Sometimes I wonder how much a MMO developer can promise to the masses before it all blows up in their faces.
Marketing via Interviews of developers
We do have some examples of companies which incurred massive damage from interviews. Star Trek Online is a fair example. While they did not advertise it as "This game is not for Trekkies", the phrase from the interview got out quickly. It stung the fans more than any highly paid advertising campaign could deflect. So does this tell companies careful of who they put out for the public?
Vanguard is a similar example in using lots of interviews with online gaming sites to promote their game. Unfortunately it fell under the catergory "Overpromise and underdeliver". SoE has wisely picked up the pieces and patched it back together, but they did not have to incur the expense or accountability of its former owners marketing.
Darkfall may be the holy grail of MMOs someday, but what if it is a massive marketing test? What if it is to test us, as consumers of MMO games, to see how far we will tolerate promises? How long will we follow a game, click through its website and engage in its forums? How often does one need to create a video to keep people going to your website? How often should an employee put a blog out there so you can get comments from the community, which in turn can link to other gaming sites and generate more interest (more importantly, investors)?
While the only ad I see in Darkfall is a comic ad, how many ads on a website will a gamer tolerate?
I would have to say Paul Barnett is arguably one of the more famous faces in the MMO circles given the multi- year campaign of Warhammer Online. His humourous, yet informative videos have always been anticipated by fans and skeptics alike. I do not know the expense involved to utilize this method of game promotion, but Warhammer is a pretty well known game now, and it has no forums of its own. EA/ Mythic has to be one of the best PR companies in this category. The beauty of this method is that it is all scripted. It is hard to miscommunicate or misspeak. You can put forth your best face every time. Notice FunCom started their developer narrated videos a few weeks before launch... Bottom line is that needs to be budgeted, but it appears to be well worth the expense.
I don't know about you all, but I am tired of seeing gaming company profiles on their employees. Who cares if one of the artists likes comics of the 1930's? I am not going to buy your game based on the composer of your music either. Maybe it is a human resources tactic - be proud of your staff and they will work harder for you and not want a raise every month. Maybe HR people say instead of "Employee of the Month" with a premium parking spot, give em a dedicated web Spotlight. ::Shrugs:: I want information about your game, not so much from your staff. If you are proud of your staff, keep it on your website. You never know, it may backfire someday. What if someone falls in love with your company codemaster and steals him/her away for their project??
Conferences - this is a no brainer. Get your team out there and let players test your game. The people that go to conferences are your die hard gamers. They take the time out of their lives to learn more about the games coming down the pike. Ignoring conferences delays your recognition.
Easy to produce, but also easy to criticize. WAR tries to quell critics with the Pre-Alpha/Beta footage disclaimer on many of its videos. Is that all you need to do?
Yes, the time of this blog comes to the all important marketing tool. The Preorder. I will go over the ugly before what I like about it.
The Ugly - Gods and Heroes (Perpetual Entertainment), The Chronicle (MMO Center?)
Examples of abuse. Examples of companies which took your money and almost ran. This alone should always caution people when pre order offers are available. Make sure you know how to get your money back. Do companies make it easy to cancel or is it an act of congress? Think twice if a company does not make it simple for your to cancel a preorder. You are giving money away in return for a promise of a game sometimes a long, long time.
The irritating - Age of Conan
As these forums demonstrated. When a company makes its preorder offer vague, alter it promises in features, makes you spend more money to enjoy the preorder privledges, restrict the numbers of availabilty, etc. you are not doing your customers any favors. You would think you want more money asap so why not entice people to buy your product before you launch it?
Maps/Books/ artistry - eh. i can live without them. For avid fans I suppose. Collectors edition. Fine. Pre-Order standard edition? Nah
The Beta Lust
Grab player information data and computer data from gamers interested and what do you have? A buttload of information. Emails of gamers? Check. Personal demographics of gamers? Check. How many gamers have x amount of these types of video cards? How many have vista systems? How many have 2 or more gig of RAM? How many use cable/dsl/dial up? All this data is important to developers because they do not want their game to overload players systems, but they do not want their game to look dated either. So how do you know what gamers have? Offer them a chance to be in your Beta! Don't promise them a spot, just offer them a chance. If the player has what you want in regards to system to test your game, let them play it - beta testing is important of course. So offering a spot to beta testing in return for my preorder money? I'm on the fence.
Yay for Pre orders that deliver!
What works so far is not so much an item that becomes useless in the first few days of actual play.
Mounts - everyone loves them because they do stand out. I give FunCom hats off because they won't make them available until you have played the game ( lvl 40). That deters people who want to sell their mounts or cancel their pre order. Also props for FunCom for making the mounts more than just a speed buff. You can fight with them. I am hoping they cost a lot for those that did not preorder so at least I feel a little special for giving my money up earlier than they did. :)
Unique avatars - Props of Warhammer for doing this. This really makes me feel special. If I have access for a toolset of customizable characters that no one else does when the game goes live, that entices me a lot. MMOs need all the customization as possible, and this is a great start. I see this as a win/ win for future MMOs. Set aside some portraits or even a website of tools (that need to be unlocked via password) where players can create their portait to be saved before the game goes live. People can advertise your game with their avatar they made as well. Champions Online would do well to offer this.
Mega Download/Torrents vs. mailing CD - what if instead of an empty box for $10 at retail stores, you get a basic framework cd of the game? This way players are not downloading for days and do not have to buy subscriptions for the opportunity to try your beta test? If players don't want to go to the retail store then offer direct download as well with fileplanet, but if you have to spend $$ to put an empty box on a store shelf why not save the gamer some headache by putting a basic dvd in it? Make it clear that this is only the beta version and patching will be frequent before launch, but at least its patching.
Enough for now.. I hope I didn;t bore you all..