I have been doing the miniatures wargaming hobby since Warhammer 40,000 rogue trader came out in the 1980s, I remember assembling my first squad of blood angels with the beaks and all. before the new Mark 7 armors became standard, and back when the eldar range was maybe 20 models tops. when players used Ambuls and Zoats, and plenty of Squats to fill out the ranks. but after playing so many miniatures gams from Warhammer, to Warmachine, to Starship Troopers, Malifaux, AT-43, Star Corps, Hordes, Mercs, and more I am starting to find myself more and more drawn to Historical games There are about 5 major reasons I am seeing this shift most of which in my mind make a lot of sense.
5- No More "new GI Joe Factions"- A typical feature of popular miniatures games is to add new and exciting factions to the game. It's reminiscent of the old days of hearing about the NEW GI Joe set coming out often with new cool names like the dreadnoks, or Tigerforec or Battleforce 2000. These were marketed to inject more excitement and sell more toys as are the releases of new factions in most miniatures wargames. Why is it we are only now hearing about the machine god in warmachine, where were the Tau for 50,000 years of Warhammer 40k History and more importantly why did the Squats just disappear? This kind of scenario won't happen in a historical game, even if they have yet to release info for an army in a historical, everyone has a ready source of how they should preform, and will not have to deal with a potentially rules breaking army designed to ship a few more units.
4- When Manufacturers Compete, you win!- The other way fantasy/sci-fi game makers get a large profit is that their games are based around their units. You like Warmachine, then be prepared to spend a lot of money with privateer press , as that is your only source for Cygnar trenchers or Khador widowmakers. This isn't true with Historicals, don't want to pay for official Flames of War Germans, use Wargames Factory germans, or any one of several makers of 1/144 tanks. Need a Land Raider for 40k, GW is your only source. You may get some discount but, this does set the price higher, don't believe me, I recently paid $40.00 for official Bolt Action imperial Japanese troops 20 men, in metal GW's space marines clock in at 37.25 for half that many in plastic. I can buy 2 panzers for the price of 1 landraider. and that is without bothering to comparison shop. WGF 28 mm World War II are about $20 for 30 men even better and as long as they are the right type of troops and the right scale, no one will complain if yours aren't the official ones.
3- Scale choice over 1 way- Another important factor is scale, the whole of the normandy beach landing, or the battle of Minas Tirath aren't exactly going to fit on your average kitchen table in 28mm. This is where greater flexibility of scale can matter, even games which set a scale and have official minis lines in a specific size will give options to set your game at a different scale should you have say already amassed a large force in 15mm, but want to try these rules we wrote around 28mm. and games like DBA and Maurice use base sizes to determine ranges instead of simply using imperial or metric measurements. this makes it less likely you will need to have several armies of the same kind just to play out a more interesting rules set.
2- some units are just easier to paint- I have notices one major difference with most major military uniforms when I switched to historicals. They are designed for the most part to be functional versus designed for cool effects. less buckles, cloaks, straps and other dongles that are less necessary. this makes them easier to paint as well there are exceptions to this rule (Napoleonics for example!) but many forces at least keep a consistant scheme or 2 compare with many fantasy army , my Khador aremy from Warmachine for example has jacks man-o-wars and caster painted one way, widowmakers another style and doombringers a completly different style. My japanese guys are a simple brown with darker brown belts and flesh/ gun painting being the biggest diversion. How easy is that?
1- the need to make better rules- I have probably harped on this enough in this post but the core point in a fantasy minis game is to sell the accompanying line of minis. Case in point I recall going to a game store and the store employee was pitching AT-43 to me. His two biggest selling points were, the have a faction that is comprised of monkeys with guns, and they have very gorgeous pre painted minis. He had NO idea how it played but damn cool minis and the promise of monkeys with guns should be enough to sell an $80.00 starter game on. And what about my foray into Napoleonics with Maurice, the selling points were the cards which were a mechanic to change the tide of battle in a way very reminiscent of Steve Jackson "screw your neighbor games" I read the demo rules and was hooked. there is no official Maurice line of figs and definitely no monkeys with guns planed for later expansion. In short the book in these cases is the main if only real product and the only way to sell it is to make it worth playing.