Any time a new edition of a game comes out, there is the risk of alienating existing players because they suddenly need to buy all new books and supplements to continue playing the game they've already invested both time and money in. Some players won't make the switch - they'll continue on with the old edition or drift away from the game entirely. Others will make the switch and continue to buy, but the main goal is to draw new players to the game as they generally represent the largest potential new revenue base.
I've only played Flames of War since 2nd edition, but moving from 2nd edition to 3rd edition was relatively painless. The changes to the rules were relatively minor and improved some of the "gamier" elements that crept in to 2nd edition. Over the course of 3rd edition, several players faded away for a variety of reasons covering normal attrition through problems with stacked special rules which gave some lists inherent advantages when constructed properly, meaning sales were likely flat to down cueing the need for a game refresh cycle.
However, 4th edition marked a major shift in the rules for Flames of War based on the earlier Team Yankee model. The MW lists have also seen major changes in depth and organization. While one can play 4th edition for EW and LW, the points values have not been adjusted for the new rules and have some major balance issues. Therefore anecdotally the 4th edition transition appears to be more contentious than previous changes, and in fact in some ways resembles other major shifts in system - like the 4th edition of Dungeons of Dragons or GW's Age of Sigmar.
There's a good write-up of the Dungeons and Dragons edition wars, which went way beyond just the major changes with 4th edition, but ultimately resulted a competing system (Pathfinder) taking over the top spot in the pen and paper role playing game market. Conversely, when Games Workshop quite literally blew up Warhammer Fantasy Battle to create Age of Sigmar, it has at least been successful at bringing new players in though it completely alienated a lot of their existing (and viewed as saturated) customer base.
So that brings us back to Flames of War. Even a cursory read of the official forums or other third party sites will show that there is a wide array of opinions from the very positive to the extremely negative - with most of the negative coming from established players. Overall the discussion seems to be more polarized than in previous editions, and the proportion of negative comments seems higher. That being said, comments on a forum a movement does not make, so what's the bottom line?
For me it is too soon to say whether or not we have a full fledged "edition war" going on with Flames of War, or if this is simply going to be a disruptive shift in the player base. At this point I see some people expressing a desire to stay with V3, but as of today I don't see a lot of support for a continued V3 tournament scene or organized play. That may change as time goes by. Another factor is there is no easy outlet for 15mm World War II gaming that fills the same niche as Flames of War - so there is currently no Pathfinder waiting in the wings to siphon off those who were looking for an update to FoW V3. Again, that could change over the next 12 to 18 months with varying levels of impact. There also seems to be a contingent waiting for the rules and/or the lists to be brought up to the depth of previous editions. Again, only time will tell whether those hopes are founded.
All of that being said, as maligned as some products like D&D 4th Edition were, there were a lot of people who truly enjoyed them - especially new players brought into the game with that edition. When one has a great deal invested in a hobby or pastime, it can be hard to take two steps back and understand how someone could see a particular version or ruleset completely differently - and that works both ways.
So, some points to remember as we try to navigate the stormy waters of the Flames of War V4 transition:
- Version 4 impacts both the game mechanics and the lists. Like and dislike for Version 4 can be focused on either or both of those facets of the game.
- Don't automatically assume someone with a negative opinion of the new version "simply hasn't played enough games." Some people aren't going to get past the new lists. Others will be able to tell from a read through of the rules whether or not it is the game for them. Others will need more time. It is sort of like buying a new car - sometimes you know it is the wrong car from a glance, others you'll need to sit in the seat, others you'll need a full test-drive.
- At the end of the day I think we all want Battlefront to continue to be a successful company. Ultimately Version 4 will fail or succeed based on sales and profitability. If either of those metrics fall short - Battlefront will work to revise the system to appeal to a more reliable customer base.