Entertainers these days don't seem content to succeed at one thing. Making money in the entertainment business just isn't as straightforward as it used to be, so performers have learned to expand their brands beyond products and into lifestyles. Similarly, game makers are realizing if they want to survive, let alone thrive, they too need to expand their commercial and cultural reach.
Rovio Games, with its Angry Birds franchise, has sold a ridiculous number of toys, t-shirts, bath towels and cartoons and as such is the most obvious example. MMO makers though, are doing this kind of thing too. Again, the most obvious example is Blizzard with its stable of World of Warcraft ancillary products, its esports tournaments, Blizzcon, and now, a reality TV web series called Azeroth Choppers (done in collaboration with Paul Teutul Jr. of Orange County Choppers fame). Players themselves are promoting the Blizzard way of life by creating cosplay communities dedicated to World of Warcraft and holding meetups called Fireside Gatherings to play collectible card game, Hearthstone.
Of course, Blizzard isn't the only company to figure out how lucrative this kind of expansion can be. Among its extra-MMO activities Sony Online Entertainment can claim one of the most talked-about game tie-ins ever—its pizza delivery scheme. It's also created its own magazine (Equinox) that caters to its Everquest fan base, and put on many a fan con, beginning years ago with smallish EQ Gatherings and more recently, with full-scale SOE Fan-Faires. Proof that for some people EQ is a way of life? The SOE Fan-Faire has actually hosted a wedding. And if there's still any doubt after that, that game worlds can affect the real one, back in 2009, the San Diego city council even made March 16th Sony Online Entertainment Day.
Through their efforts, Blizzard and SOE perhaps anticipated the marketing bonanza of the present, but for some newer publishers, fan cons and pizza delivery is thinking small. With its hit war game World of Tanks, Wargaming has become a huge player in the MMO world and that's not by accident. Aside fromstarting their own esports League, they've taken community involvement and crazy stunts to a whole new level.
Earlier this year, they hired a team of Russian skydivers to jump out of a plane and form the logo for Wargaming's newest release, World of Warplanes. Before that, they collaborated with the UK's RAF Museum in London to create an app that brings a full-scale virtual German Dornier Do17 bomber to Trafalgar Square. And if that's not enough, they also worked with seven crazy—er...dedicated players to stage a World of Warplanes launch on top of Mount Everest.
Wargaming fully realizes how all this helps keep its games at the forefront of public consciousness. CEO Victor Kislyi mentioned at a recent event his belief that in order for a game to stay relevant, it needs to be more than a game—it needs to be a cultural event. Apparently, many other game publishers and industry VIPs agree with him.
Games like Guild Wars, Eve Online and ArcheAge have benefited from moving beyond mere development and participating in a new branch of video-game-related book publishing. Tapping into a range of talented (and some not-so-talented) authors, publishers have created surfeit of lore-centric novels that lets fans continue to live within their favorite games even after they've turned off their PCs. Trion Worlds took a similar route by encouraging fans to first play Defiance online, and then watch a TV version of it on the Syfy channel
Video game visionaries have even worked to take games--generally considered low-brow--into the realm of high-brow entertainment. Veteran video game composer Tommy Tallarico and promoter Jason Michael Paul have tried through their live symphonic performances—Video Games Live and Play! A Video Game Symphony—to elevate MMO music (along with music from other games) into an art form just as significant as ballet, theater or opera. At this point, MMOs have gone far beyond being just games and have touched the fields of fashion (Runes of Magic's fashion show in Cologne) cooking, (The Tauren Chef Cookbook), cake decorating and home décor.
Clearly, game makers have realized for some time now how important our games are to us and how willing we are to spend money on anything related to them. It's a situation that will no doubt become even more pronounced as games move away from the traditional box/paid subscription model, and become trickier to monetize. It could be that someday soon we'll be more familiar with the fashion, furniture or food based on a game than we are to the game itself. How that affects our prospects for quality games well—that's a whole other discussion. Either way, diversification is the wave of the future, and it looks like we'll just have to get used to it.