The sports category in the video game industry is a great genre to be in, if you can be successful at it. It’s highly competitive and the pressure to put out annual SKUs in the same franchises can be tough on publisher and developer alike. With spring fever hitting everyone right about now, the[a]listdaily decided to chat with 2K Sports’ VP of Marketing Jason Argent about the publisher’s venerable baseball franchise. It’s a franchise that’s taken a hit in recent years with Sony’s MLB The Show series grabbing a bigger spotlight, but 2K’s marketing has really done a phenomenal job this season – you’ll especially notice this if you tune in regularly to the MLB Network on TV.
General consensus over the years has positioned the MLB 2K franchise as the underdog to Sony’s MLB The Show series. From the marketing perspective does it make it more difficult to form a campaign for a title that is battling a tough competitor in the space?
Jason Argent: I’m a strong believer that competition makes you better, and nowhere does that hold more true than with our MLB 2K franchise. From both the marketing and game development standpoints we upped our game this year in every way, and we believe the fans see and appreciate that.
In many ways developing this year’s campaign was easier because the objective was simple: Convince people to play our game because we believe that once they do, they’ll love it and see how good it really is. The mandate was to make some noise.
How are you pushing the fact that you’re the only licensed MLB product on certain consoles? Has this been an advantage?
We don’t want people to buy our game because we’re exclusive on certain consoles, we want them to buy the game because it’s good and because it’s a fantastic simulation baseball experience. So we focus our efforts squarely on ways to illustrate that to our fans and fans-to-be.
The TV spots for MLB 2K10 have been fantastic. What went into creating them, and was it difficult to secure so many MLB players to star in the ad spots?
Thanks. We probably look at athletes a little different than other companies. The athletes we choose to work with are the ones that want to work with us, that love 2K, and love playing our games. And we’re extremely fortunate to have a growing stable of athletes that we look at more as family than as endorsers of the product. And while this may seem like a small thing, it’s very important to us and we believe it comes through in the advertising and in the game itself because the athletes are vested in it. So shooting the MLB 2K10 videos had the typical logistics hurdles to overcome like working around schedules and travel, but working with the athletes themselves was easy. We just aimed the camera at them and let them go!
Spring fever’s in effect right now, so marketing the game at the moment is a good idea, but how far can you push the campaign? Should we expect to see marketing continue throughout the baseball season up until the World Series?
One of the great aspects of this particular campaign is that it has some staying power. Our perfect game contest ends on May 2nd and at that time we’re hoping we have a $1,000,000 winner we can announce and celebrate with the world. And don’t forget the whole reason for this promotion was to help highlight MLB 2K10’s superior pitching and hitting mechanics, so that will certainly be continually communicated on an ongoing basis.
The pitcher/hitter interface has been improved and the marketing focuses on it
Where did you get the idea for a $1 million perfect game bounty? That’s quite a lot to give away. Was this in part a response to the changes you’ve made to the pitching system, and do you feel the bounty was effective in generating lots of interest in the title?
The game had improved so much from last year that we knew once people played it they’d love it. We just needed a way to convince them to play. The possibility of winning $1,000,000 has a way of doing that.
The more important question was, how do we achieve this while staying true to the key selling point of the game itself . . . the superior pitching mechanic. What communicates great pitching better than throwing a Perfect Game? And the cherry on top was that it allowed us to give something back to one our loyal fans.
What were some of the other key elements of the MLB 2K10 campaign that we may have overlooked?
We love the Pitcher/Hitter videos. You mentioned them earlier so you didn’t overlook them, but some people may have because we didn’t push them out there like we did the $1M Perfect Game communication. The cornerstone of the game of baseball is this pitcher/hitter duel, and we really wanted to capture and embrace that in the creative. And no one can do this better than the players themselves. These videos were an amazing and consistent complement to what we wanted to communicate about the MLB 2K10 game itself. You can check them out on the MLB 2K10 Facebook page or on www.2ksports.com.
Sports video games are a unique breed unto themselves. What goes into the marketing strategy for a 2K Sports title compared to a more traditional action or shooter title?
Sports culture. Sports move people differently than videogames alone, and sports encompass a larger audience than do videogames alone. We’re not just talking with gamers, we’re talking with everyone that has every played or watched sports. The passion that people feel for certain sports, teams, and athletes is something we can appreciate and always tap into because everyone here actually lives it. Also we get the privilege to speak to our audience every year, whereas shooters and strategy games may go two to three years between releases.
With new motion controllers coming later this year, are there plans to possibly include functionality for future MLB 2K games or other 2K Sports titles?
Yes . . .stay tuned!