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Doing Bioware Some Favors

I was really perplexed about Bioware’s recent marketing flops concerning SWTOR, just like approximately ten thousand other bloggers. At least, I was perplexed until I hit up their job postings page and realized they are looking for a Marketing Analyst. Glancing at the requirements only confirms my suspicions:

  • Analyzes performance of strategic marketing campaigns to acquire new consumers and cross-promote games to retain and maximally monetize players against established benchmarks and or forecast objectives
  • Analyzes consumer behavior and response to media investment and creative messages
  • Using data-driven insights, recommends actions to improve campaign performance.
  • Collaborates with other areas of marketing, (including brand marketing, marketing management, acquisition and retail teams, online & social media marketing, CRM) as well as product development and product management teams to validate campaign content and ensure programs are effectively reaching customers
  • Candidate should have a good knowledge of general marketing paradigms and standard campaign management and measurement strategies along with video game industry experience

Yep. Bioware clearly doesn’t have anyone over there with those qualifications.

But you know what? I am a self-starter team player. So, Bioware, I am going to give you some marketing advice for free – just have the intern print off two copies of this post and send the other one to HR as my application, and we’ll call it even. Deal? Alright.

1) Words matter.

I would have thought this was an easy lesson to learn from the Mass Effect team – considering that even the Better Business Bureau acknowledged the ME3 endings constituted false advertising – but perhaps the teams are too compartmentalized. In any event, the basic idea here is that it matters what you say and how you say it. Let’s look at what you put out in your promotion:

As a thanks for being one of our most valued players, all active subscriber accounts with a Level 50 character as of April 12, 2012, 12:00 PM CDT, 5:00 PM GMT, will receive 30 days of game time** at no charge in appreciation for your support and loyalty.

Yes, I am sure someone thought they were so terribly clever in that meeting for including the qualifier “one of,” as that allows you to claim that non-level 50s can also be included in the category of “most valued players.” Unfortunately, it also matters how you say things. And in this case, the implication is that even if a sub-50 player is included in the most valued category, you nevertheless are not “appreciating” their support and loyalty in the same way. In fact, the whole framework of the promotion is dumb, since levels have nothing at all to do with loyalty; if you wanted to reward loyalty, give a free month to the people who subscribed continuously for the last 3-4 months.

But I understand, there are probably specific metrics out there showing that specifically the players at the level cap need an incentive to stick around a little longer. In which case you may as well make the free month as broad as possible considering the promotion will imply that you’ve fucked up your MMO either way; having compelling endgame content is damn near the entire point of themepark MMOs, as that is where you will inevitably end up spending most of your time. Unless you unsub right after hitting the cap… oh, wait.

Bottom line: a turd can hold only so much polish. Don’t evoke loyalty and “most valued players” when in reality you are offering compensation for bored level 50s.

2) Play up the retraction.

Or as Cave Johnson would say, “When life gives you lemons, have your engineers invent combustible lemons and burn life’s house down.”

Dr. Greg Zeschuk came out and mentioned that the free month of game time will be extended to non-level 50s. That is a good step, of course, probably necessary even. But what the retraction doesn’t do is connect all the dots laying out there. I’m not talking about the dots concerning the health of the game (or potential lack thereof). I’m talking about how players have until April 22nd to earn their one month of free game time by hitting level 50 or some combination of high-level alts.

Right now, you can buy SWTOR for $39.99 from Origin, which of course comes with a free month. But if you manage to hit the level cap within the seven days between this post going live and the promotion ending, you will get a second month for free. If that wasn’t an intentional marketing move, it should have been. I’m damn near tempted to try it myself.

3) Fill that Marketing Analyst position ASAP

You don’t actually need someone fancy. You just need a somewhat normal person, or someone capable of passing for normal, who is both willing and allowed to tell you something is a bad idea. Had I been in the meeting that spawned this promotion, my hand would have been the first one up after the presentation, even if I had a level 50.

Hindsight is 20/20, but come on. This sort of thing shouldn’t have passed the smell test.

Evil Genius of F2P

Saw this last week:

Unfortunately, Tobold actually already linked to this Demotivational poster before I could finish this post, thereby costing me street cred.

It is a fairly common statistic (if unofficial) that less than 10% of F2P gamers actually ever spend money in the cash shop. Most of the resulting commentary has focused on how this ~10% subsidizes the other 90%. This is not actually the case. The evil genius of F2P games is how the non-paying gamers subsidize the paying ones by simply being there. If you are playing LotRO “for free,” what you are actually doing is giving paying customers a reason to actually pay money.

Think about it. If 90% of F2P gamers don’t pay, then the game would presumably have only a tenth as many players if it were not F2P. Hell, the entire point of LotRO going F2P was how they would have shut down the servers otherwise. It did not matter that there were already paying customers; the problem was there was not enough paying customers. When the F2P switch is flipped, you suddenly get a huge influx of “freeloaders” who have a very compelling reason to buy items that make them stand out from each other. Meanwhile the already paying customers are happy because now they have the ability to keep paying for a game they enjoy, and a whole bunch of new people to do it with.

Facebook and Google aren’t doing you a favor by providing “free” social media services. As the Demotivational mentions, you are a product – in this case private demographic information, music tastes, favorite shows, etc, all freely updated by you on your own time -  to be sold. You may “get” some bit of value out of these services (else you presumably would not use them) but Facebook/Google/F2P MMO developers are obviously getting a lot more from the bargain. F2P and social media is honestly the biggest marketing coup since fashion apparal designers realized that people would actually give them money for the privledge of wearing advertisements, e.g. shirts with the company logo on them.