It’s a fair distance travelled from his days organising underground raves in the 1990s that Chris Birch, founder of Modiphius Entertainment, now finds himself in a three-storey London office block overseeing the production of wargaming miniatures with his wife and business parter Rita.
But while the parallels between organising crowds of some 15,000 pumped-up ravers, and the more genteel world of fantasy tabletop role-play games are difficult to find, Birch – and the many gamer friends made during the period – can attest; they are very much there.
“One minute I’m stood with the DJ, in front of a crowd going mad, the next I turn around and I’m talking to the guys from Orc’s Nest,” Birch reminisces. “It’s not the kind of thing you’d expect to hear, but that was what the scene was like, we were all gamers, even back then.”
Over an eclectic career, Birch has fostered numerous relationships – across the tabletop gaming space, the licensing industry, marketing and PR – that have helped fuel Modiphius Entertainment to the success it enjoys today.
For anyone unaware, Modiphius is fast becoming a leading name on the UK’s tabletop gaming scene, with a reputation that can be pinned on a portfolio of breakout games within the growing wargaming miniatures scene.
This is the company responsible for bringing Bethesda’s hit video game franchise Fallout to the tabletop gaming space, a move met with much adoration from an audience of digital and physical gamers, and one that has added yet more fuel to the flames of a roaring trend of adapting video game IP for the physical gaming world, altogether.
Seven years in the making, Modiphius Entertainment’s launch onto the gaming scene was certainly a well-timed one, coinciding with the well- documented surge in popularity of the hobby both
here in the UK and internationally. Since then, Birch and the ever-increasing team of developers, designers, and storytellers around him, have ridden the crest of a tremendous wave in the pop culture space that has now just seen the tabletop roleplaying and miniatures space grow a sizeable 18 per cent year on year.
Today, some of the biggest content producers going are looking to tap into this audience, bringing beloved and major IP to the physical gaming scene. Just in the last couple of months, Mongoose Publishing has detailed a role-play title based on the Microsoft and Rare video game, Sea of Thieves, while ahead of its 40th anniversary this November, 20th Century Fox has planted its iconic horror sci-fi franchise firmly within the sector, with Alien: The Roleplaying Game. So it’s big business here.
Back with Modiophius, and it’s a portfolio of iconic IP such as Thunderbirds, Fallout, and Star Trek that has helped it make its mark on the miniatures market, as well as the recently revealed Elder Scrolls.
“Roleplaying is on the resurgence at the moment, and miniatures are on the resurgence, too because things like Dungeons & Dragons and Games Workshop are doing well,” nods Birch, sagely.
“When Games Workshop does well, everyone else in that market generally does well.”
To that end, Modiphius is on a roll. Testament to this is the firm’s prolific roll-out in the licensing arena; this is a company that has attracted some big name IP, particularly for an outfit as fresh to the scene as it is. And it is in its dealings in licensed titles that Modiphius has certainly found a vast number of new doors open ahead of it.
“Creating war games and miniatures games does tend to push you into more of a niche market, but when you get it right, it’s a great one to be in,” says Birch. “And the way that we have cracked it, by bringing big IP like Bethesda’s Fallout and Thunderbirds into the fold, that’s given us a wide and varied audience to tap into.”
Of course, the audience for tabletop wargaming miniatures will only be so diverse, it does, by and large, remain a select pocket of board gaming, after all. However, it is on the growth path – the eagle-eyed among you may even have spotted a few miniatures specialists at this year’s Toymaster Show, while for others, Kickstarter has become a breeding ground.
“Kickstarter has been responsible for the huge wave in popularity of tabletop gaming. That money wasn’t sloshing around in the industry before; it’s not like retail has suddenly gone ‘Oh my God, our sales have suddenly halved and it’s all on Kickstarter,’” explains Birch. “A lot of them are great games, and there are now around 50 games out every week.”
Birch is more than well-accustomed to the Kickstarter terrain, having grown Modiphius via the medium over the best part of a decade, when he launched the company with a series of role-play games under the Achtung Cthulhu banner.
“The Kickstarter was a crazy success and funded 12 books in the series. I thought we’d get around £10k and we ended up with £177k – this was long-before the millions that you see companies making on there now, of course,” he says.
From here, Modiphius picked up new IP left and right, with Mutant Chronicles, and Thunderbirds (developed with Matt Leacock) among its first.
“When Fallout came along, that game doubled the company,” reveals Birch. “And from the success of that, we have been able to build and build, picking up Elder Scrolls to launch Elder Scrolls Call to Arms which is a wargaming romp built on a similar game mechanic as Fallout. We’ve managed to keep the gameplay simplified, which does a lot for the accessibility and speed to learn and play. It is bringing us great revenue, distribution and builds a good community around us.”
It’s upon this very point that Birch is hooking just where Modiphius goes next. This is a company with some very big plans in the tabletop gaming space, and it’s not shy of divulging its plans to become a leader in what it calls ‘tabletop storytelling.’
“The success we are achieving with licensed IP, it’s giving us the resources to let me go off and write my own games and develop my own IP. We want to be a boutique producer of IP, and – because
of our size, we are in a good position to achieve this.
“A lot of big companies couldn’t do what we are doing; they couldn’t generate a gaming world for the kind of money that we have done it with, because we can monetise it, we can create a load of concept art, get a board game out of it, and develop a revenue generating project. Big companies will have to generate hundreds of thousands before they see any revenue from it.”
Currently, Birch is teaming up with a Russian music producer to launch a series of audio adventures. It’s proof that his stint in the music industry never really left him. Film is also on the radar, as is video games, at which point Birch will start the process of licensing out Modiphius’ own IP, such as Achtung Cthulhu, a game set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu – a perennial favourite among the tabletop scene.
Birch has also two new self- developed properties he is waiting to reveal at the opportune moment.
“We have created an audio adventure pilot, because audio adventure is a really big, new thing on Audible,” says Birch. “We did a 30 minute pilot for Achtung Cthulhu; I wanted to give it a go as I have always loved the old Lord of the Rings Radio 4 series, and see it as a brilliantly immersive mode of storytelling for fans today.”
It’s storytelling that sits at the heart of what Modiphius Entertainment is about, and the ability to tell a story – whether through licensed IP or his own, across any medium – is the dragon that Birch will continue to chase.
It’s the passion that fuel’s Birch’s own appreciation for the world’s most iconic fiction writers, from Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.P. Lovecraft to Agatha Christie.
“We’ve actually just announced a new licensing partnership with The Agatha Christie Estate to launch a new murder mystery card game called Death on the Cards,” adds Birch, offering me a first look at this departure from the Modiphius norm.
“This is going to be an exciting new venture, but one that captures the essence of what we are trying to do here.”
Where’s here? It feels like the start of a long adventure for Modiphius. And it’s already a long way from those ‘90s raves.