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
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.