Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Patcher was quoted as saying "Few companies perform well when they are focused on so many new games…We haven't seen Activision introduce that many new brands over the last few years."
What caught my attention was the word "brand." Personally I shy away from thinking every title as a separate brand, simply because most titles lose relevance after a certain (and often short) period of time. Semantically you can argue that a title does mean a brand. And I encourage that argument, because for once, arguing semantics might get us somewhere.
For a title to become a brand;
- it needs to develop an identity that is distinct enough to be recalled on its own.
- But more importantly, it needs to have continuity so that the brand will have functional value, not just for the customer, but for the marketer looking to make use of it.
Survival of the fittest title
Publishers are being increasingly criticised for not backing up their new IPs adequately. Mirror's Edge and Dead Space are the latest examples. This lack of marketing support even seems to be somewhat deliberate. It is a survival of the fittest strategy where new IPs are left to fend for themselves in the market, with minimal support. If the title somehow manages to sell well despite the cruel parentage of the publisher, it is deemed worthy of being a franchise. Then you start to see full page print ads and even TV ads. If not, they say it was never meant to be.
Survival of the fittest concept works very efficiently in nature and evolution. It does not seem to work that well, however, when the new IP in question needs millios of dollars to develop, only to be set up to fail by its own publisher. It is simply too late a stage to use as a filtering mechanism, and it is a Bad Idea for New Product Development(tm).
Alternative ways to build brand equity
How do you build equity without having to pump three or four games into a franchise then? The answer may lie in utilizing media other than the video games medium itself.
The best example I can think of is the game from Penny Arcade, titled Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness. It was hardly a franchise when the first episode came out, yet it did have an identity and equity of its own already, thanks to the Penny Arcade webcomic. Actually the same duo has also done work for video game marketing campaigns, such as illustrations and mini-comics for Prince of Persia and Fallout. The difference, though, is that Penny Arcade comics have represented what lies at the heart and soul of their own game. Their illustrations for other games, though, are simply the requisite humour section of a game website.
So the question is: How can you convey what your game stands for, without having the final product in your hand?
The answer might include:
- Pin down what your game stands for at its heart and soul, as early into the project as possible: This will give you more time to promote that core idea over the next couple years of development cycle.
- Look for simple, low-cost ways of promoting the core idea: Titles alone mean little to consumers. Mirror's Edge does not ring any bells just by its name. The phrase "urban ninja" however, immediately creates a mental image of those crazy people jumping from one rooftop to the other. How costly could it be to get one of those guys to endorse the game? Or to post clips of people doing those stunts in real life, on Youtube? There you have a non-digital game demo. It is easier to promote the idea of an urban ninja, than it is to promote the actual brand name of Mirror's Edge. Associating the two might be the thing your brand needs to take-off.
- Make a playable demo available as soon as you can manage
- Use other media such as stories, mini-games, animated series, comics, etc: Not as after-thoughts like the comics section of your newspaper, but as focused, consistent efforts to promote your core idea.
I am sure there are more ways that I am missing right now. Any thoughts?