Game Industry Veterans Weigh In On Wii U

The reception to the launch of the Wii U has been mixed by many people, and that’s reflected in opinions that have come out from the media and people in the industry. Atari founder Nolan Bushnell is among those that are pessimistic, but former Xbox executive Robbie Bach is more bullish, even if he thinks Nintendo should bring its games to other systems

“I actually am baffled by it,” said Bushnell of the Wii U. “I don’t think it’s going to be a big success,” he continued, suggesting that only hardcore gamers would be interested in purchasing a new games machine when the current-gen is still delivering great games. “These things will continue to sputter along, but I really don’t think they’ll be of major import ever again. It feels like the end of an era to me.”

Nolan Bushnell

“It’s the hardest strategic decision Nintendo has had to face in a long time. Would Mario on an iPhone be an interesting property I think yes, it would.” said Bach, adding of the future of the Wii U, “I’ve learned not to count the Nintendo guys out.”

Source: New York Times

MMO Future Off The Rails

Subscription based MMOs have been dealing with issues inherent to their creation because they are prohibitively expensive to make. However, some believe the problem may be in not just the business model but the product itself.

“We do not believe the current method of making these games is sustainable,” said John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment, noting that player bases go down over time. “If you look at the game releases of the last three years — look at Star Wars: The Old Republic, look at Rift, look at The Secret World, every one of them does this. Every one.”

“The biggest problem is the fact that you’ve got a monthly model, but it”s so expensive to make content for the traditional MMO now that if you spend $250 million like EA did on Star Wars, you’ve only got 30 days” worth of content,” said Mark Kern of Red 5 Studios. “So you’ve made 15 bucks from the consumers, basically, before they churn out of your game.”

Production values for what amounts to a AAA MMO have gotten so high that the World of Warcraft model, which may have made sense when the game released in 2004, no longer works. It’s hard to create content at a pace ahead of players’ boredom.

“You end up in a race to keep enough content out there before the bulk of your players become bored,” said Jon Lander, executive producer of EVE Online. “With [EVE], the more people who come into the game, the less chance you have of getting bored. That overall idea is what has kept us steadily growing now for 10 years.”

Another thing sweeping through gaming in general is emergent gameplay like in DayZ and Minecraft. Those games encourage creativity in scrounging for resources and building creations while attempting to survive, and SOE plans to take cues from that in the future.

“We need to add emergent gameplay to our games if they”re going to last,” said Smedley. “So we are. SOE has committed itself to a focus on emergent and sandbox-style play.”

Source: Wired.com

IGN Partners With Retailer GAME

IGN has announced that it has signed a new agreement with GAME. The media company will work with the U.K. game specialist retailer for community initiatives, with special events and live-streamed gatherings of gamers with special guests at various retail locations.

“2012 has been a significant year for GAME and we are ambitious and excited about 2013, kick-starting the year with this partnership with IGN,” said GAME Retail CEO Martyn Gibbs. “Gamers absolutely love IGN and our customer research has reinforced what a great fit this is for our brand. The partnership offers us an exciting opportunity to maximize our engagement with gamers both in-store and online and ultimately help us to achieve our ambition of building the U.K.’s most valuable community of gamers”

“We’re delighted to be working with the U.K.’s largest specialist games retailer on this pioneering partnership, bringing the IGN and GAME communities together around their shared passion,” added IGN Entertainment’s Ian Chambers. “Our partnership will set the standard for how a media owner and retailer can collaborate to deliver impactful, community engagement.”

Mass Effect Future Crowd Sourced On Twitter

Mass Effect executive producer Casey Hudson has taken to Twitter to ask fans what future incarnations of the franchise will look like. “Parsing through your thoughts on the next #ME game,” he asked. “Would you be more interested in a game that takes place before the trilogy, or after ”

Responses have been many and varied to the query. Some don’t want to experience the Mass Effect universe after the end of the trilogy, taking into account the various happenings at that conclusion, and others want the series to move on instead of trying to fill narrative holes from the past.

A fourth main Mass Effect game has been confirmed to be in development at BioWare Montreal. It is unknown if Hudson is polling for the announced game or some unannounced project for BioWare Edmonton, where he is based and the majority of Mass Effect development had taken place in the past.

Source: Twitter.com

The Last Story Most Successful Game In XSeed History

XSeed Games has announced that it is releasing a standalone copy of The Last Story to retailers for $29.99 in order to meet demand. Any remaining copies of the premium launch units, available with a bonus 44-page softcover art book packaged together with the game in a custom outer box, are now available for $39.99.

The Last Story has been an amazing title for XSeed Games and it has become our most successful title to date,” said Ken Berry, Executive Vice President at XSeed Games. “This is a must have title for RPG fans, and we’re looking forward to more players discovering the magic that lies in Lazulis Island.”

To read more about The Last Story, read this exclusive [a]list interview.

Far Cry 3 — Explore The Rook Islands

Far Cry 3 is a wide and beautiful environment, but it’s also a dynamic world in which you’ll be surprised in each situation. All creatures and enemies have their own behavior and all your choices will impact your environment. To survive the Rook Islands and their twisted inhabitants, you’ll have to adapt yourself and fight your way. In Far Cry 3, you should only expect the unexpected!

[a]list Game Marketing Summit: Tying The Knot

Opening remarks from Chris Younger, Principal/Director of Strategy for the Ayzenberg Group. Younger described some of the key moments from earlier summits this year, with video clips of and some effective quotes. It’s all about creating and building a relationship with the customers, and as Younger pointed out it’s a two-way conversation.

Activation — A “Lean Forward” Approach

Moderated by Simon Ward, Director of Strategic Development for Ayzenberg. Panelists include Robyn Yoder, Senior Marketing Manager, Windows Consumer Marketing, Microsoft; Joe Paulding, Direcotr, Audience Development, E! Entertainment; and Jeff Wong, Director, Digital Delivery, Ayzenberg.

Robyn Yoder noted that it’s a mix of the rational and the emotional, to get the brand firmly planted with the consumer. Joe Paulding said that their goal is, of course, ratings, and they wanted to see if they could use social media to drive ratings. They introduced an app this year to try and get involvement with the red carpet walk of celebrities, to gauge the level of interest in the twittersphere. They hoped that by feeding the vanity of users (the chance for their tweets to appear on TV) it would drive higher ratings, and they saw this occur with the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards, especially with younger users. Direct tracking is hard, but the usage certainly correlated with higher ratings. Jeff Wong related some experiences with a variety of clients. He cited a health app (FitBit) that tracks user activity to help with their fitness level, and how it was much more effective by sharing results with a community who can lend support.

Paulding described some efforts they used on the Facebook page for the Kardashians in an effort to drive more viewing of the show. A picture of a pair of sparkly shoes brought 80,000 likes, which astonished him. That’s what viewers wanted to see, though. He feels continuing efforts on social media have helped drive strong ratings for the new season of the show.

PopCap employee in the audience noted that he tries to keep the trolls away while still keeping the whales happy. Wong asked him if the trolls are angry about a specific product or release, and PopCap responded that they don’t consider those trolls. They define trolls as people just generally being disruptive and not contributing in any way. Wong noted that he sees people who are contributing useful information can be channeled into more useful feedback, redirecting them into ways that are more acceptable and makes them feel valuable. Skilled redirection like that can also make a good impression on others.

Making the Relationship Last:

Moderated by Julian Hollingshead, VP of Strategy and Client Service for Ayzenberg. Panelists include Elaine Chase, Brand Director for Magic: The Gathering, Wizards of the Coast; Tony Leamer, Franchise Business Director, Plants Vs. Zombies, PopCap; and Ryan Wener, Senior Director, Product Management, Activision.

Chase noted that they’ve said for years “We don’t sell a product in a box; we sell an experience.” It has to be an entire emotional experience, like Friday Night Magic: The Gathering get-togethers’ Chase formalized a user-generated gathering and made it something that all stores could promote and engage in, and fans have responded well.

Hollingshead asked if loyalty and advocacy are more or less important than they have been in the past. Leamer responded that he thinks it is more important, and it’s dangerous to be focused on things like virality and monetization rather than game play. Wener feels that the stage has completely changed, and that Mass Effect 3 is a great example. Players engage deeply with games they like, and they take ownership of them — so it’s possible to really anger them or really thrill them. He feels there have been greater successes and greater problems because of this greater level of emotional involvement.

Chase said you need to give people a reason to stay, something that engages them, and then they won'[t be fickle. They will have a reason to come back when something new finds them. Wener noted that there is some measure of polarization, some groups of consumers engage much more deeply than they ever did before. But as you get bigger, some people engage the franchise at arm’s length. Consumers come in every shape and size, and analytics can help identify them and show how to engage them in greater depth.

Chase said many of their programs are designed to activate the higher-end consumers and get them to talk to other players, bring in new blood. Leamer feels that the sheer number of entertainment choices out there tends to push you back to the things you love, underscoring the need for deep engagement.

Chase feels that more brands are being evaluated based on how they handle it when things are screwed up more than by their successes. Wener notes that Facebook is often used merely as a broadcast tool, not as a conversational tool — and it should be, because it helps drive deeper engagement. This places a higher burden on the community management teams, because they need to be aware of what people are asking and respond properly.

Hollingshead asked if the conversation helps guide development, and Leamer agreed that it does. Though he noted most of the time they question they get is “When is Plants Vs. Zombies 2 coming out ” Hollingshead wondered if they actually measure loyalty. Chase noted that they are at a disadvantage by not being a primarily digital product; they can’t track when people play cards. So they do it indirectly, by tracking store events, tournaments, and other things. They want to support the influencers who help other people get into the game. Getting those higher-end people to get the less-engaged people into the game is crucial to expanding the hobby. If the key influencers don’t endorse the products designed for the entry level, Chase said, those products will never take off.

Wener said measuring advocacy is still a significant challenge; measuring a like is not enough. He wants to identify hubs in the community, people who lead large groups. People who create web sites, or clans; ideally they’d like to track the guy who gets 5 of his buddies to play Call of Duty every week.

Leamer said it’s very easy with social games to mistake virality for advocacy; you want people to promote your game because they like it, not just because the game sends out messages to your friends. Wener noted that it’s important to see how players want to be involved, and find ways that can engage them based on how they are interested in the game. Chase said they have taken game ideas from players and turned them into game formats that the entire player base can use; they did this with the Commander play model. But they didn’t take it over, they worked with the community and continued to let them control the rules. It’s been a huge success.

From the audience came the question of how you reward users that do something great; Leamer used the example of fan art, how they share that with everyone. Chase pointed out there’s many different ways fans engage, and the rewards for them differ.

Community Through Entertainment

Moderated by Steve Fowler, VP of Strategy, Ayzenberg

Panelists include Matt McCloskey, Directopr of Franchise Business Management, 343 Industries; Taylor Smith, Senior Director, Xbox Global Marketing Communications, Microsoft; Sanjay Sharma, Senior Executive Business Development Affairs and Strategy, Machinima.

Tomorrow an original live-action series centered on Halo 4 will appear on Machinima.  Fowler was brand manager on the original Halo, so this panel has a lot of resonance for him. Machinima is the largest channel on YouTube, so it was an obvious choice for the way to distribute a live-action series. McCloskey said the idea for the live-action series began with the product team, and it seemed like a good idea to make the Halo 4 launch as big as possible with such a series. Smith had tried to get something like this started before, but this time the idea finally got traction. Alan Wake used that concept successfully through Machinima to drive millions of impressions.

McCloskey said at the beginning that the only thing he guaranteed is that everyone would be uncomfortable, and he was right. It stretched all the boundaries; not just a product and not just a marketing vehicle, something built in-house at Microsoft. Machinima started with fan-created content, and it has expanded far beyond what they thought was possible originally. Gaming has expanded beyond just social videos to episodic videos. Their Mortal Kombat series topped 60 million views. Now they have a new channel devoted to long-form episodic entertainment, much of it though not all based on gaming.

Fowler noted that it’s a decade old brand, and doing a live-action series is taking a risk with the brand. It’s caused much anxiety, admitted McCloskey. There were lots of issues to be resolved with the story, not the least of which is whether to design it for newbies or for hard-core fans. He feels people will have to watch the entire series to really evaluate it well. The narrative for Halo 4 now encompasses the series Forward Unto Dawn, three novels, and of course the game itself.

Smith’s advice was to not outsource the core of the experience; keep it close so it can be great. The essence of the series was not promotion, but the dramatic story at the heart of it. The hope was that doing a good story with the right elements would create a powerful brand impact. Smith noted that they hope viewers have a greater appreciation for the game and the characters, and thus get greater enjoyment from the game.

Fowler asked how it was possible to justify making a movie when they are in the business of selling video games. McCloskey said they wanted to have profitable marketing, and to show how it would generate profits to cover its costs. There’s an initial  window of showing the videos, then putting the series into the Halo 4 limited edition, and it will eventually come out on DVD and Blu-ray and video-on-demand to generate more revenue. Additionally, they hope to generate 100 million views to help support the launch of Halo 4.

Sharma feels that this segment is starved for great content, and that other publishers are watching this effort with great interest. Perhaps we could see more and more content like this, especially if the business model proves out. Sharma noted, though, that the deals they are doing all seem to have different elements.

Would they be satisfied if the content didn’t generate revenue No, McCloskey said. They wanted to challenge themselves to make content that was good enough to pay for. He pointed out the Star Wars: The Clone Wars was created to sell toys, but it’s also a good show in its own right — so it succeeds even better at selling toys.

Keynote: Jordan Weisman

Weisman started by showing slides from a TV show that never existed — Developer Dog and Marketing Cat, like Itchy and Scratchy. The first episode, Shrinkwrapped, shows them fighting like, well, cats and dogs. Despite the fighting, it sort of worked for a long time, with marketing following along after the game was done, and never getting involved early on. Games had short term sales windows, so it worked OK. Episode 2, Pile It On, shows how marketing needed to catch up because of ongoing product development of DLC. The long tail of multiplayer didn’t necessarily increase revenue, but retention grew. Now, the latest episode is Rinse and Repeat, with Marketing Cat now focused on retention, growth and performance analytics. Marketing Cat is learning new tricks, and being involved throughout the process as much as possible.

Tincup Alley is where Weisman has been recently, with the indie market and Kickstarter funding. The Kickstarter funding “gave us 500% of the money we asked for, but the expectations went up 5,000 percent,” said Weisman. Now marketing has to precede the creation of the product; you have to create a vision of the product to generate enough funding to build the product. You have now created a community well before the product exists, but that community has to be maintained. As your money gets less, you have to do more marketing, as Weisman points out. Marketing is Dead; Long Live Marketing, Weisman said.

Launch marketing milestones are now tombstones; long tail marketing and community centered content is key. Episodic releases and long-term engagement, and user-generated content become critical. Marketing is now Product Development; cats and dogs are sleeping together. His final slide noted that it was produced in a facility that hires and retains nuts.

Weisman feels free-to-play is as much of a mental shift as a new hardware platform, at least in terms of design. It’s not the only way to monetize, though; he feels there will continue to be multiple ways to get paid to create games.

Care and feeding of his 35.000 Shadowrun Kickstarter backers is an ongoing concern. You have to continue supporting them, because their emotion is real and raw and it takes a lot of energy to support that, keeping them fed. At the end of the day he prefers having the audience to getting a traditional development deal, because he’s getting validation along the way and a built-in marketing force for the future.

 

 

 

Exclusive: Star Trek Online Interview Hits Warp 2

In part one of our interview with Star Trek Online executive producer Dan Stahl and Perfect World Entertainment vice president of business development and corporate communications John Young discussed everything from the game’s shift to free-to-play, Star Wars: The Old Republic going free-to-play, and the future of the Klingon faction. In part two of that interview, we continue talking about free-to-play considerations, the game’s learning curve and discuss different ways MMOs could be reviewed.

Where is Cryptic at with PvP content in Star Trek Online right now?

Dan Stahl: Up to this point, PvP has not been a strong selling point in our game and we’ve admitted that we have a ways to go before this can become a vibrant part of the Star Trek Online experience. Cryptic Studios is making a serious effort to address this.

Over the last year we had an internal development team focus on building a PvP only game which helped us tune our engine and editing tools so that we have a better grasp on incorporating PvP into our games. For example, the PvP in Neverwinter is already in a much better state than STO.

We are now in the process of learning from what has been done on these internal projects and applying it to the nuances of our space combat engine.

Has the conversion to free-to-play done well by both Star Trek Online and Champions Online?

Dan Stahl: It has been a very healthy development for both games if for no other reason than the influx of new players. This is one of the encouraging aspects of free-to-play because it shows that there are people who want to play the game that simply couldn’t afford it at the existing price point. In today’s economy, free-to-play makes sense to consumers looking for options on how to spend their time and money. It is wonderful to see that, even with a free-to-play option, there is still a large core audience of players who see value in the benefits offered by subscribing. We are learning a lot from this hybrid model as we approach the launch of Neverwinter.

It seems like for the shift to free-to-play is really complemented by your new bosses at Perfect World Entertainment.

Dan Stahl: It’s been a great marriage. Even before we completed the transaction, we were meeting with Perfect World because they are a thought-leader for free-to-play in China. So once we made the decision to go free-to-play, we started consulting with them before Atari put Cryptic up for sale because they know a lot about what it takes to be successful with this business model. Now that we are part of their company, the marriage has been absolutely beneficial and we are learning from one another.

John Young: There are few teams like Cryptic out there, whether they’re external or internal, to absorb the lessons we want to convey. We couldn’t have asked for a better partner.

I once heard one of the best arguments for why 97 percent of free players in free-to-play games add something to the game — they fill out the world and become part of the gameplay.

Dan Stahl: That’s a good observation – even if you’re not spending a dime, you’re adding to the experience. You feel like you’re part of something greater and everyone wants to go into an MMO when it’s full of people.

Some recent MMOs have struggled with the perception of being empty because the zones are simply too large or spread out.

Dan Stahl: STO struggles with that as well. Whether you have large zones or you instance them it can still be a problem. The key is ensuring that players feel a sense of community as they learn the game. This is accomplished by seeing other players in key locations that act as “hubs” of gameplay. With free-to-play, you commit yourself to a community of people who might play very rarely to those who play every day – it’s all part of the challenge!

Star Trek Online seems to scale well to different PC specs.

Dan Stahl: One fun challenge of free-to-play is that people will try to play the game on any and all PC specs that you can think of. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone was trying to play STO via a Dreamcast.

Star Trek seems like a good fit for free-to-play, since it has a large mainstream fandom.

Dan Stahl: We’ve had internal debates at Cryptic about this. What is the worth of an Intellectual Property when considering a F2P MMO game If I were to compare STO to a retail business, I’d look at some of the great properties like Star Trek and Star Wars which both have a healthy hobby business attached to it. When you consider that there are people who may want to buy Spock’s eyelashes for $1,000, it is clear that Star Trek is their hobby.

The nice thing about a hobby is that you spend what you want to spend. Some people will watch an Oakland Raiders game from the luxury of their couch while wearing their sweats. Conversely, some people will paint their cars silver and black and spend hours tailgating decked out in Raider merchandise. In F2P, you also have people engaged at all levels. Having an Intellectual Property like Star Trek is awesome for a F2P MMO because it brings with it an already established mix of fans that might not exist if you tried to build a space MMO concept from scratch.

Did you think it was important from the beginning to get space combat right?

John Young: The game would not be as popular if the mechanics weren’t fun. It is really unique and if you marry that with squad-based content, there’s a lot out there to enjoy.

Dan Stahl: We built the game with a focus on space combat. It’s very unique, distinctive and it’s relatively faithful to the series’ depiction of capital ships slugging it out. It should remind you of Kirk battling against Khan. So when we think of “getting it right” we feel that we’re faithful to the shows.

Some people early on complain about the learning curve in Star Trek Online — is there any work being done to explain some elements better?

Dan Stahl: That is one of the concerns we had going into the free-to-play launch. We now have good evidence that it’s improved greatly since we launched back in 2010. We find that once players get through the tutorial the majority of the players will stick with the game up through max level.

Nevertheless, there are still some players who feel the tutorial is a steep learning curve. We’ll continue to tweak it because there’s always room for improvement in an MMO.

It’s a bit unfortunate, we feel, about the reviews of the launch version of the game in 2010 since the game has evolved so much since that time.

Dan Stahl: In my opinion, the whole game rating business doesn’t necessarily do a great justice to MMOs. MMOs are designed to grow over time and get better with every major release. It might be better if sites like Metacritic could find a way to rate MMO’s by releases instead of just the initial day one. There are plenty of MMOs that have made huge strides since days one and some that have even gotten worse. Until then, we will continue to offer the game for free and ask for people to try it out and decide for themselves.

John Young: Games as a service is “what have you done for me lately” and Star Trek Online offers so much right now.

What can we look forward to with Star Trek Online Will there be more story content to pour over?

Dan Stahl: Star Trek Online has a very busy schedule over the next year. Season 6 released two months ago and introduced Starbases and the Tholians. Season 7 will be releasing before the end of the year and will feature a storyline involving the Romulans. As a developer, I’m very excited about what we have planned over the next year. The game continues to get bigger and better year over year. The storylines we have coming up will be some our best yet!

Dan, John thanks.

Announcing the [a]list daily mobile app! Developed in-house by Ayzenberg Group, the [a]list daily for iPhone, iPad and Android delivers our same great daily content in an elegant app that’s perfect for viewing on the go.

Get it FREE for iOS!

Get it FREE for Android!

Exclusive: Trion’s Quest Never Ends

By David Radd

The past year hasn’t been kind to the subscription-only MMORPG. Star Wars: The Old Republic saw free-to-play plans shifted up after subscriber retention did not meet expectations, Funcom has admitted that The Secret World did not hit launch expectations and Mists of Pandaria has failed to completely stave off World of Warcraft’s lower player engagement. All the while countless subscription-only games have switched to free-to-play. Yet, at the same time all of this has been happening, little Rift from Trion has been plugging along and even thriving due to fast design adaptation, plenty of regular content (including Ember Isle, a free expansion) and a variety of ways to experience the game. Now only a few weeks out from the launch of the game’s first paid expansion Storm Legion, we talked with Rift global brand director Jim Butler about marketing the game’s first expansion pack and aspects of making it as well.

The tagline for Storm Legion is “Our Quest Never Ends” – why was this chosen as an important part of the messaging?

This ties back to something we’ve heard customers say again and again: “The Rift team is listening to us.” We wanted to drive that message home to a wider audience and let them know that we’re still listening, and we’re never done adding new features or polishing current ones. That’s true on both the Development and Marketing sides.

Tell me about the “Save a Panda” campaign that was launched to support Pandas International — what prompted it and was the timing a continuation of a proud Trion tradition of tweaking Blizzard in its advertising?

What do you mean, you don’t like pandas Really?! I mean they’re so adorable and cuddly, and . . .  Oh, all right.

Our agency presented a number of great ideas for the pre-order campaign. While we went forward with “Our Quest Never Ends” we really liked the prodding of a Panda treatment they presented — but we didn’t want to be the game that always pokes fun Blizzard in our launch advertising. We couldn’t let their launch go by without a good jab, and this one was too good to pass up. We did a week-long promotion for this around the week of the Pandaria launch, and everyone seemed to love it.

Speaking of purchasing the expansion, how have initiatives to offer the expansion for free to those who purchase a certain amount of subscription time gone down?

Amazingly well; beyond expectations. Our original forecast had us targeting an 7 percent adoption rate. We’re currently at 13 percent and climbing. It’s an amazing deal for gamers that know they’re going to play Rift for the next year.

MMOs are a cyclical business, with gamers playing intensely around major content updates and then sampling other games before returning. Some of those gamers cancel their subs as they check out the new hotness; promotions like this help to insulate the business from the newest flavor.

Any chance for Lifetime subscription to Rift?

Nope; never. I was against the idea when we did it at Turbine, and it won’t happen on my watch here at Trion. Lifetime memberships are a great deal for consumers that plan to spend the next few years playing the game, and a financial disaster for subscription-only companies that have to continue paying for new feature development, salaries, server costs, marketing, etc. Ultimately, it’s a bad deal for the consumer in the long-term.

MMO’s tend to acquire reputations a PvPer’s MMO, a crafter’s MMO, a social MMO, etc. What sort of reputation do you see Rift as possessing, and what sort of reputation would you want it to possess?

I’m one of those marketing folks that plays the hell out of the games I’m working on, from Dungeons & Dragons Online to Lord of the Rings Online to Rift. That’s still a tough question, because I think MMOs present different visages to the various segments of the MMO marketplace.

I’d say Rift has the reputation of a dynamic MMO. The world literally comes to life around me with zone events, invasions, and more. One encounter I’m raid healing, the next I’m DPS, and then I’m tanking the third (all with the same character). Ember Isle, the current level 50 end-zone for Rift, brings all of this together and is one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had soloing. The Storm Legion expansion is taking all this to the next level with a colossus that actually destroys part of the world and changes tactics based on his attackers.

What has the reception been like to the soul reveals you’ve done for Storm Legion?

We’ve had a very strong, positive reaction to the new souls. We’ve been listening for more than the last year about what customers are saying they’d really like to see for their favorite classes, and these souls are fulfilling those wants. We’ll keep listening too.

Storm Legion is Rift‘s first big expansion . . . what’s hardest thing about creating/producing the new campaign and what’s the most exciting thing about creating/producing it?

Selecting each campaign was hard, but the hardest thing has been managing all the various components for the different campaigns. We work closely with the Development team to ensure that their vision for the final feature matches what’s showing up in videos and text, and typically that means that material comes in very close to the deadlines. Sometimes it means we have to change our schedule to ensure that a feature is available for us to show, and that causes a lot of cascade changes down the line.

Working closely with Dev is also one of the most exciting things too, because we kind of feed off each other. We get excited for their vision, and then we add more feedback from customers and the press, and the feature gets an extra polish pass before it’s even released.

How will you seek to message some of the small but important incremental improvements that are being incorporated into Storm Legion?

We’ve focused on the new features, giving each one a full week or so of coverage before moving to the next. We’ve targeted each of the new souls separately, because we know that players have a favorite class of character to play and they’re waiting for this information. In each of those reveals, we’ve tried to add additional details of new features that will make that core element shine even more.

Ultimately we focus on (and broadcast) those improvements that we’ve heard from customers are on their wish list. For instance, we heard that the macro system was making combat a bit too easy and allowing simple rotations. Update 1.11 (live now) improves all of the classes and makes for much more dynamic (fun!) gameplay.

What sort of creative input do you get from your players and fans? Can you think of an particular examples of useful or intriguing player input you’ve ever received?

We put creative in front of focus groups from time to time, especially for big campaigns. The most useful feedback we’ve received has been to focus on actual gameplay and don’t drown them in CG. Everyone knows CG looks awesome, but you can’t play CG.

Sometimes, what someone says isn’t as important as what they do. We had players who were incredibly upset over the whole ‘We’re not in Azeroth anymore’ campaign; shocked and enraged over us touching something sacred. That was just what a new company needed to launch its first product, though . . . and the rest is history!

Jim, thanks.

Exclusive: From Golden Crackers To GoldenEye

By Meelad Sadat

David Pokress held a number of pivotal roles at Activision during the period the company reclaimed its place as a game publishing powerhouse. From 2000 to 2011, Pokress moved from branding to head of franchise development then licensing, working on key properties such as Tony Hawk, Guitar Hero and Call of Duty along the way.

Pokress’ career path has a ‘state of the industry’ trajectory to it. He entered games as a marketer who had cut his teeth at Nabisco and later Con Agra. The move jibed with the early phases of a trend that continues today, where big publishers look outside the industry for those experienced in other forms of consumer marketing, especially packaged goods marketing.

David Pokress

There’s a reason they relate.

“Whether you are marketing a console game, a freemium mobile title or a Ritz cracker, the basic marketing challenge is the same. You have to solve the riddle that is unique to your specific situation,” says Pokress.

At Activision, Pokress eventually moved from overseeing console games to lead the company’s digital initiatives, including mobile, digital distribution and DLC. Today, where Activision is still dragging its feet towards digital, Pokress has taken the leap. He’s now a founding partner of gigaGame partner, a consultancy focused on social and mobile games.

We talked with Pokress on the changes he’s seen in the industry over the past decade and whether he thinks game marketing has evolved with it.

How did you get into the game industry, and what would you say translates well from being a packaged goods marketer to marketing games?

In 2000, Activision was looking to bring a more disciplined brand management approach to the company. They started to hire some of the people that I respected the most from my company so I decided to learn more. What I found was an amazing opportunity. The job opening was on the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater franchise. I grew up in southern California playing video games, skateboarding and snowboarding so it was a dream.

The packaged goods industry has always been a training ground for great marketers. That industry trains you to be the conduit between the company and the consumer; helping to not only communicate with consumers about a company’s offerings but also to be the voice of the consumer inside the company. That mentality works across a wide spectrum of businesses including interactive entertainment.

 

Give us an example of how your consumer packaged goods background came in handy early on in your game marketing career.

The fundamental challenge of finding the best tactics that are appropriate for your situation has remained pretty much the same no matter what I have been trying to sell. A good collection of tactics differentiates you from the competition, connects you with your consumer base and motivates them to buy. A good example of that in action was for the remake of GoldenEye. We had to find a message that would resonate within the highly competitive first person shooter genre that included releases from both Call of Duty and Medal of Honor. In that case we had to lead with our biggest strength, the attachment and memories that so many gamers had for the original. The idea of nostalgia and the memories of playing against your friends was featured in all of our creative from TV to social to online. We were a remake and a Wii exclusive trying to compete with two of the biggest mega-brands in the industry. We did our best to make it work. We tried to compete on a level that the others just couldn’t and wouldn’t. We would have lost if we made it about graphics or gameplay, so we made it personal. Whether you are marketing a console game, a freemium mobile title or a Ritz cracker, the basic marketing challenge is the same. You have to solve the riddle that is unique to your specific situation.

You served several different roles at Activision in marketing and licensing during what could be described as the most pivotal decade for the game industry yet, spanning the last two console generations. What do you consider as the most important changes in the game industry during that time?

There have been so many changes in our industry over the past decade. The rise and fall of licensed titles, the rise of the mega-brand, the Wii breaking the fourth wall, the importance of online play and the rise of mobile and social are just a few of the biggest. I was on both the winning side and losing side of many of these trends. These trends really speak to the changing desire among the consumer base to interact with games in a new way. Consumers got tired of ‘see the movie, play the game’. They wanted more from their licensed titles. Consumers also voted for blockbuster mega titles, proving that if you provide them quality they can get excited about something familiar and will return.

GoldenEye Wii bundle included this exclusive gold Wii Classic Controller

 

Both the Wii and the rise of online multiplayer showed that consumers want to be social. And the last trend of mobile and social proved that the definition of what a gaming experience has expanded. Consumers can get excited about something other than a triple-A game that takes 12-40 hours to finish. They can actually get excited about tending farms, playing word games or with slot machines in 60-second intervals.

What about from here on out, what do you consider important developments or trends that are changing the industry, whether from a product development, consumer taste or marketing standpoint?

The proliferation of technology that allows consumers to engage with games in so many ways is probably the most significant development. Games are fundamental to human existence. If a person has the chance to play, they will, unless we make it too difficult for them. I remember having to upgrade my graphics card and memory just to play a PC game. That is not very inclusive in nature. Only the hardcore would go through the bother in order to play their favorite PC games. Smartphones now put a powerful game machine in an ever-increasing number of consumers’ pockets. Does that mean that there are no longer any consumers looking for the triple-A console experience? Absolutely not. Many gamers still enjoy the immersive and visually stunning console games of today. But those consumers only represent one segment of potential gamers. Reaching, engaging and monetizing this new breed of gamer is what excites me at the current moment.

You’re at the front of line of social marketing and community right now. What are your thoughts on how social media has changed the way games are marketed today?

The nature of selling has changed so much. In many parts of our industry, the challenge is beyond just convincing a consumer to spend $60 once. Marketers need to expand their notion of the purchase cycle. The purchase cycle is now continuous. That means engaging with their player community in a constant dialogue. That puts social media at the forefront of any marketing strategy. Our consultancy, gigaGame partner works with many companies that make this transition easier for game developers and publishers. The business fundamentals are getting harder and harder. Acquisition costs are rising, forcing many to try and improve in this area. Companies like Playnomics help to acquire not just any player but the right player for your game. One who is likely to stick around and monetize.

Engagement and retention is an area that more companies are investing in as well. The old adage that it is cheaper to keep an existing consumer than to find a new one is more true today than ever. Understanding and communicating with your existing consumers is critical. But the real challenge is to know who to listen to among the chorus of consumer feedback. Companies like Clara Technology can help with community analytics to better understand the real sentiment in your community.

Thanks, David.