In our private universe August 24, 2009Posted by David Gillespie in business strategy, music, Video Games.
Tags: Blizzard Entertainment, BlizzCon, Future Publishing, Kevin Kelly, Mark Earls, New York Times, World of Warcraft
From the “No-that’s-not-right-here-let-me-show-you” Department, Blizzard and Future Publishing have announced a World of Warcraft magazine, hoping to leverage an additional $40 a year out of their 11.5 million person base of players. At a time when I can’t imagine too many other companies entering a paper-based publishing medium, I actually think the move is genius and hits a few really key things, primary among them all is a hark back to Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans.
Of course in this case the fans number in the millions.
The premise is simple: your biggest fans will go above and beyond to have every ounce of content and information about you they can get their hands on; these people are not the mainstream, but they’re a profitable niche that usually go uncatered for, making do with what everyone else gets most of the time.
The World of Warcraft example above stems nicely from selling access to a service for everyone and then breaking away additional offerings for the hardcore within your audience (as I write this BlizzCon is concluding, in-person church for the faithful but also available as a pay-per-view event online…you couldn’t write this stuff!).
maybe this marks the end of that really selfish buy-to-own model (“it’s mine, all mine”) as opposed to pay-for-access?
Mark was referencing some interesting visual data showing the decline of physical music sales over the past 30 years (shown below). Personally the games industry leading the way here doesn’t surprise me; it’s a relatively young industry not bound vehemently by outdated models and able to flex with the times. It was the first to take user-generated content mainstream, I imagine it will be the first to do many, many other interesting things. But take note: create something genuinely of value to an audience, treat them right, and reap the rewards. Rinse and repeat.
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Ambiguity in narrative, in advertising October 19, 2008Posted by David Gillespie in advertising, creativity, storytelling, Video Games.
Tags: Grand Theft Auto IV, HBO, Pussycat Dolls, Tim Beveridge, Voyeur, Xbox 360
Yesterday I was at my friend Tim‘s place where we waxed lyrical over beers on how we can make a squillion dollars – look for an announcement on retirement shortly. While there he fired up GTA 4 on his Xbox 360 as I hadn’t actually seen it in action (the gamer kids are asking for my dog tags back, it’s really quite tragic). I was incredibly impressed, it seems all the learnings about the balance between a sandbox and a story had been compounded into an experience equal parts open ended and focused. The biggest issue in games like GTA 4 (aside from the mammoth amount of technology they have to wrangle of course) is giving the users who want it an open ended universe to explore while at the same time delivering a taught experience for people who just want to play a game.
Tim actually took exception, saying it hinted at a completely open universe but didn’t actually deliver as he couldn’t run into any shop he wanted, rob them and then go next door to rinse and repeat. The pragmatist in me thinks that is unrealistic, but only because I’m coming from the perspective of a person who once had to generate content for people like Tim to run into every nook and cranny they could find; that is not a fun job to have.
I digress though. Ambiguity. Who did their homework and checked out the HBO Voyeur site? If you haven’t please go look at it now.
OK, what did you think? What did you see? A series of apartments spread across New York City, all with their own narratives going on. To my mind, what the agencies involved have done is take the essence of what they were promoting and asked themselves what the best way to tell the story would be. The other day I said the best examples of narrative in games are the ones where people think first about the story they want to tell and then settle on the style of game that suits it best; marketing can learn a lot from that approach, one of being platform-neutral and making sure the main thing is the main thing. No egos, no hidden agendas, just the desire to deliver the work in a way that suits the project best.
Sure, saying no egos in advertising is like asking the Pussycat Dolls to share vocals equally, like it was a vehicle for five careers and not one. The point remains though: we overcook so much on the way to delivering creative, we lose sight of what the brief was in the first place: to get the brand, product or service talked about.
Not the advertising around it.
I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier October 13, 2008Posted by David Gillespie in philosophy, storytelling, strategy, Video Games.
Tags: Hong Kong, King Lear, Narrative, storytelling, Transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong
When I was in the games industry I spent a lot of time writing and thinking about how to deliver narrative in an environment where the progression of the story depended entirely on the end-user’s ability to navigate the obsacles we put in their path, all under the guise of gameplay. It sounds counter-productive, but some of those games can go for upwards of 60 hours, and running in a straight line while a plot unfolds is fun for about 67 seconds, so you have some space to fill.
One of the other crucial elements is understanding what stories you can and can’t apply. Design is invarably driven by experiences designers believe players what to have, you almost never hear a designer say “This is the story I want to tell, what is the best way to do that?”. Funnily enough, while that was my approach, very few people wanted to make my re-telling of King Lear set during the handover of Hong Kong…I can’t say I blame them. Games are, for the most part, engineered so you play the hero and affect the main course of the narrative (what little there is), so the stories are constructed within cumbersome paradigms of good vs. bad, triumph over impossible odds, saving the day and winning the girl’s heart (because you’re almost always a guy).
This may all sound fairly abstract under the harsh light of day in marketing, but the parallels are there to be drawn and should be if we want to get better at telling stories with and through our brands, products and services. I’ve said hundreds of times now – experiences facilitated by but not about a brand; this is key.
When dealing with brands we need to understand the parameters within which we have the opportunity to engage narrative, both for the benefit of an audience and for the brand itself. I’m proposing that there are three types of story-telling we engage in in marketing, and each one should be employed in different circumstances depending on what the aim is:
- A traditional, linear narrative where a single point is meant to be reached, leaving the audience with a very distinct idea of what the brand, product or service is about, what it means and what its intent is.
- A narrative with the brand at the centre of the story but with the story being generated by consumers, leaving the direction of it loosely defined, usually through a particular campaign moving in a very particular direction.
- Narrative with the audience at the centre of the story, narrative where the story is in fact the customer’s own, one where a person doesn’t inform the brand’s story, rather the brand plays but a part in a much larger whole. Hardest to affect, though I’ll argue the most compelling by a long way.
I’m really looking forward to getting into this. If you have any ideas or if you think there are other categories story-telling with brands can fit into, I’d love to hear from you. See you tomorrow when we tackle the first one on the list.
**Update** Tim Beveridge left a great comment below and then wrote some more on Insight + Ideas. Worth checking out!
If you don’t know me by now August 13, 2008Posted by David Gillespie in marketing, philosophy, technology, Video Games, web 2.0.
Tags: 10 Reasons Digital Is Better Than Advertising, Crack Unit, Droga 5, Iain Tait, Marcus Brown, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, The Kaiser Edition, The Tap Project, Toad
I’m working my way through a great article by Marcus Brown, a guy who has clearly been doing this for a while, though I’ve only just found him. The article, If I Were A Client Today is actually on a blog he was previously writing and now has left behind called The Kaiser Edition where he would write from the point of view of a handful of personas (as far as I can tell, I’m still figuring it out as I’m not actually all that bright).
The piece is part analysis of where we’re at in agency-land, part retrospective of his time client-side at either Nintendo or Sony or Microsoft (if he reveals which one I’m not there yet, but I have a hunch based on the litany of characters sporting mushrooms on their heads). One of the more curious revelations thus far is the Internet Department he was hired to be a part of didn’t get placed with the Marketing department or the IT guys but in their R&D labs.
This is curious but also brilliant, an early realisation that the Internet and technology in general is good for more than just spitting out new kinds of ads. For me it naturally harks back to Iain Tait’s 10 Reasons Digital is Better Than Advertising, in particular his first point in that series, that you don’t have to do advertising.
When Iain says advertising there though, what I think he means is you don’t have to do something that lacks substance, you can do something with balls, that means something and actually impacts people’s businesses long after a campaign has finished. I’m not saying this is unique to digital, Droga 5’s Tap Project is evidence it can happen anywhere. But I think there’s a greater propensity for it to happen online, it moves things from distinctly separate operations closer to functioning as a single organism – and that’s where things are going to get really interesting.
Something the boy said July 7, 2008Posted by David Gillespie in Video Games, work/life.
Tags: Penny Arcade
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Innovations are just gimmicks you happen to like.
I thought that was an interesting statement to make. I don’t know if I agree with it or not, but that doesn’t stop it from being interesting.
Now…as you were.
Tags: Digital Rghts Management, RIAA, Seth Godin, The Dip, Umair Haque
Note: This is a continuation of yesterday’s thoughts.
Also note: not The Dip.
In the music industry’s case, they’ve spent the last decade attempting to bend consumer behaviour to their will. All the time and effort put into better encryption, DRM etc. only for it all to be futile, forcing people into a dead model. Think about that. Ten years of lawsuits, of bad ideas, of attempts to stall the forward march of consumer technology. Each writ issued was an extra nail in the coffin of a decrepit business model established to confuse value and price point and foist it upon the unwitting consumer. As one of my favourite writers likes to say, the epic, epic lulz. As a complete aside, anyone know how many lawyers the RIAA has? I’m just curious…
In the games industry’s case, budgets and teams are swelling, but this is not where industry growth is coming from. The really booming sectors are taking things back to small teams and games that take hours not days to play. Respecting people’s time and attention spans, you can spend five minutes doing something else entirely and then get back to what you are doing. It is a business model that is fluid, moving with the trends of its audience who are not the pimply teenagers with plenty of time on their hands anymore, they are developers themselves, they are in advertising, they’re lawyers and doctors and parents whose free time has not grown with their disposable income.
Exposing what people want to engage with and burying the stuff they’re not interested in is key, and it is only an issue if your business model rests on the viability of the things people don’t like. Digital Rights Management for starters if a zero-sum strategy where nobody wins. I’m a big believer artists should be compensated for the work they do (indeed one day I hope to do nothing but), but in the interim we need new models that are malleable. In the words of Seth Godin:
Persistence isn’t using the same tactics over and over. That’s just annoying.
Persistence is having the same goal over and over.
If your goal is delivering value, then everything will be fine. If your goal is to keep the game unchanged, then we have a problem on our hands.
Image courtesy of maubrowncow, with thanks to compfight.
The “Bidness” Model February 4, 2008Posted by David Gillespie in Video Games, work/life.
Tags: Penny Arcade, World of Warcraft
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“I don’t know how much game is here. What I do know is that they have set up a system that allows me to rent my friends on a monthly basis.” – Tycho, Penny Arcade
Great quote, so succinct and apt. Sun rises, sun sets, World of Warcraft continues to do its thing. I continue to avoid it out of a desire to live a productive offline life.
For now anyway.
Checking your ego at the door January 23, 2008Posted by David Gillespie in philosophy, Video Games, work/life.
Tags: business, management, morale, motivation, No Assholes Rule, team building
I try to avoid writing about games here as my involvement in the industry now is very much as an outsider. I still keep an eye on the conversations going on though and one that never fails to amaze me is the “code vs. art” debate and how people struggle to get teams talking to each other. You can liken it to “creatives vs. suits” in advertising or “sales vs. anyone not sales” in many other organisations, the song remains the same; a notion of “otherness” is allowed to develop in a team or company and it poisons the culture of that place, pitting people on the same side against each other.
I lead four different teams as Producer while in the games industry, and they were all marked by a feeling of inclusiveness, a notion that we were all in it together. Often it had little do to with the organisation, I distinctly recall a senior artist from another part of the company walking into the room where my team was housed (numbering around 30+ at the time) and remarking that it felt like a different company. Each team I have looked after had that same feeling, and it never took any effort to maintain.
The key is pretty simple: everyone checks their ego at the door. I affectionately called it “the no assholes rule”, long before a book of the same name was released, and it gets brought about in a couple ways.
The first is quite simple: hire good people. That statement is a little intangible and open to interpretation though, so I’ll clarify: do not hire people you would not be willing to spend 100 hours a week with, because at some point you will. Assuming you have a high enough barrier to entry for your company (be it a programming test, past sales figures, whatever) then all candidates who reach that mark can be judged based on the personality fit for your team. I have passed up programmers who were great on paper because I knew they would either be difficult to work with or not get along with certain team members. It is a very straight forward exercise placing morale above ability; you can learn new skills in a job, but if you’re an asshole, you’re probably going to stay an asshole. I should add this has nothing to do with race or culture, my last team had eight different nationalities on it, and we all still catch up whenever I am back in town.
The second is in many ways simpler than the first. As the title to this post says, check your ego at the door. Any industry is rife with stories of senior figures who refused to spend time in the trenches; these teams are without fail mired in low morale and bitterness towards management. I would outline weeks in advance the weeknights (and on occasion weekends) when we would need to work back, but when those days arrived I went from being the team lead to the servant. If your people are working extra hours because of you, you owe it to them to make that stay as comfortable as possible. If it means driving half an hour across town to get a certain meal for someone, so be it. Talk, in that environment, is less than cheap, it is worthless.
Leading by example and showing a willingness to do anything in order to get a project across the line and a team to work together is the only way to ensure different units within a team with each other from day dot. Producers, Group Directors, CEOs, whatever, they all set the tone for the people they are responsible for. Titles (and the egos they stoke) come and go; checking both at the door on a daily basis means you can do the things that matter most. And your team stays talking long after you have left the room.