Monday, March 23, 2009

Developer branding in video games (branding alternatives - part 2 of 3)

(Part 1 - designer branding - can be found here)

2. Developer Branding
There are not many good examples of developer branding, unfortunately, which is not difficult to understand why. As I mentioned before, for a brand to have a functional value to a marketer, it needs to have some sort of continuity that can carry over from one title to the next. Such continuity is hard to come by, when the average life span of a development studio is between three to five years, barely enough time to develop a few titles at best.

Among the very few examples, Bioware is probably the best one. It is a strong brand, having itself associated with the very best RPG titles (western style) ever known to the market. That brand strength is probably the reason why they have enjoyed working on a significant number of diverse IPs over time: Star Wars, Neverwinter Nights, Mass Effect, and the upcoming Dragon Age: Origins.

If you would rank branding strategies according to their allowance of creativity and originality, Developer Branding would probably be somewhere in the middle. As seen in the Bioware example, it relies on a specific genre expertise more often than not. Yet it is still one step above working on the same franchise to death. Despite the genre focus, Bioware has been able to work on three separate franchises, (NWN, Mass Effect, KOTOR) each with their own creative freedoms.

It is also important to note that Bioware is owned by Electronic Arts, which sets them apart from a third party developer. The reason why publishers seem to prefer first-party titles is not difficult to see: more control over schedules, better integration across functional units, etc. Such control, however, often goes too far, resulting in dissolution of the developer brand.

In short, there are two main inhibitions to developer branding strategy:
  • Publisher's own business strategy, which often works at the expense of the developer studio
  • Lack of a sustainable business model on the developer side, which limits the life span of the brand
It is difficult to suggest solutions to these problems as they are rather big ones, other than suggesting that a solution begins with thinking of the problem. Unfortunately too many people see this status quo as an unchangeable property of the industry.

1 comment:

Bill DeVoe said...

I think you may have overlooked an obvious developer brand - id Software. id was (and is) known for its FPS games (Doom, Quake) and for pushing the boundaries on technology. And, unlike Bioware, they were completely independent of a big publishing house. Romero's departure and the general decline in the FPS market have reduced their visibility, but they certainly one of the major developer brands out there in the 90s.