Refused Classification, Now a Marketing Strategy?

It seems that the Australian Classification Board doesn’t mind serving me up with blog fodder every couple weeks so I can harp on about how the mature Australian gaming community needs a R18+ rating. Whilst I won’t re-iterate the point I’ve made time and time again about how having different standards for one single type of media is just silly it does seem that there might be another side to this whole R18+ debacle that no one has considered. It’s an exceedingly good way to get press for your otherwise unknown game:

The Classification Board has stated that “drug use related to incentives or rewards” is the reason why gangster-themed MMO Crimecraft has been refused classification in Australia.According to the Board’s report obtained by Kotaku this afternoon, Crimecraft “contains the option to manufacture, trade and self-administer legal “medicines” and illegal “boosts”… Boosts are sometimes referred to as “drugs” both in the game and in the Applicant’s submissions to the Board.”

One type of boost is called Anabolics, which the Board notes “is named after a class of proscribed drugs and that the Applicant describes boosts as “like real-life steroids”. In addition, the names of boosts mimic the chemical and colloquial names of proscribed drugs.”

I’d never heard of this game until it got refused classification from the ACB and a quick Internet rundown on them gives only 5 articles on Kotaku and an extremely sparse Wikipedia article. This is a woeful amount of press for what is supposed to be a MMORPG even one with such niche appeal as this. What makes this interesting is that the refusal for classification is scaringly similar to the one that hit Fallout 3 almost 18 months ago and one they subsequently got around without too much hassle. So why would you submit a game with the potential to hit the classification tripwire when you know the workaround? You can see why I’m smelling a PR stunt here.

Granted this is a bit of a stretch and it is entirely possible that they thought there was no issue with the names they used. Still when Fallout had to change the name of morphine to Med-X you can be guaranteed that using any real world names for drugs that are used in a game is a sure fire way to rile up the ACB. I’m sure that they’re going to resubmit with the modifications required but the fact remains, they managed to generate quite a bit of hype for their game which would’ve probably gone unnoticed in Australia otherwise. It is a rather niche game so they were probably relying on the open beta to generate most of the buzz for them (which coincidentally was not open and only available to the US and Canada) and you’d have to do a bit of digging to find any original reports of people actually playing the game.

Making and marketing a game, especially in a genre dominated by Blizzard, is no easy feat and I can easily see the developers agreeing to such a stunt in the hopes it would generate a bit more buzz. There’s no real ethical issues to speak of here but I still can’t help but feel that employing such a tactic is a bit, well cheap. Simple things like a fully fleshed out Wikipedia article, a YouTube channel and a corporate Twitter account do wonders for promoting a game that would otherwise slip under the radar. CrimeWars doesn’t appear to have any of these so its far more likely that this was a genuine submission rather than an attempt at free PR.

After all this though I’m still not interested in the game but I’ve got a feeling I’m not really in their demographic. Still I have to wonder just what their demographic is with such a game because traditionally people who are playing games like that (GTA, Saints Row) aren’t the MMO or PC game type. Its still quite possible that they’ll find their niche but when giants like WAR and AOC managed to fall flat in the MMO market I must say, I have my doubts.

Still, they gave me something to write about and that’s well….something I guess 🙂

The Oldest Form Of Advertising.

Everyone knows someone (or is that someone) who’s so involved in a certain hobby or profession that they can spout the latest news about anything in that field. I often do this to my friends with things about space since I can’t help myself when and often lose hours trawling through Wikipedia and online space publications. It’s these kinds of people that advertisers love, since they’re basically a captive audience for their marketing and are basically employees working as pro bono evangelists. There’s nothing companies love more then getting something for nothing.

So enter Viral Marketing. Whilst the term itself has only been around for the past 12 years or so the concept has been around for quite a lot longer. Probably one of the best examples of this was Charles Ponzi’s famous Ponzi Scheme which went viral very quickly as news spread about the amazing returns on investment he was offering. Its this kind of reaction that many marketing companies try to achieve these days by targeting “high value” individuals who will do a lot of the grunt work for them. In the end the hope is that the advertising critical mass will be hit with little involvement from them, and hopefully without the public at large knowing it was orchestrated by them.

Up until recently the public of Australia hadn’t experienced a successful viral campaign, but that all changed when a love-struck waitress found a coat left behind by a dashing man. The story had all the elements of a great love tale: a chance event, love at first sight, tragic departure, a small clue and a desperate struggle to find the “one”. It’s the kind of thing that the media loves to grab a hold of because it’s got something in it for everyone and makes for a great chat over a coffee (It was on most of the morning shows, but few of the more serious evening programs). From the start people were sceptical, but it managed a good few days of press before someone decided to do some actual investigation and find out who she really was. There was of course a bit of backlash from the community at large who felt they’d been led up the garden path and were astonished that advertisers would do such a thing. There was a brief period after the whole thing came apart where the media actually educated the Australian public about such campaigns, something which I found quite refreshing.

Viral campaigns are a double edged sword when it comes to drumming up hype for your desired product/service/idea. Sure you might end up creating an environment where the product advertises itself (like it seems to do with any Apple product) but at the same time you give up control over what the outcome might be. Whilst you might be successful you have to take caution not to make a fool out of the people you’re advertising to, as the bad news will spread just as quickly as the good. Additionally it’s hard to gauge the results of a viral campaign as they’re notoriously unpredictable, unlike more traditional methods which have decades of research behind them.

I guess it all comes down to an old Japanese proverb: “If you believe everything you read, better not read”. As always, keep a sceptical eye on the media and practice self education on anything that someone might posit to you.

That’s not to say that all viral campaigns are bad or misleading, some are actually quite entertaining:

The Biggest Untapped Market.

As I dragged myself out of bed this morning on a lovely 4 degree Canberra morning I was greeted by a commercial which I hadn’t seen before (unfortunately it’s not on Youtube yet). It was for Nintendo’s line of Brain Training games and it featured a 30-something woman talking about how much it improved her life and how easy it was to take around with you. Taking a step back from the ad I remembered something that Nintendo said a couple years ago when it announced the Wii console:

    Introducing… Wii.As in “we.”

    While the code-name Revolution expressed our direction, Wii represents the answer. Wii will break down that wall that seperates videogame players from everybody else. Wii will put people more in touch with their games… and each other. But you’re probably asking: What does the name mean?

    Wii sounds like “we,” which emphasizes the console is for everyone. Wii can easily be remembered by people around the world, no matter what language they speak. No confusion. No need to abbreviate. Just Wii.

    Wii has a distinctive “ii” spelling that symbolizes both the unique controllers and the image of people playing it. And Wii, as a name and a console, brings something revolutionary to the world of videogames that sets it apart from the crowd.

    So that’s Wii. But now Nintendo needs you. Because it’s really not about you or me. It’s about Wii. And together, Wii will change everything.

Nintendo decided to break the trend that everyone had been following since the dawn of the gaming era, catering to the people who like to play games and continue to play games regardless of their changing situation. I’m a pretty good example of your run of the mill gamer, I’ve been playing games for most of my life and no matter my current situation I always have a couple games on the back burner I want to play through. That won’t change for a long time to come, so there will always be a market for people like me, we’re repeat customers.

However, there are more people out there who don’t play games regularly then those that do. Nintendo, a company that has prided itself on capturing the younger market with their mostly G rated line up, was well poised to make the leap of faith towards that group of people who did not identify themselves as a gamer. Couple this with a extraordinarily cheap console and you’ve got yourself an under the Christmas tree winner, something Nintendo was extremely proud of.

It’s not just Nintendo that aimed their marketing canon at the non-gamer market. World of Warcraft, the worlds most popular paid for play MMORPG, took the idea of a massively online game and did two things to it. Firstly they built it on their wildly successful Warcraft line of lore and IP. This helped them drag customers who had traditionally favoured them for their brilliant line of RTS games across to the world of MMORPGs. Additionally Blizzard made the game highly accessible to people who didn’t usually play games, with the hardware requirements to run the game incredibly low allowing most store bought PCs to be able to run the game.

In any emerging market the biggest area of untapped potential is always going to be the people who aren’t using your product or service. Nintendo and Blizzard did a great job of capturing a market that didn’t exist for them before they tried and have both become leaders in their respective fields. I put this down to them, whilst not being the market leaders in their respective fields, having the initiative to see the untapped potential and take a risk on capturing it.

Maybe the struggle of not being at the top is what lead them to try and innovate in this way in the first place.

First One’s Free.

In this rapidly changing technologically driven world many new up and comers find it hard to differentiate themselves from amongst the hundreds of similar projects. In an effort to drive people to use their services we’re seeing more and more companies going the route of providing some or all of their products completely free to the end user. Whilst I believe this is a great idea there is, of course, always some catches when it comes to accepting free gifts from corporate overlords.

A great example I can think of is the good old de facto corporate communication device, the Crack(Black)Berry. Recently at my current gig for the Australian government my department decided to do a trial of these in order to see if there was any value in implementing it. Of course Telstra comes to the table offering a free 3 month trial with pretty much everything included. The handsets were sent out to the executives and we went through about 2 days of configuration work to get it all done for them. It didn’t matter that we’d already installed Exchange Activesync, which would allow them to use any Windows Mobile device and wouldn’t cost them a cent since we’d bought the license in a bundle. So since the Blackberrys had been in the Qantas lounge magazines we were basically stuck with trialling this technology for them, and we all knew where it was going.

Fast forward to the end of the trial and we have half the execs praising the new system, a few dissenters and the rest on the fence. It was pretty obvious from the onset that once this was in place they would not give it up, even though the corporate directive is to investigate all possible solutions and judge them on their merits.

The same situation has been used in many different situations with online services. LinkedIn used to be a completely free service for professional social networking, and it did a great job at that. It was basically a no frills Facebook, something which is handy when you’d be browsing it at work. Of course the creators saw that they could then add in extra features and offer them as premium accounts, something which is akin to buying an expensive car in real life. Sure, it will probably improve people’s impression of you (if they’ve never met you before) but past that it’s value is rather small. Since many people use LinkedIn in order to build a professional network and hopefully generate business from that the paid services might hold some value there. There’s still no substitute for good old fashioned real life networking though, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to charge for that, either.

However, there are those that still buck the trend when it comes to providing services for free and staying away from the premium service charge. Google has released service after service that, whilst most of them still carry the beta tag on them, remain free after many years in service. This can all be put down to their ruthless precision in refining down an advertising model that appeals to every business, which is built upon their solid leadership as a search engine.

In reality most new up and coming technologies these days are being offered as a free baseline with the additional features costing you a couple pennies more. It’s all done to drive up market adoption and it is a great thing for the consumers, who get a lot more for their dollars since they can try before they buy. Just don’t be too shocked when your favourite free service starts asking for your credit card 😉