[MUD-Dev] Differentiation and The Marketing of MUDs [was R& D]

Sean Kelly sean at hoth.ffwd.cx
Fri Jun 7 12:14:07 New Zealand Standard Time 2002


On Thu, 6 Jun 2002, Ron Gabbard wrote:
> From: "Brian Bilek" <brian at darkalley.net>
 
>> With a more complex product than toothpaste, you can spend some
>> of your development dollars on changing the feature set of the
>> product, and improving its quality
 
> You can even do this with toothpaste.  True P&G story.  The Crest
> Brand Management team was charged with increasing sales of Crest
> toothpaste by 7% in the next year.  That is a huge amount given
> that there are only so many mouths in the world and competition IS
> fierce.  You know what they did?  They made a product packaging
> change and increased the size of the mouth of the tube by 7%.
> They leveraged the customer's heuristic (that unquantified,
> intuitive measurement that tells us how much to use of
> something... like how much milk to put on our cereal) that
> measures the amount of toothpaste used by length on the
> toothbrush... not by volume.

I heard a similar story from a friend's father.  Someone approached
the company that makes Comet (I believe) -- that cleaning product
that comes in a cardboard can -- and told them that he could double
their revenue, but they would have to sign a contract before he told
them how.  Well, they did and he told them to double the number of
holes on the top of the can.  Sure enough, profits dobuled.
Something similar happened with fast food restaurants about 10 years
ago.  Suddenly the diameter of drinking straws doubled.  As a
result, people finished their drinks more quickly and ended up
buying more as a result.

Apparently the "diamond ring for engagement" was a ply established
by the diamond industry back in the 50s.  When mulling over the idea
of how to get consumers to foot the bill for such an expensive
gemstone, they decided to recommend that a ring cost a certain
percentage of the suitor's salary (what is it, a month or two?),
rather than a dollar value.  Needless to say, it worked quite well.

> However, there is a time limit where the game company has to say
> "that's it".  You can't just rack up $4-5 million a year in costs
> developing a game year after year regardless of what 'neat'
> features may be left on the editing room floor.

A work of art may never be completed, but once the spec is met the
product should be shipped.  Feature creep may be cool to a geek but
it's dangerous to a business.

> Finally, you have the evolving technology.  Even if a company DID
> have deep pockets and could sustain a 5+ year development cycle,
> by the time the game went GA it would already be technologically
> outdated.  So, you have the technology window compounding the time
> constraint.

As evidenced by *cough* Diablo 2.  Still, for a game whose tech was
5 years out of date, and buggy to boot, it was incredibly
successful.  There's something to be said for an entrenched
fan-base.  Also proof that there are exceptions to every rule.

> The end result is that each game is pushing a particular aspect of
> the genre further and further and making the list of 'desired'
> features longer and longer while the amount of time available to
> get the game out remains constant (or shrinks) and the market
> becomes more competitive.

I disagree.  The list of features that the designers may want to
include may increase as they see new ideas pop up in games that are
released while their product is being developed, but what the gamers
want does not neccessarily increase as well.  A well-designed game
that is tightly focused on good gameplay will always win over a game
that has more bells and whistles than another.

> While I don't want to sound like Malthus, I believe a time will
> come (if it isn't already here) where customer expectations in all
> these various areas will be so high that they can't be met in a
> single game (unless that game is priced well above the average
> market price where the company could afford the X times larger
> development team).  These factors, combined with the finite
> market, will force development companies to focus what they do
> best and target a specific player-base.  Some may shoot to develop
> the best, most rewarding PvP MMOG combat, others the most
> immersive 'storytelling' MMOG, and others the most
> 'build-it-yourself' MMOG world.

I agree.  However I think the software industry in general is ripe
for the establishment of advanced toolsets and more modular
programming methods.  IMO the software industry is now where the
steel industry was before the industrial revolution.  Blacksmiths
took on apprentices and taught them the tricks fo the trade, and
those tricks were jealously protected.  Things have since moved to
established criteria for nearly everything: screw sizes, head
formats, etc.  And a manufacturing company can buy parts for their
product from any vendor with the assurance that it will work the
same.  The software industry is caught up with copyright and
intellectual property issues, and competitive practices that have so
far prevented the establishment of similar standards.  Also,
software is hand-coded specifically for each application while many
subsets of each application are nearly identical.  APIs/libraries
are a good stat, but those libraries do not have standardized
interfaces, so switching from one to another is often an onvolved
process, even with abstraction code as a buffer.  There have been
attempts to restructure the way programs are written, with
relatively new ideas like aspect-oriented programming, but they are
all too new to really evaluate their success.

> Thus, branding comes into play... (which ties back to the point >
> above)

Some of the larger game companies are already branded.  Blizzard and
BioWare, to name a few.  Those companies have an entrenched fan-base
who will likely buy any game the company produces.  Though a big
enough screw-up could obviously still drive away customers.

> Branding helps companies create customer expectations that they
> know they can meet... and that's important as nothing is worse
> than creating customer expectations then failing to meet them.
> ...  Well, enough on that.  I just think that if companies would
> use half the creativity marketing the game that they use
> designing/developing the game that they'd have a much more loyal
> customer base and better products as a result.

And the more conservative a game company (or movie studio) is, the
less likely they are to produce a hit, though they risk a flop at
the same time.

It's an interesting time for marketing, when your target audience
has been raised from birth with ads in their face nearly every
waking moment.  How do you interest someone who has become so inured
to what you're trying to do?  Gimmicks don't work like they used to.

Sean

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