News is breaking across the Web at the moment about Battlefront Miniatures latest announcement:
The quote causing most consternation seems to be the following one:
The final change we are making is that from the new season all the events we run with will be only allowing Battlefront miniatures to be used. This is bound to cause some debate, so let me be clear as to why we have chosen to go down this path. Joe, Gareth and our events cost a great deal of money to run: a little over a quarter of a million American dollars this year alone. And, although it seems childish to draw a line in the sand and say, “If you want to play at our events and support the FOW hobby, you should not be bringing other people’s models along,” it is absolutely that simple. Our business is a business and we want Flames Of War to grow; we intend to give it the best support we can, but this support has a cost.
This does not seem to be going down well. This thread on the The Miniatures Page is a typical example. As I am not registered on the Flames of War forums, I can’t see what comments are being made there. Looking at other forums, it would appear that Battlefront are making various statements to justify this change – but it does seem to be something of a U-Turn from their previous position. It is amazing what quotes from forums can come back to haunt you at times.
If you have listened to episode 90 of the Podcast you may guess that this latest news from Battlefront does not come as a particular surprise, but appears to be part of a bigger strategy that Battlefront have to protect their brand.
And make no mistake, this is exactly what they are doing this. Battlefront have become big fish in a relatively small pond. They can’t claim to have invented 15mm scale World War II gaming, but it is true that they have done a lot to make the scale popular, due to the huge popularity of the Flames of War ruleset. I think, however, they are now finding that their market share is being put under pressure. This is due, I believe, to the dual effect of their own pricing strategy, and the growth of other companies ranges making models in 15mm for World War II – Plastic Soldier Company, Forged in Battle, Peter Pig, Skytrex and Zvezda to name a few.
However, unlike someone like Games Workshop, who operate within their own created universe, Flames of War is set in World War II. Considering this is the largest conflict to have currently affected world affairs in recent history, it would be slightly difficult to attempt to claim this as Battlefront’s own IP and so it seems that they have rebranded their rules somewhat.
Flames of War is no longer 15mm World War II wargaming, but rather the ‘FoW Hobby’. This reflects moves a move in branding that was made a while ago by Games Workshop, when games like W40K ceased to be wargaming, but became ‘The Games Workshop Hobby’. It’s an interesting change, and their language is now all about supporting the ‘FoW Hobby’.
Now, there is an argument that if Battlefront want to do this, it’s quite legitimate for them to do so. FoW is their ruleset, and this only applies to official Flames of War tournaments.
Their game. Their playground. Their rules.
The question is, how big is the FoW tournament scene? How many people (their customers) does this affect, and indeed, how many people will suddenly find the armies that they have loving built and painted suddenly ineligible to play with? How will gamers respond to the fact that they might potentially have to spend a lot more money in order to continue with their hobby?
The honest answer is, I don’t know. I’m not a tournament gamer and I don’t play Flames of War. However, I suspect the impact will also be different depending on which country you reside in. I can well imagine that this announcement will affect the US gaming community much more than the UK one, simply because of the way that gaming works in the two countries.
How will this affect the above mentioned companies? Again, it depends on how many people play in FoW tournaments, and how this new ruling from Battlefront will affect player participation in future.
From what we’ve seen with other companies who have similar policies, if gamers want to play official tournaments, they will simply have to comply with the rules or go elsewhere. I think this is the first time it’s been tried with a historical game though, so it will be very interesting to see what happens next.
What is clear in all of this is that the goalposts in 15mm World War II have moved. Ok, it’s a small part of the hobby, but it may be indicative of what could happen elsewhere.
In the mean time, if this announcement adversely affects your desire to play Flames of War, there are plenty of other very good World War II rulesets that you can use your miniatures with, and I suspect that the publishers concerned do not mind what miniatures you play with.
And this, perhaps, is the problem that Battlefront see before them. More rules, more miniatures, more choice. Great for the consumer, not so good for the producer/manufacturer/publisher.
It’s all a question of how each company chooses to respond to the challenge.