I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but 2020 got REALLY weird on our planet. Among the many disruptions to how we normally live our lives, in-person tabletop miniature gaming became a rare experience (and for many continues to be a reality). Passionate people always find a way to indulge though, and as such the rise in virtual tabletops has become a main story in our hobby. The issues that arise from it, good and bad, are numerous however, and a conversation feels worth having.
If you’re a part of this hobby and on literally any social media platform, you have seen people sharing TTS battle-reports, or hell, whole league/tournaments taking place. For those not in the know, TTS or Tabletop Simulator is a piece of software available on Steam, for PCs. It allows at a base, for people to sit at a virtual table with friends online, and play any number of public-domain games (Chess, Mahjong, etc…) The software is deeply and easily moddable which is where the rabbit-hole begins.
Enthusiasts can do everything from scan 3d models, to cards, to entire rulesbooks, and with that powerful flexibility comes the ability to play any game. Many game publishers do this themselves, officially selling virtual copies of their boardgames, but far more are labors of love from fans… that also happen to create copyright infringement whack-a-mole, where publishers squash one mod only to see others pop up.
Now that we’re all up to speed, I hoped to prompt some discussion, and maybe play some devil’s advocate.
The Argument for TTS:
When 2020 happened, we were all a little shell-shocked. A very real impact of in-person gaming having to go on a back-burner, is no doubt a giant blow to the sales of countless tabletop games. Less gaming happening means fewer models sold, less foot traffic in local game stores, and a less visible hobby that always needs new blood, and younger people joining as others move on.
In what could have been a period of contraction where the whole hobby shrank, we have whole communities springing up around games, with events being held online when they would be cancelled otherwise.
Games have become more equitable than ever. With no barriers from painting, budgets, or inventory shortages, games are more skill-based than ever, and less beholden to haves vs. have-nots. If anything, this may well accelerate the trends we have seen with some games garnering serious attention as serious competitive exercises, not unlike what has happened with e-sports.
Finally… we all kind of just need the escape right now. I can only speak for myself, but this has been an exhausting time to live in, and asking people to forfeit a safe way to enjoy something that gives them a modicum of peace right now, seems like a rough ask.
The Argument Against TTS:
There are also real issues that need to be addressed with TTS, chief of which is that however we dress it up, many of these mods are outright theft. Mods with full codexes exist, while others for games like Starwars Legion or A Song of Ice and Fire, offer the entire card libraries, making the games fully playable without having spent a dime.
Most of us have seen folks banned/ejected from communities for encouraging piracy, and yet here, we see whole events organised by fans openly, amounting to the same.
Our beloved hobby, relative to Hollywood, video-games, and so on, is very small, and deserving, excellent games frequently die because profit cannot be had. If we want these games to thrive, and grow, we need new fans, but money also needs to be spent to ensure further development continues.
Beyond that, there is no doubt that some of what makes this hobby unique and special, is lost in translation to the virtual platform. There is something to be said for the ownership one feels for the models they invested money, assembly, paint, and passion into. They’re “our guys” because everything that went into them somehow makes them different than everyone else’s. This is a subjective issue based on what a given player wants from this hobby, but I bet most of us have a lucky Space Marine, or a sub-par unit we field because it has been our favorite forever. To see any of that side of the hobby diminish, is to turn these games into essentially half-developed video-games instead.
So Where Do You Stand?:
This genie isn’t going back into its bottle. For many, instant, widespread access to models is going to make it a tougher sell to return to an older way. Clearly this presents an opportunity for the industry to respond, and adapt in exciting ways, but responsibility also lies in fans as well, in part.
Obviously, my opinion is that I can clearly see valid arguments from both sides, but know this is a conversation that really needs to happen. Is this a giant case of next-gen proxying taken to a virtual extreme, or just a fad to get us through quarantine-mode?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what happens in the long and short term, from here.
And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!