Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Brand Loyalty...Is It Worth It?

If I were to put on my fake old-guy accent and start out with "Back in MY day…", I could wax poetic about how there weren't many competitors to the big miniature design studios. I could also make the cliche remark about walking 3 miles to my local hobby store in the snow, uphill, both ways, but that's besides the point.

Back then, while there were miniature companies to choose from, typically your game of choice had you buying from one manufacturer, especially if it was a tabletop wargame. That time period instilled a certain kind of brand-loyalty in gamers. Not to mention games who's figures were exclusive to one manufacturer such as FASA's Batttletech and Ral Partha, and our ubiquitous GW and Citadel.

But what about now? Is there competition worthy of killing Brand Loyalty? Is Brand Loyalty already dead for other reasons?

Considering I've asked 3 questions, let's start out by answering those three questions.
What About Now?

I still hear about brand loyalty from many people. Many of us grew up in the old days when you wanted your figures to all be from a particular range, and you stuck with that range through thick and thin. And many of us still do. I know that for my Centurions, I wanted to find ways to model them in their Greco-Roman theme, using as many actual GW parts as possible. I took part in tournaments where you could not have any non-GW figures in your army, and rising up through the hobby in that way instills a type of loyal 'instinct' of sorts. I still look forward to the next kit that GW comes out with, eager to spend my cash on plastic crack.

Is there Competition Worthy of Killing Brand Loyalty?

Now, as then, there are still games whose figure lines are formally exclusive to one manufacturer. Just for obvious reasons, we'll use Games Workshop as an example. Formally they, through their Citadel line, manufacture the only true versions of figures for their games, letting no one else play in their sandbox. In the past, this was enforced mainly by not letting you play in their official tournaments with any figures but their own, unless they were scratch-built to a degree. Also in the past, third party manufactures such as Armorcast were put down using the legal shotgun, so-to-speak. Of course we all know about the ongoing suit against Chapterhouse.

The Chapterhouse saga teaches us something, though. It teaches us that there very well may be competition worth of killing brand loyalty. I'm not even talking about quality of the products, or any particular company here. I'm purely talking about a competitor stepping up and filling a demand that has yet to be filled, and doing well at it. Tervigon Kit, anyone? Maybe pre-heresy jump packs from Max Mini? How about all the various Thunder-Puppy Cavlary that's been cranked out before GW finally released their own?

The answer to this question is a sound yes. The competition is proving itself worthy to play in the sandbox for one main reason here, the good old law of "Supply and Demand". As consumers, if the main company isn't supplying it, we will buy it from someone else if we want to. Couple that with GW taking a step back from all competitive venues, and you have the perfect opportunity for those third party companies to give us the models we want.

Is Brand Loyalty Already Dead?

No. Not yet, but it's being sorely tested. For my own Centurions I wanted to stay as loyal as I could to the main line, however I needed quite a few Greek-style helmet crests. I didn't feel like sculpting them for an entire army, and GW didn't have what I needed…But a company in Europe called Max Mini did. I bought enough packs of a set of head bits with crests on them to convert them for my own needs. Now I'm looking at them to possibly supply Jetbikes out of the Kromlech line for a Pre-Heresy squad of bikers because I like the sculpts so much. The lesson here being that one little need of mine sparked an interest to continue to look at this same company to fulfill another potential need I have that GW doesn't fill at this time.

Brand loyalty is a ship full of holes, and to some degree always has been. But are those holes becoming too numerous to keep up with in more recent years? Chime in here folks, let's hear your thoughts.

- Tim


  1. I think competition is good, if you offer a superior product at a reasonable price people will buy it. Having multiple competitors keeps GW honest and prevents them from raising prices anymore than they already do. In a competitive environment with multiple manufacturers profit is generally capped at 3-5% of the wholesale price. In a noncompetitive environment where a manufacturer is the sole provider of a product, profits rise up into the 8-10% range of the wholesale price.

    As for buying GW models exclusively, I find that I buy the models that appeal to me. If there is a GW kit and it looks better than the ‘brand-x’ mini, I am sticking with GW. If there is a part or accessory that ‘brand-x’ makes that is better than the GW part, ill go with that. It depends on what you are trying to build and what look appeals to you. At the end of the day it really comes down to what I opened with, if you offer a superior product at a reasonable price – people will buy it.

    1. "if you offer a superior product at a reasonable price – people will buy it."

      You couldn't have made a better statement than you did right there. though an addendum to it could be "Or if you offer a product the main company just DOESN'T..."

      Well said, my friend :)

  2. Hi Tim, great post

    As a returning painter (not gamer yet) I find this topic very interesting. Over the last few months I have been painting GW mini's exclusively . I've been somewhat blinkered and even a bit distrusting of any other brand due, I guess, to my own brand loyalty.

    Luckily my FLGS has a very broad selection of manufacturers and game systems. This coupled with my recent visit to the salute wargaming convention has really opened my eyes to the other exciting possibilities that are out there. After I complete my latest project (a Tau army) I plan to start painting my way through some of the other gaming systems like Infinity, Malifaux, Flames of War, the forthcoming Bolt Action (WWII war-game), the forthcoming Dropzone Commander (small scale sci-fi war-game) and the numerous mini manufacturers there are out there. It's a very exciting prospect and liberating because I don't feel shackled to GW anymore.

    I've got nothing against GW, in fact I'm glad there's at least one british company which appears to be doing well. However, the aforementioned wish to try out the world of possibility outside of GW is too good to pass up. I guess I also feel that I'm just not GW's target market any more, that coupled with ongoing Finecast QC issues mean that I probably won't be a GW customer for the foreseeable future.

    I realise it's different if you're a committed WH40K or WHFB player but this is just one painter's humble opinion.


    1. Personally I'm a bit blinded by the fact that there are so many GW models I want to paint...AND I can use them to game with. So I'm shot in both feet there :P As a painter, though, you have quite alot of freedom and I find it extremely interesting that you chimed in with your own findings of Brand loyalty! Though without the gaming hook in you, I can see the bit more freedom you may have in your choices for projects to fill your time.

      I love your work on Perdita so far, and can't wait to see more from various manufacturers from you. Folks like yourself expose others to the various brands out there and give us a taste of what the 'outside world' is like, so to speak :)

  3. Your blog posts are insightful as per usual!

    I think there's a really fine line here. You can pay someone to sculpt and paint your whole army (commission work), but you aren't supposed to buy things that someone has sculpted and produced on a larger scale. I don't really think that these bits are competing products, I think they are just accessories. It's like those Madcatz controllers for consoles.

    1. Thanks Reid :)

      I agree with you on your point of the commission work you made, but I don't know abotu the point on accessories? To take my example above of the Jetbikes from Kromlech, I've got a sketch of a jetbike conversion using all GW parts from various kits, and then GS and Plasticard... OR I can buy one of two above I like so much. That's a bit of competition. Especially considering it would save me a crap-ton of cash to NOT buy all those GW boxes :P

      Course, it would then fill my Bitz Box with stuff I didn't use...

  4. There's only been one thing keeping folks from whole-heartedly embrasing other mini lines...GW's 'company store' policy of forcing people to use just their minis in RTT's. With the death of Ard Boyz, the gates will open (they are already weak around here at local tourneys)and no one will recieve crap from Tourney organizers for using alternate model lines, as long as they are clear what they represent. And thank god for that...GW still raising prices regardless... Rhinos are $37 and Land Raiders are $75. Sign your own fiscal death warrent, GW.

    1. You know, when I first thought up the topic for this article, the new price increases hadn't even been posted yet. You bring up two very good points here. Money, and Store Policy. Considering GW's new business model with their stores being that there isn't much gameplay any more, they are mostly just retail. Game play is mostly reserved for Battle Bunkers and the main HQ now it seems. With that in mind, 'store policy' doesn't really matter, now the big thing will be your opponents consent in a way, which I've never found to be an issue.

      The money point speaks for itself. :P :) Death warrant? Maybe not quite yet, but they aren't helping their case, that's for sure.

  5. I don't really understand my own brand loyalty to GW. It's been a long time since there was a good reason to stick to using the "genuine" models. I think to some extent now there is a sense of purity in having all the models in the army from the same range. And it also makes decisions easier when deciding what to buy, as well as inspiring you to try modelling stuff that doesn't exist, when you could probably find what you want by turning to another company. It keeps things simple.

    All of this conflicts with my well developed frustration with GW and outrage at the ever-increasing injustices of their pricing policies. They are doing their damnedest to kill off any residual loyalty - I think they would have already done so if I didn't already have so much stuff (meaning I don't actually need to buy very much more nowadays)...

    1. AHHH! See, you make a point at the end of "I don't actually need to buy very much more nowadays". GW's target is never Vets like us it seems, it's usually new gamers in their first 3-4 years of play. However, with prices going up and up, it seems like the only folks who will be able to afford the game will be the Vets. Lord knows I wouldn't buy my son a $75 Land Raider...

      Crap. Okay, maybe I would if he showed that much interest in the game. Thank God he's only 4.

      You point of the 'purity' of the models in our armies though is another I hadn't thought of. Of course, I do think that stems from the 'old' days of being able to play in the stores and GW-run tournaments. Now that they've stepped out of the competitive arena, they are losing that grip on the need to remain 'pure' in our armies, and just making it our choice. The better that the third-party compaanies get, the more competition GW will find themselves in for their own games.

    2. Yeah, well Land Raiders are $110 in Australia. Would I buy one for my son (when he's older)? Sure, but only because I know I could find one online for potentially half the price...

      I've heard the discussions around GW's target with their marketing strategy, and I'm afraid it's never made much sense to me. Presumably it works, but it seems very strange to unnecessarily exclude your established customers.

      And as you say, how many new starters are going to look at the ever-increasing prices and decide to jump head-first into the hobby? It's actually easier to accept the steep price when supplementing an existing force than it is to buy a whole army from scratch.

      And something else I find sad, and which I intend to blog about soon, is the fact that I would no longer willingly introduce people to Warhammer, because of the unforgivable prices. As someone who has enthusiastically pulled numerous people into the hobby in the past, what does that say about my brand loyalty now?

    3. HOLY MOTHER OF GOD!!! Mind you, I don't know what the exchange rate is, but sonovagun! I know that the prices in Australia are outrageous, anyone who keeps up on the hobby has some knowledge of that, but still.

      Oh I never said their marketing strategy really makes sense to me, especially in the American market as well, but yes, even moreso now that the prices are driving through the roof.

      And your last point, while a saddening one, is undeniably true. Though truth-be-told, there are very few tabletop wargames that are as affordable to play for teenagers (and their parents) or new players in general as they were 15, 10 or even 5 years ago. There are ones cheaper than GW, of course, but on such a large scale? Not many :( Especially not with the experience, rich history and story, and quality of sculpts. Few, but not many :(