Marketing Massively Multiplayer

As I’ve said before, I’ve returned to university to complete my MBA. I’ve found that connecting the subjects I’m studying to MMORPG’s really does wonders for my comprehension and retention. And so, lucky you, you get to read my rambling thoughts connecting whatever course I’m taking today and MMORPG. I’ve spent the day today doing readings for Marketing and so …

MMORPG’s are advertised in game magazine ads, using trade-show booths and online ads and game culture websites (i.e. Kotaku, Massively). Think about MMORPG ad’s you can remember. There are the WoW ads, all too often (really, tooooo often) featuring Mr. T. What message is that ad trying to send, anyway: come play WoW and you can be a loud-mouthed badass?

Without doing any research, I can at this moment think of *only* two other ads. There was the attractive lady with the gun ad that FunCom ran for Anarchy Online on every website in existence. Then there was the infamous “breasts” advertisement for Evony Online, also appearing on every website in existence. That’s really all I can recall at the moment.

How about you? What great MMORPG ads do you recall?

While these might well appeal to the prepubescent stereotypically male psyche, naked ladies and has-bean bad-asses aren’t much of “feature / benefit / value” message to hang a brand on, are they?

My text book treats Marketing as a holistic activity, impacting essentially all areas of a company with the goal of creating long term value, primarily through the development of a Brand. This is a task which sees the marketer collaborating with essentially every function within an organization, from product design and development through customer service.

Where are the MMORPG brands?

For the other major MMORPG publishers in North America (Blizzard/Vivendi, EA/Mythic, FunCom, NCSoft, SOE), there are several Points of Parity: capabilities each company must display to operate in this market. Each has succeeded in producing (perhaps via third parties), distributing and operating large scale MMO, to varying degrees of success. Certainly, no mean feat.

But where are the Points of Difference on which Brands compete? If you were to ask me about most of the various major MMORPG corporate Brands I’d either have very little to say or certainly nothing positive. I’m either entirely oblivious to the Brand marketing attempts of major MMORPG publishers, or the industry hasn’t yet attempted to differentiate themselves with corporate Brands.

Except Blizzard. Blizzard, in my mind, has a strong association with quality. In truth, they’ve had their share of bugs and long waiting queues. Remember Battle.Net early on and the various exploits that were possible. Nonetheless, Blizzard is has done a good job of communicating their company values, focused on quality. “The game will be done when it is done.”

I can remember when Diablo II came out. The people I knew largely said they would buy because they enjoyed the first, but also, because Blizzard was known for producing great games. Later, when WoW was launched, my friends bought, in part, because of Blizzard’s reputation. Blizzard’s brand is worth money. When Blizzard launches their next MMORPG, early sales will be huge, in part, because of their brand. This isn’t true of the other MMORPG brands.

But back to Mr. T. It certainly looks like a professionally made advertisement. That it includes a seldom seen 80’s B TV show actor is impressive ;) . But I’m not sure it advances their corporate Brand and the emphasis they place on quality and fun.

Maybe having a strong corporate brand isn’t important in gaming. Or maybe it is.

When I think of SOE, I think: Totalitarian (Wielding an iron fist on their forums); Not Trustworthy (recall the SWG CU and NGE); Un-Popular (Buying failed games like Vanguard and Matrix Online).

When I think of FunCom, I think: Innovative (Products tend to be a little different); Low Quality (Anarchy Online and Age of Conan were both incredibly buggy at launch).

Both let short-term issues (aggressive forum management, sudden product changes, or launch deadlines) override the needs of long term Brand development. Both these companies will pay a penalty in financial performance because of their lack of brand development. Both companies may release spectacular, engaging and high quality games one day. My experience with their Brand leaves me sceptical and I’m not likely to pre-order anything either offers in the future. I’m not likely to play (and pay) anything either company offers short of a friend’s enthusiastic recommendation or absolutely sensational press coverage.

With this in mind, it makes sense why Tabula Rasa was shut-down so quickly. It was not well received in the marketplace. Poorly performing products left to linger and rot damage your brand. If your goal is long term value, perhaps it is better to cut bait early.

I think corporate Brand could be important for MMORPG game companies. I think I would be more likely to buy and subscribe to a game produced by a company committed to quality products and services.

- Tuebit

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