Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Told you so

"No place for traditional publishers in digital market," says David Lau-Kee. In his speech about the future of video game publishing, he had apparently touched on several roles of the publishers in the value chain that are becoming increasingly less relevant.

Kinda reminds me of my own post saying exactly the same thing four months ago, which failed to gather the same amount of intellectual praise and consensus; something I blame on the lack of a VP title to my name.

So you see, it's a good idea to stay tuned to me. You get to hear stuff months in advance and with no admission fee!
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Future of marketing and advertising... is gaming?

I have exposed myself to a number of new ideas (and reminders of old ones) over the last week, all about the present and future of marketing and advertising; and they are beginning to converge nicely.

Seth Godin says people are interested in what you do, and not what you say. It is true at a personal level, and it also applies to brands. We are all so cynical about what brands have to say, because we have heard it all. Our stance manifests itself in the fall of the power of mass media advertising. It is expressed when we change the channel or go to the bathroom instead of listening to big bugdet, flashy, celebrity featuring 30 second spot ads. Even if we choose to stay and listen, it is doubtful we have not heard it all before.

They say that in order to engage people, you have to tell them something that they are genuinely interested in. Your message needs to be meaningful, useful even, to the consumer. So I thought about what makes me listen to a branded message as a consumer. For me, it has to fit in one of the following criteria:
  • Must be entertaining: I can laugh at your little joke but that doesn't make me believe you enough to listen to the rest of your pitch. It is much better if the message is part of my ongoing entertainment experience; like, say, gaming perhaps! It is best if the entertainment value of the experience makes me want to interact with your brand more.
  • Must be educational: Are you just trying to take advantage of the fact that I don't know any better, or are you actually making an effort to give me the knowledge that can make me tell the good from the bad? If you want to educate me, I will trust you more. If your brand of 'good' is not rock solid, chances are you won't try to engage me in this way.
  • Must be part of the solution to a real problem: Do you care about the things I care for? If so, are you just saying that or are you able to prove it? Even better, can you allow me to participate and contribute in meaningful ways? Coffee companies love telling us about the communities they help in third world countries. But how many of them actually fly their customers there as volunteers to actively participate in such help?
  • Must be saying something I haven't heard before: Also known as innovation. Diamond shreddies, as much as I love the creative idea, don't really count.

So I reach two main conclusions:

The future evolution of marketing will favour those brands that do deliver on real values of honesty, compassion, responsibility, accountability, transparency, sustainability and all other virtues that were perhaps once deemed too altruistic for the marketing field. We will only want to listen to those that make genuine efforts at giving the consumers a better world in one way or another. We care about what you do, you better be doing something good, and it better be real.

Allow me to share this section of Dominic Basulto's blog post involving a quote from Ajaz Ahmed, the chairman and co-founder of independent digital marketing agency AKQA:

"The (advertising) agency of the future will be half a software company and half an entertainment company because that's the new landscape."

This was said in the context of " companies are now working with a broader mix of agencies and technology companies than ever before as they craft new marketing campaigns designed for the online space."

Half software, half entertainment you say... hmm... Does that sound like anyone you know, dear game devs?

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

OnLive will kick your ass! No, seriously

Will OnLive kill the console market? Will they put everyone out of business? Will they beat up your dad? Your mom?

As you can probably tell from the prelude, this is going to be about the recently announced gaming platform OnLive and its fortunes. Since reading about it for the first time, I have lost count of the blog posts explaining to me and everyone else why OnLive will fail, crash, burn, cry in the rain, and possibly regret ever being born in the first place.

Let me say it right here that I do not necessarily disagree with those views. Which is also to say I do not necessarily agree. Here instead I would like to play the devil's advocate for this hopeful enterprise, not out of conviction for its birthright but simply to poke some holes in the most common arguments against it.

One reason why OnLive will never beat up your mom
Because that's not the point. Same with that "death of a console" fiction that everyone (including me, obviously) is eagerly writing about. They may not be the console killer but does that necessarily make them less significant? Is the internet somewhat less of a revolution because it failed to kill the print media?

Technology won't be ready for mass market until 2012
Oh no! But nobody will be alive in 2012! *

Let me do the math for you: 2012 - 2009 = 3 (years)

Three years is a very reasonable time frame for any tech start-up to see positive cash flows and profitability. We are not talking about the next century here. If no amazing success story about OnLive comes up in that period, that does not mean they are failing.

Also feel free to compare three years to the development cycle for a AAA title. Don't worry, your grandchildren will see it even if you don't make it yourself.

*Might be the case if that December 12th 2012 myth is not a myth after all.

People prefer having a tangible product (discs?) in their hands
Ah, yes. The collectors. Can't win the market without winning the collectors. Allow me to set up an appointment for you with the game rentals business people, so they may laugh at your face. Haha.

OnLive would disrupt all my other internet activities
Have you tried playing Call of Duty on Xbox Live when your roomie or SO is downloading a movie on the home computer at 600 KB/s? Let me tell you, you hit the ground first and then see the guy who shot at you. This is not a problem that would be unique to OnLive. We have always had it.

Nathan Solomon on LinkedIn says this is different than the latency issue on XBL. If someone else is downloading something, I would not be able to use OnLive at all. True that. But in both cases I (personally) would be killing the download before resuming my gaming experience. End result is the same. If there are people who like torturing themselves by playing a FPS game with heavy downloads in the background, then yes, OnLive would not suit that particular lifestyle choice.

Frame rate per second issues
As I said in a similar discussion on LinkedIn, the critics have the habit of picturing the video game market in their own image. Not every gamer is a FPS fanatic who measures the value of a platform by its appreciation of fast reflexes. There are games out there the players of which might not pull their hair out if they miss a couple seconds in a streaming video.

Retailers will not like it
Shall I arrange a second appointment with the game rental folks? Or would you prefer someone from iTunes this time?

Microsoft/Sony/Nintendo would not allow it
The strength of a reaction from the console manufacturers, I think, would be directly proportional to the chances of OnLive's success. If they take this newcomer seriously it means there is substance to the enterprise.

Gamers won't put up with "Servers offline due to maintenance"
True. That's exactly why World of Warcraft flopped after people had to stop playing for hours at a time every once in a while. Not to mention the waiting times to join the servers. Man, WoW would have been such a great game if not for that issue. Rest in peace.

Core gamers will not go for it
There is this common misconception again, thinking that core gamers and casual gamers are static, mutually exclusive camps. Such thinking ignores the people who have been pushed out of the core PC game market simply because they cannot afford to keep up with it.

I own a 3 year old pc laptop that has trouble running even the modest indie titles, let alone AAA powerhouses. A decent gaming PC would cost me 1500 bucks, and last maybe another year until it becomes outdated again. For people like me, OnLive offers an attractive value proposition: cheaper entertainment. Even if that means latency and issues, it can still be an acceptable trade-off, given the cost I would be avoiding by not buying a new PC.

There will be no next-gen graphics...
And thus, no problem to solve for OnLive. Or so they say. As much as I would love to believe that the focus will shift from technical superiority to interface and gameplay, I think that is a somewhat naive thing to say. Making games look better goes beyond turning HD into Super HD - whatever that is. It is not just the screen resolution, it is the scope of action, the physics engine, the loading times, and making peace between gaming and genuine multitasking on your PC (a 'pause game' feature would be handy to that end, OnLive).

Want more problems solved? How about not having to add support for every piece of hardware out there and not having tons of problems still with this driver or that? How about trading that for developing for a standardized hardware configuration? How about playing glitchless, bug free games that can hit the market sooner and for less cost?

Summing it up
As I said in the beginning, I am not claiming an absolute destiny for OnLive. Despite the humour poked at the common arguments listed above, there is still truth in some of them. Yet I am not fully capable of understanding the fervour with which the bloggers of the industry herald it as the stupidest thing ever, and regard it with an attitude that might deserve being called "animosity." That is why I felt the need to write up a critique of the ciritics.

So give OnLive a break. It will be fun to watch what happens, even if there is no other benefit to be had. It is not your money they are spending after all.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Why game devs should rethink marketing: The need for B2C branding within B2B

Now that it has been a while since my last branding related post, it is about time to put it all into perspective and think about what this means for a developer. To do that, I ask the question:

Is it possible that developers have been delegating/neglecting their marketing function a bit too much and unnecessarily, to the point of losing control over the value generated?

A while ago I had the chance to listen to an interesting presentation given by Greg Speakman, the VP Marketing of Sierra Wireless. Part of the presentation was about the difficulties of marketing something that is essentially a consumer electronic product through a B2B channel. Since they did not have the marketing budget to reach the consumer, their lifeline was their business partners like AT&T, who included Sierra Wireless products in heir own offerings. Thus, they were focused on marketing to such partners. I remember him saying how he wished they could make the consumer demand a Sierra Wireless product specifically. If their brand name was strong enough to influence a purchase, then they would have significantly more bargaining power in their deals with business partners.

Their situation has a striking similarity to the relationship between game developers and publishers. A video game is essentially produced for the consumption of individuals. Yet a developer does not sell the game to the consumer directly. They sell to the publisher. In this relationship, the publisher is the heavily dominant party because:
  • they have the money
  • they lay claim to the IP
  • they take most of the revenues
  • they put their own brand equity before the developer's
The developers lack bargaining chips, because most of the time they do not have the brand power to influence a purchase. There are exceptions of course, as discussed in my previous posts. The usual remark about examples like Will Wright or Bioware, though, is that "they have their own brand equity because they were successful in the first place." But let us turn that on its head and think: "maybe they are successful because they have their own brand equity." It is a chicken and egg argument, I know. But even realizing that means you are aware that this thing has more than one direction at a time.

At the end of that presentation from Greg Speakman, I had to ask him whether they had ever considered low cost B2C marketing campaigns through e-marketing. I was pretty surprised when he admitted that no, it had never crossed their minds.

It was surprising because that was a notable company in the high-tech communications business, yet they had completely forgotten about a powerful communication channel like the internet. It is the same surprise I have, when companies on the cutting edge of new media and content creation tend to underestimate their own reach to the consumers, and blissfully hand over their marketing functions to other parties.

"Oh no, we don't do marketing," says the game developer happily. "Let the publisher spend money for that, we can't be bothered with marketing on top of everything else."

I suspect the publishers are even happier for the fact.

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