Atomic Star Wars - X-Wing Development changes
It's been about 2 weeks since the announcement came out of Asmodee moving the miniature Star Wars games properties from Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) to Atomic Mass Games (AMG). This was a bit of a shock to the system and started panic across the communities as we started to draw conclusions about what was happening and what would happen to our amazing games. For some, doom and gloom, just another 2020 bullet ringing out through the world. Others, cautious optimism. I haven't noticed anyone jumping for joy however...
With that being said I decided that now that I've personally had time to digest and see the common questions I have been able to process what is going on and what it could potentially mean for the Star Wars mini game line. To explain that statement, only the mini games (Armada, Legion, X-Wing) are making the transition, not Imperial Assault as it is classified as a board game. Imperial Assault is also a "complete game" and I don't think we will be seeing any further development for that title. As amazing as it is!
The biggest question that I saw asked that had the most polarizing response was:
"Is X-wing/Armada going to be going to unpainted/unassembled production format under the new studio?"
I am 90% certain that Atomic Mass Games is not going to be changing how the miniatures are produced for the current editions of the games. (90% is an arbitrary number I pulled out of my ass) The reasons why I feel very confident in this statement is for a few reasons.
The first is that it would take the need to "relaunch" the game. Think Armanda: Second Edition or X-Wing: Third Edition. Neither which I would see happening immediately after AMG takes over development of these two games. They are already knee deep into their premier game "Marvel: Crisis Protocol". The current studio is probably still deep into expanding their game and they probably are not transferring all members of the original development teams over to AMG. Thus I couldn't see them turning around and retooling the whole game right as soon as they take over. Armada is also just adding Clone Wars ships this month. Going from painted to un-painted is just going to require too many changes in how the games are presented and sold in their current editions that this just does not make sense.
The other reason I'm pretty sure I'm correct with them not transferring to unpainted/unassembled miniatures is that the reason they come pre-painted is one of the main draws to the game! Ignoring the fact it's Star Wars... It makes the two games very accessible to the masses. The reason X-Wing is such a good gateway game into the world of miniatures is because it has a very short open box to play time that it locks people in. You can be playing in 5-10 minutes after opening the starter box, and almost all of that has to do with the fact the mini's are pre-painted and assembled. Most of the community loves this about the game, it draws people in who have no interest, no ambition, or whom are intimidated by assembling and painting their own models and gets them into this amazing world. Some may eventually try repaints and then go into the world of unassembled/unpainted minis (how I did it), but most will probably just stay with their ready to go ships. We saw this in our local community right before X-wing:SE came out with the introduction of Legion. At least 10 of us bought into Legion, but only 2 or 3 actually transfer over full time, and only those 2-3 still play from the original group of X-Wingers...why? Because the time sink of full miniature game hobby can loose it's novelty fast if it's not your thing.
So companies like money. X-wing brings them a lot of money because it's easily accessible. It's not just a game for competitive players (which a lot of competitive players don't understand). It's a game that still gets most of its sales from people who own it like a board game and have no interest in getting involved with their local communities. There is a reason it is sold at stores like Target, Barnes and Noble, Best Buy, or big board game stores vs games like Legion, Crisis Core, Warhammer, or Infinity... because it's an easy impulse sale.
The other thing I saw a lot of was:
"What will happen to the development teams?! Will it be all new people touching my game?"
Well.... we don't know. AMG is on the other side of the USA compared to FFG headquarters. There is a very good chance that many will not physically relocate, especially during the pandemic of 2020. But there is also a good chance that not everyone will be able to remote work either. I won't put a number on it, but FFG's miniature games were developed by a fairly small group of people already, and much of the work for artwork/fluff writing is outsourced. I said at the announcement that this is not a good thing for the families of those working at FFG. Not only is the pandemic causing them a lot of stress already, but now many will loose/have lost their jobs right before Christmas... I feel for them a lot.
We already know that no one is safe... as Alex Davey, the original creator and writer for Star Wars: Legion, and a one who also helped develop X-Wing, was let go from FFG within 24 hours of the original AMG announcement. So I would assume that development of our 3 Star Wars games will be taken over by new people.
Now from a personal perspective this is terrible news. Putting your heart and soul into a product that you have created and that you love and then having it ripped away from you and given to someone else out of a corporate restructuring is going to be super painful. Not to mention the potential for lost jobs. However... from a gaming perspective it could go either way...
I'm not entirely sure how many people work on all 3 Star Wars products, but I do know that an unknown to me number of those people do move back and forth between the 3 projects and others at FFG's studios. Someone like Alex Davey while writing Legion was also assisting development of X-Wing for example. So now while they are being taken over by AMG, that studio is going to have to grow by either adding original team members from FFG, by adding more creators, or outsourcing even more of the content. Either way, what is currently "in the pipe" will probably be all we get for a little bit as the new development teams start figuring out what to do with their new found properties. I would also be concerned that there is potential for the one of the games to be dropped. There are arguments for each one of them that are valid to be dropped. X-wing being the most "complete" game in terms of content could go...but on the flip side is the biggest money maker of the 3. Armada is the lowest performing...but also is JUST introducing new factions right away. Legion is kind of on it's own here as it's an unpainted/unassembled game like Marvel: Crisis Protocol.
So development will slow down a bit... but I could also see them taking the games in new directions with the new creative talent. In X-Wing I personally think that the Force mechanic wasn't thought out the best and is not exactly balanced. Maybe new eyes can help smooth out the mechanics with slight rules errata and new cards/abilities.
That being said... it is possible for edition changes. I heard "If I have to buy this game a third time I'm so done!" This implies that the question of a Third Edition of X-Wing might be on the horizon. I couldn't see them doing this for Legion or Armada right now however. X-wing is the most "complete" game of the three. Most of the ship content available has been used and they are trying to find new avenues for design space with what they do have. It kind of the best one to revamp if they were going to do it.
The big problem there is how to keep as many current players as possible. There was already a drop in player base when FFG released Second Edition. They did gain a lot of new players however. It also burnt a lot of stores with how they did it making it nearly impossible for them to move old X-Wing stock. I know one of my local stores orders very little of the product now and mostly goes with presales as they felt burnt by being stuck with hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of original X-wing ships.
Then there is trying to appeal to both first edition and second edition players. We have two game formats for X-wing "Hyperspace" and "non-Hyperspace". Hyperspace being only ships that have been re-released as 2.0 product, and non-hyperspace which relies on the conversion kits and old product like TIE Phantoms which will probably not get re-printed as they are not "canon" in the current Disney Star Wars era. This divides communities and creates a lot of arguments back and forth on how the competitive game should be played.
So with a Third Edition you would further destroy the player base by having 3 distinct player bases... First edition originals, Second Edition generation, and Third Edition newbies. I would assume the AMG would have no choice but to change the business model into a Third Edition only format... effectively making it so you have to rebuy everything unless they went away from the card format and went primarily digital like Infinity, or Codex style like Warhammer.
I could go on for a long time on how I would do a Third Edition, and maybe I will do a post on that in the future...
At the end of the day I feel sorry for AMG. They are going to be under attack from the toxic players of all the communities. They are given a golden egg that is slightly cracked and smells a little funny. Star Wars fans are already toxic and very opinionated...when you add gamers to that it gets worse. Every new decision will be scrutinized and AMG will get the brunt of it. They will have to decide if they are going to try and do whatever they can to keep the original player bases happy... or they will have to go scorched earth and say "this is our shit now, we will do what we want to do because we have to". They can't half ass it, they got to be all or nothing into either scenario or the games will not survive. Then there is the now having to split focus from their baby...Crisis Protocol. I hope the best for the people involved and for the further development of these 4 fantastic games.... but like Alex Davey... I suspect not all will survive.