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Action Log

13 Sep 2017 12:02 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Crossposted to Hobby Industry board


1,686 hits since 13 Sep 2017
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Colonel Bill13 Sep 2017 10:23 a.m. PST

Spartan Games (as in the Firestorm scifi miniatures gaming universe) just went under, so here are my thoughts on what happened and how to protect yourself. My tome for the week.

link

Ciao, Colonel Bill
wargamer.com

Covert Walrus13 Sep 2017 11:23 a.m. PST

I'm going to say this article is interesting and well written. I will however take exception to the idea that doing a Kickstarter is a warning sign – sometimes a company needs some capital for a new project and one way to do it is a KS.

The Spartan Games KS came out at the same time as the Neotyrannis Terrain project from The Phalanx Consortium, and the Age Of Tyrants 6mm project. Phalanx is well on the way to having the stuff up for sale as I understand backers are getting their items shortly, and AoT is well on track for backer deliveries and a January full public sale. Now, 2 out of 3 is a pretty stunning success rate for KS I feel. And the fact that I backed the wrong horse, so to speak? That's just me, and I will take that.

I've also backed a non-gaming KS for a publishing house to print a new volume of a series and get finance together for a reprint of earlier volumes; That one also paid off, and it has allowed them to continue their regular lines as well as produce the new and repeats work without looking for loans and such. That's a50% success rate, and I am thinking that KS is probably pretty damn good; I'd hate to see it become a pariah.

Personal logo aegiscg47 Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2017 11:32 a.m. PST

A very good article and something that is a problem in the hobby right now, namely there is so much out there for sale I'm not sure there are enough gamers to support all of it. Spartan is just one more company that I've seen recently that has nice looking product, isn't cheap, and that you rarely see played in your area or even on blogs from around the world. My own view is that with the rise of games like Star Wars Armada, Star Trek Attack Wing, etc., where you get pre-painted minis in the box (along with other really nice components), many gamers aren't seeing the need to purchase and paint armies anymore. Add to that the incredible quality and range of topics from board war-games and miniatures gaming all of a sudden has some intense competition.

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian13 Sep 2017 12:08 p.m. PST

I would add that Spartan Games, like a number of other companies in the industry, chose not to spend on advertising (at least, not on TMP). We corresponded about it several times, but Spartan was never quite ready (or so they said).

That left them selling primarily to their own customer base, without expanding to new customers.

As they say – penny wise, pound foolish. There's probably not a better deal in the hobby than running banner ads on TMP (and getting access to Hobby News).

One more thing: Didn't someone say there was also a health issue involved at Spartan Games?

Brad Jenison13 Sep 2017 12:19 p.m. PST

I never played any of their games. I like the story line and have read several of the books, but came to the genre late, and was more interested in the Spartan and tactical level stories than the fleet battles.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Sep 2017 12:28 p.m. PST

It's a shame, but perhaps the IP will get bought up the way All Quiet on the Martian Front was.

Stealth100013 Sep 2017 12:56 p.m. PST

I think its licensing that most likely killed Spartan. Lord of the ring licence kicked the crap out of GW. Others have been burnt with licences costs Babylon 5 Starship troopers. Halo in my opinion just cost Spartan too much. I don't think GW will ever touch a licence agreement again. I think the Star wars licence is a different thing though. Star wars is eternal and will always sell….. as long as the product is top notch.

Personal logo Martian Root Canal Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2017 1:21 p.m. PST

Kickstarter: To me this is a warning flag as it implies the startup does not have to do it alone, and this implies a lack of business experience.

I could not disagree more with the above statement from the article. Kickstarter is an investment vehicle for small businesses (and some not so small businesses). There are many companies who do not know how to do Kickstarter properly, but there are some very successful companies who offset significant startup expenses or costs associated with a new line. I do not think Kickstarter is a warning flag in itself.

ROUWetPatchBehindTheSofa13 Sep 2017 1:30 p.m. PST

Interesting article though I can't help but think that it ignored the 500lb gorilla in the room that was the Halo license – that simply could not have been cheep! It could be seen as an attempt to push into the main stream – though if it was I'd say it was flawed because to go mainstream you have to have pre-paints really.

Bill clearly has a dog in the fight vis a vie advertising, but I can't help but think that some companies are may be being a bit lazy in expecting their fans to do a lot of social media leg work with blog posts, reviews and pics of nicely painted miniatures?

Cannibalising your own customer base only works if you're GW, and arguably at the moment they aren't actually cannibalising existing customers they're just luring back old ones with what they've been asking for, and GW do understand the need to get new blood in!

And yeah the market is probably too crowded – I know I can only afford a very small fraction of the stuff that makes me go 'oooh, pretty'.

Personal logo The Beast Rampant Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2017 1:38 p.m. PST

If using Kickstarters is a warning sign of failure, someone should tell CoolMiniOrNot.

And the article failed to mention: if all your minis systems are based on your proprietary license, make sure they don't also use the same crappy rules.

Antenocitis CSR Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Sep 2017 3:23 p.m. PST

Kickstarter comment was "LOL, c'mon, get up to speed with the modern wargaming marketplace Wargamer.com.


If you don't know how Kickstarter works, it's a bit like this:

"Proactive Purchasing: Bottom line, I buy a lot in advance, believing if I don't, it will not be there next convention."

JMcCarroll13 Sep 2017 3:39 p.m. PST

For Spartan Games it was three factors for closing…

1) Owners Health. Will not go into details.
2) Book publisher defaulting.
3) Halo licensing.

I do hope someone picks them up like All Quiet on the Martian Front was. Not advertising on TMP certainly did not help either.

Wargamer Blue13 Sep 2017 4:07 p.m. PST

Spartan had too many ranges, terrible rules, and never concentrated on one thing at a time. I went on this Kickstarter for the new rule book. I was lucky enough to get it. However, it's very badly written and I had made my mind up to ditch all my DW stuff. A day later they are bankrupted. I feel sorry for the guys who lost their money. One guy lost $800. USD

Dwindling Gravitas13 Sep 2017 6:23 p.m. PST

DELETED

Leadjunky13 Sep 2017 7:07 p.m. PST

Doomed! Doomed I say. If they had only listened.

VVV reply13 Sep 2017 11:08 p.m. PST

I don't think in the days of the internet, that advertising is required to make a success of a business.

ced110613 Sep 2017 11:42 p.m. PST

> Spartan had too many ranges, terrible rules, and never concentrated on one thing at a time.

That's the consensus on Dakka as well. The market can support only so many "lifestyle" games, and releasing *four* of them is not a good idea.

Covert Walrus14 Sep 2017 1:38 a.m. PST

q>One more thing: Didn't someone say there was also a health issue involved at Spartan Games?

Yes, and a lot of people are ignoring that to make some comments about the management that are bordering on scurrilous. Not enough information is available to make any fair judgement, so a lot of people are making some unfair ones IMHO.

I think its licensing that most likely killed Spartan

I would say at least 40% of blame can be laid here. Anyone here old enough to recall the FASA/Microsoft/Crimson Skies debacle? :)

Book publisher defaulting

Again, when this came to light it was dismissed as "a poor excuse" on several discussion boards; Yet it was a company that had been going for the better part of 2 centuries that they used, and its failure was a shock to many as well.

There's no one clear cause to this, but as most people are saying it's certainly not due to KS or even miniature quality as some people have claimed.

YogiBearMinis Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2017 4:21 a.m. PST

Licensing hurt GW, but not in the usual way. They made a TON of money off the LOTR license, but overexpanded as a result--not realizing the fad would pass--and in the meantime neglected some of their own lines during the process. When the LOTR craze died down, GW had too many fancy (and expensive) retail stores, a fantasy line that was showing its age, and it had jettisoned all the Specialty Games that created the "GW Hobby Universe" which allowed people to happily exist in a GW gaming cocoon. It has taken years for them to recover from these decisions, though they appear to be growing again. But, the license only was a problem because of poor business decisions they made, not because the license LOST them money.

Covert Walrus14 Sep 2017 12:53 p.m. PST

it had jettisoned all the Specialty Games that created the "GW Hobby Universe"

Oh yes, and look what happened with Epic! I'm hoping against reason that something similar to NetEpic will happen with DW and judging by the efforts of some of the play-testers in some groups that may yet happen.
Then again, Epic did have an opening for proxies being 6mm and with a fairly common style, and Forge World continued to expand on it for years before the Night Of The Long Knives in about 2007 IIRC, so that's a little different situation.

ROUWetPatchBehindTheSofa14 Sep 2017 12:58 p.m. PST

Shame, does rather seem like Spartan was a victim of a series of unfortunate events (of the kind a small business can't always legislate for).

Yep, remember Crimson Skies, mainly due to the brevity of its lifespan…

chaos0xomega14 Sep 2017 2:00 p.m. PST

1. Kickstarter is not a warning sign of failure, considering how many millions of dollars have been raised by tabletop game companies on kickstarter and how many successful product lines have been launched as a result of it, its anything but. Yes there is risk involved, but kickstarters have a fairly high success rate.

2. Spartan has been around for a decade +, they are not a new company, they were fairly well "established" in the marketplace, they pre-date games like X-Wing, Armada, Attack Wing, etc. The problem is that while they were "established" they were generally poorly received by everyone outside of a small core of loyal fans. Most stores had boxes of product that never sold (there are about 3 large boxes worth of dystopian wars that I'll be listing on ebay on behalf of my FLGS, for example), and as a result they also developed a poor reputation with stockists.

3. Related to the previous, Spartan had a poor reputation amongst the community as a whole for failing to support their own product lines. Uncharted Seas was pulled and basically binned by Spartan a couple years after the game was released in favor of Firestorm and Dystopian Wars. As though three games weren't enough, they then decided to make a ground combat version of Firestorm, and a 35mm scale skirmish game for Dystopian, both of which they all but stopped supporting/updating/releasing new product for within a year. Then they released "tank wars" rulesets for both Firestorm Armada and Dystopian, which they also didn't support after just a few months. Then they released simplified quickplay rulesets for Dystopian/Firestorm that I'm not convinced anyone ever actually purchased. Then they decided to release Halo Fleet Battles which they stopped supporting after 6 months so they could release Halo Ground Combat, etc. etc. etc. At this point, they had the license to produce what *could* have been a successful product line/product lines if it was produced by literally any other company, but which was instead dead on arrival because it was associated with a company that burned too many of its own customers in the past and had driven both stores and consumers away in droves. The fact that the first wave of Halo Fleet Battles products could regularly be found online in large quantities for 40-60% off MSRP within a month of the games release should speak volumes as to how poorly the product line sold. The fact that it was poorly advertised and had a stupidly expensive buy-in price, as well as a ridiculously expensive business model behind it (newsflash, the X-Wing model of releasing upgraded ships and cards, etc. in waves to force players to "chase" only works if you're not forcing people to buy $50 USD-60 boxes of product they wouldn't otherwise want to get them).

THAT, is why Spartan ultimately failed.

Ottoathome14 Sep 2017 3:14 p.m. PST

Col. Bill Gray [ret] is completely correct. What the essence of what he says is…

1.Insufficient Capitalization. Most of these war game companies have only about 1/10th of the budget they need and hence go to kickstarters to hobble along. I agree with Bill, kickstarters are transfusions of blood to a dying patient, only they can't pump enough into them fast enough. They're Ponzi schemes. You need the money from future scales to finance current operations and the future stuff never comes.

2. Wargamers are cheap and lazy. They don't want to do it unless you gift wrap it and stick it into their grimy claws and they don't want to pay for it. If there's a patron saint of war gamers its Wimpy from the Popeye Cartoon. "I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." Usually one player in a group will go ga-ga for these things and he's the one who plunks down the bucks. His friends are quite content to mooch off him.

3.Interest. There's a reason that Napoleonics and World War Two figures predominate the field. People are interested in them. Few people want to sign on to a proprietary company and have that company determine its games, and its fantasies, and what the value of their armies are, and thereby charge top dollar for their minis no matter how good they are.


One thing I completely agree upon. If you fall in love with something, buy big, buy extravagantly, buy now, and keep buying. You are literally in a race with the draining of the company's capitalization.

I forget who said it, but they said "The way to make a small fortune in war games is to start with a large one."

VVV reply14 Sep 2017 3:29 p.m. PST

OK this may be said to apply to any business, not specifically Spartan.
You can make money selling to a limited market, you just have to price accordingly (fewer people are going to cover the development costs). Kickstarter is a great way to start a new line and I don't think its a sign of a failing business.
You never really know what is going to succeed (but at least with Kickstarter its not going to cost you money). I saw Mutant Hero Ninja Turtles as a wargame back in the 1970s. I never thought it would be a success, what did I know?
I used to have a friend who ran a chocolate shop and we used to chat about the different type of demand for our products.

Colonel Bill14 Sep 2017 4:08 p.m. PST

Thanks for all the interest in the article. FWIW, here is the official statement from Spartan as posted in their blog. Note the term "cottage industry" does pop up even here.

The following statement is issued today, Friday 25th August 2017.

Following a prolonged period of challenging trading and despite the directors' best efforts to manage through, Rebel Publishing Ltd was unable to continue to trade and the directors have taken the difficult decision to cease. All members of staff were made redundant.

The company, which traded as Spartan Games, is a Somerset, UK based provider of tabletop miniature games which include

Uncharted Seas, a fantasy naval combat game (now retired)

Firestorm Armada, an exciting space combat game featuring highly detailed starship models

Dystopian Legions, a game based in the world of Dystopian Wars using highly detailed 32mm scale figures and vehicles (now retired)

Dystopian Wars– an exciting journey in a Victorian sci-fi world encompassing naval combat, ground warfare and aerial combat.

Spartan Scenics – a range of detailed and easily assembled wargames terrain.

Rebel Publishing Ltd was formed in July 2002 and traded successfully for a number of years. Spartan Games was launched in 2008 and grew rapidly. However, the tabletop games market is challenging and has changed over recent years, and suppliers are predominantly a small number of large well-known names and several small, cottage industry, type businesses.

Initially the business outsourced production but following quality control and production management issues, manufacturing was moved in house between 2009 and 2011. Over this time and since, significant investment was made into machinery and infrastructure. The business also expanded to provide models for a well known video game, moving this into the tabletop games arena. However, significant new development costs, timing issues and the deflection of management time from the core games brands resulted in a significant trading loss for 2015/6. The business was able to continue to trade by raising additional finance and refocusing on core brands, and direct / online trading improved significantly. Results for 2016/17 were significantly improved.

However, despite this it continued to encounter challenging trading conditions and it became clear this month that the company could not continue to service its liabilities, particularly given the burden imposed by the amounts owing to finance companies.

The company was in the process of running a Kickstarter project to raise funds for expansion of one of its successful product lines. This was well supported and positive feedback on the new products was given showing the popularity of the product line and ongoing demand. However, this does not, unfortunately, provide the full range of success and resources needed to sustain the business.

In addition to challenging trading issues, one of the directors has suffered from a long period of poor health which became significantly more serious earlier this year and although now back in the business, requires ongoing treatment. That has inevitably taken a toll on the amount of time available to the business so, along with other challenges, has significantly contributed to this difficult decision.

The directors are extremely saddened by this decision and particularly regret any losses incurred by employees, customers, suppliers or other trading partners. The directors fully committed their time, energy and personal resources to effect a turnaround. Employees will receive redundancy payments through state funds and although efforts have been made to fulfil customer orders, it is hoped that anyone who does not receive their goods will be able to redeem their payments through their credit card or PayPal.

If customers have made a deposit or paid for goods or services by credit or debit card and the goods or services are not going to be received by the due date, they may be able to get their money back by claiming a refund from their card issuer. They should contact their card issuer as soon as possible. Further information including time limits that apply is available from the UK Cards Association: Credit and debit cards: A consumer guide. Similar schemes exist in other countries.

Throughout the years that Spartan Games has traded, it has prided itself on the highest level of product quality and customer satisfaction. This has been delivered consistently and is evidenced though annual customer research that the company has undertaken.

We would encourage anybody who may be interested in acquiring either stock, assets or the business to make contact as soon as possible. Spartan Games and its product lines have a strong reputation in its markets together with an asset base which may be of interest to a number of parties, and a variety of machinery in addition to Intellectual Property.

All enquiries about this matter should be sent to spartangames@mail.com.

Ciao, Colonel Bill

Colonel Bill15 Sep 2017 4:21 a.m. PST

And here is the update provided by Spartan to their blog.

Spartan Games Closure – additional information

First, the Directors would like to start out with a sincere thank you for all the messages we have received expressing sadness at our closure. It is good to hear that our games brought you enjoyment over the years.

Alongside a considerable number of messages of support we have received hundreds of emails with questions. We have made a start at answering them individually but with no remaining staff, this is proving impossible. We would therefore like to answer the most commonly asked questions here.

1. Will I receive the items I ordered from your online store or pledged for in the Dystopian Wars Expansion Kickstarter project?
Alas, for the most part, the answer is no. If you have received an email notifying you that goods were dispatched then they are on their way. Deliveries can take up to two to three weeks in different parts of the world so they may simply not have reached you yet.

However, if your goods have not left our building yet, unfortunately they can't be sent. We were committed to shipping everything that was in stock and ready to put skeleton staff in place to do so. Unfortunately our accounts have been frozen so we have no way of paying for shipping charges and our landlords require the return of the premises. We discussed this at length today with our advisors and although we explored lots of options, because we know customers have offered to cover postage and even collect goods, unfortunately we couldn't find a way to make this work.

2. Will stock that is remaining be available for sale?
There is a possibility that it will, although there is limited final product. There are still details to be worked out but we are building a list of email addresses for those who might be interested in purchasing whatever items of products stock we have available. This will include items built for the Kickstarter project. We wish we could send them to you but, as explained above, this won't be possible due to circumstances beyond our control. If you want to be added to the mailing list, please send an email, if you have not already done so, to spartangames@mail.com with STOCK in the subject line.

3. Who is handling the closure of the company?
This appointment is in progress but it takes time to follow the required procedures. We will advise who this is once the process is complete.

4. Has there been interest in the purchase of assets such as the product lines?
Yes, considerable interest and we are following up on this with our advisors. Parties wishing to purchase assets should email spartangames@mail.com and their email will be acknowledged and their details passed on.

5. Are you answering emails?
As explained here and in previous statements, staff have been made redundant so we have very limited resources to handle emails. We are working through the hundreds we have received. If the emails are about orders, we will not unfortunately, be able to acknowledge them individually and hope this statement explains the status. If they are about individual stock purchases, we will add email address to the mailing list we are building. If they are about purchase of assets, we will acknowledge and pass on the details. If they are about anything else, we will answer where possible. Other email addresses are no longer being monitored and will cease to exist in the coming days and weeks.

Again we would like to express our regret at the impact this closure has had on staff, customers and other trading partners. We are doing all we can to minimise the impact and to do the best that we can under the circumstances. Please bear with us and thank you again for your support at this difficult time.

Colonel Bill15 Sep 2017 4:21 a.m. PST

DELETED

VVV reply15 Sep 2017 5:21 a.m. PST

I know that once a firm goes into administration, any goods still on the premises are the property of the company, not the people who paid for them :(
So its not a question of sending the stuff out, it just does not belong to you. Time to go to your credit card provider if you paid for goods which are not going to be coming.

chaos0xomega15 Sep 2017 12:14 p.m. PST

1.Insufficient Capitalization. Most of these war game companies have only about 1/10th of the budget they need and hence go to kickstarters to hobble along. I agree with Bill, kickstarters are transfusions of blood to a dying patient, only they can't pump enough into them fast enough. They're Ponzi schemes. You need the money from future scales to finance current operations and the future stuff never comes.

And yet companies like CMoN (which is a multimillion dollar corporation listed on the stock exchange), Reaper, and others continue to thrive despite using Kickstarter, as does Hawk Wargames.

3.Interest. There's a reason that Napoleonics and World War Two figures predominate the field. People are interested in them. Few people want to sign on to a proprietary company and have that company determine its games, and its fantasies, and what the value of their armies are, and thereby charge top dollar for their minis no matter how good they are.

And yet the most popular games and the largest companies in the industry now are all proprietary companies, rather than "generic world war 2 minis ruleset #5,021" by "generic basement-basement world war 2 casting house #39,518".

Covert Walrus15 Sep 2017 1:05 p.m. PST

I know that once a firm goes into administration, any goods still on the premises are the property of the company, not the people who paid for them

True but in this specific case irrelevant. The administrators claim that much of the KS stuff was simply NOT cast, as the company appears to have run out of materials and credit to buy in more to complete the required volume – at least, they said in their email to us all "There is no stock on hand".

I should point out that the day I received that email, a package arrived from Spartan with pretty solid evidence that at least the casting department was working up till the very last day and fulfilled an obligation that they could have dropped if they were truly nefarious and for which I am grateful ( Two of the free Corinthian Club items I had brazenly asked for, one of which was never released) So, I might get labelled an "eternal fanboy" for it, nevertheless I will still speak highly of the front line staff at Spartan whenever asked.

Ottoathome15 Sep 2017 1:21 p.m. PST

Dear Chaos

Ya sure…

Maybe they are the most popular NOW, but long before if you had mentioned "proprietary" with nappies or WWII people would have scratched their heads and wondered what the heck you were talking about. The problem is unavoidable if you are going to try and control buying for what people want. It will be the greatest interest killer ever.

You can't run a business in minis like a drug dealer- give away the first samples for free and then gouge them later on. Nor will people be fooled as to what you are trying to do. Lock them into your lines and suck them dry on cash.

One thing is clear.
All the old companies who said "Hey… here are some great minis I ran up for general sale, do with them as you please, are how all the big old great mini companies started, and a lot of them failed but a lot of them carried on for a while.

Now the attempt is to make a FEW minis, all of which have to be used in SANCTIIONED games, with SANCTIIONED minis, with SACTIONED terrain, with SANCTIONED rules, and SANCTIONED armies, and SANCTIONED scenarios, and with SANCTIONED sanctions fools no one.

These companies fall apart with almost frighteningly regularity after two to five years.

I submit to you chaos that those games are not popular at all.

Henry Martini16 Sep 2017 3:24 p.m. PST

The fundamental commercial gaff made by failed miniatures companies is… setting up anywhere other than in Nottingham.

GypsyComet16 Sep 2017 6:43 p.m. PST

Sad and interesting discussion, aside from the persistent libelous statements regarding Kickstarter.

Colonel Bill17 Sep 2017 5:46 a.m. PST

If you are speaking about the article itself, the statements aren't libelous, just the author's (that would be me) opinion. And I will be the first to admit that there are several instances the Kickstarter option has worked quite well – just look at the Polish By Fire and Sword lads.

Good conversation though, and regardless of your own perspective, that's a really good thing.

Ciao, Colonel Bill
wargamer.com

Colonel Bill17 Sep 2017 5:46 a.m. PST

If you are speaking about the article itself, the statements aren't libelous, just the author's (that would be me) opinion. And I will be the first to admit that there are several instances the Kickstarter option has worked quite well – just look at the Polish By Fire and Sword lads.

Good conversation though, and regardless of your own perspective, that's a really good thing.

Ciao, Colonel Bill
wargamer.com

GypsyComet17 Sep 2017 10:40 a.m. PST

As a discussion, I was referring to this one.

While there have been Kickstarter campaigns that were essentially ponzi schemes, including at least one discussed on TMP at length, stating as "fact" that the entire purpose of Kickstarter and its thousands of campaigns per year is to be a ponzi enabler, ie. a giant criminal exercise, is very likely libelous. TMP has enough regular readers and participants to be the equivalent of a small to medium town's newspaper, so this isn't just sour grapes in a private room.

Sorry - only verified members can post on the forums.