I have been kicking around the idea of going to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco especially as I try to help raise the visibility for Georgia Game Developers Association and the SIEGE conference. Gaming has gotten so big that it is difficult to ignore its impact on marketing.
To me gaming is social media on steroids. It underscores the importance of community, word of mouth and fan culture in driving awareness and attracting subscribers.
Hi-Rez Studios Designers
That’s why Hi-Rez Studios caught my attention. They are an independent gaming company here in North Atlanta trying to make it big with their massively multiplayer online (MMO) game Global Agenda. Expected to go beta in the second quarter of this year, Global Agenda features a spy-fi world of advanced technology and player-driven conflict.
The responsibility of marketing Global Agenda falls primarily in the hands of Public Relations Specialist Michal Adam and Vice President, Game Operations Stew Chisam. Their task is not easy. Success rates are low. Development costs are high and so is the failure rate for most MMOs.
Once more, games like any form of entertainment are a tough sell. They must compete for people’s free time. The challenge is to be a person’s first or perhaps second choice for fun. But as Stew points out, “There is a heavy reward for being the best.”
So it’s interesting to see how they are using traditional and new media in their marketing strategy.
Timing and Opportunities
Launching a new game is never easy. It’s important to manage expectations. Hi-Rez Studios made the decision to stay under the radar for the first three years.
Getting reporters to write, post and link is hard enough — in Atlanta it’s even harder; we are not yet a gaming hub and have to work harder – kind of like Avis Car Rental. Where I have generally found tech reporters wanting plenty of lead-time, Michal notes that game journalists tend to stay away from pitches that are too far out in front or release dates that are not yet determined. That makes building buzz more difficult.
Sometimes you need to be opportunistic like when Hi-Rez Studios offered to insert a local DJ’s voice and body into the game after learning the DJ from Q100 had made a New Year’s resolution to be in a video game. The result – lots of air time and visibility outside the gaming community.
Traditional media has its limits. That’s where new media and community building come in.
A Blessing and a Curse: Effective gaming strategy needs fans to help establish a brand. They drive buzz. They are web savvy, loyal, and willingly spread the word for you. They are also highly opinionated and won’t hesitate to criticize – openly and loudly. The same fans that make a game a mega hit, can also sink it.
Using fans to help disseminate is challenging; you want to keep up momentum and feed fan hunger for information. But you need to move slowly to avoid disappointment.
Start Small: Hi-Rez Studios is currently running an Alpha test for about 1000 gamers. Before going public they wanted to give a handful of gamers a chance to look under the hood. They reached out to gamers that are part of Clans, engage in Lans parties and play similar games like Tabula Rasa.
But there is a fine line in engaging like-minded gamers. It helps that gamers have affinity toward the game, but at the same time you open yourself to comparisons as this discussion on the MMORPG gaming news site shows.
Management and Rewards
Management over Support: A well-run community can support itself. It’s more about management not support. As the community grows, it gets formalized. There are do and don’ts, but the guiding principle for Hi-Rez Studios is “we are here to have fun; don’t spoil it.” Since trash talking is part of the fun, they won’t police everything. They want players to stay long enough to become part of the community.
Sustaining Interest: Recognition is huge. Consequently, regular contests are held. One winner got his face on a character. Players can also win pieces of flair and rare accessories.
ROI: In a subscriber based game, the goal is determining lifetime value based on such metrics as cost per user, number of users sustained, and revenue per user.
Short and long term success: Short term success is understanding online behaviors such as how long and often members are online: Long term success is growing a healthy community of the right size and level of satisfaction.
Over the long haul, Hi-Rez Studios hopes to be more than a one hit wonder. It will take 4-7 years to justify the cost. This is an important year, but it seems to me that beyond the game itself, the key to their success will be based on how well they sustain their community. And the lessons from the gaming industry can clearly help non gamers with the care and feeding of their social networks.
Let me get back to you.
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