Trion Worlds has had an eventful year in 2013, with the introduction of the grand cross-media experiment Defiance, the Rift MMORPG going free-to-play, layoffs, closing the company's San Diego studio to consolidate in Redwood City, and the return of former CCO Scott Hartsman to become CEO of Trion Worlds.
Trion Worlds SVP marketing Noah Maffitt
The [a]list daily sat down with Trion Worlds senior vice president of marketing Noah Maffitt to discuss the company's approach to marketing. Maffitt comes from a diverse marketing background outside of the game industry, working as an e-commerce specialist at Office Depot and then managing Live Nation's global digital business.
So why did Maffitt decide to dive into the game industry? “If you look at the videogame industry and how dramatically it's changing, there's a lot of things that are being spun on their heads,” said Maffitt. “If you take the perspective that you follow your customers and find a way to deliver what they're looking for, there's still lots and lots of opportunity. Trion seemed uniquely positioned to me to take advantage of those trends. It's small enough and nimble enough to quickly move around and follow the customers.”
Trion has undergone major changes this year, and one big one was the transition of the MMORPG Rift from subscription to free-to-play. “I'm actually very pleased with how the team has executed on it,” Maffitt said. “It was a planned transition that's taken months and months to do. They've thought through all the little details very well. We actually saw our sales go up after we announced free-to-play, because we think we have a compelling package around that transition. Our player counts have gone way up, as well. All early signs are good.”
The shifts in business models don't distress Maffitt. “The model has changed dramatically, but from my perspective this is nothing new,” Maffitt noted. “Musicians used to go on tour to promote a CD; now they give away CDs to promote the tour. There's been 'free-to-play' in that industry for a long time. The same thing is happening with movies and TV – the models are all changing across all forms of entertainment. What's happening here is shaking this industry quite a bit, but it's actually a blueprint that exists out there. There are ways to follow a trail that's already been worn in other parts of the entertainment industry.”
The changes in the industry have of necessity been reflected in marketing games. “Marketing is a lot more creative, and a lot more analytical. Being able to measure and understand impact, and change things up faster,” Maffitt pointed out. “The old model of making a really big bet, investing tens of millions of dollars in a big launch, that will still happen but I think it will be fewer and fewer titles that will really succeed in doing that. You'll see a broader base of other titles that grow through a slow build and analytically rich marketing.”
“It's part of the reason Trion was recruiting outside of the video game industry,” Maffitt continued. “It wasn't a fluke I ended up in this role. It was Trion consciously saying 'the old model isn't as effective, it still can be effective but it's a lot more risky.' The thought was in recruiting from outside the industry let's find some people who have high scale experience, who understand analytics, who understand customer experience and how to measure it, who understand driving profitability into each customer segment in terms of how we acquire and maintain those customers over time. It's not just a one shot $59.995 retail opportunity any more. It's an opportunity to engage over a much longer period of time.”
The Defiance transmedia game/TV show has been a years-long effort by Trion and Syfy to create synergies between the two media, and it is still evolving. “We're figuring out what works and what doesn't, we're testing a lot of different things,” said Maffitt. “We're testing different price points for the client, we're testing different promotion around bit sales which is the in-game currency. You listen to the in-game chatter, but that can give you a lot of false signals. A few minority voices can lead the conversation in a way that isn't really truthful or accurate. What we pay attention to is the real behavior, and we're testing that all the time.”
The road ahead for Trion is going to be interesting, with the continued growth in mobile platforms and new consoles arriving. “We are absolutely interested in next-gen, and we're fleshing out with partners what that would look like,” said Maffitt. “We're one of the only companies that has a game experience tied in with a scripted video experience. As you think about exploiting capabilities of second screen, there's lots of potential ways we could create a pretty interesting offering that ties all of those things together.”
Maffitt is still excited by what the game industry has to offer marketers. “This industry actually has what every other industry would kill for,” said Maffitt. “The biggest challenge is engagement. How do you get people to actually care about your product? Because if they care about your product, they're actually engaged with it, then you can activate on them. Social media without engagement is kind of stupid, but social media with engagement, you can do some really powerful things. How do you make peanut butter interesting on Facebook? What's incredible about this industry is the engagement is off the charts. That's a massive, massive opportunity and I think it's underexploited in this industry.”
"There's a lot of distractions, there are a lot of great games out there,” said Maffitt. “The days of marketing getting everyone to the front door and saying your job is done are over. We need to get them through the front door, see what they do when they're inside, and follow them through the experience to understand who's dropping out and why. Traditional game marketing has been all about upfront awareness, and now it's about lifetime customer value and understanding the full life cycle.”
“It's a pretty saturated market out there, and the biggest challenge for the industry is how do you hold that engagement,” said Maffitt. “There's a lot of talk about who will win on the next-gen platforms, and I'm less concerned about that. You need to be where the customers are, and they're going to be on all platforms. It's how do you develop a compelling experience that's available where you want it and when you want it.”