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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.

To be, or not to be, MMO

This past weekend I spent my time playing in a couple of beta tests for upcoming MMOs.  I kept having the same recurring thoughts: Should these be called MMOs?  Should they be marketed as MMOs?  Wouldn’t they do so much better and garner more public favor if they were presented to players in a different light?

Take Defiance for example.  I think it’s a really fun game.  Trion is billing Defiance as a massively multiplayer game.  Sure, Defiance could be construed as an MMO, but I think calling it something else may be better.  The console market doesn’t really like MMOs all that much, and the MMO market doesn’t really tolerate games which loosely conform to their impossible-to-meet standards.   Defiance feels more like an online version of Borderlands 2.  Just the feel of the game alone resembles an action game, a shooter game, and coop experience.

Neverwinter is another example.  Neverwinter feels like an action-rpg closer to Diablo than a MMO.  The combat is action packed.  The gameplay reminds me of a dungeon crawl experience I might find in Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance or, like I mentioned before, Diablo.

There may be a lot of players running around alongside me when I play a game like Neverwinter or Defiance, but those players aren’t what make the experience for me.  I could be playing with a group of 5 or 6 people tops and get the same satisfaction.

Not being MMO isn’t a failing; my gosh it might even be a compliment.  Marketing Defiance as a typical MMO, instead of the next evolution of RPG shooters sorta sets the wrong expectations.  The MMO crowd gets confused, and the RPG shooter crowd avoids it.  Neverwinter could be a more persistent evolution of the action RPG instead of a highly instanced, shallow MMO.  Change nothing about either game, but simply alter the way they are presented to set the right expectations.

What is your MMO’s Unique Selling Proposition?

There’s a fairly basic marketing theory known as the unique selling proposition.  I’ve been contemplating MMO design, as I usually do, and made a connection between design principles, the MMO market, and this simple concept.  Many of you share my belief that developers don’t understand their market, their customers, or even the games they are trying to make.  I’m convinced there are some developers (and/or their corporate overlords) who literally believe copying a successful game will yield success.  Let’s see why they are wrong.

Here’s a basic USP template:

For [target market] the [name of product] is [single most important claim] among all [competitive frame] because [single most important support].

Pretty common sense stuff.  You figure out what market you want to target, what your most important claim is (point of difference) within your frame of reference (defines who your competition is) and you give a reason to believe (why you should buy).  Now pick any random MMO in the last 5 years and try to figure out their unique selling point.  It’s pretty tough, isn’t it?  What makes it even tougher is when a company will fill in the blanks, but what they actually do — the product they actually create — doesn’t align with their goals.

How many games come out of the game targeting a very specific market?  I think most say “we want to appeal to everyone!”  How about SWTOR?  What is (was) their single most important claim?  Is it story? Is it their instanced content?  What makes them stand out?  What market did they target, and what supports their claim?  Maybe they could say their rich story is enhanced through fully voiced dialogue, but is that the most important aspect they want to provide their players?  It was certainly one of the most expensive components of their game, and in the end I’m pretty sure most people didn’t care one iota about the dialog when deciding to quit.

A good MMO will be designed for a specific market, with a very clear explanation (supported by proof) of why it is different.  I’m confident that any MMO failure in the last ten years can be easily identified if you run it through a simple checklist, and it’s not something you have to do in hindsight; run any upcoming MMO through the process and you’ll quickly see potential problems.  People don’t want more of the same or a game that isn’t well thought out to appeal to a specific group for a specific reason.  One size fits all design doesn’t work.  Start making some choices and execute on a plan.  Stand out, be different, and own your space.  Easily 50% of oldschool MMO success can be traced back to having a unique idea that appealed to a specific group of potential players.  They did what they did better than anyone else, and what they did mattered to the players.