Category Archives: Marketing / PR

E3 Recap: Console Wars

E3’s over, and I’m back. First, a quick kudos to the ESA for keeping noise levels under control this year. It was actually possible to make a phone call in (parts of) South Hall. Not to say “big audio” was eliminated — you could feel your torso rumbling with the bass in the EA booth. Love it.  :)

So much to say; I hardly know where to begin. Let’s start with Nintendo:

Nintendo Wii

By now you’ve probably read about Nintendo’s triumph; people literally stampeded past the Sony booth in their rush to experience the Wii. Of course, as many others have already pointed out, “winning E3” doesn’t mean a whole lot in the long run (re: Dreamcast), but it certainly doesn’t hurt, and it sure must feel good.

My personal experience with the Wii was (mostly) a blast. I couldn’t get enough of Wii Tennis; it feels so natural using the controller as a virtual racquet, and there’s something too cool about delivering a vicious overhead serve in the comfort of your living room.  :)

Continue reading

User-Generated Content: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Via Joystiq, an interesting controversy: id co-founder John Romero has accused the modding community of hurting the game industry by exposing or introducing inappropriate content (i.e. nudity) in PC games. His post was in response to the ESRB’s re-rating of Oblivion (which happened after a nudity mod surfaced.) John’s exact words: “modders are now screwing up the industry they’re supposed to be helping.”

There are a number of interesting comments on John’s original post which you may wish to read. Meanwhile, this raises a couple issues that I’ve been meaning to write about:

Whose Side Are They On, Anyway?

When consumers decide to create content for a game (or anything else), they’re doing it to indulge their own creative impulses, and/or to share something with friends, and/or to gain notoriety, and/or other reasons that have little to do with “wanting to help the industry” (or the developer, for that matter.) Let’s not kid ourselves: the guys who made Counterstrike didn’t do it to make Valve rich… that was simply a nice side-effect.

Continue reading

EOCS: The New Economics of Gaming

Back in January, Henry and I gave a talk at the Economics of Open Content Symposium on “The New Economics of Gaming”, which is basically a vague, grandiose way of saying “a talk on user-generated content and the video game industry.” A video clip of the entire session was recently made publicly available here.

On a fast connection, the video quality is great. Otherwise, you’ll get nothing but chop, but at least the sound quality remains consistently adequate throughout.

The End of the Eye-Candy Arms Race

Danc over at Lost Garden has an interesting post (in a multi-post series) analyzing the development model currently favored by most game studios. Lots to read in there; he does a good job of explaining how/why studios are pouring ever-more funding into licensed IPs, art, and “more of the same technologies”, why studios think this is actually a good risk-reduction strategy, and how this arms-race will hurt everyone in the long-term.

Juxtapose this with the latest unhappy news: a survey found that 80% of teens intend to cut back on time spent playing video games, and 70% said they are “losing interest” in games altogether. (Oddly, the survey-taker calls this a “stabilization”, since last year 75% of teens reported declining interest in games. Why does this fail to make me feel better?)

Continue reading

GMC Session: Nontraditional Marketing for Games

Comments by Doug Scott, Director of Entertainment Marketing, EA

The entertainment marketing function is essentially looking at the inherent entertainment value of gaming and a lot of the lifestyles and cultures around it, and trying to find ways to translate that into different media, whether that be online, television, or mobile. We’ve had some success with that. Strictly focusing on the TV space for a little bit: in the last year, we’ve worked on short-form integrations focused on partnering with networks like MTV or ESPN to integrate game assets into an existing show, for example, Battlegrounds, a show about basketball on MTV and MTV2.

We also did an integration with Entourage on HBO. That was the best kind of integration because it was organic and came from the writers of Entourage, who are fans of Fight Night and wanted to integrate it into the show. Video Mods is a program on MTV that we co-funded, where we took character models and environments from our games and re-animated them to make music videos.

We’ve also started to create a lot of events. A couple of months back, we partnered with an entity to close down Fillmore Street and put a bunch of snow on it; it happened to coincide with an 80 degree day — probably the only 80 degree day in the history of San Francisco, and it was a perfect match for the title.

We’ve started to move into original productions as well, where we actually produce the shows and then approach distribution partners whether that be television networks or online sites and work with them to distribute something. This is footage from a half-hour show on MTV and MTV2 which was called This Sims Life, and we produced it ourselves in close conjunction with MTV, and really dove into the stories of Sims players — how they play, why they play, and using some unique capture to help them tell those stories.

Finally, we started to tiptoe into something that hopefully will become an ongoing franchise for us, something that really gets at the core of just how valuable and interesting video game content can be when translated for another medium. This was Madden Nation, which was an eight-part half-hour series that we did with ESPN2 this year. Basically, the concept was: take sixteen gamers and pair them up with top NFL talent, put them on a bus and send them around the country, your classic reality TV type format, and have them battle to see who could with $100K.

We tried to make competition interesting to watch on TV, which has been the constant knock on video gaming and TV; we took a couple of steps forward by introducing things like coach-cam that help you get inside the mind of the player and help you understand the skill and strategy that they bring to the mix. We co-produced this with ESPN, which means we get to share in the upside of the show if it’s successful.

A bunch of Madden fansites picked up and tracked the show; they went into great depth and the blogging was out of control. And ultimately, with very little promotion, it was over 30% of the average household rating across 40 different areas. The moral of that story is that as long as the content is treated appropriately for the medium, you can create content that’s relevant and drives other mediums and business models. And that becomes a highly effective form of marketing.

[Audience question]: when you’re working with MTV, are you able to re-purpose that content at all, or does MTV have ownership as well?

It really depends on the situation, but I’d say that 50% of my time talking to MTV is spent talking to their business affairs department. The long-term goal for us is to prove the value of our content as something that helps to drive their business model, and as something that is ultimately interesting to people who watch their various screens. And if we can do that, that will put us in the power position in terms of negotiations, and so we have been more and more successful at driving down restrictions on usage… for the most part, its still restricted for a certain amount of time to MTVs use. And that’s reasonable, particularly if they’re starting with financial skin in the game.

GMC Session: Opportunities on Emerging Platforms

Presentation by Bob Aniello, VP of Marketing, JAMDAT Mobile

We are facing the largest platform transition in the history of gaming. If you just look out over the next two years, what’s coming in the pipeline … mobile 3G, improvements in 3G networks, the next generation of handsets — full, 3D handsets, that are going to greatly enhance cell phone games. All major cable companies are gearing up to launch new gaming systems on their platforms, geared primarily towards a more casual audience. And of course blue-ray and HDTV formats are going to greatly enhance the capacity of DVD games. And of course, the continued expansion of broadband and wireless networking.

Advertising-supported products and services are replacing traditional retail models. Would it be conceivable that one day games are made and supported through advertising? Digital content delivery is displacing traditional retail and creating a far more powerful intermediary between publishers and consumers. Consumers are playing the same game (for different reasons and in different ways) on console and mobile. Gaming, more than any other segment, has an opportunity to truly deliver on the vision of connected entertainment.

We just conducted research at EA that shows 92% of mobile phone game players also play games on other platforms, 72% play games on their laptop or PC, and 23% use another mobile device to play games. On mobile, they’re seeking out games that they know or have had experience with on other platforms.

So how do you survive platform launches? I’d like to share a couple of my lessons: 1) Be first, but be right; if you’re not right, better to be second. 2) Play for impact. Budgets are very tight, so go for impact, not reach. I’ll give an example from Jamdat with Lord of the Rings, which was an impact program. 3) Sell the experience of the game, not the fact that there’s a game. 4) Listen most to those who make you the most uncomfortable. Those who are the most critical can help you plan your contingencies. In the long-term, they’re going to save you some pain.

Be first, and be right: You may be interested to know that DVD games [games that run on a standard DVD player, not PC DVD games] are a $400M category. There are 50 titles on the market, but only only the movie/TV trivia games are actually selling (with about a 65% marketshare on that platform). [At Mattel] We did our homework. We did a lot of research about the experience you could get from a DVD game, and found that movies (rich media of course) was best, and the most desired by consumers. Other big companies, Disney for one, and WB, they took their TV shows and did what I describe as a porting strategy. My competitor Hasbro simply tried to port their traditional games, like Trivial Pursuit and Candyland to the DVD platform. Did not work. So Mattel really did its homework, and because of that, they dominate the DVD games category with over 60% share of that market.

I admit being totally unaware of the scope of this game category. Very interesting stuff! Check out these useful links I dug up: board game makers turn to DVD games and Screen Life’s website (they make the category’s leading products; Mattel is the publisher.)

BTW, the presentation went on for a bit, but this was the part I found most interesting. Bob addressed “playing for impact, not reach” but basically just talked about how Jamdat used partnerships with carriers and distributors to extend their effective budget (and thus extend reach!) I sorta tuned out after that.

GMC Session: How (Not) To Market Video Games In A Hostile Environment

Presentation by John Geoghegan, Executive Director, The SILOE Research Institute (Former VP, Global Sales & Marketing, LucasArts)

It’s a very hostile environment out there. The Utah state legislature recently passed a bill by a landslide vote lumping violent games with pornography. Do you feel like a porn merchant? I don’t.

California, Michigan, Wisconsin, DC, Iowa, and Kansas have all passed or are considering laws like the one in Utah. These laws are unconstitutional, but that’s a technicality, people. We’re not making friends. I haven’t seen this much animosity since big tobacco told congress that cigarettes are not addictive.

It’s time for us to wake up people. We are in deep doo-doo. At the state and federal level, we’re in trouble. Hillary Clinton’s pushing her Family Entertainment Protection Act. Everyone knows hillary is a liberal, but conservatives can’t stand her, so she’s appealing to centrists with the family values issue. Republican moderates and soccer moms can relate to the violent games issue. It’s a safe and smart bet for her as a politician. It worked for tipper gore with the whole rap lyrics controversy.

We’re marketing games to a hostile environment. We have a bad reputation. We’re getting banned, fined, and pulled off the shelves. They’re crushing our product. Some of you think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. This is the perfect storm of circumstances, and we’re sailing right into it.

How not to market in a hostile environment? Basically, don’t do everything we’re doing right now. To be clear, I’m not complaining about the ESA. They’re probably still mad at me about the whole booth babe thing. For the record, I think the ESA is part of the solution, not part of the problem. But it can’t stop with the ESA.

We love video games, right? So why shouldn’t everybody else? Right now, we’re in a defensive crouch, and our critics are playing rope-a-dope with us. The best defense is a strong offense. I propose a 12-step self-esteem recovery program for the video game industry. It’s time we held our heads up high, brothers and sisters. We have nothing to be ashamed of. Games are incredibly fun, creative, and artistic. We should be evangelizing!

  1. We need to promote our perfectly good rating system, put in place by the ESRB. Let’s promote the hell out of it and make sure everyone knows about it. It worked for movies and TV, it can work for us!
  2. Evangelize the benefits of video games. Read Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson. Johnson says games help kids compete more effectively, and makes them more intelligent. Games require many hours of sustained concentration and problem solving. In a world where more and more kids are on ritalin and can’t concentrate, this is a major accomplishment!
  3. We need to do more quantitative research with leading universities to prove the positive impact of video games, and to quantify the negatives. We need to do research with the Harvards and MITs and the UCLAs or whatever, and we need to share the good and bad news. When we quantify the negatives, it will help us dispense with most of the negative mythologies out there.
  4. We need to make it clear that new media is NEVER embraced at the start. It was true for movies, radio, pulp magazines, comics; for every new music wave, INCLUDING Mozart, there was controversy.
  5. We need to preach moderation and promote good parenting. Parents should be moderating their kids interaction with ALL forms of media — text messenging, internet, movies, etc. We need to get parents off our backs and onto their kids backs.
  6. We need to benchmark against sex and violence in prime network TV and movies. The corpses, blood, sex, and nudity in popular media totally outshadow what you find in games! We’re not as far on the cutting edge as many people like to say.
  7. Embrace the constitution. We have a right to make and market our product in an unregulated manner — or at least, not the manner some states are suggesting.
  8. We need to lobby. Let’s make political donations, and play the game that everyone else plays. We’re either not paying enough or we’re not getting the results we deserve, because i’m not seeing it.
  9. We need to harness our best spokespeople. People like and trust celebrities like Spielberg — let’s get people like him saying why they like and want to work on video games.
  10. We need to demonstrate our most creative games. We’re more than just GTA. We need to show people that it’s not all about guns and boobs. Games like Katamari, DDR, Guitar Hero, etc. Not a gun or a boob in sight in Guitar Hero!
  11. Put the problem in statistical perspective. “M” rated games are a minority of our product.
  12. Be proud! You’re marketing people — so show more pride. Don’t be ashamed to say you like video games; just say WHY you like video games. The depth of talent and degree of committment and the hard work going into games is incredible. You have every right to be proud, so BE proud!

GMC Session: How to Ride Out 2006

Comments by Michael Pachter, Managing Director, Wedbush Morgan Securities

My view of 2006 is, it’s a mess. Most of the constituents in the video game business didn’t plan out ’06 very well. Everybody is quick to blame Microsoft for the console shortage, but publishers are responsible for declining sales last year. Publishers saw the rising development costs for next-gen games and thought “we’re going to take less risk and stick with proven concepts” in both next-gen and current-gen. Look at the movie business. Crap. Sequels and more sequels. Who thought Dukes of Hazzard would be a good idea?

All we got from the publishers last year were sequels and movie titles. Who would think King Kong would make a good video game? I’m shocked that people think that’s the kind of game consumers want. Consumers are saying: “Microsoft is telling me I must have this box. But all I can buy are a bunch of sequels. I’ve already got those games.” It’s easy not to make a purchase.

EA’s coming out with The Godfather. That’s Dukes of Hazzard with Marlon Brando. That movie is old! How are you going to make Godfather resonate with today’s game consumer?

I think this year’s a mess. Microsoft did a brilliant marketing job. They’re going to catch up on supply. But no one’s buying Madden ’06 when Madden ’07 is just about to be released. Very few games are coming out this summer. We don’t know when the PS3 is launching. You guys are all going to lose your jobs because your boss is going to say “why can’t you sell games to these people? You suck.”

Assuming Sony gets the PS3 out, ’07 is going to be big no matter what. The publishers all talk about how the PS3 is additive, but it isn’t. It is going to cannibalize sales of games on old consoles (again, nobody buys Madden ’06 if they can get ’07 for their new console).

I think Nintendo will be incredibly successful. Many people don’t realize it, but Nintendo defines hardcore. Grand Theft Auto isn’t hardcore — Mario and Zelda are. The people who love that stuff, love that stuff. Last cycle, Sony and Microsoft had lots of exclusive titles. This cycle, it isn’t the same. Hardcore gamers aren’t going to buy a PS3 and an Xbox 360. Of the [predicted] 40M Xbox 360 buyers, 10M will buy a Revolution, and 20M PS3 owners will buy a Revolution. The innovative gameplay will hook hardcore gamers. The low price will hook other gamers. Nintendo is going to do great. If they can get more developers to make games for the Revolution, great. If not, thats the developers’ loss.

Comments by Jon Goldman, CEO, Foundation 9 Entertainment

2006 is going to be a rough year, but ironically, for independent developers like us, rough years are good years because publishers are cutting internal costs and turning to outside studios for help.

I think there are a lot of good market trends; you just need to find your way through this year. More people are playing games. Not just hardcore gamers — there are returning gamers, new crops of kids getting into games, new platforms, and technology is making better quality cheaper (for example, better cheaper LCD screens).

So from my standpoint, the principle challenges are structural. Innovation is a giant challenge for the industry, and that’s structural in many ways. It’s very difficult to take risky bets when you’re shouldering the entire burden of a game’s development and distribution.

Foundation 9 is a consolidation of several experienced developers. With size and scale, you can pool human and financial resources to handle the investment necessary to deal with this next generation of game development. Right now, you need to be doing R&D at the same time that you’re developing games and meeting commercial deadlines. That’s really hard. Unless you can invest ahead of the curve — as a large publisher, console manufacturer, etc, you’re going to be behind the curve, and that’s going to hurt innovation.

In my opinion, a lot of the most interesting games are non-traditional games. I’ve got a couple of girls, and we play DDR and Karaoke Revolution. Katamari has been a huge hit in my household. There’s a whole wealth of gaming out there, where what’s fun matters more than high definition graphics. The only way to regain focus on innovation and fun gameplay is for people like us to invest in the equivalent of basic R&D to get games right, meet market windows, etc.

We’re seeing a lot of interest in the DS right now. Compare development costs for new consoles to costs for the DS and you can’t help but be interested in that platform. You can’t build a lineup of games exclusively for next-gen, not with $15M development costs.

Game Marketing Conference (GMC) — Halfway Through

Today was the first day of the Game Marketing Conference. I spoke on a panel entitled “Opening Up the Shop: Blogs, Forums and Developers”. It ended up being a lot of fun! Great questions from the audience, in general. Unfortunately, since I was actually on the panel, I didn’t record anything. Hopefully someone else blogged it!

Suffice to say, I argued vociferously for game developers and marketers to develop an open, honest relationship with the blogging community, and to support blogging within their own companies (as long as they make corporate policies clear to all employees, first.) There wasn’t much dispute with my fellow panelists, but a couple of audience members expressed concern about the dangers of engaging the “vocal minority” that so often makes itself heard in blogs and forums. IMO: you need to grow a thick skin, deal with those guys as graciously as you can, and keep communicating. Companies that abdicate online communities are giving a sustainable advantage to their competitors (who don’t).

Over the next couple of days, I’m going to post snippets of interest from conference sessions that I attended. That seems more useful (and fun) than simply posting entire transcripts like I normally do. Oh, and less likely to result in carpal tunnel. ;)

Snoop Dogg Launches Hip-Hop Gaming League

The always-entertaining Snoop Dogg has formally announced the “Hip-Hop Gaming League” (HHGL), an invitation-only organization comprised of “A-list” musicians, athletes, producers, etc. These individuals, characterized primarily by their level of fame, will follow rules set and enforced entirely by Snoop, at least for now.

Celebrity interest in video games is nothing new. Many famous actors and sports figures now treat video games as an important legitimizing force, and some even choose to exert creative influence over the game design process. This despite the fact that games (via mods and hacks) could be used to play with a celebrity’s image in ways that they (and their handlers) would normally be horrified by. Since celebrities are surely aware of this risk, their estimation of the rewards must indeed be significant.

The game industry has long debated whether celebrity inclusion in games is actually a good thing. I don’t see it as an either/or issue. The industry should definitely continue to create it’s own personalities… the Marios and Lara Crofts of the future. That’s the best way to generate lasting profit (and experiment with the medium, IMO). However, it is also true that certain games would definitely be less interesting without celebrity inclusion. Not all sports titles need to include professional stars, but some obviously should. P2P fighting games have clearly done well with (mostly) original characters, but that doesn’t mean a Bruce Lee-centric game wouldn’t uniquely scratch a certain itch. We form an emotional connection with celebrities that can and probably should be harnessed by game developers. Sometimes. Occassionally.