Friday, May 21, 2010

How best to sell WoW to players and non-players alike?

This post from the lovely Larisa at the pinkpigtaill-inn (whom I owe a round after making so much fun of her questionmarks) sparked a long discussion (her posts always do), about how Blizzard is handling their brand.

This is a pet-peeve of mine, and one that Larisa has dug into, a lot also.
The premise of this post of hers is how do players feel about spending 150$ on a convention where all they do is pay to get advertisement thrown in their faces (My phrasing, not hers, Im cynical, Larisa is loving).
Kurnak asked how players that have been to Blizzcon feel about the price (he compared it to paying 6euros to enter a comic-con in Spain). And since I've been to the Worldwide invitational (WoWi) back in 08. That one was the last worldwide invitational, and it was held in Paris.
Now, why they would stop their worldwide invitationals considering the audience in the pacific, the east (especially in Korea) and in Europe, is beyond me. But then, this is no new trend from US companies. They don't like money that much I guess.

Anyway that is not what I wanted to discuss. Point is, I've been to one, it was great. I'd love to go again if the chance was there, but I would never ever ever ever pay 150$ to enter.
My last trip was part of my summer holiday. Me and the missus, went to Paris, sat at small restaurants, held hands, drank wine, kissed, and tried to speak french. It was a great trip, and on the last two days I'd gotten my old boss convinced to pay the entry fee for the both of us, to go to WoWi. So there was something in Paris for me to look forward to :)

It was an incredible experience. The thing I remember most vividly was the reveal of Diablo 3. When that guitar started playing that theme, I was ecstatic, I was in the 7th heaven.
But I know that my experience would have been greatly soured if I had payed 150$ to get in. The panel discussions where bland, and filled with well-rehearsed speeches, and hype. They where not so much discussions as they where advertisement. None of the developers I saw, seemed to care very much for taking the fans question or comments to heart. They where there, so they could see Paris, and say that they had listened to the fans. Without actually having to listen to the fans.

I don't blame them, fans aren't game developers, they don't know shit. Fans will cry about nerfs, and not give a damn about the overall picture. And Blizz games are good enough, without them having to listen to anyone other than themselves.
But it does sound good to have said that you have panels where you listen to the fans.

Just like it sounds good to say that you have a twitter-feed, where fans can connect and really get close to their prefered games. (again, they do not listen to what the fans comment on their twitter account, it is used as a cheap way to get small press-releases out).

Larisa argues that Blizzard has succeeded in convincing us that they are not like an airplane company, trying to make profit, but that they are nerds like us.
I'd argue that this is not true at all.
They should never be like a airplane company. Because we do not need to care about the product of an airplane company. If Stephanie Meyer had made a press release stating that "breaking dawn" would contain Edward with his shirt off 33 % more of the time, since that is what the target audience wanted, her books would not sell as much.

White Wolf would never claim that their New World of Darkness setting was made, to re-release the Old world of Darkness books, so they could sell them all again. Because that is not what they did, and that is not something that their fans would consider purchasing. Why do Blizzard then, seem to think that they are an airplane company, and not creators of a creative interactive product, where their customers buy into the world surrounding them, just as much as they buy into the games themselves?

They where not always this daft.

Blizzard was once a company that would go out and brag about a game the cancelled, they where infamous for giving release dates of "when it is ready".
Nowadays, things are different. Nowadays they shut down Worldwide invitational because it is too expensive, and the tickets won't cover those expenses. (my words, not blizzards though).
They hire a vast array of quasi-celebrities to ask people "whats your game". A commercial that I loved, and so did others. So much so, that in certain circles, Night-elf-mohawk, became the class description for nelf warriors.

Blizzard took note. Those internet memes are a great and cheap way to bolster our publicity. So they launched the mohawk grenades.

They where a fanstasticly fun thing.

For 30 seconds.
Then they not used. People in game stopped using an advertisement gimmick, because it was not fun, and it ruined their gaming experience.

What did Blizzard do? They repeated the whole thing once more. Same in game item, same commercials on TV, same same same same. Everything became all about the Benjamin's, baby. (Its almost poetic that hiphops biggest sellout made that song.)
I've not met a single player who was psyched about this addition to the game (at least not having it again). Its like that creepy uncle that keeps adding "thats what she said, last night.. IN BED" to everything, at the family reunion. When you are 7 its funny.. The first time.
Now its just sad.

Same with the mohawk grenades. There will be a couple of level 3 toons running up to the AH's and tossing grenades, everyone else, just /sigh at them.

What they should do
Forget they ever made those commercials (or redo them with new people), and leave the night elf mohawk alone. Let it get a nostalgic shine, instead of having it go down in flames, with players hating your game over their failed understanding of what an internet meme can be.
Those money they save on not paying royalties to MR T, could be used for this:
My suggestion: make Blizzcon free. Make the vid-cast from it free, and raffle of the tickets.
Make the commercial that a -con is, worth going to.
Half the tickets could get raffled of, as prices for those who enter. The other half should be handed out to random fans, and to enthustiastic fans.
You know the type, the players that make the WoW-cakes, the Murloc costumes, the Orc-tribal tatoos. Hell even the kid that made the "Don't blame me, I voted for fire" banners, those kinds of fans.
That is what you want your other gamers to see. Players enthused about Blizzard games. Because lets face it, there are no new players for wow, only former players and present players. And to keep them playing Blizzard would need this sort of hype going.

Why won't they do this? Because an expense for BlizzCon, does not look as good for the investors, as a sparkly pony's profit. And this is why their credit at the moral-savings and loans is going so low these days.

ps. Not all is lost, my next post will show that there are still creativity and heart in Blizzard games. I've found a little gem in Wrath that 'd like to share :)


  1. I honestly think that any company HAS to think a little bit like airplane companies (hm.. don't know why we're using them as an example all the time, but I suppose they're doing something good.)
    Thinking in processes, streamlining, being good at QA, working with systematic improvement, taking care of customers in an organized way... etc etc... Even Blizzard. But they should be cleaver enough to do this discretely, in the back-office, displaying more of their nerd heart in their external communication.
    I love your picture of that crazy, happy, love-is-in-the-air Blizzcon-for-free event!

    (As much as I HATE Mr T and his grenades, but that's another issue which I've grumbled about enough as it is.)

    And I know exactly what you mean about really reaching out to the fans. somehow I don't quite believe them when they say they do. The heart doesn't seem to be there. But I WANT to believe.

    I suppose you're right. I still haven't reached the cynical phase of my Blizzard fan career. I'm still loving, however silly it seems.

  2. But wouldn't it be great? from a PR perspective? Having the most enthused fans all hyped up on sugar and games and love of sugar and games, and having it fed to the world via web-streaming for everyone else to see? that would grant great publicity, great fan-support, fan-loyalty and all around goodness to them.

    In my home-town, we have a big annual music-festival. It was born as a "showcase" scenario, where recordlabel bosses could see all the local talent. They soon found out that none of the record excecutives signed anyone, because the concerts where boring.
    So in year two they gave away half the tickets to the show to screaming fans. And they had never had so much positive feedback on a concert, the bands got signed with labels all over the world. It is a grand sucess-story, that I think can translate into this setting of blizzcon aswell. Get people hyped about your company, get them to see others being thrilled about your products, and you got a sale, and good vibes. and your goodwill bank (as Tesh calls is) will be filled to the brink

  3. Absolutely! I would be thrilled to see that from a PR perspective. I suppose Blizzard thinks they already HAS this - after all the tickets sell out instantly and there ARE those dress competitions and that kind of circus around it. That's my impression, although I've never been to one.

    However the replies I got to my I-want-to-go-Blizzcon-post a while ago from people who actually had been there showed a different picture. They honestly weren't that enthusiastic, talking more about the anonymity, the queues and the bad food. So there definitely seems to be room for a lot of improvement.
    Yet again: they maybe don't feel any urge to change the concept since they're doing pretty ok as it is. But it's nice to dream about.

    I would definitely like to see a convention with more of fan involvement.

    How about for instance letting podcasters and bloggers lead the interviews and conducting the panel discussions?

  4. Yea me and Totalbiscuit interviewing ghostcrawler... that would sure bring in a crowd :D
    sorry. Honestly I think that would be cool, but i do not see that happening. Blizz do like being in control of what happens at those events. And that is fine, what I would think, was that they would want to have as enthusiastic fans as possible, when selling their world to the online viewers