Saturday, February 26, 2011

Thank you Battlefront, and goodnight...

This is going to be a bit of a rant, so if you don't like reading that kind of thing it's best you look away now.

I've been a pretty damn loyal customer of Battlefront for a long time now. At last count I've purchased something like AUD$5,000 worth of their kit so hopefully that gives some credence to me writing this. I'm trying not to sound like a whining, jilted ex-lover chucking my toys out of the pram because I don't like change but I'll let you be the judge... ;-)

So here's the thing. At some point Battlefront (makers of the Flames of War range of 15mm miniatures and rules) turned into a Big Games Company with all the downsides that entails. In the beginning Battelfront marketed themselves as (and I believe really were) a games company run BY gamers FOR gamers. Not any more. Don't get me wrong, companies should make a profit and reward their staff well with decent salaries, etc. but there are limits.

What provoked this post is a recent development between Maelstrom Games, a UK mail order / storefront  and Battlefront. I've read a fair bit of both sides of the argument and from what I can see Battlefront are taking issue with Maelstrom selling their kit cheap. Cheaper that most, if not everyone else. Battlefront see this as some sort of threat to their storefront retailers because it eats into their margins. They believe that in the end gamers will lose out. How does that help gamers though, especially ones without access to a good local games store? It doesn't. It's anti-competitive and very close to, if not really and truly price fixing.

Moreover, the way in which Battlefront have dealt with Maelstrom left a bad taste in my mouth. Business is business but that doesn't mean you have to treat people with a lack of respect or can't have a bit of give and take.

Unfortunately this episode wasn't any real surprise as it fits well with the direction Battlefront have been heading for quite a while now IMHO. This got me thinking about all the changes that Battlefront have made over the last few years that have gradually been eroding my liking for both their products and their way of doing business. Here's some of the stuff off the top of my head...

Quality. Since the move to Malaysia for manufacturing the models have been getting progressively worse and worse. The resin is often broken, the metal littered with mistcasts and the mispacking has increased dramatically. I recently bought a whole pile of Russian stuff and one of every three resin bodies was broken. Yes they replaced them but the percentage of damaged good to begin with was ridiculous. Customers are still paying the same for a model though. That means Battlefront are making more money at customer's expense.

Less for your dollar. Remember when you got a bailed crew figure with a tank? Or when you took in an old rulebook and got a free replacement? How good was that? Nobody else cared about their customers that much. Not any more though. That costs money.

Not listening to your customers. How long did it take Battelfront to get round to Early War? I know lots of people were interested in Late War but a whole lot more were not. Moreover, why do we need codex supplement after supplement covering a few weeks at a time when people are begging for consolidated theatre books and more scenarios?

There's plenty more but that's enough by way of example. So what does this mean? It means that Battlefront have shifted from truly caring about customer satisfaction to being a business driven purely by profit. Where once they understood their success was based on loyalty they now believe that for every customer who walks away another will turn up to take their place.

Fortunately there are plenty of alternatives out there at a decent price. I'll continue to buy models and support Maelstrom because they have always done the right thing by me. A little loyalty and respect goes a long way...

PS. Feel free to comment. I'm interested to hear what others think.

PPS. If you are not aware, Maelstrom are selling all their remaining Flames of War stock at 25% off retail. I picked up a bunch of stuff to fill holes in what I already owned so I can start afresh with non-Battlefront miniatures for future projects. It's a shame it has to be that way but there you go.

Cheers,
Millsy

7 comments:

  1. > How does that help gamers though, especially ones without access to a good local games store?

    It helps them because it stops gamers coming in and using gaming facilities with figures they purchased from an online retailer for less money than the B&M retailer can sell them.

    For every gamer that buys at their local store there is at least one that won't (probably more) and large online retailers can price product at levels that isn't competitive.

    It might be price fixing but I tend to look at it as levelling the playing field so local retailers can stay competitive.

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  2. Hi Zac,

    Thanks for the comment.

    Why does the price stop people from using miniatures bought outside a store in their games at the store though? It makes no difference at all what you pay or where you got the miniatures from. They work just as good on the table.

    People who feel they should support their local game store will do so anyway. Our local game store can't (or won't) compete on price but Rowan is a decent bloke who helps in plenty of other ways. That's how the game stores should compete if price is not an option.

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  3. I find it very interesting and I have watched this arguement develop a lot over the last few days. If Maelstrom have such a strong discount that it becomes the main seller of the product it will harm the product. This will happen due to the fatc that normal stores won't stock the product as they can't sell it. That in turn reduces the advertisement of having a big wall of stock in the shops. Eventually as stores don't sell the game they may then ban it being played in the shops. All this is bad for Battle Front miniatures.

    Don't forget that Maelstrom games (who I marginally support in this case) are trying to bully Battle Front and the customers. They are also looking for profit and are doing so not for the sake of the customers but for their business. Selling at a low price does look like they are supporting the customers but don't be fooled. By selling like this they are bringing in big profits and disadvantaging the other retailers, who also want to support customers! Believe me they have dirty hands in this too.

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  4. redmanphill, I'm curious as to how you think selling product at the best possible price and providing a speedy, reliable service is "bullying". To bully someone is to mistreat them or harm them in some way. Maelstrom do the very OPPOSITE of that to their customers.

    The main reason B&M retailers cannot compete on price is selling by volume so smaller margins are acceptable. There is, however, nothing to stop them forming some sort of buying group and ordering in volume themselves to get discounts that way. They could offer better loyalty programs, more personal service, painting workshops and a whole host of other services online retailers cannot.

    Rather than whine about online retailers, the B&M folks should differentiate themselves. There is room for both where they are good at what they do and treat folks right.

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  5. >Why does the price stop people from using miniatures bought outside a store in their games at the store though? It makes no difference at all what you pay or where you got the miniatures from. They work just as good on the table.

    The problem is that shops will eventually stop supporting games they don't get sales for.

    If they don't sell FoW or some other game then why would they bring it in and if they don't bring it in why would they support it with gaming time or events?

    > Rather than whine about online retailers, the B&M folks should differentiate themselves.

    How? When online stores take the lion share of sales of popular ranges where are these stores going to get their sales from to even be in operation?

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  6. As I said in my post...

    "There is, however, nothing to stop them forming some sort of buying group and ordering in volume themselves to get discounts that way. They could offer better loyalty programs, more personal service, painting workshops and a whole host of other services online retailers cannot."

    People are treating this as solely a price issue when it's not. An online retailer cannot offer the customer service and range of support activities that a storefront can. If you are 10% more expensive in store but support your customers in other ways they will be loyal.

    Customer loyalty counts for a great deal and is one of the main reasons Maelstrom became and remain so successful. I've had far better service and responsiveness from them than from the local CBD games store here. My local store at home is a different kettle of fish and I have and will continue to support them with my custom in addition to online purchases.

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  7. There are laws concerning the selling of goods in the EU and of course they should (and do) apply. So no Battlefront cannot indulge in price-fixing, end of.

    If we want to think about B&M stores competing in the internet age, they have to adapt. Suggestions; charge for the gaming they offer, set up a membership scheme so that members of the shop get a discount.

    Of course now Maelstrom and Battlefront have reconciled.

    ReplyDelete

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