Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 01, 2008
 
MMO marketing and target audiences

I just received the latest Warhammer Online monthly newsletter. It is very long, as usual, with lots of text describing features, design drawings, and even two videos: one showing gameplay footage, the other being the usual Josh and Paul discussion show. All in all great marketing. Compare the WAR newsletter to the WotLK newsletter. Ooops, there isn't one. You get my point. Wrath of the Lich King's latest marketing operation is opening up a bestiary website, with only two mobs shown yet, the rest is still greyed out. I've seen vaporware games with better marketing than Wrath of the Lich King.

I couldn't help but think that Blizzard considers marketing Wrath of the Lich King to be a waste of time. World of Warcraft players are going to buy it anyway, no need to advertise it much. Instead of that Blizzard is spending their advertising budget on getting non-players into World of Warcraft. Just look at the recent TV ads, showing Mr. T. or Shattner playing WoW. The message was clearly "cool people play WoW too", targeted squarely at non-gamers, trying to overcome the prejudice that only dorks play MMORPGs. For people already playing MMORPGs but having chosen a different game, lets say Everquest 2, the WoW TV ads contained nothing that would have enticed them to switch games.

Warhammer Online marketing is just the opposite. Show the WAR gameplay video to a non-gamer without telling him what it is, and he'll think it is one of many WoW YouTube videos. It has the same blurry low-res quality, and the characters don't look all that different. Only a gamer can appreciate the differences. The Josh and Paul podcast is even worse in that respect: all a non-gamer sees are two guys sitting at a table holding an incomprehensible dialogue. For a gamer it is much more interesting, because the dialogue contains interesting tidbits like how some public quests open up only once one side has conquered the main city of the enemy. In an earlier video podcast Paul's "bears, bears, bears" monologue became an instant classic for gamers, but it is hardly likely to seduce somebody to try WAR as his very first MMORPG. He is a man with a passion talking about arcane game features which only a true gamer could possibly be interested in.

Of course marketing WAR to bored WoW players isn't a totally bad idea. Given the churn rate of WoW and it being in its fourth year, there must be millions of ex-WoW players out there. Blizzard was able to get many of them back by releasing its first expansions, only to lose many of them again a few months later. If you aren't a fan of the WoW endgame and are mostly interested in the leveling game, the idea of buying an expansion every year just to play another three months until you hit the level cap again isn't very appealing. WAR has a good chance to pick up a lot of those ex-WoW players, to appear as the "next big thing". But I sure hope that closer to the release date WAR is also going to market itself more to non-gamers. If WoW had only targeted gamers with their marketing, it would never have grown to where it is now.

Meanwhile Blizzard really needs to put a bit more effort into marketing Wrath of the Lich King. Where is the video podcast with Rob Pardo and Jeff Kaplan? Where are the flash videos showing us all the new Northrend zones and dungeons? Where are the detailed explanations on how the deathknight class is going to work? Based on how scarce information on WotLK is, people are beginning to lose hope that the expansion will even be ready for christmas. Nobody suggests that WAR will be a WoW killer, but if even just 100,000 WoW players quit the game to play WAR because they are getting bored waiting for WotLK, that is already $20 million a year less for Blizzard. You should be able to make a video podcast with that budget. :)
Comments:
Yeah.

It's been so quiet on the WoTLK front that my pessimism about its release has come full circle, and I now think it's a cunning ploy by Blizzard - that they'll release it all guns blazing in March or so, with only a few weeks of uber hype about all the incredible features they've kept under wraps.

Well, I can hope, anyway :)
 
Blizzard is "street smart" enough to know that whatever Rob Pardo and Tigole would say in a video half a year before launch of the expansion will be obsolete by the time the expansion launches.

They would have to back down to showing the raw assets, conecpts and visionary ideas behind various zones and such things.

Answering to "Where are the detailed explanations on how the deathknight class is going to work?" is a hopeless task. Everything they say will be wrong, and also changed rapidly every patch after the launch of the expansion to boot.

In this sense I wonder if Blizzard isnt a more agile organisation than Mythic. Lots of what I read between the lines from the WAR marketting feels waterfally with a strong steering towards the original vision. Which is good for calming the stake holders but questionable for the end user.
 
hmm..

my belief is that blizzard is still confused and befuddled while searching for more innovation for WOLTK. Even blizzard ppl dont know what make WOW a phenomenal success. Without these knowledge they already messed up some of their best feature..

as i see it, the accelerated leveling means that blizz want ppl to reach endgame quick and have fun. yet they forget its the 1-60-70 journey that make new ppl love WOW.

I wish those accelerated xp is changed into a simple auto level for veteran player. New player must level from 1, if you already got 1 lv60/70 then you can make new alt from level 20, if you already got 2 lv60/70 then you can start new alt from level 40 and so on and so on
 
>>Where is the video podcast with Rob Pardo and Jeff Kaplan?

Sorry, they're busy off designing 17 tiers of 98 man raids for Lich King. With all the design time that needs to go into not wiping everyone in the last dungeon after they get tier 20, but every time before they get tier 19, they're too busy to do something like video podcasts. I mean, that could be construed as being *shudder* CASUAL

</bitter>
 
addenum

i believe with all those profit, blizzard team can do MORe for the betterment of WOW. i'll be goin back to WOW if blizzard dev really care about ppl like me who dont like repeating raid instance for gear and dont like pvp implementation.

I believe blizzard can hire more ppl to update content of the old world and make it fresh again. wheter its graphical update or terrain update or finishing up those area that still not done yet (azhara area especially, housing , guild hall)

it seem like they are taking the easy way / doing just enought to make WOW chugging along.. didnt they know their MMO already 4 years old and everything will be degraded with time ?? putting the profit back to WOW is logical path for increasing its longetivity imho...
 
It's an old game market "wisdom" that "the way to a success is through core players". Koster and others still display that idea today. I think it's flawed and Blizz has realized it. The way to a sucess title is through mass market and turning interested players into more dedicated players through the game design itself.

What worries me about WAR is exactly that it smells like going by the old model. This may be great for hardcores, but it may be the actual doom of the title because it fails to be broad enough.
 
Meanwhile Blizzard really needs to put a bit more effort into marketing Wrath of the Lich King

Why? Unless they are going to release it within the next 2 months I don't really see any point with it. The company is well known and the game the expansion belongs to is well known to gamers of that genre, so there is no brand building effort needed, which could need some time.

Assuming the expansion will be released in the later half of this year, pushing out some marketing now would only be to satisfy some jaded MMOG players who wants to yearn for the next big thing really, whatever that may be.

Based on how scarce information on WotLK is, people are beginning to lose hope that the expansion will even be ready for christmas.

Christmas is almost 11 months away, why would they start a marketing campaign with a lot of info and details that early?

Who is going to make a decision about buying the expenasion, when they can buy it, based on something that might have been shown 11 months ago? They would look for the most current info available when it start to get time to make that buying decision.
 
I don't quite know what to make of the lack of info about WotLK. Either one of two things are likely: 1) They really don't have much info and the release is a lot farther off than they would like people to believe or 2) they're just sitting on the info and are going to start flooding us with it in the next month or two and release in the late spring/summer.

I'm kind of leaning toward option #1. If that's the case, a lot of people are going to drop WoW for something else this year.

I find Blizzard's "marketing" for WotLK to be a joke. The bestiary you mentioned was a half-assed effort to attempt on some small level to apease the playerbase.

I understand the need to release info at certain times to build hype and all, but it seems to me Blizzard is going a bit overboard.
 
I've always had this image in my head of Kaplan and Pardo sitting on thrones, ignoring their wailing, starving people... I think they've yet to really graps the importance of community in MMOs, because WoW was so successful that they didn't really need to work at it.

Then again, they may never have to have this realization as anything they make will turn to solid gold turds.
 
IMHO, I think it would be a real mistake for Blizzard to announce a Dec release (if indeed that's when it ends up being ready). It'd just cause a lot more churn over the next few months due to customer backlash. At the same time, the longer it takes, the bigger the hype & anticipation. There was a huge amount of anticipation back when WoW was stuck in beta for that really long time before launch. I could see that happen again.

Regardless of when it's launched, it'll still be huge. Probably 1-2 million copies would be the low range, I'd venture. A lot of people will come back, get annoyed and frustrated and leave within 6-12 months. But that's still big $$ for the company.

Meanwhile, WAR really seems to be targeted towards a specialized niche of players. So does an MMO need 10 million customers in order to be successful? No. Will WAR still be profitable at 250k customers? My guess is yes. So I see WAR being successful, at least in a somewhat minor way (when compared to WotLK). I'm likely to give WAR a try, unless it ends up getting slammed in all of the reviews and blogs like PotBS seems to be.
 
my belief is that blizzard is still confused and befuddled while searching for more innovation for WOLTK. Even blizzard ppl dont know what make WOW a phenomenal success. Without these knowledge they already messed up some of their best feature..



I think this is dead on. Since launch they have repeatedly killed the most fun things that players came up with in the interest of pleasing everyone, or server stability. World PVP died because they institued honor. And it was instituted to kill world Pvp.
The LFG channel which had some problems was killed to stop those annoyances but then replaced with a tool that was about 30% as effective because you lost the ability to target the entire server and all thier alts when forming a group.

They have slowly,(but unintentionally i think) strangled the social organizations of this game to near death. And I think they are still struggling trying to wrap thier head around that magic near perfect formula that was vanilla wow. Don't get me wrong vanilla wow had issues too. But they were not systemically choking the social structure of the game
 
Meanwhile, WAR really seems to be targeted towards a specialized niche of players. So does an MMO need 10 million customers in order to be successful? No. Will WAR still be profitable at 250k customers? My guess is yes. So I see WAR being successful, at least in a somewhat minor way (when compared to WotLK). I'm likely to give WAR a try, unless it ends up getting slammed in all of the reviews and blogs like PotBS seems to be.

1/2/08 15:47


Pre arena I would have agreed with this. But since blizzards fix to keep casual's happy is pvp, I think the potential to drain a huge number of subs is there.

And think about this. if they only take 250 k US subs from wow.

thats the equivilant of 1.5 million chinese subscribers or about 20 percent of blizz's revenue. I doubt they are as calm and confident over there as you are.
 
And think about this. if they only take 250 k US subs from wow. thats the equivilant of 1.5 million chinese subscribers or about 20 percent of blizz's revenue. I doubt they are as calm and confident over there as you are.

Why is 250 k US subscribers equivalent to 1.5 million Chinese? And even if it were, how could that ever add up to 20% of revenue?

As far as I know the 2.5 million US subscribers are about 40% of Blizzards revenue, the 2 million European subscribers make up another 40% (they pay more in dollar terms due to the strong Euro), and the 5.5 million Chinese make up the remaining 20% of revenue. Losing 250k US subscribers is thus losing Blizzard 4% of their revenues, or about $50 million. Which they would certainly notice, but could certainly survive.

Will WAR still be profitable at 250k customers?

Yes, although it would take more than a year to pay back the development cost. $50 million of revenue (not profit!) compared to some number in the same order of magnitude of investment. Even if they had Blizzard's 40% profit margin the game would only become profitable in its third year. I think EA Mythic is shooting for 1 million subscribers, not 250K. And that *will* influence game design.
 
But heres a thought. If War takes enough of the american base. And with the new casual game being pvp it's possible. then that 40 percent profit margin of blizzards could dip to 30 percent or lower.

thier numbers will continue to go up because of china but if they lose enough us and eu subscribers the profit margin will drop substantially because asian subscribers are far less profitable.
 
WAR isn't going to take a significant bite out of WoW. It's not even a comparable game, graphical similarities aside. It's more poised to compete with Age of Conan, and both games are pretty much being marketed towards more towards people who are playing Eve, not Wow.
 
Can I have a link on that "bears" video? We're big fans of bears, as they sometimes eat rats. Also, I have a bear in the family, so she might be interested.

Thank you.
 
Feeling like an expansion is eminent is demotivating to players. Why log in every day to get your tier x+1 when you'll replace it with greens?

The fact is, WotLK ISN'T eminent, it's a ways off. Hyping it too soon would cost them players.
 
Can I have a link on that "bears" video? We're big fans of bears, as they sometimes eat rats. Also, I have a bear in the family, so she might be interested.

Link added to the bears, bears, bears mention in the original post.
 
@athryn.

My point was if they take 1/4 of a million or even 1/2 of a million us or eu subscribers it will take a significant chunk out of thier profitibility. It takes about 6 or so asian subscribers to replace the revenue of the us and eu subscribers. And in the business world a few percent drop in profitibility causes much heartache.
 
I believe Blizzard hyped TBC too soon and they paid for that mistake with all the turnover and disillusioned raiders who stopped playing the game. If you're in a guild struggling to kill Vashj, what's the point if all that content is about to be made obsolete? Having a lot of details and a firm date, regardless of how far in the future it is, only serves to remind your players that the game is about to reset once again. With a vague and ambiguous approach people keep playing because, "hey, WotLK could still be a long way off."
 
I agree with that but I think the fact that the eventual reset will kill anything people are in the middle of attempting is already hurting them. I know so many people that just gave up on raiding and started PVP'ing not becuase they like pvp because it is a steady defineable progression. And the next expansion will just add to it. Any honor they have will probably work in the next PVP arena or battlegrounds.

Raiding will just be reset and start over.
 
I believe the non-gamers are more inticed by massive PvP and competition becasue its more like playing a sport with the person on person competiton. Also one of the things keeping gaming in the stereotype of weird and nerdy is all the person versus enviroment where your enemy really isnt crushed by his defeat because what you just killed isnt real. I belive WAR will bring more non-gamers to the mmo worlds becasue of its massive RvR like xbox 360 Live and PS3's online.
 
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