Tuesday, 21 January 2020

X-Wing's Going Through Changes - Wave 6, Hyperspace & FFG

As we wait for what's left of Wave 6 to finally arrive in stores, following delay after cancellation after delay, it feels like we're coming to the end of a pretty tumultuous few months for X-Wing.  I don't know how many of you are avid FFG watchers but I've found it a very rocky but interesting period, and one that I think is worth going back over and wrapping up to see if we can make sense of it all.

Some of these products may be out in stores now.  Or all of them.  Or none of them.  Who knows for sure?

First of all, here's the timeline we're looking at, in which waves got announced, confirmed, cancelled, delayed, cancelled and delayed some more, and finally released, all set against the backdrop of big changes at FFG and in Organised Play structures...

  • 1st August 2019: Wave 6 is announced with 8 ships
  • 11th November 2019:  On their shiny new Discord channel, X-Wing Miniatures Game provides firm release dates for Wave 6, which will be staggered across Q4/Q1.
  • 12th November 2019: TIE Reapers and Saw's Renegades will not be released in Wave 6.
  • 22nd November 2019:  Wave 6 release will be further delayed from the dates announced on the 11th.  Imperial Raider will not be rereleased
  • 27th December 2019: Organised Play Roadmap published.  Hyperspace Format will be 'a curated list of pilots & upgrades' using only re-released ships.  Hyperspace will also be more important to the OP calendar than expected.
  • 7th January 2020: Layoffs & restructures at FFG.  X-Wing not primarily affected though we know of at least one redundancy in OP.
  • January 9th: New Hyperspace Format restrictions announced
  • January 9th: Wave VII announced, only 3 ships, all new, no reprints.
  • January 11th: Confirmation release structure going forward has changed, reprints are 'paused'
  • January 14th: Star Wars Destiny is confirmed dead
That's the overall timeline but I want to focus on a couple of moments that I think give us some extra insight into what may be going on behind the scenes.


1. Wave 6 Released Dates are announced.  Then cancelled.  Then cancelled some more


  • 11th November 2019:  On their shiny new Discord channel, X-Wing Miniatures Game provides firm release dates for Wave 6, which will be staggered across Q4/Q1.
  • 12th November 2019: TIE Reapers and Saw's Renegades will not be released in Wave 6.


There was just 24 hours between these two announcements.  On the 11th they had a confirmed date for the TIE Reaper and on the 12th they weren't releasing it at all.


It's obvious that around this time the release plans for Wave 6 changed.  It seems likely that those plans changed in an unexpected way (or FFG wouldn't announce release dates 24 hours earlier) and they changed decisively.  Going further, I think that the specific wording of the second announcement means a different part of FFG's business got involved in X-Wing release plans and overrode what the X-Wing team had planned.


In my day job I'm close enough to how these sorts of customer-facing statements get worded and sent out.  That means I'm possibly more sensitive to some details that some others wouldn't necessarily pick up on.  I find it very telling that the second announcement makes it clear that two different teams within FFG were involved in the change of direction.  

Normally you would word a release like this as 'we' and talk about the company as a unified whole, as in 'we have reviewed stock levels and decided not to release the TIE Reaper'.  You use 'we' because regardless of all the differences and discussions between internal stakeholders that may happen in bringing a product to market what you ultimately have to do is line up as a team behind the finished product and look like it was all smooth sailing. That's not what happened in this announcement, though.  What happened this time was the X-Wing team got out a big foam finger and pointed it at 'the business team' and said "they did it, not us". 


At the time I took the way those two announcements came out as an indicator that somebody new was driving the X-Wing bus and they didn't like where it was going.  To my mind there's a clean break on the 12th and X-Wing has headed in a new direction ever since.  Just 10 days later there would be a further similar announcement that the Imperial Raider would not be rereleased.  


At time of writing the TIE Defender, TIE Interceptor and Hounds Tooth in Wave 6, announced way back in August, are still set to be the last First Edition ships that will ever be rereleased.  Oh wait, no, sorry, rereleases are 'paused'.  Yeah, right.


2. FFG Restructures

  • 7th January 2020: Layoffs & restructures at FFG.  X-Wing was not primarily affected (though we know of at least one redundancy in OP).  


News of people losing jobs is serious business and not for funsies but happily in this case X-Wing wasn't hugely affected.  What's most interesting about this period is not the restructure itself but something that happened around it.  X-Wing was not directly affected by most of the changes (that we're aware of) but as this announcement rippled through the gaming community on Reddit somebody with contacts at FFG shared some information about X-Wing and other Star Wars IP games.  What that anonymous redditor had to say was:
  • X-Wing does not 'carry the water' the way it used to  
  • Look for a big Armada push because they need to replace what they've lost from X-Wing sales.
  • Destiny is dead, Imp Assault is dead
  • No more reprints of old ships: "Hopefully 2020s a good year, no reprints this year all new plastics"


A lot of what was shared then we now already know to be true.  Just two days after it was leaked on Reddit FFG confirmed that Wave 7 will have no reprinted ships, and then a few days afterwards it was then confirmed that the Destiny card game is cancelled.  Let's add to that the fact we already know that Armada is going to get a second wind with the addition of Clone Wars era ships in 2020.  It makes me inclined to believe this anonymous redditor has insights into FFG, and accept his assertion that X-Wing does not 'carry the water' the way it used to.

We've learned that X-Wing sales aren't very good and FFG are adapting their plans to adjust for this.  That's why the reprints of TIE Reaper and Saw's Renegades were cancelled from Wave 6.  That's why the future release structure has been changed to 'pause' any reprints of old ships - they need to halt the slide and get X-Wing sales back on track.

===========================

Now let's back up a little bit, because there's two more dates that I think are very important but they happened about 12 months earlier than that original timeline:

  • September 13th 2018: X-Wing Miniatures Game Second Edition is launched
  • October 2018: PAI Partners acquires Asmodee from Eurazeo


Rereleasing the X-Wing Second Edition when they did was a final payday for Eurazeo, who owned Asmodee at the time.  Just think of all those new core sets and all those hefty one-off bulk buys of conversion kits - all that stock went out to distributors and Eurazeo made sure they got paid for it just as they were putting on their coats and hats and getting ready to leave.


Kind of makes you realise why FFG timed the release when they did, and why the conversion kits were so damn generous.  I mean: a veteran player could buy into Second Edition with one lump sum and play for years without ever needing to buy a new ship!  Was it a problem that you were creating a whole group of players of your biggest game who weren't likely to buy anything?  Well it didn't bother Eurazeo, but then they weren't responsible for 2019's sales figures.

And what about those people who stuck staunchly to First Edition and wouldn't convert, you'd probably lose future sales to those guys too.  Well that wasn't Eurazeo's problem either.

And those promises made when the game was released?  That all the old ships would be reprinted, and there would be no new cards put into rereleased ships forcing you to buy them again?  That all sounded great, but they also weren't promises that Eurazeo had to follow through on, they would be PAI's problem.


And so here's what I think happened:

PAI take over in October but it takes time for new owners to really take charge of an entity as big and sprawling as Asmodee.  Change starts at the top and trickles down as management structures change so it doesn't all happen at once.  But while that change is happening from the top-down, the sales of X-Wing have been drying up at the bottom.  And it won't have been immediately obvious that it was happening - you've got Wave 2 going out with conversion kits for Resistance and First Order, then you've got Wave 3 coming with the one-time sales bonanza of adding Jedi and Separatists to the game and a bunch of idiots (ie. me!) who want to buy six Aethersprites and paint them all as different Jedi, or need 8 Vulture droids for their squad (ie. also me).  


I bet the HY1 sales actually looked pretty good for X-Wing.  Certainly it worked well enough that FFG immediately followed up with plans to give Legion and Armada a shot in the arm with Clone Wars content.  Maybe X-Wing sales were a bit off target because the nature of targets is that they're supposed to be tough to hit, but not by so much that with a bit of confidence and a can-do attitude it's nothing you couldn't make up by year end.  

But you can't release new factions with every wave so then Wave 4 comes and goes and you don't sell much.  And Wave 5 comes and goes and you don't sell much.

And then you're into October time and there's a Powerpoint presentation going up through the company that says the Q3 sales have been pretty weak.  And now you've got new people above you in the business who have properly got their feet under the desk and are asking awkward questions about why it's happening.  They want to see your future release plans to turn it all around and get you back on target and 'show payback to the shareholders and demonstrate they are right to continue investing in FFG', or a phrase very similar to that.


And your Wave 6 plans are already announced and it's more of the same because of the commitment to reprint ships even though nobody is buying the Z-95s, T-70s or TIE Fighters you already reprinted.  And Wave 7 is pretty much locked down in your pre-production phase and it's got a few new ships but several reprints too.  But you say that for Wave 8 we can definitely start doing something different, and Wave 8 is only about 9 months away from release.

And the new boss hasn't bought into FFG's glacial lead times yet, so he goes 'Nine months?  We're not waiting nine months, we need to turn this thing around ASAP', or a phrase very similar to that.

And I think that meeting happened somewhere around the 11th and 12th of November 2019.  I think it's why TIE Reapers etc got pulled, I think it's why Wave 7 is only three ships, and furthermore I think it's why Organised Play got such a shake-up too.



3. Organised Play
  • 27th December 2019: Organised Play Roadmap published.  Hyperspace Format will be 'a curated list of pilots & upgrades' using only re-released ships.  Hyperspace will also be more important to the OP calendar than expected.
  • January 9th: New Hyperspace Format restrictions announced

So lets say we believe what I suggested in 1. and 2., namely that X-Wing sales are weaker than FFG would like and this last two months has been about taking corrective action to improve sales.  Organised Play has a key role to play in making this happen.


Firstly, to be clear: Organised Play is marketing.  I've worked for a number of games companies on their Organised Play and in each company I've worked for that department and its operating budget has been laddered into the Marketing department on the company's organisational chart.  The virtuous circle runs something like this:

Organised Play = Engaged Players = Loyal Customers = More Sales

The problem that X-Wing has been facing is that this circle has been damaged by the outgoing owner's release plan for Second Edition.  The conversion kits that succeeded so well in convincing thousands of players to jump from First Edition to Second Edition in September 2018 have become a fantastic reason to not buy anything since September 2018 - hell, there hasn't been a single new ship for the three main factions since launch!  Many players bought into the two new factions simply out of something to do with their pocket money, but just as many have watched as new waves rolled in and out of stores with little more than a shrug of the shoulders.


And Organised Play wasn't helping.  The original planned Second Edition format became Hyperspace format, which became a wider Hyperspace format with First Edition ships in.  Then for the second half of 2019 Hyperspace format all but disappeared entirely from the schedule and people played Extended instead.  The virtuous circle wasn't working as intended and instead you've got an arm of your marketing department actively incentivising players not to buy anything and just stick First Edition ships on the table.  A World Championship Final that showcased zero new Second Edition product will have excited few.

Your virtuous circle isn't running the way you need it to.

Organised Play = Engaged Players =/= Loyal Customers =/= More Sales

So you've got to change that.  Organised Play is proven to drive sales: make something good in tournaments and people will buy it to keep pace (see: basically the entire history of X-Wing).  They might moan about it if you strongarm them a little too obviously (ie. the Autothrusters expansion with free StarViper, from First Edition), but they're going to buy it anyway.

You need to get people buying new ships so return to the original concept of Hyperspace and showcase only rereleased product.  The smaller the format, the fewer options players have to avoid buying the new things you want them to buy.  Remove the old choices players have been sat on for 18 months and make them try something new and buy ships they may not have, make generics good so people need to buy more than one of given ships (making Grand Inquisitor good sells one TIE Advanced v1 expansion, making Inquisitors good sells three of them).


That sounds quite a lot like exactly what we've seen happen with Hyperspace Format, and explains why it's now back on the menu as the main Organised Play format, at least for the immediate future.


And So What?

Well, ultimately, that's a great question.


I often think back to The Life of Pi when faced this kind of conundrum.  For those who've not read it/watched it (SPOILERS!) The Life of Pi is about an Indian boy's incredible journey across the ocean after his ship capsized and killed his family, leaving him to share a tiny wooden boat with a small menagerie of animals, including a large hungry Tiger.  Through a fantastical series of events the Tiger eats all the other animals on the boat before coming to a truce with the boy until the two finally find land and go their separate ways.  Or, alternatively: there were no animals and it was all a lovely metaphor for the fact that the boy killed and ate everybody on his life raft, and the Tiger represented his inner animal nature.  At the end of the day the facts are the same: a boat sank, a boy lived, the world turns.  What version of the story you would prefer to believe is up to you.

And so it is with X-Wing and these changes.  Wave 6 is about to be released missing many of the ships, Wave 7 won't have any rereleased ships, Hyperspace format has changed and is the immediate future for X-Wing.  What version of the story for why that has happened you would like to believe is up to you.

But personally I find this narrative quite convincing and it makes a lot of sense.  Going forwards I am resetting my expectations from what they were at the start of Second Edition.  I expect to see few or no reprints, I expect to see moves back towards being pushed into buying more product and newer product in various ways: power creep, upgrades on ships I otherwise wouldn't buy, rotating formats and points to make me buy things I didn't want.

Like at the end of The Life of Pi that's only one possible explanation for the events we can see.  

But it's one I choose to believe, and ultimately it's one I'm prepared to accept because it's selling plastic spaceships to guys like me that keeps the game alive and the new ships and tournaments coming.  

It's a price I think is worth paying.


9 comments:

  1. Great Read. I came to similar conclusions. What I find comical is the Reaper and Saw's packs are already ready. Why would they reprint it? It's a no brainer that someone told them no, that's a waste of money, no one is buying them now.

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  2. I think that the shops didn't order enough of the Reaper and Saw's that is why, otherwise I do not find any reasonable explanation.

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  3. One note is that one of the developers of X-Wing was let go and goes with your narrative a bit (and also flies in the face of those that think that X-wing was relatively untouched, which is another thread I've seen in a view places).

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    2. I mean relative to entire arms of the company being disbanded and games cancelled... X-Wing *did* get away relatively untouched. I am aware that multiple X-Wing people have been impacted though.

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  4. They should also keep tabs on the secondary market to guide any future reprint decisions. If you're seeing first edition plastic trading above MSRP second hand, you're leaving money on the table (alpha class Star wing).

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  5. This makes sense. Damn. Now I have to go read the thread on the FFG board.

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  6. While I agree your interpretation is reasonable and likely close to the truth, I think the most relevant reason behind missing out on sales targets is not mentioned (unless I overlooked something). That reason is the lack (or at least the insufficient number) of new players; FFG must not have reasonably expected the existing base of players to buy truckloads of reprints, they must have been aimed at the new players. Turning back to old ones to buy a few more copies of ships they already have by making generic pilots cheaper will likely result some success in reducing the existing inventory, at the same time it may well indicate they're giving up on attracting new players, at least on short term. The purpose of announcing the release of three new ships probably was to prevent the existing fanbase from start worrying about the future of the game and start looking to engage with some other games, but by setting the release date for June they bought themselves a couple of months to decide how to go on. Whether they are using this time to work our a new strategy how to attract new players, or just wanted to think over once more before announcing the discontinuation of the game that was their flagship not long ago is yet to be seen.

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