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Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

I quite often get official word of marketing campaigns for new and soon-to-be-released games.  They’re second only to architectural trade stories in “things I’m most often pitched.”*

Anyways, EA is taking a novel approach to promoting their supercops-and-unsavory-characters MMO, APB. They’re making one fan put his money where his mouth is, literally turning him into an avatar that could be produced in the game’s design-your-character interface.  I’ve seen more than enough promotions that put one lucky fan into a game as a background model, and even occasionally as a playable in-game character.  So it’s cool to see EA turn that concept on its head.

The community is at the helm, making choices via popular vote on who their base model is, his hairstyle, even tattoos the poor guy has to get. To be fair, Josh (the “winner” in this case) lists “Free Runner” as his occupation, so he probably had plenty of time and empty pockets to commit to this project.  And hey, it’s not like his shift supervisor is gonna reem him out for showing up to work with stupid visible tats or a crazy haircut.  That’s why you make career choices like “Free Runner” in the first place, right?  Except this guy.  He’s a badass, and it look like dude gets paid.

The whole thing has me thinking more about our relationships with what we control onscreen.  Tom Bissell had some very, very good points in Extra Lives about how much of (another EA title) Mass Effect’s success is tied to Bioware empowering us all to create OUR Commander Shephards.  I still bristle a little bit when I see a YouTube video or something from that game, and it’s not MY Shephard running around.  It feels like the lost footage from Back to the Future with Eric Stoltz in the Marty role.  Creepy.

...that's just not right

But I don’t think I would ALWAYS be more emotionally invested if I could design my own avatar.  Case in point: there’s nothing on this earth that turns my “nostalgia” valve quite like a Mario game.  Even when I could play a sidescrolling platformer — that most nostalgic of genre — with an avatar of my own design in LittleBigPlanet, it just didn’t resonate emotionally as much as one starring everyone’s favorite plumber.

APB designer Dave Jones (of Lemmings and GTA 1-2 fame) clearly wants us to feel like we’re inhabiting that world.  As WoW has shown us, a custom avatar can really make players buy in to the setting and fiction on a very deep level.  Let’s hope Josh can hack it.

* Really.  Enough with the damn pitches about building materials.  I’m sure advances in shaftway cabling are a very big deal, but we write about videogames here, peeps.

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Of course this game will be awesome. He looks like the frickin' Rocketeer!

Just like last year, this Christmas’ new games slate went lighter than planned, as quite a few high priority games’ release dates slipped into the first quarter of next year.  Hardly anyone wants to delay a project release, especially when you consider how long the development cycle on current gen games can get.  But sometimes a game could benefit from a few more months of polishing, as was the case with this year’s GOTY contender Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Other times, a real juggernaut hits retail, and it makes more sense for a publisher to hold back a release until it can find more room in headlines and on shelves.  Modern Warfare 2 and New Super Mario Brothers Wii in particular sucked all the air out of the room this year.

It’s been fascinating to watch what Capcom’s community team and developer Airtight Games have been doing with the extra time until the release of their delayed title, Dark Void. Of course, they’ve checked all the necessary boxes: a fan site, a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed. Their Twitter community manager is really committed to speaking as the character of a survivor from within the Void, and ties in the game’s fiction nicely with even routine things like giveaway contests.

And this is where it gets really cool.  Last week Capcom announced Dark Void Zero, an 8-bit “prequel” to their soon-to-be-released current gen game.  Retro lightning already struck twice for Capcom, with Mega Man 9 and the outstanding Bionic Commando: Rearmed, so why not try for a third?  But Mega Man and Bionic Commando really are established, well-loved franchises with all the history and nostalgia that entails. 

Dark Void’s a completely new IP.  And it’s been hard out there for a pimp new property lately.  Just ask EA!  On top of developing an impressive fiction to serve the current-gen Dark Void game and the fan community, AND developing a fun 8-bit game to expand that universe and generate buzz, big C also developed a suitable backstory for the 8-bit game, as if the property had existed during that era.

All this attention to detail in the pre-release period has elevated Dark Void from a title I was merely interested in to pretty much a must-buy on day 1.  I’ll probably download Dark Void Zero to boot.  Well played, Capcom.

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It's never too early, or too late, in the year to talk about baseball games. Right?

If you haven’t been reading Kotaku’s awesome weekend sports series, Stick Jockey, do yourself a favor and head over there immediately.  These weekly thinkpieces are consistently fascinating, especially considering that 99% of the sports game coverage out there is a very paint-by-numbers affair.

This week’s is no exception, as columnist Owen Good really shows his sports business chops examining the 2005 semi-exclusivity deal between 2K Sports and MLB.  Good does a much better job than I ever could in breaking down the how’s and why’s of the deal, but what I found to be really fascinating here is just how off the mark otherwise savvy companies like 2K and Major League Baseball could be in striking a deal, and how ultimately iffy a property MLB has become for a video game license.

There have been a few bright spots here and there (RBI on the NES, World Series on the Genesis, and Ken Griffey Jr. Presents MLB on the SNES come to mind), but baseball has had the must lackluster games library of all major US pro leagues, hands down.  The recently released Madden NFL Arcade and another tremendous annual installment of NHL, both from EA, remind me just how broken baseball games are.

So is the answer as simple as “wait till EA can do another MLB game?”  Possibly.  After all, the Triple Play series was becoming very good just before 2K locked up the exclusivity deal, and MLB2K has a lot of flaws that just wouldn’t make it through EA’s very polished sports game development process.  But Sony’s first party series MLB: The Show suffers for reasons wholly different from 2K’s product – an unforgiving difficulty curve and an engine that emphasizes photorealistic stadiums over responsive controls and a smooth play experience.

With baseball’s annual winter meetings just concluded, the countdown is on for next year’s outings.  They’ll likely be tweaked versions of last year’s games, built upon the same engines that 2K and Sony already introduced this console generation.  2K’s in particular seem to be showing its age.

It’d be great to see one of these license holders tear the whole thing down and start fresh.  Perhaps EA’s 7 year absence from our nation’s pastime will end up benefitting them AND us in 2012, for the simple reason that they haven’t had a baseball game on any current-gen system, and will have to field a whole new team and start fresh.

2K’s pricey misadventure makes it unlikely that anyone, be it EA, 2K, or another player, will be in a hurry to buy up exclusive licensing rights when they become available again for the 2012 season.  But if someone opens the checkbook, I hope MLB Digital Media takes a close look at the plan, the team, and at least asks to see a preview build this time around.  In all fairness, that office wasn’t yet created for the 2005 deal.  Who knows how many fans they’ve turned off or missed out with lackluster branded games since then?

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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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nintendo-wii-price-drop_2After Sony and Microsoft both announced hardware price cuts a few weeks ago, every podcast, analyst, fanboy, and even some Wall Street types focused on what Nintendo still had in its hand (other than some million dollar bills).

As of this writing, a Wii price drop is finally, officially confirmed.  And really, I think everyone saw this coming over the last few days, as some awfully official-looking channels tipped the new $200 MSRP in the US.  Still no word on other territories.

Of course, a price drop is always good news for consumers in an economy like this, and Nintendo is now the first in this hardware generation to find the magic $200 mark for their full-featured SKU.  Part of me still wonders if Nintendo really NEEDED a price drop this holiday, though.  They’ve got a solid holiday lineup with a new, critically-acclaimed Wii Sports already on shelves and a family-friendly Mario game due out in November.  Besides, the Wii flew off shelves the last 3 holiday seasons at $250.

I was actually expecting a new Wii SKU to hold the line on price, but sweeten the deal on pack-ins.  Another Wii remote & nunchuck, perhaps Motion Plus add-ons or a Balance Board would add value to that $250.

smb wiiBuried deep within the price drop announcement is a release date for New Super Mario Bros. Wii.  It’s November 15.  This is big news for yours truly, as my baby daughter’s release date is November 14.  A Super Mario game that allows up to four players simultaneously, the day after my family grows by one “player.”  Synergy!

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