Thursday, January 31, 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. :)

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