this with such an expensive licensed IP but that sadly did not appear to be the case.  The rules had issues that remained unaddressed for months and previewed follow up ships took months to arrive and when they did had serious casting issues that the company tried intially to dismiss.  Without even a proper and critical look at the rules as well as the release of already shown ships, Spartan announced in less than 6 months the next Halo game in yet another genre (15mm mass battle) that wasn't well suited to the IP and yet again competed with another of their existing product lines (the 10mm Firestorm Planetfall) released a couple years earlier.  Worse yet, the Halo Ground Battles products were deemed overly expensive by many gamers compared with other 15mm offerings with sales likely suffering along with perception.  This of course was in addition to their Steampunk Dystopian Wars ground and naval ship game lines that had been languishing for a while seemingly at the time.  Simply put... Spartan Games were seemingly living up to their reputation as a games company that couldn't properly focus on and support their existing lines before adding more to their plate.  Additionally, both genres had increased competition throughout the industry with games like Dropzone and Dropfleet Commander as well as other new kickstarted IPs in both genres as well as the first inklings from GW that specialist games like BFG and Epic might be making a return as well. 

On top of the issues above of their own making, it appears from the announcement that the owner, Neil, had some sort of serious health issue that precluded him from being as active in the company and it doesn't appear that anyone either was allowed and/or capable of acting in his stead so that the work flow suffered.  Additionally, their big and expensive Halo IP had actually become less popular in terms of raw sales with the buggy Masterchief Collection and followup Halo 5 significantly underselling compared with previous titles overall on top of the overall decline of the xbox as a platform due to poor choices with Xbox One marketing and design.  As I mentioned before, the expected (by me as well as my local store owner) local interest in the game simply never materialized and the poor choices by Spartan quickly eroded support that did come in.  Since my departure in 2016 from regular Spartan community contact, they've hit the reset button again on their other two lines via Kickstarter.  Dystopian World funded last year but was only partially delivered at the time of Spartan's closure.  Firestorm Armada which had just gotten its 2nd edition in late 2014 a couple months prior to the Halo Fleet Battles announcement was getting a third revamp in the ongoing Galaxy Kickstarter when the closure was annouced.  I'm not sure if any of their other lines got revamps as well in the meantime but I think that in the span of less than 3 years (late 2014 to mid 2017) that coming out with two completely new IPs and revamping two existing ones is quite a lot to do for a medium sized gaming company especially when those games directly compete with each other for the same gaming dollars.  Finally, the sudden closure of *everything* Spartan literally overnight meant that fans were yet again left in a lurch as years worth of fan made and even official but optional rules and scenarios disappeared along with many hobby blogs hosted on the official forums with no backups.  My own Halo hobby work here was simultaneously cross posted there and would be gone forever with no notice if I didn't also have a google blog. 

I'll end this 2nd part the same way that I started the first.  I wish the employees and owners of Spartan the best in the upcoming trying times as well as hope that their games and the fans that supported them land on their feet as well.  Regardless of my thoughts on how the company was seemingly run (I can only go off of speculation, common sense, and my own experiences.. no insider info here!), there were likely dozens of folks living their dream jobs in the industry and thousands more enjoying the fruits of their work that will now be affected in some way or the other.  I've toyed with the idea of selling my painted fleets but I think I'll keep them for use in some potential future game system or even a return to the agnostic Full Thrust rules that I previously enjoyed.  Thanks to any potential readers out there for bearing with me on this likey typo ridden wall of text as I put down my thoughts on the subject. 


  1. Fully agree with your rundown of Spartan Games and their failings. It's too bad because they had some of the nicest ship models on the market.

    If you want to get some use out of those halo ships, I'd suggest that you take a look at Starmada. It's a generic space combat system that can accommodate anything you can design. I've run BFG, Babylon 5, Dropfleet and starfleet battles (and even dystopian wars) fleets using the system with little trouble.

  2. Thanks. I'm sure there are plenty of fans who feel the same way as you and will feel the loss of the ships (availability) and company (existence). I'll take a look at Starmada as I'm not familiar with it. I basically took a decade off of ship combat games when I moved and tried to restart with Halo Fleet Battles. I actually had to make a choice between HFB and Dropfleet Commander (both were announced close within 6 months of each other iirc) and chose the former as I figured the brand name recognition would put it out on top. In that regard, both Spartan and I were wrong unfortunately.