Bringing new players into a product is always important but for a game like Age of Conan, that has launched and fallen flat, but rallied to make changes and additions to the game that bring it more in line with what players were originally expecting, it is absolutely critical to draw new players to the game and old players back. The best way to do this is by getting the word out, and with a new expansion on the way, there may be no better time for Craig Morrison and the team at Funcom to step up the campaign and maybe learn a thing or two from Blizzard, the current kings of MMO advertising.
What has Blizzard done so well that its competition has not capitalized upon yet? What could Craig Morrison and the staff of Age of Conan capitalize on if given the opportunity? Apparently, Blizzard has studied the George Lucas Book of Marketing and Merchandising. Advertising is a start, but it often hits only specific demographics in most cases. Since movies are popular and Soloman Kane is arriving at the end of December at a movie theater near you, a strategically placed commercial promoting "Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer" would be a worthwhile investment. Any Howard character on the silver screen inevitably renews interest in our erstwhile Barbarian King. Furthermore, at some point in 2010, Millenium Pictures intends to finish production on a new Conan movie that presents itself as more faithful to the original writings of Robert E. Howard.
Cross-medium promotions are very useful. I must complement the writers of the "The Big Bang Theory" that told the story of the episode "The Barbarian Sublimation" (2nd season, 3rd episode) in choosing Age of Conan over World of Warcraft. Though this episode may highlight some negative extremes that some gamers may commit, the advertising and word-of-mouth generated by this episode was priceless in drawing attention from an audience that may not have been exposed to the Age of Conan community.
Continued publishing of lore is always welcomed by many players. We have multiple World of Warcraft Comic books, and some are already collected into Omnibus editions. There are at least twelve Warcraft novels that have been published through the years; two trilogies have already been republished as Omnibus editions. New novels are routinely in production drawing the player deeper into each expansion. Though Age of Conan has the literary backing of four trilogies comprised of twelve novels, before the sale of their MMORPG, nothing further has been alluded to; Funcom, we hope a new trilogy is in the works for "Rise of the Godslayer".
Blizzard has a beautiful relationship with game guide publishers. Age of Conan collaborated on one player and map guide with BradyGames. Blizzard has at least one game guide for every expansion, several Master guides, multiple hard-cover atlases, two dungeon guides, and at least a couple beastiaries. When you go to any bookstore or game store, there is always a Warcraft guide of some sort available on the shelves. If there are no guides present, many players will think you are not successful, since most booksellers tend to purchase books for popular games.
Anyone that reads Beckett Massive Online Gamer magazine has seen the monthly WoW Auction House Price Guide and Skittle of the Month. Though tongue-and-cheek, it is space in the magazine that is always promoting World of Warcraft. Even in the Age of Conan Resource and Strategy Guide edition, there are ads for Warcraft-themed PCs, Warcraft Trading Card Games, Warcraft Action Figures, Warcraft Player Guides, and Hard Cover Graphic Novels. In other magazines, I have also seen Warcraft Keyboards and Mice, Warcraft statuary, Warcraft hats and apparel, collectible Warcraft steins, Warcraft books and Omnibus editions of older books, and the coveted Frostmourne Sword.
Last week, Blizzard made a decision that sent the MMO Community and many Warcraft fans into an uproar. Right or wrong, they succeeded in getting everyone to talk or read about World of Warcraft in several forms of media; they effectively pushed Aion, STO, SWTOR, and even Rise of the Godslayer out of mainstream attention while many gamers were fixated on the perceived Fall of the Roman Empire.
Marketing and seizing public attention is nothing new for World of Warcraft. Blizzard has downloadable movies and music (common for many games). Outside of the expected web-based screenshots, backgrounds, bestiary, and lore, much of which Age of Conan has emulated, Blizzard has established a name recognition that has touched far more households than any other online game. Before WoW, there were Warcraft 1, 2, and 3 and their expansions, who for ten years, laid the foundation for their more popular progeny World of Warcraft. Blizzard encouraged their players to create their own media in movies and music and share it on the web. The Warcraft Lorekeepers are not afraid to parody themselves and not take themselves too seriously, and this has drawn much popular acclaim in seasonal music, cartoons, comic strips, and regular contests. Whenever I hear "For Gnomeregan!", I chuckle, and fond memories of Halloween and Christmas come to mind. Blizzard has even realized that downloading their core game system for potential new players to try out can take quite a while; we now see $1.99 two week trial DVDs in many stores across the USA. I see no reason why Age of Conan cannot do the same thing. Both WoW and AoC have a $19.99 edition for sale now, but we all know the real money is in the residual income of monthly membership fees. Age of Conan is now monopolizing on this idea by reducing their multi-month subscription fees by 20%, 30%, and 55% to draw in dedicated players.
Proper marketing, outside of the quality of a game, can be very valuable. We all want to capture the established gamer population, but robbing Peter to pay Paul can only work for so long. We regularly see our players jumping back and forth from new game to old game to new game. Drawing in a new, fresh player base will contribute greatly to a game's future longevity. Likewise, grooming new players in your world can flesh it out with more personality and varied viewpoints, making each game more interesting in social aspects. With larger player populations in game, previous and potentially-jaded players will return to where they see the action. Build it and they will come. For the players to come, we need to promote the field that we have created.