Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Marketing MMORPGs

Marketing MMORPGs is hard. That's because what is actually interesting about them is not the minute-to-minute gameplay. Even WoW's very well done minute-to-minute gameplay is not good for marketing at all.

Imagine you could make your dream MMORPG. You have a team of 100 skilled people and $500 million to spend. Now, 8 years later, you are almost finished and about to go to E3 to present it. What do you show the public?
There's little you can show! The fun about the MMORPG is just not presentable within a few minutes - or even hours! Players play MMORPGs completely differently when they are just a demo; or a beta. Remember when Warhammer online beta players said that during beta there was so much more PvP everywhere? That was because people don't focus on leveling or equipment during betas!

What is especially bad is presenting the single-player experience 1:1. It has to fail! In fact, if you make the single-player experience bombastic enough to have an effect on E3, your eyes will bleed once you do any group content !!

So what do you do? Well, one thing are trailers. While Adam is right that these movie clips don't tell us much about the game, they are still a smart thing to do for Bioware. Firstly, because they tell the potential customers about the setting and gain some desperately needed attention. Secondly, because they work like a $1000 ring for your new girlfriend. She’ll claim that it is the best thing ever. What she really thinks is that you wouldn’t do this, if you weren’t serious about the relationship.
What these clips tell us is that Bioware is serious about our future relationship. They think that these clips are worth it. It is the one reason why waste is useful. Only by wasting resources (like buying expensive rings) can you credibly convince somebody that you are serious. That it is expensive and wasteful is exactly the point of this part of game theory.

The actually gameplay of a MMORPG, on the other hand, is rather useless. If somebody had shown me a farmville gameplay video pre-release, I hadn't been impressed. And considering WoW's graphics, I probably hadn't even been impressed by WoW. However, WoW is a bit special, because at this time the single fact that you could run around in 3D was the main information carried.

So, my advise for you wanna-be MMORPG marketing guys: Trailers work, but they are expensive and wasteful (that's exactly their point!). Also, people will blog about the fact that these movies just aren't the game. If you don't want or can't do trailers, don't show the single-player gameplay. It's impossible to make it appear sexy within 30 minutes, or even a day!
Instead, show everything that carries an instant feeling. Raid encounters were a good idea, if the community weren't so fed-up with big, stupid, scripted bosses.

If your game offers massive elements (like massive open-world combat) show it. But careful with doing it from a single player point-of-view. These things often look bad this way. Show it from a above. The real information here is not how it looks, but the 'massiveness' of it. This 'massiveness' is what you will feel later when you do it in-game. You need to adress the people's feelings. People don't play MMORPGs for the instant-action engaging gameplay; and thank god, they don't !!

If you have wonderful castles and large labyrinths, show them. But not by running through: without actually being immersed this is boring. Show them the map, or a fast-forward run-through. Or employ a narrator who describes the atmosphere well.

You may think that your task is to inform players about the actual in-game experience. But even if that were right, there's no way to do it! Playing four LFD dungeons in a row for that new sword can be great fun. But it is entirely unsuitable for marketing!
Imagine someone showing how achievements pop up in the game. Ridiculous, right? The emotional connection is what gives these things meaning. They are not meaningful in themselves; most things in life aren't.

Oh, here's a perfectly boring SW:TOR gameplay preview. Have mercy.
And now have a look at the CCP marketing! Perfect mix of in-game and out-of-game material to sell a feeling that feels authentic (that's why in-game footage is important!).

The point is that CCP's marketing is not only more effective. Of course, it is. But it is also more .. informative (aussagekräftig)! The reasons you are going to play DUST 514 are not possible to be presented by showing 12 minute gameplay examples.

When you play a MMORPG you are emotionally invested. This emotional investment has to be artificially created by the marketing department.


  1. The weirdest thing I've noticed recently is that EQ2X is extremely busy. The hacking story drove a lot of interest and the free Gold until the 17th for every customer has kept people motivated.

    I strongly suspect SOE will make a lot of money overall this summer. And I think accidental advertising, as from this hacking fiasco, can be more effective than professionally planned adverts.

  2. I basically agree. A good MMO trailer will leave you with the feeling of "I want to be that guy" more than anything else. I got that when watching the original WoW trailer, and I didn't feel disappointed by the actual gameplay - the fact that the trailer was only a representation was implied. I had seen a shapeshifting elf running through endless forests, and now I was a human paladin running through Elwynn Forest. Close enough!

    "Boring" gameplay videos also have their purpose though. For example that SWTOR one you linked was actually the first footage of the game I saw that actually made me curious, because the group story mechanic (roll decides who speaks) seems quite fun and intriguing to me.

  3. Shintar, I agree that the original WoW trailer was very good. Everything shown there you could do in the game; not with the same graphics, but that was obvious. It set the right mood.

    The linked SW:TOR gameplay video is certainly informative for MMORPG gurus like you or me. But for the average customer they don't make sense, I think. And even we have to remind ourselves all the time that the reason we like to kill 20 mobs in MMORPGs is not the immediate 'fun' of doing so. Read the massiveley remarks on it. They have real problems understanding how to interpret such a footage.

    About the story mechanic: It's probably the least worst way to do this. But I have a hard time with gaining paragon points even though we slayed the guy in cold blood. A paragon would have tried to do something against it, would he not?
    Sure, that's not really possible to incorporate into the gameplay. But this way it isn't exactly immersive.

    One thing about this Bioware 'moral' dilemmata stuff, however, doesn't sit well with me, anyway: By giving your moral choices a direct effect on gameplay, the moral choices become subject to min/maxing. You don't do what you want to do, but rather choose the evil option if you want to gain evil points and vice versa. This kind of backlash of "wouldn't it be cool?"-thinking in games should not happen.

  4. Good post. :)

    I remember when I saw a gameplay video of WoW before it came out (I had never played an MMO), and when I watched some friends playing before I bought it, it seemed so slow and boring !