Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Can you change a brand?

In yesterday's thread, Woody remarked:
"It seems that TESO has become the game that is cool/trendy to hate on. Amongst the more rational and balanced of observers there are two theories as to what is going on here. The first is that a number of ES fans went into the beta expecting Skyrim 2 and having never played an MMORPG before got something they were not expecting/wanting. Many of the criticisms I have read could have been applied to any MMORPG on the market. Indeed for the life of me I absolutely cannot see why people are complaining about the start of TESO when compared to other MMO's."
I found that funny insofar as it completely summarizes a previous discussion on this blog: Replace "Skyrim / TESO" with "Dungeon Keeper" and "MMORPG" by "mobile multiplayer strategy game", and you have exactly the discussion from two weeks ago here. It isn't as if the new game was an exceptionally bad incarnation of the new genre, but it receives a ton of hate because it switched genres. The majority of complaints are about features that are inherent to the new genre. And thus to the other fans, the fans of the new genre, the complaints sound rather silly.

One problem here is that it wouldn't even necessarily help if the developers would choose a different name for their new game. Zenimax could have called their MMORPG "Blobfitz" and people would still have expected a spiritual successor to Skyrim. If Rockstar would announce tomorrow a MMORPG about gangsters stealing cars, it wouldn't matter whether they called it "Grand Theft Auto Online" or something else, the expectations would be the same. If you have a history of making games of a certain brand, people expect the next game to be true to the spirit of the series.

Curiously enough this doesn't appear to happen every time. I don't remember ever reading anybody complaining that World of Warcraft was not a real-time-strategy game any more. Many long-standing series of games started out as single-player games and acquired multi-player game characteristics over the years. That didn't always work out well (think SimCity), but in general that sort of change doesn't get disputed so much. It isn't really obvious why switching from single-player role-playing game to massively multi-player role-playing game is so problematic.

In a way that is rather sad. I kind of like game studios making different sorts of games instead of an endless series of sequels. I think it is great if a company like Blizzard can decide to make a trading card game instead of a sequel of one of their existing series. But the cases of Dungeon Keeper and The Elder Scrolls Online show that it isn't just a few rabid fans, but also many so-called game journalists which are willing to give a game a bad review just because it isn't a sequel. And with bonuses tied to Metacritic scores, that sort of behavior might well end us in a world where nothing but sequels is ever produced. Do we really want that?

Final Fantasy XI went through the same thing 12 years ago and it went on to become the most profitable game in the series. It had haters, of course, but Square didn't much care and that worked out pretty well for them.

Of course the same can be said for all subsequent Final Fantasy games too, with varying degrees of success. But then their sequels have never been true sequels...
It could be that when Warcraft switched genres it was a huge and obvious change. There was no issue with the "expectations" of RTS fans.

An MMO, especially when it includes a much hyped first person view (which I immediately exited) and a distinctive Elder Scrolls graphics style, looks close enough to the single player game to lure in those Skyrim fans with certain expectations.

In their defence I remember when I first played an MMO and I too had the same false expectations and disappointment but I persevered because my friends encouraged me to stay. Were it not for those social connections I'd have walked away saying "wow is terrible" and never become an MMO addict.

So I don't blame those guys who had no prior MMO experience. It is possibly a failure of the marketing team for either giving a misleading impression or failing to manage those expectations.

I can't however excuse the media. I berated a YouTube video by PCgamer (or some organisation like that) because their beta impressions video was literally just a critism of the entire MMO genre! These guys should know better and they are a major part of the games image problem.
Oh forgot to add that the genre switch issue is working both ways. One of the beta complaints from MMO players related to walking long distances between quests.

They are used to WoW where every square metre of real estate and every mob is ruthlessly used such that you have a high quest density.

Whereas any Skyrim player will be quite familiar with that long trek up the mountain in the first few hours of the game to learn your first shout. Walking miles with nothing happening.

Can you imagine how crazy that would seem to a WoW player. Although I do remember my friends taking me on a long trek from Stormwind to Wetlands those days are long gone.

Amazing how two games that appear so similar on the surface can be so alien.
It is a shame when an IP get trapped in a single genre. Different types of games have different story telling strengths so a fully absorbed verse almost needs a variety of genres and media to fully explore the world.
If the game series in question was a trailblazer in it's original genre, having the sequel to be "just" an average implementation of the new genre is definitely disappointing.

The team might need one game's worth of experience to know the genre conventions well enough to know when to break them, but unfortunately the cost of current-generation AAA games can make that nigh-impossible.
Woody more or less already says it, but the main difference between Warcraft & World of Warcraft on the one hand and the Dunegonkeeper versions and TES(O) ont he other is that Warcraft actually switched genres, from RTS to MMO(RPG), whereas Dungeonkeeper switched from Dungeon management-simulater with RTS elements to Online Dungeon management-simulator and TES went from RPG to MMO(RPG). The latter two are gnre dilutions or hybrids or whatever you want to call it. Not an actual different genre to which the IP is applied. The same with FFIX. It's ome kind of uncanny valley thing that's going on. if the new direction isn't actually a genre switch but a move-to-online that's going to result in people who don't like online/multiplayer/being-forced-to-pay-for-their-entertainment to complain.

If Bethesda were to come out with "Cyrodill - Total Annihilation" an RTS, that'd be a true genre switch whereas what Zenimax does is dragging the IP in a different direction within roughly the same genre.

By the way, if Zenimax'd called their game Boblitz we'd all be wondering why that upstart company is making yet another bland WOW-clone MMO :-)
This is disappointing news. Given the decline of traditional mmorpg players TESOs main shot at success was to pull in millions of elder scrolls fans who have never played an mmorpg before. If they don't attract and hold onto a substantial number of non core mmorpg players the game is going nowhere.
Would agree. It's about how much of a stretch the genre shift is. If they made an Elder Scrolls tower defense game, or an Elder Scrolls build your own castle game, or an Elder Scrolls grand strategy game, then that would be an awesome extension of the IP.

Haven't played TESO myself, but I can imagine players getting upset that from their perspective the developers took a good rpg and turned it into a bad rpg-with-multiplayer.

I think it could have worked if they'd also had some significant advances. Like FF11 had worse typical-rpg-gameplay than earlier FF's, but it was also a lot prettier and felt in some ways more grand, so it seemed like there was net improvement. TESO looks to be both worse gameplay and uglier than skyrim, so to some it perhaps feels like a loss of progress.
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I actually feel like there is too much hate for sequels. When I finish a good single player game, I may be done with it...for now. But that doesn't mean I will never again want to play that type of game.

And this is something I think you can understand from MMORPGs, and WoW specifically. How many commenters on your blog over the years criticized you from consistently going back to WoW? I have gone back to WoW several times, mostly with each new expansion, because I didn't just want a new, different game in the genre. I wanted to play new content in THAT game.

Well, you can apply the same thing to other games. I loved Bioshock. Eventually I wanted to play something like that again. Not just another FPS single player RPG, but that game. Except, I've already played through the Bioshock story. I think it is perfectly reasonable to play Bioshock 2, and I don't really care if that damages some sort of intellectual credibility that I didn't play something totally different instead.
The problem with TESO is that it could've taken some of the GREAT mechanics from Skyrim and its predecessors, but didn't. And not because it couldn't, just because of flat-out "But you can't do that in a MMO!" cowardice.

Things like going fully classless for your skill system.

When you switch TES to TESO and implement classes in hugely restrictive way, you are implying that this is necessary because it's required in MMOs. And THAT assertion is frustrating, insulting, and disappointing. Because it's NOT required. That one facet alone gets me far more agitated than anything else about this bastardization.

They're not failing TES franchise because they're making a MMO, they're failing it because they're making the same MMO as everyone else is.

TES history of explorable worlds jam-packed with things to discover in a completely free-form manner once you left your main quest behind, and its skill system would have been a breath of fresh air for MMOs and would've been something different.

Instead, all we got was a TES skin over a generic, mediocre themepark MMO.
Brands are powerful things and sometimes even the owners of the brand don't control the associations. I remember one of my marketing professors discussing a case study for Bic.

Bic is US producers of consumer goods most well known for it's lighters, pens, and razors.

A giant in the razor market, Bic once attempted to extend the brand into aftershave. It was a complete failure.

While it's true razors and aftershave are both related to men's shaving needs, the brand association for Bic is "cheap" and "disposable" and it turns out those aren't very sought after traits in the aftershave market. :)

In other cases, extending your Brand is easy. Harley Davidson, a motorcycle company, was able to extend it's brand into an extremely popular apparel line because the association was "cool". They also tried an aftershave, but it failed because it turns out motorcyclists don't want to smell pretty.

Kia has been trying for YEARS to evolve it's brand beyond cheap cars.

Many might not remember this, but Honda and Toyota both had the same reputation in the 80s until the US started limiting the number of cars that could be imported. They actually created luxury brands (Acura and Lexus) as a way to differentiate themselves from the economy-car brands.

The point is, brands are powerful things and companies can spend millions of dollars on brand marketing and not even change one perception.
In the case of Warcraft switching from RTS to RPG, I ask if there were as many outlets for gamers to express their excitement or outrage. How many blogs dissecting that change were present at that time, how many users and usage did forums have at that time ?
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