Pathfinder Online CEO Schooled by Players

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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

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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.

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.

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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.