I’m gonna be honest, this article is likely gonna be mailed in because Diablo 3 is about 2 minutes from being unveiled. It’s an exciting time for gamers, such is our lust and anticipation for the latest entry in this treasured intellectual property. Yet I confess to a certain amount of fear. Fear that the game may not live up to expectations. Fear that the servers will be so jam packed with hell dwelling hopefuls that I’ll spend an hour of my life trying to pry my way in. Odd that I should be so enthusiastic to go to hell.
Yet hope shines forth, largely unvarnished by my heretical fears. This is the moment of release, and the possibilities are endless.
The Marketing Mega-Orgy
It’s safe to say that major game launches have been elevated to the level of “cultural events.” As large publishers have moved to a tentpole model of development (larger bets on fewer releases), fuss has experienced exponential growth. This has been most noticeable in the scale, quality and persistance of media efforts. Call of Duty is probably the most noticeable on the media blitzkreig front (which makes sense given the marketing background of a few of the higher ups in Activision).
The goal is a fever pitch, and means is innundation. Constant messaging on all fronts. Strategic release of screenshots, careful release of beta information, and beautifully rendered movies that flaunt the possibilities of the future. Midnight LAN parties (lol, remember when LANs were a thing?) are planned and fridges across there nation are stocked with energy drinks. Anticipation pervades the community and each gamer asks the other what THEIR plans are for the big day.
This order of shenanigans is central to the survival of the industry. Major launches are a unifying experience for the gaming community, a chance for the oft anti-social to communicate without acrimony or fear of reprisal. The increased fanfare attendant to the media buys helps the process along by making the launch immediately accessible to everyone throughout the day. Each commercial is an opportunity for comment, each screenshot a chance to share, and each announcement a calling unto the faithful.
Missed Opportunities in Mobile
In the absence of a vigorous publishing model on the mobile side, launches of mobile games have largely been underwhelming. There are a lot of reasons for this, but mostly it’s a certain measure of skepticism. Mobile folks simply don’t believe in the value of brand building or spectacle on a macro level. Spectacle is expensive and there isn’t a clear indication that it will actually generate users. Targeted ad buys utilizing CPI campaigns on platform gaurantee users. Commercials with Jonah Hill seem a little less likely to convert.
I can sympathize, and this skepticism is a lot of the reason why publishers have had such a hard go in proving out their value on platform. Since access to customers is only a CPI campaign away, it’s hard to understand the value of the publisher (I’ll address where I see the value in another post). Everyone has the keys to the users, the question is how much they want to pay and what the right method of reaching them is. CPI campaigns are reliable, and so they are the primary means of “launching” a game.
But that isn’t a game launch. Paying a million dollars for a few hundred thousand users doesn’t create community or buzz. It might result in rising up the rankings a bit, but it’s not going to get a game recognized on a broader scale. Kotaku isn’t going to be drooling over new game X without a reason, and moving from 600k to 15k in the rankings isn’t going to suffice.
Mobile will have officially “arrived” when the games become anticipated by gaming community. The path to this is long and certainly requires a bit of advancement on the quality side. However, the simple fact is that quality alone won’t carry the day. There needs to be an event. Mobile needs to discover the art of the launch.
P.S. One hour in and I can’t crack open Diablo 3. All my fears realized. Not that it matters — it’ll just fade into gaming bliss over the next few days. Funny how gamers can forgive almost anything in the face of super sweet lewt.
JM: Ah yes, the big game launch, it certainly puts us right up there with the other major entertainment industries, capturing the hearts and minds of a global audience. I agree with the list of factors mobile games need to adopt to come up to this level. But there’s a couple of structural issues here too. One is that there typically isn’t a single hard date on which the product goes on sale. There’s soft-launches in Canada, rolling launches, and big marketing spend launches. Also, platforms will have to evolve alongside the games, in that as we generate buzz, they should have preordering available so we have a call to action other than “wait for it.” But I agree, it’s only a matter of time.