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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
"...generalship should be informing list building." - Sir Biscuit
"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Monday, July 16, 2012

Battlefront's Big Decision Regarding 3rd Party Models

Hey, folks, SinSynn from House of Paincakes here (visit our website, or else...), talkin' Flames of War.

It has long been established that Battlefront is a company in touch with their fanbase. They have an active forum, where the BF staff frequently partakes in the discussions.
It's also well known that, well...they give us free stuffs. I received my Version 3 rulebook for free. I went and downloaded the new 'Panzer Brigade' PDF earlier today- Confident Trained Panther and Mech lists, with Naval Artillery support....WOOT!
Note: Just as well known- free stuff rocks.
Things like this go a long way towards promoting brand loyalty.

*We luvs ya, Battlefront!*

Another thing Flames of War players have long taken for granted is Battlefront's attitude towards 3rd party models- as in: sure, go ahead and use 'em! All they asked is that competitor's products not be mentioned on their forums. Battlefront, as a company, gave every appearance of wanting to promote Flames of War as an inclusive game.

Notice I say 'game,' and not 'hobby.' This is an important distinction to make, going forward. Historical Wargaming is a hobby. Flames of War is a game.

It came as a great shock to the Flames of War community when Battlefront announced that they would no longer allow 3rd party models to be used at official events recently.
Excuse me while I make this face:


Initially, this doesn't seem too bad- it's only 'official' events, right? Surely that just means, like, Nationals...right?
Battlefront has what's called the 'Ranger Program,' where local clubs can sign up to receive company support for events they run, including prizes, promotion on the Flames of War website, and a tie-in with Rankings HQ.
My club is a part of this, as are most of the clubs in my immediate area (Northeastern United States). We have a BF 'rep guy' and everything. He shows up at events we run. Battlefront has been really helpful kickstarting Flames of War 'round my way, and it has grown immensely as a result. There's at least one tournament to attend monthly, and since they receive official support attendees can count on not only cool prizes, but they can work towards gaining a coveted spot at the Nationals, as well.
Naturally, this makes the recent announcement cut pretty deep.

What precipitated this announcement, and why does it cut so deep?
Three words- Plastic Soldier Company.

*Say hello to the competition*

Let me be very, very clear here- Battlfront minis are, for the most part, completely unimpressive. There's just not a lot about 15mm WWII models that's exciting, after all. Things like the ubiquitous Sherman tank and German Panzer IV just don't turn heads, especially rendered in such a small scale. They're tiny lil' things, after all, and one must literally hold their face inches away to appreciate any detail.

Battlefront minis are resin, frequently have casting problems, and are also expensive, usually clocking in at more than10 US dollars each for even small, common vehicles. Prior to PSC's arrival, they were pretty much the only widely-distributed game around, however. Alternatives like Gaming Models and Peter Pig  were there for those that cared to seek them out, but were never intended to compete head to head with Battlefront.

Plastic Soldier Company came along and changed that. Their kits are plastic, half the price, and widely available.
Yeah, you read that right- HALF THE PRICE!

5 Battlefront Panzer IV's (H variant)- $52.50
5 Plastic Soldier Company IV's (that makes multiple variants)- $23.99
(current WarStore prices)

Since PSC kits also make multiple variants (BF kits generally do not), and come with instructions (BF kits generally do not), and assemble easily (BF kits generally do not. I'm looking at you, Schurzen and tiny fenders), they quickly became very popular. Price alone probably would've made it so, but the rest is just gravy, man.
Mmmmm...delicious gravy.

*Gravy is good*

I'm actually used to getting less for my hobby dollar nowadays, so I jumped right on the PSC bandwagon, and so did many FoW players. Simultaneously, I loved Battlefront all the more, simply because they were cool with it.
Battlefront makes about ten times as many different vehicles, artillery pieces and troop types than PSC does, so I continued to buy Battlefront products, naturally. Like every other mini-game addict out there, I make frequent purchases, and both the Battlefront and Plastic Soldier Company CEO's have probably bought fancy new cars thanks to me.
Don't you judge me!...I haz a sickness...
Life was good. Flames of War was good, and I recommended it to anyone who asked about it. Like many Flames of War players, I felt like I had a game and a company I was proud to be associated with.

And then, this happened.
To say the Flames of War forums exploded with the typically righteous indignation to be expected here on the Internet is an understatement.
Last night, I spent a couple of hours sifting through the relevant threads. It made my head hurt. Seven pages into the initial post, this official response from Battlefront staff can be found:

 "If I was a child and wanted to hold my breath I would not be letting people run around on our forum spouting such utter nonsense but deleting their posts and banning their accounts but that would be childish and serve no real purpose as I prefer to read what is said and then comment when I feel the need.

If Flames Of War is not creating our own IP I dont know what is and I know that Pete, Phil, Wayne, Evan and the guys would disagree as they have spent the last ten years of their lives dedicated to creating a hobby that is the heart of our business and completely unique. FOW is what drives the WWII 15mm gaming community and has done for many years and despite other manufacturers of models it was never any more than just another historical scale before FOW came along. If supporting your hobby involves you changing sides every time a business decision upsets you I would ask anybody who enjoyed their free copy of 3rd edition to speak up and say that we behaved like GW. Stand up and tell me that we are like any other company and I will give you five exmaples where we have proven time and again we are not. We are simply making a choice for our own events and even if you disagree you should respect us for the right to do so as just like giving away the rules free to over 50,000 people this year the same people made that choice so we cant be as bad as some of you would make out.

The problem is that the vocal few with more opinion than understanding would make it sound like this effects the entire hobby. You are wrong. Competitive gaming is a part of our hobby and we support it becasue we want to help that part grow but 90+% of all gamers are casual players who play in stores and at friends houses and never particpate in a tournament. These are the core of our business and despite some posters in this thread claiming to "know" this is a small issue effecting a gorup of players who however vocal are not the only gamers in the hobby.

Despite it being unwise to comment on this thread it is hard to read personal attacks on yourself and your team without feeling a little hurt and whilst I should not defend our choice more as it will just give some of you more fuel to bleat I stand by what I say. Try and look at the big picture, remember who we are, what we have done and how FOW got here and then just decide if that is your hobby or not as you shoud want to support your hobby and if this or any other decison we make has you changing your mind then we wish you all the best and thank you for your business but we will still be here doing our best and behaving the way we always have"

Petulant, and full of typos. Hardly a professional response, for sure. Someone was typing angry, methinks, and confusing their game with 'the hobby.' 
Still, I have to respect Battlefront for even stepping into the firing line on this one. Many companies initiate unpopular policy changes and never even bother to do that much.
Maybe it's a lil' funny to see that internet rage can affect anyone, no matter who they are, as well. Considering how heated that particular thread was, it was kinda understandable, actually.

*We've all been there, I'm sure*
That particular thread, and many others have been locked, but more have sprung up. It quickly became a debacle for Battlefront.
All is not lost, however, as a follow-up statement was released:

"Pete, John Mathews and I have been discussing the issue these past few hours and realise that making a rushed decision today will not benefit anyone. We have consensus from all three of us, the BF board, that we will change our stance on this issue but will not be able to finalise exactly what that means today as it is already 4.30pm here and 12.30am on the east coast.

We will convene again first thing in the morning to put in writing our formal reply and will post it on the website. We do appreciate the constructive feedback and have definitely listened to what is being said. We have proved in the past many times that we can accept feedback and change our plans as only a fool does not listen to their supporters so thank you and enjoy the rest of the weekend. I am off to get an aspirin and a cup of tea "

I gotta tell ya, folks, I was very disappointed in Battlefront's initial policy change, but completely resigned to it. It seemed like a typical 'corporate decision' to me, and I'm sure we all know those never really favor the consumer, don't we?
For all appearances, it looked like Battlefront was responding to genuine competition not by stepping up, but by going all corporate on us.

My response would have been just as predictable as theirs was- no more Battlefront purchases, and maybe a lil' complaining on the internet.

Will Battlefront reverse their decision? I am hopeful that they will.

That being said, I am pleasantly surprised by the very human reactions they've displayed since announcing the policy change in a typically mundane, corporate manner. I'd rather read the rantings of a genuine person than another dry, boring legal statement any day of the week.

So here I am, fingers crossed, hoping.  Battlefront has given me that much, and I am grateful to them for doing so.We'll see what happens!

Until next time, folks- exit with catchphrase!


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