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A Requiem for the Hill (Continued)

Why the Dotts should want to sell is obvious. Why Hasbro should want Avalon Hill is not. A bunch of old boardgames that haven't sold worth a damn in years? What good is that?

Capitalism is a kind of warfare...did Avalon Hill lose the war?
It's worth two things.

#1: The Greatest Multiplayer Games on Earth
First, the Avalon Hill Game Company owns the rights to the greatest multiplayer board games in the world. Now replace the word board with the word online, and you'll get the picture.

For years people have been trying to pry the online rights to Diplomacy loose from Avalon Hill, but have never succeeded--whether from sheer pigheadedness on the part of the Dotts or an excess of greed, I couldn't say. And while Diplomacy is the pinnacle of multiplayer gaming, it's only the finest of Avalon Hill's inventory.

Consider what "online gaming" is at the moment, and why it's not generating anywhere near the level of revenues the analysts claimed it would: most major online games are either basically graphical MUDs or solo PC games with online play bolted on. They're taking existing computer gaming styles and trying to make them work on the net. They're designed by people who just do not understand multiplayer games in a fundamental way.

Start with a multiplayer game, and you've won half the battle. To be sure, translating from board to online is no easier than translating from solo PC; but it's a different approach, and one that (I believe) has a lot better chance of success.

And Hasbro is well aware of the importance of online. Hasbro Interactive publishes CD-ROM versions of many of Hasbro's best-selling titles--and is increasingly making them net-playable. Battleship, Scrabble, Pictionary, Sorry and Risk are all playable via Miscrosoft's Internet Gaming Zone, and a few titles at MPlayer. And more are coming: it promises net-play versions of Stratego and Axis & Allies for '98.

Though these titles rarely appear on the list of the ten most active games on the Zone--which is almost always topped by Spades, Age of Empires, and Hearts--Hasbro seems nonetheless to have made a major commitment to online play.

So...a canny move by Hasbro?

#2: Hasbro Owns Boardgames
Walk into a Toys R Us and look at the boardgame shelves. Almost everything you see is published by Parker Brothers or Milton Bradley. And there's Scrabble, of course; that's published by Selchow & Righter.

They're all marketing labels for Hasbro. Hasbro owns the market for boardgames in the United States. And Hasbro typically sells 200,000 plus copies annually of each and every boardgame it publishes.

Avalon Hill? Avalon Hill was happy if a game sold 10,000 copies in its life.

Take Diplomacy. Take Feudal. Take Acquire. There's absolutely no reason in the universe why titles like these can't sell as well as Hasbro's other titles--with Hasbro's distribution and marketing smarts to back them up.

Online? That's the icing on the cake. Hasbro just got the rights for 200 odd boardgames for a song.

Smart Guys?
So Hasbro must be really, really smart, right? For a mere six million smackers, they feed their boardgame pipeline for years to come, and get the finest titles in the universe for online adaptation.


So how come the entire design staff of Avalon Hill has been fired?
How come Hasbro claims they'll only be keeping 20 out of Avalon Hill's 200 some-odd games in print?
How come Hasbro Interactive's PR people say that the Avalon Hill acquisition is purely a matter for Hasbro's non-electronic game division, and won't impact them?
And how come a Hasbro manager is heard to have said that any game taking longer than an hour isn't really a game? (I guess Civilization isn't really a game; funny about that.)

Do these guys have any idea what they're getting? Do they have any sympathy for the aesthetic of the adult boardgame? Do they have any idea of what the Avalon Hill acquisition could mean for online gaming?

Do these guys even play games?

And how do you integrate Advanced Squad Leader, a game so complex you could teach college-level courses in how to play, into a company that thinks Mr. Potato Head is a hot product?

It don't look good.

Among Greg Costikyan's 25 published computer, online, board, and role-playing games are two titles from Avalon Hill.

© Copyright 1998 by Greg Costikyan.