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BFG Interview With John Malley On Phobos
Date: Apr 14, 2009
Author: Marco Chiappetta and Dave Altavilla
Interview with BFG's John Malley

We recently had the chance to have a conversation with John Malley, BFG Tech's Senior Director of Marketing, regarding the company's recently released Phobos line of high-end gaming systems. We asked about the current state of the Phobos product line and its unique features and service options, and John also spoke about future possibilities for the company as well. Read on to see what John had to say about Phobos and why BFG thinks now was the right time to introduce such a system...

HotHardware: With the economy currently struggling, why would BFG introduce an ultra-high end, boutique system at this time? Wouldn't it have made more sense to start with a more affordable offering to gauge interest and build the brand?

John Malley, BFG Tech.: We started the Phobos project before the economy started struggling, and as we neared launch, we were fairly nervous. It was surprising for me to learn that some markets are actually thriving during times like these, and entertainment is one of those markets. According to Jon Peddie Research (JPR) the market for the overall segment of PC gaming hardware, which includes boutique enthusiast systems like Phobos, continues to grow despite all the media hype about the current economy being bad. Some of our competitors in this segment have recently reported their best sales months to date.

Regarding your second question, we know from experience and marketing best practice that when a company launches a new brand at the high end of the market, it’s much easier to introduce a lower end version later, rather than start with a low end product and try to work up to the high end.

What was it about other boutique system builders or the market that led BFG to believe now was time to enter the high-end gaming system market? Who do you consider to be the closest competitor to the Phobos?

BFG: When we looked at the current boutique PC market, we noticed that most high-end systems have case designs that are flashy — with lights, “gamer” case designs or loud paint schemes that are targeted toward younger gamers. Unless you build it yourself, which many people can’t or don’t want to do, there didn’t seem to be a refined, attractive system that would look at home in a living room, next to a high end audio system and wide screen TV. When we did some casual market research, we found that there seemed to be quite a few “graduated gamers” like us, who are a little bit older, still love to game and play with HD media, but didn’t want a giant alien head or flashy paint job on their high end system. I think a lot of wives and girlfriends out there might agree. :)

In addition to that, we realized BFG was in an ideal position to provide a high end system that would compete with the current offerings out there, based on a several factors. First, we have access to hundreds of thousands of graphics cards a year that we can cherry pick to put into our system. Second, being a graphics card and power supply provider we will quite often, if not always, be able to provide the latest graphics cards and PSUs in Phobos before other system builders. And our years of experience providing pre-overclocked cards fits in nicely with the innovative “one-touch overclocking” we offer with Phobos’ touch screen LCD.

Who’s our closest competitor? I guess if you look at cost alone, our $3,000 Performance system competes quite well with any other $3,000 name brand pre-built system out there, especially when you throw in the included in-home set up and maintenance service, the 8” touch panel PC with one-touch CPU and GPU overclocking, the maintenance free liquid cooled CPU, and the integrated iPod/iPhone dock.

John Malley (left) Senior Director, Marketing and BFG CEO Scott Herkelman (right) with Phobos

HH: Now that BFG is offering full systems in addition to select components like graphics cards and power supplies, is the company planning to introduce more BFG-branded products like new motherboards or RAM?

BFG: Well, we’re always keeping our options open for new products that would fit into the BFG Tech brand, but we don’t have any active plans for motherboards or RAM at this time.

Interview with BFG's John Malley (cont.)

HH: Will additional functionality and features be introduced for Phobos that take advantage of the built in touch-screen control system? Does BFG have software engineers in-house working on the various utilities and applications that employ the touch-screen?

BFG: One of the cool things about the touch panel integrated into Phobos is that we can continue to work on upgrading the software, like any application. It’s a fully functional panel PC, so we will continue to listen to customer and reviewer feedback to make it even better in future versions. We have a few programmers working with the interface and overclocking functionality, and we designed the GUI and overall functionality in house and own 100% of the code.

The "Concierge Service" BFG is offering with the Phobos seems like it could be very expensive for the company to maintain in the long-run. How well has the Concierge Service option been embraced by customers? And does BFG plan to continue offering Concierge Service for the foreseeable future?

BFG: We’ve managed to blend the cost of the concierge service into the savings we get from our high volume of graphics cards and power supplies, so we’re able to offer a really nice service and still have competitively priced systems. And people seem to really like the service, so we’ll continue to offer this with every Phobos system for the foreseeable future.

How many technicians do you currently have on staff to support the Phobos product line’s concierge service? Can you scale this easily if need be?

BFG: We can currently deliver and install Phobos in any zip code in the continental United States, and we are working on having this service for Canada and Europe as well. We can scale this if need be.

What market need prompted BFG to introduce the Phobos product and service concept? Are there that many power users out there that don’t want to worry about system maintenance upgrade and upkeep?

BFG: We think there are a good number of “graduated gamers” out there who either don’t know how, don’t have the time, or simply don’t want to build their own system. This is supported by the success of the other boutique system builders currently in the same market. Our concierge service was a way for us to offer something more than the competition, while at the same time minimizing after sales tech support calls—which is good for both BFG and the customer. We believe the consumers who are interested in pre-built systems also appreciate not having to set everything up themselves, since most of these customers are not “do-it-yourself” people, but they still want all the performance of a powerful gaming/home theater system.

BFG’s Phobos seems to be a bit on the pricey side, if you consider the base components involved with the system build. What are your thoughts about the product’s cost model and its value to the end customer?

BFG: I think Phobos might seem pricey to people who are used to building their own systems. However, if you compare Phobos to other similarly-configured, pre-built high performance systems, our research indicates that Phobos is priced competitively. And again, when you consider the concierge service, the one touch overclocking, the warranty, the personalized tech support, and all the other value-added features, we believe the value proposition for the consumer gets even better.

Interview with BFG's John Malley (cont.)

HH: Now that the Phobos has been available in various configurations for a few months, would BFG consider the product a success?

BFG: I’d say it’s quite successful so far. We were pretty nervous launching a non-do-it-yourself high end system at CES to a lot of really technical do-it-yourself hardware editors. But we were very relieved when the response was overwhelmingly positive. They understood that Phobos isn’t for everyone and that it appeals to gamers and media enthusiasts who want the best of the best and don’t want the hassle of building such a complicated system themselves with no warranty. They thought the refined case was really nice, and the touch panel was a great idea, so that reinforced to us that we may have found a place for ourselves in this market. We know that this type of high-end system is a niche market and won’t ever be a high-volume product, but that’s ok with us.

HH: Who is responsible for the design of the Phobos enclosure? Does BFG plan to sell the chassis and touch-screen separately?

BFG: We (the product and marketing teams at BFG) designed Phobos from the ground up and worked with an experienced case builder to manufacture the chassis for us. We don’t have plans to sell the chassis and touch screen separately, mostly because the system was designed as a whole unit and doesn’t really make sense outside its own ecosystem. The LCD would be essentially worthless without the custom tailored software and specific hardware it controls, as would the custom built chassis, which was specifically designed to fit up to four liquid cooled CPU / GPU radiators and the touch screen, among other components.

HH: Are smaller form factors planned or other machines targeted toward a different end user market or usage model?

BFG: We’re certainly keeping our options open toward expanding the product line if it makes sense to do so.

HH: Does BFG plan to offer AMD processor / motherboard / graphics offerings in future Phobos products? If not, does BFG's close relationship with NVIDIA have any bearing on the decision?

BFG: Good question! Our close relationship with NVIDIA certainly has a bearing on the decision. We have a long and successful relationship with our friends in green and don’t want that to change. Let’s just hope they keep wearing the performance crown for a long time!

We would like to thank John Malley for taking the time to speak with us here at HotHardware and wish him and the rest of the team at BFG Tech. the best of luck moving forward.

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