As most of you reading this are probably aware of by now, Spartan Games announced last Friday (25 August 2017) that the company would be immediately ceasing operations. If you haven’t yet, it’s worthwhile taking a look at the company’s official statement (link is to the MBS forums, since I don’t know how long the official Spartan website will remain active). It’s taken a couple of days for me to work out my feelings and sort out my thoughts on this event, and I feel it’s past time for me to address it here on the MBS blog. I’m going to talk about my reaction to this event briefly, but what I’d really like to do with this post is talk about the road ahead and where we go from here, both generally and for me personally.
First, An Apology
I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that Spartan’s shut down took me very much by surprise. If you look at the sum total of my Facebook, blog, and forum posting, as well as what I’ve said at various times during my podcasting, I’ve been pretty consistent in my support for Spartan. If you had asked me the day before Spartan made their announcement if the company was in danger of collapsing in the near future, I would have emphatically stated no. If someone out there made a purchase from Spartan that will go unfulfilled, or backed the DW Kickstarter based on my recommendation and will never get the items they pledged for, I regret that. If it’s any consolation, I’m in the same boat, as I am one of the unlucky backers who has not and probably won’t receive anything out of the DW Kickstarter.
I’ve got a lot of complex emotions on this one, and I don’t think I’ve fully processed them, even after a few days. Spartan’s various games (mainly FSA and DW) have been a major portion of my wargaming hobby for the last 7 years, and I have dedicated a lot of time to painting, playing, reading, blogging, and podcasting about the company and its products. Spartan suddenly shutting down without warning almost feels like a friend has passed away suddenly from a heart attack or an auto accident. So, for me, the overarching emotional response to this announcement is one of sadness; sadness over the fact that the Spartan staff, some of whom I’ve gotten to know, have been cut loose, and sadness over not being able to ever buy and play with some of the neat things that Spartan was previewing right up to the week they closed, like the Canadian and STO fleets, FSA 3.0, the new Firestorm boardgame, and the neat FSA core expansion models.
The Way Ahead
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I don’t want to focus on the disappointment created by this announcement. Instead, I think it is more worthwhile to start looking ahead at how to pick up the pieces and keep moving forward. In the best case scenario, one or more of Spartan’s IPs gets picked up by another company, and the game gets re-started under new ownership in fairly short order. The experience of the game “All’s Quiet on the Martian Front” offers some hope for that happening, but I think its best to be prepared for the strong possibility that it could be years, if ever, before another company picks up one of Spartan’s titles for its own. The rest of this post is written with that scenario in mind.
Importance of Community
To begin with, I think that despite some rocky patches in the last year or so it is fair to say that Spartan’s various game systems have a strong following and an enthusiastic fanbase. It will be important for all of us who consider ourselves fans of Firestorm, or Dystopian Wars, or any of Spartan’s other game systems to work together and do our best to stay positive and engaged with the rest of the community.
One important piece of that community coordination effort is to have a place for members to come together. The Spartan forums served that purpose admirably, but unfortunately it appears they are down, possibly for good. The forums here at MBS offer an alternative, as do the various Facebook groups and the new forums that some members have created. It is not clear yet what the preferred solution for a new home for the community will be; If that solution turns out to be MBS, that’s great. If not, I’ll be perfectly happy with whatever the new community home turns out to be, as long as it serves the needs of players and keeps the games alive!
Eventually, a community consensus will need to be reached on things like rule clarifications, balancing tweaks, FAQs, and the like. In the absence of an official product published by a company that owns the game, it will be more difficult to achieve that consensus. There is definitely a risk that the community will splinter somewhat over some of these issues; some groups may prefer a certain rules change, while others do not. To some extent, that sort of thing happened even before Spartan collapsed; some folks have stated on Facebook and elsewhere that they still play Version 1.1 or even 1.0 of Dystopian Wars, for example! The death of Spartan as a company will likely lead to more of this type of thing happening. While this is not necessarily a bad thing (we are all free to enjoy our hobby time as we see fit!), I feel it’s something to be avoided as best as possible as it does tend to have the undesirable side effect of making it more difficult for players to start the game and/or to migrate from one group of players to another. For players that run into differences of opinion in real life or on line about rules changes and interpretations, I urge keeping an open mind (see my Ruckdog’s Report in Ep 18 of the MBS podcast). Ideally, any changes that end up being made to the rules systems are made in a careful and thoughtful way, and with as much support and input from the community as possible.
This is one area where I’m hopeful that we might be able to resurrect some of the hard work that was put in by the various playtest and focus groups that Spartan ran for its various games. Hopefully, some of that infrastructure and body of work can be used to address some of the unfinished business that got left behind in the wake of Spartan closing down, such as the revisions to the 2.5 ORBATS for DW. The difficulty here is that no one is quite sure yet where this work stands with regards to the Non-Disclosure Agreements that the participants in these groups signed; legal issues may prevent its direct release, though I suspect it might still be possible to re-create some of that work in an independent fashion. With luck, we will know more in the near future.
Model availability may become an issue, especially for some of the specialty items such as the minor factions or specialized/unusual units like the dreadnought robots for Dystopian Wars. In general, I think we will be in decent shape for some time to come for things like the core nation battle boxes/patrol boxes for FSA and DW, and there is probably a like number of core helixes out there for Planetfall. The Halo products are a little more uncertain, as it’s unclear to me at this point of the license could impact the availability of existing stock at retailers and distributors. Regardless, Spartan’s shut down will make it more difficult for new players to get started in the game, as models may soon be available only through trades or eBay. This is one area where local groups can help out those interested in the game by giving tips for finding models and/or selling unwanted parts of their own collections.
Eventually, fan-made models will probably be needed to keep interest in the games going and to provide a source of models for new players. Fortunately, 3D printing continues to get better, while at the same time its growing in affordability and availability. I think it is very possible that the various Spartan systems could eventually be supported by talented 3D artists who are making compatible models and offer them for sale through Shapeways or for home printing. It’s even possible that we will see limited runs of resin and/or metal minis from various manufactures if the demand prove strong enough.
Before I close, I would like to share with you my own personal plans. To start with, my co-hosts and I definitely plan on continuing both Exploding Dice Radio and the MBS Podcast. In the case of EDR, I strongly feel that Josh and I can do some real good for the community by continuing to provide a forum to discuss the various Spartan systems going forward. As for MBS, Greg and I never focused exclusively on Spartan’s produces anyway, though it is fair to say they have featured prominently. That coverage will continue, as Greg and I are committed to continuing our wide-ranging coverage of all things Naval. Likewise, the MBS forums are not going anywhere, as I mentioned earlier. The MBS forums were always envisioned to be a “big tent” where naval gamers of all stripes could congregate and discuss their favorite games. Spartan’s products have always been a part of that tent, and nothing will change that. My blogging efforts have slowed down a bit lately, though that’s had more to do with a busy personal schedule than anything else. My goal remains doing a post at least once per week, and if anything the recent events have only rejuvenated my enthusiasm to get back to that schedule. As for my own modeling and gaming plans, I still have a lot of unpainted resin around that will keep me busy for quite some time yet. There are also new factions and fleets that I haven’t gotten a chance to play yet; my Blazing Sun project is a good example of that! So, even with the death of Spartan as a company and not seeing a single model from the Kickstarter, I have plenty to keep me busy for a while.
In the end, the thought I’d like to leave you all with is that the end of Spartan as a company does not necessarily mean the end of its games. Even if none of Spartan’s game systems gets picked up by another company, the strong following the games have developed through the quality of the rules and models means that Halo, Firestorm, and Dystopian aren’t going away anytime soon. If my wargaming experience has taught me anything, its that a game is only as dead as players let it be. Spartan Games is dead; Long Live Spartan Games!
Until next time…