[MUD-Dev] Marketing Resources?

Jason Smith jsmith at gold-sonata.com
Fri Apr 29 23:49:45 New Zealand Standard Time 2005

Mike Rozak Wrote:

> Is an early announce such a good idea?

Not only is it not an early announcement for an MMOG, it's
imperative. In fact, 6-12 months from release is actually be far too
/short/ a time to be effective. Note: This is purely subjective,
based on the title, and I'm assuming the theoretical title in
question has a target market and expenses similar to the
'mainstream' commercial MMOGs that dominate the genre's mindspace. A
non-commercial game, or a more boutique/niche product would use a
very different strategy to reach their target audience. Also, this
is more focused on an unknown title - if you're coming out of the
gate with a premier license backing your product then you can let it
carry your early marketing efforts.

> 1) You get a lot of initial buzz when your VW is newly added to
> MMORPG.com (or whatever), but subsequent updates don't get as
> much. Your 50'th update of the week is pretty much ignored.

Very true, but the aspect that this doesn't cover is that over the
entire span of time your product will be building up a base of both
interested groups, and evangelizers. The online communities who
focus on MMOGs to exclusion contain the hardest-core fans, who also
happen to be a gateway to the more casual players. This is still
very much a word-of-mouth market, so the key early marketing is to
grab those people that are more likely to promote you to those that
don't keep up on the titles.

Also, by the assumed inflection on "Your 50'th update of the week is
pretty much ignored", you must be referring to the glut of 'XXX has
released their weekly screenshot' type of releases. This is a common
problem, especially with first-time or independent
companies. Frequency of updates needs to be planned out per title
based on the amount of content that is expected to be worthwhile -
it's very important to keep the title in the visibility of potential
consumers, but unless you're releasing information that is
desireable on a well-planned schedule the releases will turn into a
negative. Frequency can turn anything into the mundane, especially
online, where we're used to dealing with repetitive ads/spam/etc and
begin to tune things out.

> 2) When you put a web site up ahead of time, you may make promises
> (or statements perceived as promises) that you can't keep.

This is a problem faced by all developers, whether or not it has to
do with marketing. It's actually most often related directly to the
development (design/programming) team, and less with marketing,
simply because marketing tends to be much more careful with what
they release and how they release it. Nothing will botch up a
marketing schedule more than realizing your plan for an exclusive
for a major media outlet was just leaked on a fansite forum by one
of your programmers. Don't be misled by thinking that information
posted on the official website carries more weight than information
posted by a company janitor on an EZ Board about a paper he found in
the trash either - if it seems official, potential players will grab
onto it as a 'promise' and never let go. This problem is why online
game companies are beginning to bring one or more community manager
positions live well before the game launch or beta - there needs to
be some measure of control over what gets said to whom.

> 3) You will get a lot of feedback from users who comment about
> your MMORPG as they imagine it to be from your limited
> descriptions. They can't comment on your real MMORPG until you
> have a public beta. I don't know how valuable such comments are.

This has very little difference from users commenting about your
live MMOG systems when they can't see the back end code that runs
them, or commenting on patch notes or design plans before the
systems in question have been released. It's something that has to
be handled at some point in time regardless of the marketing
schedule. Proof the content carefully, and have an official
representative on hand to correct misconceptions as they turn up,
and not only will you begin building a community around the game,
you'll be earning points with the community for being
responsive. And make sure said official representative is half mom,
half schoolteacher with really thick skin - the worst thing you can
do to a budding community is have the
CEO/Designer/Investor/Producer/Artist/Janitor go ballistic on a
troll or otherwise poke the hornet's nest.

> 4) If you do manage to build and maintain a community long before
> launch then you get hoards of players trying to log in on the
> first day, half of which won't be playing in a month. The result
> is that the servers crash all the time in the first month, not
> only because they're overloaded, but also because they're new and
> untested. I think you'd want a slow launch, and only hype things
> up once things are stable and existing players are happy.

If anyone is planning on crippling their community building efforts
in order to avoid a rush of people when they open, they're either
self-funded, have no expenses, or have the kindest, sweetest
investors in the world ;) According to marketing, this is an
architecture and/or quality control issue that should be taken care
of by the appropriate groups before the product launch, or the game
should be delayed in order to fix these issues. There's also the
outstanding question of whether or not a game with a large
commercial target market could effectively scale from a 'soft'
launch to reach similar subscriber levels of other similar products
- recent subscription trends seem to indicate that, more now than
ever, your initial launch serves as an indicator to future
performance if not for any reason other than gamers will pick the
game getting blasted with good press over the one they've never
heard of. [refer to http://www.mmogchart.com/ for some
unofficial-but-close-enough-for-my-point trend charts]

Also take into consideration the way media outlets cover titles and
their effect on subscription numbers, as well as the presense (or
lack thereof) of a product on store shelves. It's a rather vicious
circle - you need community hype, a powerful license, clout, or a
whole bunch of personal favors to get your title covered by the
major media outlets, which you need in order to build pre-release
hype. You need the pre-release hype in order to get on shelves to
begin with, and to sell pre-order copies of the game.  You need
pre-sales to get the retailers to order enough copies of the game to
reach a sufficient number of potential users, and you need those
users to purchase or ask for your product in order to prevent the
retailers from pulling the product or tossing it in the bargain bin,
and to encourage them to pick up future releases (sequels,
expansions, or other titles). And getting retailer/consumer buzz
also gets you more coverage by media outlets, which starts the cycle
all over again. You could, of course, bypass the retail space
completely and go pure digital, but you're lowering your percieved
value and maximum reach by doing so.

In the end, this part of the decision making process most likely
comes down to financials. After X months or development and $Ym
dollars, how many months can you afford to /not/ have Z,000
subscribers. Just as a reminder, this whole part assumes a product
on the scale of the current market leaders.

> 5) Your competitors get to see what your VW looks like 2 years
> before it's done, or at the very least the get a
> warning. (Assuming you do the standard MMORPG trick and put up
> screen shots as soon as you have a single avatar running around in
> a treeless world with one house.)

Start with concept art. Move on to raw and textured models, and
non-engine rendered scenes. Wallpapers, fiction, fansite kits,
... You'll need this sort of material in order to do effective
advertising anyway. Slide gracefully into engine-rendered scenes, or
even carefully posed screenshots.  Proof everything. Do not let your
janitor run around the pre-alpha-state world jammerizng on the
Screenshot key and then upload the whole batch to your website, just
so you can say you released 120 new images. The key to any proper
marketing is control, and pacing. If a batch of screenshots looks
more like time-lapse photography then an art gallery showing,
something is not right.

> 6) If you put up a web page before your public beta, the main
> feature you'll be competing on is "my screenshots look better than
> yours". You can describe your really cool crafting system, but
> until players can try it out, they'll look at the screenshots
> instead. (I'm being a bit cynical here.)

You are :) There's potential content that resides somewhere between
cool screenshots and bland descriptions of game systems, but it
takes some work to make it happen. See
[http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/pvp/pvp-article.html] and
[http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/pvp/pvp-article-part2.html] for a
beautiful example of pre-release game system marketing (although
this was pre-release of a game update, not the entire product). The
combination of quality writing and cool, related images probably did
more to build buzz around the system (both among existing players as
well as through media outltes) than either writing or screenshots
could have hoped to do individually. It's not about style over
substance, it's about using the best of both to enhance each other.

> There is one very good reason to pre-announce: FUD = Fear,
> uncertainty, and doubt. If a potential player knows that MMORPG A
> is coming out in October, and MMORPG B in December, and they think
> they'll like MMORPG B better, they'll wait until December to buy
> MMORG B. If they don't know MMORPG B is coming out, they might get
> bored in October and might by MMORPG A, despite it not being their
> ideal MMORPG; When MMORPG B comes out > they'll still be playing
> MMORPG A and won't buy MMORPG B (for a few months, at least).

A more likely scenario is people pick up MMOG A and play it for a
few months. They see MMORPG B show up a bit later, maybe, but since
there's been no pre-release marketing there hasn't been any media
coverage, and they know nothing about it. They look at the box in
ElectroStop, ask the clerk (who knows less than they do, other than
nobody has bought a copy yet) and instead decide to pick up the new
expansion for MMOG Z which they stopped playing to try out MMOG
A. Or Madden 200X for their Xbox, which they've been ignoring in
favor of MMOG A. Or any other title they already know more about, or
that their friends have tried, because it's common knowledge that
any game that they've heard of is going to be better than the one
they haven't heard of (because if it was good, they'd have heard
about it already, duh!). Maybe that's me being cynical, but I see
examples of this all the time (we hang out in the local EB a lot,
are on a first-name basis with the staff).

Sure, Katamari Demacy might have been a sleeper hit, but I doubt the
critical approval brought it anywhere near the numbers of whatever
the last overmarketed licensed title picked up, let alone a
well-marketed average-quality title, despite being a better
product. It just brought it up to some number higher than most games
without marketing.

-Jason Smith
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