Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Debate: Vassal

With the recent release of the newest WM/H module for Vassal, I've decided to write today's post as a debate on the merits and evils of Vassal.  We obviously know that Games Workshop hates Vassal for breaking some kind of copyright (not sure how, honestly), so it's curious that Privateer Press hasn't even tried to get them to stop.  Why is that?  What's good about Vassal?  What's bad about it?  Well that's going to be the debate today.  I will be creating two characters through which I will stage the debate: Archibald Boardsnipe and Penelope Cardsworth.  Today will hopefully be a little more light-hearted than yesterday while still discussing serious business.

MODERATOR: Welcome Ladies and Gentlemen to today's debate on the Vassal Engine.  For those who are unaware, Vassal is a program created using the computer language of Java to simulate a 2-dimensional environment where you can move around pieces, roll dice, and measure distances virtually.  This has become quite the popular program online for simulating digital versions of board, card, and miniatures games with other players from across the internet.

Today's debate asks the question: Is Vassal a good thing for the games which is simulates?  Our debate today will be between Archibald Featherboard and Penelope Cardsworth.  Archibald will be arguing his position "yes" while Penelope will be arguing the position "no."  We will begin tonight's debate with opening arguments.  Archibald, you will give your opening arguments first.

ARCHIBALD: Thank you, Moderator.  I would like to start my argument by asking if anyone has ever thought: "I might want to buy these models, but I'm not sure if they'd be good."  I dare say, most individuals who are listening to this debate have at one point in their time as a gamer used a 'proxy model', or using a different model than the one intended as a stand-in to test it out in a game sense.  I know I certainly have!  Miniatures gamers are a supportive bunch who love to purchase models to play with during games.  However, there are times when these gamers aren't sure if they should buy a model if they might never use it again.  Instead, they choose to use proxy models in order to test out some rules and play around with before they decide to buy.  Vassal is just that: a program for proxy models.  Instead of using another model for a proxy, Vassal allows players to use digital renditions of the models in question to test out their rules before they purchase the model.  In essence, they are simply being good consumers.

MODERATOR:  Well said, Archibald!  Okay, Penelope, let's hear your argument.

PENELOPE: Thank you, sir.  While my counterpart claims that Vassal is a good thing for the games it simulates, I have to argue that such a program is detrimental to the development of unique intellectual properties, or IP.  While no doubt the authors of Vassal have spent many hours creating their own digital renderings of models and have invested many hours into their program, the fact remains that they are not creating anything new but simply profiting off of the creative work of those who make the games they are simulating.  The process of creating these unique IPs is labor intensive process that requires the employment of dozens of creative individuals to write rules, stories, cast models, and publish documents.  The existence of Vassal invalidates many of those creative processes and instead cheapens the product to digital work.  The authors of Vassal are investing their own hours in a product, yes, but they are simultaneously making the models that other companies produce irrelevant and that is a potentially dangerous thing.  Why should a miniatures company invest so many hours into a physical model when someone can just create a digital one so quickly?  Vassal is dangerous to the games - specifically their creators - who invest so many hours into creating a unique IP.  If we're not careful, Vassal could make all unique IPs irrelevant and all we'll be left with are empty shells.

MODERATOR: Very interesting points, Penelope!  Let's hear a rebuttal from Archibald.

ARCHIBALD: Penelope, I do agree that unique IPs are intense time commitments and that the creative designers for these games and stories deserve credit for their work.  I believe that my previous point of 'proxies' would be just as invalidating of the IPs as you suppose Vassal is.  In fact, proxies have been used for decades where models have not existed in the past and some miniatures companies have even been created due to the growing trend among miniatures gamers to use other models not even as proxies but "counts-as" models (another debate entirely!).  While IP is important and should be defended, I argue that businesses will only benefit from the use of a digital version of their products for the entire industry, as the customers will be in a better spirit to buy their products with ample testing and -

MODERATOR: I'm sorry Archibald, I'll have to cut you off there for time.  Penelope, it's now your turn for rebuttal.

PENELOPE: I do not see why proxy models - let alone Vassal - are good things for the companies that work so hard to manufacture these models and games.  You are right - the 'counts-as' issue has come up a lot in the last couple of years and many companies have sprung up to fill that void.  However, this means that those well-established IPs have seen hits because others are infringing upon and taking profit from their hard work.  Shouldn't an individual be rewarded for their creative work and not have others profit from it at their own expense?  That is what happens with Vassal.  Vassal allows players the opportunity to play these games without even having to buy a single model, and I cannot see that being a good thing for the companies that use profit from their miniatures to re-invest in their game design and IP development.

MODERATOR: Cutting it close there, Penelope!  Okay, time for closing remarks.  Penelope, you may give your closing remarks first.

PENELOPE: Thank you, gentleman Moderator.  Vassal, at its core, is a digital engine developed to simulate board/card/miniature games in a digital environment.  It is just that, however: a simulation.  The models are digitally rendered.  The rules are programmed.  The player of Vassal doesn't even have to pay a cent to use the program.  The player is even lucky, then, that there are even rules for them to use.  Game development companies make games not to cut massive profits but they invest their profits from their sales into developing more, unique products for their customers to enjoy.  Without the sale of their items, there would be no rules, nothing for Vassal to simulate.  In order to have well-maintained and developed IPs, the companies that produce them need to sell their products however they can and that's often through sales of miniatures, cards, or board games in addition to publications of their rules.  Since Vassal removes most of those sales through digital simulation, it endangers the very IPs it seeks to simulate.  If the trend continues then there will be nothing of value left for Vassal to simulate.

MODERATOR: A scary thought, if true!  Archibald, you get to end this debate with your closing remarks.

ARCHIBALD: Have the board/card/miniatures games we observe today been around for thousands of years?  Hundreds?  Decades?  In time many of these games will come and go, their sales will rise and fall and usually on their own merits.  Companies like Rackham and FASA have made their mistakes not because of the quality of their miniatures but the merits of their games.  There will always be fantastic miniatures to sell but without adequate rules behind those models the game will ultimately fail or will be purchased by some other new, upstart company - as was the case with the two examples I just gave.  Vassal does no more harm to those games or the games now by supplying their players with ways to test the rules on their own merits and later purchase those models at their own convenience.  By allowing players to play without certain models, Vassal actually increases interest and exposure to a game at times when the player might not otherwise be able to interact with it.  Players can play the same game when stores have closed or when they're ill or when they might not be able to meet with a friend.  By allowing them these opportunities to engage with the games, Vassal keeps players excited about their games so that they will go out and purchase the models with which they've played and practiced.  Vassal is good for the gaming community by letting more players get interested - and stay interested - in the games so that they will spend more money later.

MODERATOR: Great point, Archibald.  I think we all hope that the future of gaming will be a bright one, regardless of the success or failure of Vassal.  I hope you all will think about the impact Vassal will have in the future of gaming the next time you fire it up.  Good night, everyone!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...