You Can Start By Being The Best (Or Trying)

Sorry guys, we had a great last week with all of the E3 news to comment on and then I went dark. I once again blame my rising side business and desire to spend some free time actually playing games.

I have a bit of a cross-dimensional post for you today. As you guys know, I work in marketing. I work with a decent number of clients (~150 give or take depending on the season). I’m responsible for the marketing strategies for most of them, as well as my company. We do a lot of work on the internet with advertising, building websites, growing brands, getting leads and reaching new audiences, yada yada. I started to noticed a trend these past few weeks.

Client: “How do I rank for ‘best doctor in Los Angeles’?”

Me: “You can start by being the best doctor in Los Angeles.”

Client: “Isn’t there something else we can do instead?”

Here’s another one from today.

Client: “How come so and so is higher than me in search engines?”

Me: “So and So has built a brand. People talk about him more on the internet. There are news reports, blog posts, tweets, facebook likes, newsletters, comments, and conversations going on about So and So. Google and ‘the internet’ are able to parse So and So more naturally and understand that So and So sells better widgets. If you want to be first in people’s minds (and in search engines) as a widget seller, then you need to be the first widget seller that comes to mind when people think about your industry.”

Client: “That sounds expensive.”

Yeah, so internet marketing sucks when you work for an agency that will take anyone on as a client. Other than that important lesson (Really, pay attention kids: Avoid agencies. Work for a company. Avoid internet marketing.), I tied this back to games while on my commute home. Screw you 91 freeway and caltrans.

This is one of those painfully obvious posts, but in my mind it comes together all eloquently and epiphany-ish.

Presentation matters. Building a brand matters. Building a community matters. Having a quality product matters. Blizzard releases a me-too product and obliterates even the thought of failure in people’s minds. No one is even thinking, “is Overwatch good?” or caring that it’s a straight up copy of so many other games. Why? They are gods at what they do. They build a masterful product (even when it’s copycat), brilliantly position that game in the market space, and print their own money on the roads they pave for themselves. I needn’t go on.

Why do some Kickstarters for games fail? The game could be phenomenal. The idea could be even better than Warcraft. Did you present it the wrong way? Did you make people care? Or better yet, SHOULD they even care? That’s one people skip far too often.

Fooling people doesn’t end well either. You can pretend to be something you’re not, slap on a beautiful facade, wow us with your graphics, and even have a team of marketing savants drum up all sorts of demand. 2-3 months later everyone quits playing, bad mouths your company, and you play catch up for the next 6 years making F2P games or doing licensing deals until people are willing to forgive you at our sheer boredom.

We’ve seen a transition away from companies making great games to companies making games they think a large group of people want. To me that’s as absurd as my client wanting to be perceived as the best before actually/even trying to be the best — or worse, knowing he will never even try but wanting to fool people into thinking he is anyway. It’s backwards, and it will fail.

In hindsight I think this made a whole lot more sense in my head, but hey this is where I dump my thoughts.

Are You Brand Loyal?

I was tossing the idea of brand loyalty around in my head this morning as I drove into work. I was thinking about how in the 90s and early 2000’s I was extremely brand loyal to many game franchises and companies. I had lots of faith in those brands/companies and would show that through the typical brand loyalty behaviors. When people are brand loyal they typically purchase without thinking too much about convenience or price. Brand loyal consumers are often unaffected by the marketing efforts of other brands, and sometimes they even disregard the fact that a certain product might be better.

brand loyalty in the gaming industry

Despite how easy it has been to become jaded, I still have elements of brand loyalty hanging in there. For example, I really like Nintendo. I really like their game franchises and I like the company. The Wii U is technologically inferior, and I think Nintendo has–in many ways–screwed up their marketing over the years. However, I still buy Nintendo products and love to be an advocate. I’m a loyal Nintendo fan.

I used to really dislike the Playstation. I was never a big fan. Certainly not to the point of being a loyal consumer. While I still do not consider myself loyal, I will admit that my PS4 is my #1 console these days. I use it for most games, and if possible I will get games on the PS4 over the Xbox One or the Wii U. It simply performs the best. That’s a marked difference between loyalty and preference. I think of it like Nvidia and ATI. I prefer Nvidia because I still see them as more universally supported.

Let’s talk MMOs and companies for a second. Blizzard? I don’t know if I’m brand loyal or not anymore. There was certainly a time when they could do no wrong. Even now I have a lot of respect for the quality of their products. They’ve made and continue to make questionable (read: stupid) decisions that I disagree with, but overall they’ve made and continue to make some of the best games of all time. On the other hand, SOE or Daybreak Games has completely crushed any loyalty I had. I do not trust a single thing they say or make to be worth playing. Yet, and here’s where I struggle, I feel this immense loyalty to the EverQuest brand. I’m drawn to it and feel like no matter what I have to be loyal. It’s pure psychology at this point.

In 2015 I feel like becoming brand loyal is much more difficult in the gaming industry–especially MMOs. The products are really volatile. It’s not like we’re talking about iPhones or body wash–things people can seemingly rely on day to day. Games have this way of being really great or really bad, and more often than not even the great companies release something that blows up in the faces of their players. It’s way too easy these days for gaming companies to let their fans down, and I haven’t seen much in the way of trying to cultivate customer loyalty or build community and following around games anymore. Instead, it’s all about herding sheep with hyping streamers. It’s all flash-in-the-pan tactics. Loyalty? It’s being tossed out the window for snap judgments and cash grabs. If it fails? Try again next year!

What about you? Are you fiercely loyal to any gaming brands, companies franchises?

Call a spade a spade

Destiny is not a MMO

I completely disagree with Rob Pardo’s recent statements to Develop.

“If anything, I think people are even avoiding the term MMO. A really good example is Destiny. It clearly is an MMO. But they’re really trying to avoid calling it that, and obviously it is a very different type of game. But I think that’s a good example of how with MMOs, the term has been eliminated. But you kind of continue to see the influence in games that are persistent world games that have spawned out of that. It’s just people seem to avoid the term MMO now.”

I haven’t seen a decrease in the misuse of MMO terminology. In fact, Pardo proves my point right here. Destiny is not an MMO. I’m playing Destiny right now with Graev. This is a multiplayer co-op game — a well-built one at that. Max “group” size is three players, dungeons are auto-matched, and you can’t communicate with anyone other than the other 2 people in your group via voice comms. Destiny plays no different from Borderlands other than creating an easier online interface for people to join up. There is no “MMO” here. This is a fun multiplayer shooter.

Player expectations matter. Yes, calling your game a MMO will set expectations. Yes, the label will draw comparisons to previous MMOs. That is how it works universally, not just with MMOs. Want to avoid the comparison? Not making an MMO? Then don’t call it one! That’s why Activision didn’t call Destiny a MMO — not because the term is “poison,” but because Destiny simply isn’t one!

Insinuating that SWTOR and WildStar flopped because they were called MMOs and thus were forced to draw comparisons to World of Warcraft shows a complete lack of understanding. The bigger picture matters: Those games were not fun. Their fate was sure to be the same regardless of their genre or their label.

Flip this around for a second. What if someone releases an MMO and doesn’t call it one? Let’s actually take WildStar as an example. If NCSoft/Carbine called WildStar a “Cooperative online universe” and never once alluded to it being an MMO what do you think would happen? They would never have heard the end of, “WTF! This is just a WoW clone themepark! Evil marketing people!”

This entire discussion can and should be distilled down to setting and tempering customer expectations. Say you’re making the game you’re making, and make the game you’re saying you’ll make.

Pathfinder Online CEO Schooled by Players

pathfinder-online-settlements

This was emailed to me over the weekend asking for my commentary. The Pathfinder CEO took to the very public Pathfinder Online (PFO) forums last week to make what he felt was a heartfelt and genuine push for his players to help grow what is currently a rather stagnant player population. You can read the entire post if you wish, but I’ll quote a summarize.

“In my opinion, Settlement recruiting activities in the wider MMO community continue to be almost zero. […]

We need recruiting activity in the EVE community. I don’t know what the best vehicle is for that, so any and all suggestions are welcome.

Settlements that are committed to growing should have someone delegated to be visible in these places making regular posts and talking about the cool stuff their Settlement is doing. When the wider community sees activity and fun, that is a powerful attractant.” – Ryan Dancey

Within his post he points out a few places like MMORPG.com and TTH for players in settlements to go and essentially advertise the game, their settlement, how much fun they’re having, etc. Should players do these things? Yes, I talk about this all the time when I instruct MMO devs to have their players champion their game. Should the CEO make a public post telling people to do this? No, that’s suicide. This translates to the following: Our game isn’t popular, people think it isn’t fun, and our population is shrinking so we need you to go out and spam advertise – HALP! [Read more…]

Camelot Unchained Alpha Footage & MMO Marketing Tips from Keen

camelotunchained

I’m still catching up on some news as I get settled back into the captain’s chair (that’s what I call my desk chair).  Just a few days ago, some of the first [public] footage of Camelot Unchained’s alpha made its way to the eyes of the masses, and there’s a few things I want to say regarding both the footage and how it was delivered.

First, the footage. Any DAoC vet will agree that it looks like… DAoC. Zergs? Check. Bolt spells with ridiculous distance? Check. Milegates? Looks like a check. No complaints there (except for zergs but that’ll never stop). Some of the things I liked or at least felt intrigued by were the summoning of blockades, destruction, and of course the ability builder (all of which we knew about already but it’s nice to see publicly). Overall, I love what I’m seeing and the game is still so far away. MJ and his team are on track to make a great game. I can’t wait to share my thoughts from having been in the testing so far!

Okay, now on to a very serious topic: Marketing your MMORPG in 2015.

Utilizing ‘Streamers’ is one of the biggest mistakes you will ever make in marketing a MMORPG. At first glance it may appear like a very basic marketing tactic where companies use influencers to gain exposure for their brand. However, MMORPGs are not like Crest toothpaste. You can give a famous mommy blogger some free toothpaste, pay her $250, and have her write about why her kids love your toothpaste. Try that with an MMO and you’re in for a world of hurt.

There’s more to MMORPG marketing than getting that huge upswing. When a streamer like Cohh, even though he really is one of the more legitimate experienced MMO streamers out there, plays games he does so for an audience. Streamers move on quickly, and when they do they take their following with them. Every single game that someone like Cohh hypes or plays because they’ve been given “special dispensation” ends up being a game they play for 2-3 weeks then move on. Why? Because the next company in line is ready for him to hype their game.

Pop Quiz: Do you want to see big peaks and big valleys in your player base? If you answered ‘NO’ you are correct.

MMOs are all about building that stable foundation — the community. Instead of handing your game out to a few streamers who can hype your game and be your brand champions, why not build an entire community of brand champions? Do you want a handful of people saying “Camelot Unchained looks amazing let’s all get excited!” Or, do you want thousands of brand champions because you’ve marketed your game around building a community from the ground up.

While CSE hasn’t yet gone the route of SOE in this regard, they’ve taken the first step. I strongly caution against this. Please continue doing what you’ve already done by rallying players to your forums, live streaming your office to bring the players into the experience, and communicate yourselves on websites, forums, and streams. You guys should be the ones streaming this footage on your own channels and letting others pick up on it. Yeah, that means streaming to 500 people rather than 5,000, but those 500 people have a much higher chance of being your strong foundation than any of the 5,000.