Tuesday, 17 July 2012

How not to make an announcement

"Sir not to put my head in the Lion's mouth, but by repeating the name of your opponent in public you are essentially giving him free advertising."
"Cal thinks you should start referring to him as my opponent or the other guy, the other side. I don't know maybe there are other suggestions?"
"... You're not afraid it's going to make me look like I can't remember his name?"
- the West Wing, season 2 episode 1, In the Shadow of Two Gunmen part 1
"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."
With the above statement Battlefront proclaimed that they would no longer allow players to use models made by other companies at their official tournaments. The statement originally came from here, but has since been updated as Battlefront caved, allowing other companies models to be used as before.

The actual content of the announcement drew a predictable response as gamers divided, not exactly equally, into those that felt this was a reasonable move given it was Battlefront's tournament to run and others who saw it as decidedly negative move. Some were just angry that they couldn't use other, often cheaper, alternatives, some thought this was a bad business decision if the tournaments were not actually making money to begin with.

What got a lot of people angry wasn't the content of the statement at all, but the telling phrase "the FOW hobby." The responses ranged from anger to derision. Largely, because Battlefront seemed to be trying to draw a distinction between what they do and the rest of the wargaming industry. It also echoes Games Workshop who have been using the phrase "the Games Workshop hobby" for years.

As I have previously stated, Games Workshop's target audience is gamers who are not even aware of the wider hobby. They should see what Games Workshop does as genuinely unique and special, not as part of an industry. By the time they learn about other wargames, if they ever do, it is time to move on to the next batch of recruits. Given that, it makes sense for Games Workshop to promote itself as a hobby in its own right. Given that they run their own chain of stores and maintain a significant high street presence, in the UK at least, it is a plausible goal.

Battlefront was essentially the first company to attempt to turn the Games Workshop approach to historical gaming. They attempt to provide the full package, rules, miniatures, paints, even scenery. But, unlike Games Workshop, their target market is not made up solely of new gamers. They have always needed existing historical players. More than that, they do not have a unique IP of their own. You can call Games Workshop's IP derivative, but it is still copyright-able, the same can't be said of the Panther or the T34. In spite of what Battlefront would themselves claim in response to criticism:
"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."
"I don't know what is"? Call me crazy, but I would say Games Workshop, Privateer Press, Wyrd Games, Mantic Games, Cipher Studios, West Wind productions, Corvus Belli, GCT studios, etc etc. All have a greater claim to a unique IP.

It seems that with a Games Workshop approach to business and Games Workshop scale ambition, comes Games Workshop arrogance bordering on hubris. And, unlike Games Workshop, Battlefront has neither the size nor the market dominance to back it up.

Calling it the "FOW hobby" sounds arrogant, but more than that it sounds stupid. It is one thing not to give your opponent free advetising, but quite another to claim that you don't have any opponents because what you do is so unique and special that it is an industry all of its own. That's drifting past marketing speak and into insanity.


  1. Very interesting. I had no idea other companies attempted to do GW types of things - especially for something like FOW. A very well put together article - thanks!

  2. I missed this article of yours until redirected here by your current post (July 25th, 2012). I can see both sides of this argument but I can't help but lean towards the company itself. If it's shelling out the cash for an 'official' tournament it should get to restrict it to it's product alone. :/