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Archive for October, 2009

dpIt must be marketing week around here.  Only a few hours after I hit “publish” on my developers-are-the-best-marketers post, Sony announced a completely on-target concept: including the God of War III demo on the District 9 Blu-Ray movie disc.

I’ve seen a few fairly lame attempts to market games via home video, and vice versa.  Usually, it’s just a trailer for a licensed game in front of the exact DVD movie upon which the game is based, e.g., a non-interactive trailer for the Kung Fu Panda video game on the DVD movie release of Kung Fu Panda. Isn’t that a wasted effort? Are there really that many Kung Fu Panda fans out there that have no idea a video game exists?

What I like about Sony’s bundling is it demonstrates an understanding of the audience for both properties, and simply makes the introduction.  I didn’t see D9 in theaters, but some pretty smart cats I know thought it was a good, cerebral sci-fi movie.  Similarly, the God of War series has always appealed to a more sophisticated audience than your average brawler, with its operatic story of betrayal and redemption set against a faithfully presented backdrop of Greek myth.  It stands to reason that some D9 fans love Kratos’ exploits, whether they know it or not.

On the flip side, GoW is an established series with legions of fans, and their desire to play a level or two from the long awaited series finale (before it’s available for download) might jbat dogust lead them to a purchase of the District 9 Blu-Ray, even if they missed it in theaters. So, win-win for Sony, as D9 is a product of their Pictures division and GoW is an exclusive franchise that moved plenty of hardware last generation.

I’d really like to see this type of partnership explored further, especially with some less obvious (but perhaps more effective) pairings among multiple companies.  How about a demo disc for Batman: Arkham Asylum with every adult size superhero costume sold at Halloween USA stores this time of year?  Of course, physical media should be a non-issue here.  I’m willing to bet EA Sports and Stubhub would probably hit it off, so that way everyone that prints out their ticket to an NHL game could also get a download code for the NHL 10 demo on their system of choice.  The possibilities are pretty much endless here.

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Industry Gamers ran an interview snippet (via MCV) that as a brand marketer, gamer, and marketer of game brands really caught my eye.  In the runup to Modern Warfare 2‘s release, Infinity Ward community manager Robert Bowling talks about how developers need to be as hands-on as possible with marketing their game.

IW RobertBowling

Infinity Ward's Robert Bowling

It makes complete sense, and I’m sure it’s a “duh” concept for anyone that works with food and beverage, CPG’s, etc. in a marketing capacity.  But the sad fact of the matter is, this kind of thing hardly ever happens in the games industry.

Somewhere along the line we appropriated Hollywood’s shitty confusing approach to marketing, where the people most directly involved in the creation of a game are usually the ones least involved in marketing it.  It’s tough to say how exactly this got started.  After all, in the bedroom coding commodore 64 and Amiga days, pre-retail, the developers WERE the marketers, as well as the QA testers, instruction manual copywriters… all of it.  Of course, “marketing” was more or less a matter of taking out an ad in the back of an enthusiast magazine and attending the odd trade show.

At any rate, big kudos to Bowling and Infinity Ward for taking the reigns themselves.  I’m sure Activision would be more than happy to just line up the troops, cut a check and send them off marching in whatever direction they chose.  But having the IW guys at the top of that chain has kept the promotional machine for this juggernaut of a game focused and coordinated.  Most importantly, they understand the Modern Warfare audience on a much deeper level than the sum whole of any team from any agency they retain – even a videogame specialty practice.

Bowling Twitter

Bowling started using Twitter to get minute details about MW2 directly to passionate fans

I can’t even begin to count how many interviews I’ve seen where a developer, hyping his newest game, blames the failure of his last one squarely on marketing, and how the team responsible either didn’t get the game, didn’t get the audience, or both.  Hopefully Infinity Ward’s attitude takes hold with other AAA developers, so that excuse can finally be put to rest.

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ODST's won the day, but was September a turning point for Sony in the war?

ODST's won the day, but was September a turning point for Sony in the war?

The NPD Group’s US Video Game Report for September just hit my inbox last night, and it may be an early indicator of the exciting fourth quarter predicted by some pretty smart cats.  We saw increases across most categories from September ’08’s numbers, but not enough to pull the year-on-year numbers out of their recession doldrums.  However, Sony’s got several reasons to smile, in spite of Halo 3: ODST nabbing the top spot on this month’s Software Top 10:

Rank Title Platform Units
1 HALO 3:ODST 360 1.52M
2 WII SPORTS RESORT WII 442.9K
3 MADDEN NFL 10 360 289.6K
4 MARIO & LUIGI:BOWSER’S INSIDE STORY DS 258.1K
5 THE BEATLES:ROCK BAND 360 254.0K
6 MADDEN NFL 10 PS3 246.5K
7 MARVEL:ULTIMATE ALLIANCE 2 360 236.0K
8 BATMAN:ARKHAM ASYLUM PS3 212.5K
9 GUITAR HERO 5 360 210.8K
10 THE BEATLES:ROCK BAND WII 208.6K

Yes, there are only two PS3 titles in the top 10 this month, but looking at this list, you can practically see the purchase behavior!  Madden and Arkham Asylum both shipped to decent numbers on the PS3  in August, but not enough to overtake their respective Xbox 360 counterparts.  These particular games’ second month in the Top 10, despite the PS3’s much smaller installed base, is a clear indicator of a positive trend in hardware sales for Sony.  More casual gamers that only buy one or two pieces of software a year religiously get Madden, and strong word of mouth among hardcore gamers (not to mention a pretty good ad campaign) for Arkham Asylum has made that a must-have title for anyone just purchasing a current gen system.  So gamers that were holding out for a price drop seem to be gravitating towards the PS3, and they’ve essentially created their own hardware bundle in the process.

The price drop and slim hardware proved to be exactly the 1-2 punch Sony needed.  Take it away, NPD analyst Anita Frazier!

“Compared to last September, the PS3 was the big winner, more than doubling last year’s sales.  This portrays a very strong consumer reaction to the price decrease as August and September both realized a lift of more than 70% over the prior month.  This is the first month that the PS3 has captured the top spot in console hardware sales.”

It’ll be interesting to see if Microsoft rolls out a new hardware bundle or retailer discount for the holiday.  This very well could be the PS3’s year.

In other news, this month’s NPD report saw Wii Fit fall out of the Top 10 for the first time since its introduction 15 months ago.  Of course, it was immediately replaced in the Top 10 by Wii sports Resort.  But for a $90 game to spend 15 months in the Top 10, where even a soft month has the floor somewhere around 200K units, is impressive.  Just like the home crowd standing up for their starter during his 7th inning exit, I’ve got to salute Nintendo on this one.  Well done.standing o

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ctown fair sign 2Last week, yours truly was called upon to protect the city and county of New York from the forces of evil.  Luckily, jurors get a whopping 2 hours for lunch and my local Hall of Justice is a few shorts blocks away from one of NYC’s truly hidden gems – Chinatown Fair.  Once famous for its dancing, tic-tac-toe playing chicken, Chinatown Fair is the city’s last bastion of the smoke filled, dimly lit arcade scene that bore nerd havens in malls and boardwalks around the country throughout the 80s and mid 90s.

I had last been in a proper arcade sometime in college (Pinball Pete’s represent!), but arcades had begun a quick and steady descent into obsolescence in this country some years before that.  Starting with the earliest consoles, each generation inched closer and closer to delivering a true arcade experience.

The Playstation/Saturn era finally delivered parity, but the home experience still came up short in perhaps the most critical area: competition.  This generation’s online matchmaking took care of that, and now  just about the closest thing you can find to an arcade in the States is some kind “Chuck E. Cheese for adults” nightmare with lots of bad food and fairly lame out-of-home-attraction type games.

SFIV

CF's networked SFIV cabinets - the only ones in NYC?

Chinatown Fair is unapologetic in its lineup and old-school decor.  The place is lined wall-to-wall with Capcom, SNK and Namco fighters.  A few big cabinet driving games, light-gun shooters, shmups and the obligatory Dance Dance Revolution machines round out the collection.

The latest additions to CF are all imports, as the scene’s still vibrant across the Pacific.  It was a good opportunity for me to see how arcade companies are adapting their hardware to suit more casual play styles, just like in console games.

A few driving and rhythm games at CF feature a proprietary card system that tracks players’ progress, much like a players’ club card in a casino.  So after a one-time nominal purchase on the actual game cabinet – for example, a racer based on the anime Initial D – the player can insert their card into any Initial D cabinet they encounter in any arcade in the world, and they’ll be able to use the car they’ve customized on the tracks they’ve unlocked progressing through the game.  It’s like having a savegame file that’s always with you, or an Xbox LIVE account that works in the arcade.

I thoroughly dug my visit to Chinatown Fair.  It feels like one of the divier spots from my time in Japan.   And I mean that as a huge compliment.  I can understand how the arcade business model got phased out, but it’s kind of a shame that there are so few of them left for younger gamers to experience.  If you happen to know of a particular good spot in your town, be sure and leave it in the comments.

I'm such a baller

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