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The Free Zone: A Leftover Seasonal Gift Wish

Columns By Richard Aihoshi on December 27, 2010

A Leftover Seasonal Gift Wish

Yesterday, just like most years, my dinner consisted of turkey sandwiches. Fortunately, I happen to like them. My family's Christmas feast is probably like many others in that there's far too much bounty on the table to finish in a single sitting. This is always so; it's like part of the tradition. Buy a smaller bird? Don't have ham as well this year? Cut back to only four or five vegetables? Don't be silly; it just wouldn't be the same.


In kind of a similar vein, I decided to devote my last column of 2010 to a leftover topic. Last week, it wouldn't have been difficult at all to come up with a considerably longer wish list, but I limited myself to four. Then, I saw that the most recent version of this site's The List feature had one about game marketing. This is a complex functional area that holds particular interest for me. I studied it while obtaining my MBA, it's what I did for over 10 years in the corporate sector, and I've even taught it at the community college adult education level. So, when Bill Murphy asked for less hype and better management of audience expectations, it hit home with me, and prompted me to second what he wrote.

While it's certainly not uncommon for people to equate marketing with advertising, promotions and public relations, this isn't particularly accurate. At its core, it's really about creating or at least encouraging credible, meaningfully differentiated positioning for a given product or service with an appropriate target audience. This is actually a very difficult thing to do effectively, which I believe is a key factor in why most of what I see, while not awful, is also unexceptional - and in all probability, less than optimally effective.

Bill touched on credibility. Speaking as a consumer in the MMOG space, my usual initial inclination is think most what I see or hear about various projects is embellished. This doesn't always matter very much. As a silly but simple example, if I happen to have made up my mind I'll absolutely never play any race except elves, it makes no difference what a title without them claims. I'm not part of its target audience; I won't play it anyway.

What will attract me is a believable message telling me a game - assuming it does have elves - addresses something meaningful enough to me that I'll consider trial. Let's say my very favorite thing to do in MMOGs is to go on mini-raids with a small group of friends. In this case, if a title can lead me to feel this part of its design may be especially strong and interesting, I'll become not just a member of its target audience, but a more important one than average because my probability of trial will be higher, quite possibly by a fair amount.

Bill also talked about wanting "more show, less tell". I completely agree. It's far more likely I'll try a game if I believe I've made up my own mind about it rather than on the basis of accepting claims I've seen in ads and interviews, on official websites, etc. If a title meets or exceeds the criteria that are important enough to factor into my decision process, I'll easily and willingly convince myself to give it a shot.

On the other side of the ledger, I do realize I'm not infallible. There have been times, and undoubtedly will be more in the future when I form an impression that proves to be overly positive. But when a title succeeds in making me think it's more and/or better than it is, that feeling is always short-lived. As soon as I see the play doesn't adequately support it, I'm gone - probably sooner than if I didn't have such a false expectation. And what's worse still, it's a good bet I'll become more inclined to question the company's marketing claims for future releases and expansions. Should I get annoyed enough, I might even swear off playing them whether they have elves or not.

Accordingly, the wish I'd like to add today is to see more MMOG marketing in 2011 and beyond that will present information in a manner that doesn't try to be all things to all people, that does rely on presenting credible messages instead of hype so as to let me make up my mind in an informed manner, and that understands fooling me is at best a very short-term strategy with negative longer-term ramifications. I doubt I'll see a tidal wave, but at least a few examples would be refreshing.

The Free Zone The Free Zone Editorials
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on every Monday.
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