Streamer Hype

You guys know I’m not a fan of streamers or how they have encouraged horrible marketing trends. Hopping on the streamer hype train and riding it hard is a very clear tell that your marketing team lacks creativity and a deeper understanding of how to build a lasting and dedicated following for your game.

Streamer hype is out of control. Companies fly dozens of them out to their headquarters, load them up on sugar, swag, and free access to the game then set them free. I have my own personal belief that more than a few of their palms are being greased despite Twitch’s supposed rules against it. From what I have heard (and can not find written verification), Streamers are not allowed to take money to speak highly of a game.

The streamer hype credo: Play it if it’s new. Play it if it gets viewers. Act like a buffoon. 

(Okay I added that last part.)

Very few of the streamers who make $10k+ a month are doing so for the love of the games they play. They are doing it because it’s now a job — an awesome job that makes them ridiculous amounts of sponsorship cash. When something risks the cash (like viewer boredom), they jump ship and hop onto the next new/popular game. I don’t fault them for making money, nor do I fault them for playing what they want when they want. Those are their rights and I respect that. I think it’s crap for game companies to abuse it, especially when it’s detrimental to the games.

Most of these streamers have fan clubs that follow them and lick their heels like lovestruck pups. When the streamers jump ship a couple weeks after launch, so do a huge number of players. When the streamers stop broadcasting, suddenly the marketing for that game dries up. Suddenly you start seeing a lot of banner ads and other knee-jerk reactionary marketing tactics to increase visibility. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a true following of players rather than illegitimately inflated numbers?

Streamers getting games for free and playing them to hype everyone up are killing the industry one game at a time. This type of flash-in-the-pan crap is being used to augment early access antics. Toss a dozen streamers free copies of your early access, give them private servers, and ‘encourage’ them to speak highly of your game when launch is less than ideal. I shouldn’t have to say more.

All of that said, let me get one thing straight: I enjoy watching streams. I watch some of the big names like Cohh and Lirik. I find them entertaining at times (albeit sometimes I have to stop watching because they go too far and start acting up for attention). I especially like Lirik who will openly act like a complete dick and decline being a puppet just to be different. It’s his shtick. But he’s definitely a sponsor-whore like the rest. Smaller streams are where you’ll find more of the real fans of the game and less of the hypers. Not always, but it’s reliable.

You and I might be intelligent. We can watch someone playing a game and hyping it all in that moment as super fun and think, “yeah but I wonder what it’s REALLY like…” But Some people watching streams get sucked into the hype and think the game is awesome because their favorite streamer is playing. Their favorite streamer is showing a version of the game that will not resemble their own experience. It’s an illusion.

Using streamers to market your game is asking to be a flavor of the month. If your goal is to grab a bunch of cash in the first 14 days then go for it. If your goal is to attract ‘real’ players who stick around, and you have long-term goals for your game then I recommend you look elsewhere.

Good News for EverQuest Marketing

Two days ago Omeedd Dariani left Sony Online Entertainment. Omeedd was the Senior Brand Manager of the EverQuest franchise. I mean no disrespect to Omeedd as a person — none at all — but I am very glad to see this happen. You may recall my ‘Dear SOE‘ post from only 14 days ago where I basically laid it all out to SOE that I wasn’t happy with the direction they are taking the EverQuest franchise’s marketing. I didn’t want to point out names of the people I thought were to blame (though I did point out people I was okay with… read between the lines)… I’m now okay saying a big part of my problem has been Omeedd.

Here’s a quote from his post on Reddit where he explains his reason for leaving:

I chose to leave because my direct supervisors didn’t support the community-first marketing approach we’ve taken on the EQ Next/Landmark teams.

Which community? The streaming community? The real “community” hasn’t been represented at all in Landmark or even EQ Next. If you’re not an avid Twitch.tv chat user or a member of the Omeedd fan club then you probably feel like I do which is: (1) Ignored, (2) Frustrated by a lack of real information about the game(s)’ development, (3) Wondering why the huge drop in maturity level, (4) Craving some good old-fashioned MMO marketing where mechanics, lore, and even nostalgia drive hype.

I don’t know why I feel this way, but I started to feel insulted by SOE’s focus on creating an inner-circle of community members. There has been a huge sense of favoritism and a tie to people like the live streamers that has left a severely bitter taste in my mouth. This “SOE Insiders” program needs to be stopped immediately. Having to watch other streamers to get in-game items, having to have one foot in-game and another foot out to participate in this “community” has been quite ugly. The antics of promoting streamers and everything but the actual game will not be missed, and I hope SOE takes notice and continues to clean up.

I’ll say it again: I want SOE to focus on their forums again. I want a huge shift back to their own website with regular updates. Get me excited about EVERQUEST not just some guy waving his arms and drinking scotch on a live stream. I want EverQuest blog posts on a weekly basis revealing one mechanic at a time. You market an MMO by slowly releasing information and conveying it with a story and an explanation around it that reveals a bigger picture. This is elementary stuff. It’s how you properly excite this market without unsubstantiated hype.

When thinking about the EverQuest franchise, I should be thinking about how I can explore Norrath, become one of the characters I see in concept art and how my adventure will unfold; I shouldn’t think of Omeedd or Twitch. Here’s hoping that this means good things for the REAL community of the EverQuest franchise.

Landmark’s Massive Discount

Okay, so this happened.

landmark-markdown

Some people are miffed. Some people are laughing. Some people wonder what the early adopters think. Hey there, I’m Keen — I’m an early adopter of EverQuest Landmark. Here’s what I think.

I got my money’s worth, and I recognize that this is simply SOE marketing their product. Do I wish I payed $34 instead of $100? Yeah. Do I regret having paid $100 8 months ago?  No more than I regret buying an iPhone knowing in 6 months there will be a new one — anything related to computers or technology for that matter.

SOE isn’t marking this down because no one is playing. They aren’t struggling for cash. Landmark isn’t failing. Think about it… this is now on the Steam top sellers list. People are blogging about it and putting it into the news site rotation. Let’s evaluate what has happened:

  • More people bought a “free” game
  • More people are talking about a game still in beta
  • The real fans are still going to play and be happy regardless; The EQ brand has not lost any value

That sounds like marketing success to me.

If this is the type of thing that bugs you then don’t be an early adopter. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this founder pack stuff is a growing trend for games. We’ll have to see how these companies balance integrity with marketing. That’ll determine how all of this plays out.

MMO Market Dominance Strategies

Yesterday while pondering the direction Trion will take, I casually mentioned a few market dominance strategies that I want to expound upon a bit more today.  These apply to any industry, but I really think they’re perfect for MMOs, especially if you twist them slightly to represent categories as well.

  • Leader
  • Challenger
  • Follower
  • Nicher

If you’ve followed the MMO industry at all you should immediately be able to name a few games for each.  There are a lot of really interesting and quite awesome tactics for each strategy to use, but I’ll only skim the surface and give my opinions about how the MMO industry fits this model.

EverQuest Next

EverQuest Next

Leader

Most of the original MMORPGs were leaders like EverQuest and UO.   I’m struggling to classify any MMO in the last nine years as a leader, other than World of Warcraft.  The leader is a company (game) with the most market share, and usually has the most flexibility, and the power to set the strategy for the rest of the industry.  The weird part about the MMO industry is that everyone seems to think there’s going to be some new emergent leader — or that one will come at least every time the next MMO releases.  In reality, this is incredibly false.  One of the only ways for the leader to lose their spot is for some catastrophic misstep wherein they miss the paradigm shift (buzzword) completely, and fail to come up with a new product offering.

The Elder Scrolls Online

The Elder Scrolls Online

Challenger

We really do not have any challengers in the MMO industry.  These are like Pepsi to Coke.  They’re in a really strong position but not quite capable of taking down the leader.  A lot of companies think they’re challengers.  They think they are going to step up to the plate and hit a home run, snag a huge chunk of market share, and be 2nd place  — by the way, 2nd place is an awesome place to be when you can’t be #1.  Here’s the key to being a great challenger: You have to target weaknesses and realign resources quickly to continually strike.  No one does that in the MMO industry. They tend to make the same games.  When a challenger comes up and fails, it usually disappears quickly because the company didn’t have the resources to be a true challenger.  Perhaps they should have been a follower.

ArcheAge

ArcheAge

Follower

Here’s where the bulk of every MMO after 2005 falls. These can be perfectly good companies, but their strategy is simply to align themselves along the same trajectory as the market leader.  They get all the upside without much of the risk… that is to say, in most industries.  In the MMO industry, the players are predators.  We don’t just ignore a follower we don’t like — we attack!  We sink companies who don’t act like challengers.  I think Rift tried to be a challenger.  Remember the ads directly targeting WoW? They still run ads — I’ve seen them on this website — targeting WoW.  I think Rift has done much better after sliding back into a follower position.

Nicher

This is the focus strategy.  Companies here keep narrowing and tailoring their segments until they find a group large enough to be profitable.  These are the EVE’s and the Camelot Unchained’s.   It’s all about realistic profit margins over market share, and providing value to the player.  Perhaps it’s even about making the game the dev(s) want to make.  The games don’t have to be blockbusters, and they’re made to appeal to that one person in the crowd who finds that game fun.

WildStar

WildStar

So where does a game like FFXIV fall?  WildStar?  How about TESO?  None of these games will be market leaders — absolutely none of them.  FFXIV is clearly a realign to take the follower spot.  WildStar and TESO, however, are tougher.  I think WildStar and TESO want to be challengers. Here’s where things get tricky.  I see games all the time following the wrong strategy.  TESO and WildStar might try for challenger, but have to slide back to follower.  Had they started as a follower from the beginning, perhaps they could have utilized that capital spent fighting a face-to-face battle with the market leader.  Instead, they’ll likely spend inordinate amounts of money in advertising but in the end have to lower the quality of the product to survive.  You can name a few of those games, I’m sure.

SoE just announced that they’re looking to take the lead with EverQuest by being the company who once again pioneers the next step forward.  Lofty goal.  EQ Next is indeed different, and that’s what it will take to successfully enact change.  Pepsi could surpass Coke, but in the end it would still be a cola.  As with all innovation, failure is a component.  I’m curious, though.  Could the real future be with the nichers?  Could the small idea spark a revolution?  When EverQuest originally propelled the industry forward, it wasn’t because they were taking an industry and evolving — they were a relatively unknown, small team of people.  Not that EQ Next, WildStar, TESO, and FFXIV won’t be solid games, but I bet the future of MMOs will come out of left field where we least expect it, from a team small enough to only care about making the game they want.

Conglomoblog: Minecraft, SWTOR, Job Hunting

Life has been crazy lately.  I spend more time working on campus to finish up the last of my finals (graduating in a week!) in one day than I do sleeping and playing games.  I apologize for the lack of updates around here, but it will improve in just a matter of days.  After that, until I can find a job (Which I am actively looking for — anyone want a marketing guru?) I’ll have plenty of free time.

I’m also bound by a few NDAs right now.  If not for forced silence, I’d have quite a bit to share about a few games.  I want to talk about Marvel Heroes, for example, which is an action RPG set in the Marvel universe, but I can’t just yet.

To kill what very little free time I have, which has mostly been extremely late at night (read: after 10pm), I’ve been playing Minecraft again.  Our community has another server set up, and we’re playing a mod compilation called ‘Feed the Beast’.  It’s neat, challenging compared to Tekkit, and a lot of fun to hop in and build.  There’s something about building, tinkering, and letting my creative (or lack thereof) manifest itself in a game.  Why can’t more games be a blank canvas like Minecraft? So simple, so fun.

Let’s see, what else am I up to lately?  I played a 30 minutes of SWTOR tonight. A friend of mine is playing again just to kill some time and play some battlegrounds.  I had fun playing the single-player game 1-50.  The game is quite charming looking once you get past the low level armor that looks like it’s painted on.  Animations are extremely smooth.  I love what they did with the interface changes.  I hate the F2P crap, but it’s free. As I continue to play, I’ll refine my thoughts and keep you posted.

That’s all for now! Things will pick up again very soon.