Archive for the 'video games' Category

EA, when will you learn?

I really don’t have a real problem with EA’s twitter contest at Comic-Con, titled “Sin to Win“. I don’t think it’s a good campaign, but I’m not offended. Booth Babes already allow themselves to be objectified in exchange for money. The social and ethical implications of this exchange are not what I write about here.

That said, I don’t see the appeal of taking my photo with a booth babe just to show my friends that a hottie touched my shoulder. What I’m saying is, I’m obviously not their core audience on this contest. (read: I’m not 14 years old).

EA has a lot of product lines, and some of them target kids and women as their core audiences. So why alienate one demographic while trying to draw on another?

Also, if you’re counting on your audiences’ parents to buy Dante’s Inferno for them, why are you encouraging them to sin? Even if it’s just a little bit of sin. Even if only 1 in 1000 parents are turned off by this contest, why do it? When I’m sure you could come up with something equally creative and engaging with better optics.

Rockstar Games could probably pull off a stunt like this. Maybe EA shouldn’t have tried.

On the other hand, the “Storm in a Teacup” might get them broader coverage than some other safe “politically correct” contest would have. Maybe that’s what they’re going for. What do you think?

The fanboy factory

One part of marketing and public relations is developing relationships between customers and a brand. If successful a community of customers will form around a brand. Within that community you will find “fanboys/girls”. I’m going to use the term fanboy through this post, not to exclude, but to simplify.

Fanboys are a brand’s unpaid zealots. You find them all over the internet, on blogs, forums, IRC chat. They talk about how much they love x, y or z.

Some companies are exceptionally good at manufacturing fanboys. Apple, Nokia, Sony, and Blizzard Entertainment are a few examples of tech and gaming brands which do this.

I’m a bit of a Samsung fanboy – I always recommend their products, though not to the exclusion of other quality brands. I’ve had good experiences with several Samsung products and trust that they’ll be a good experience for others.

I’ve been thinking about what these brands do differently to generate this kind of fan support and I came to a couple of conclusions.

1. A well established brand

All of the examples I listed have been around a while. They’re well-known, household names. Blizzard is extremely well known among gamers.

2. A Consistent User Experience

All four of the examples I used have a pretty consistent and positive user experience. They’re all known for quality and user support.

3. Cross-platform integration

This applies more to Sony and Apple than the other two; though Blizzard’s is a well established multiplayer platform that they’ve used for their games over a decade. Sony and Apple have created a family of products that all work together. Apple computers have seamless support for iPods, Apple TV, AirPort networking devices, etc. Once you get one, you’re locked in.

Sony has done similar things with home theatre, PS3, audio players, and more.

Integrating with a lifestyle

It really struck me as amazing when I was checking out iTunes 8.1 and discovered that the new iTunes DJ (replacing the Party Shuffle smart playlist) supports integration with the iPhone and iPod Touch over WiFi, letting partiers request songs directly over their handheld device.

It’s really not a necessary feature. At a small house party it’s not a big deal to go over to the computer and queue up a song. At big parties I don’t know of many professional DJs using iTunes. They tend to use higher-end professional software, in conjunction with turntables and CD players. However, the feature is really cool!

If you read my blog, you’ll know I’ve got my eye on a buying a smartphone and I’ve been excited about the Palm Pre since it was anounced. This feature is making me take another look at the iPhone. Not to mention all the neat looking games appearing on the iTunes App Store.

What are your thoughts on how fanboys are created by brands?

PC Video Cards: Why get the biggest and baddest?

My evolution as a gamer began on the PC, and I’ve always favoured the PC as my platform of choice. I’ve tried to keep up with advancements in PC hardware. At least since I started configuring and assembling my own systems 10 years ago. The first one I assembled was an AMD K6-2 450Mhz, with the help of a friend.

Since then, I’ve configured four desktop computers for myself, and at least as many for friends and family. The computer I used the longest was based on an MSI K7T266pro2 motherboard with an AMD AthlonXP 1600+ processor. For over five years and most of my university career, this computer served me very well and satisfied my gaming needs almost until I replaced it. To keep it running the latest titles I upgraded the video card. My old MSI motherboard was home to four different video cards. I never bought the best card available, but the card that offered the best gaming value.

The PC video card market is now saturated with setups ranging in price from $50 to over $1000. The average North American home computer buyer probably spent less than $1000 on their entire system in 2008. Consider a video card that will play all of the current games reasonably well will cost about $200. Why would anyone spend over $1000 on the latest quad-SLI video card setups from either nVidia or ATI?

There are a couple of reasons one might spend this money on their graphics setup.

  1. The products exist
  2. PC gamers take great pride in their computers
  3. Competition exists both in gaming prowess and computer power
  4. Some people have more money than brains

Seriously, read some reviews like this one on [H]ard|OCP, my favorite source for computer hardware news and reviews.

A high-end, dual-chip video card like the ATI Radeon HD 4870 offers the ability to connect two of them together, but the real-world gaming performance on a quad-SLI setup isn’t noticably better than a single board. You’re essentially throwing away $600 buying that second top-of-the-line video card. Remember, $200 will buy you a card that will probably play everything set for release in the next 2 years acceptably. You can upgrade that value-end card three times for the price of the high-end.

The conditions that make it desirable to own a high-end card have been established mostly by the industry, and partly by gamer culture (which is in turn influenced by the industry). Gamers want the prettiest graphics their money can buy. They want status in the geek heirarchy (i.e. bragging rights). They want to make a statement.

Part of the appeal of owning a gaming PC over a console is the ability to customize. Buy a PS3, and it’s basically the same as every other PS3. Customization is a form of personal expression and freedom. Spending a buttload of money on your PC hardware makes a clear statement to your fellow gamers – you’ve got cash to spend. That said, if you don’t have the skill to go along with your $5000 computer, you won’t be taken very seriously by other gamers. They’ll probably stick you with label #4 that I listed above.

To wrap up, much like the market created for premium luxury automobiles, designers of graphics processors have created a niche market for high-end video cards. Most of us know that it’s enough to drive a Chevy Malibu, but we’d still buy a Cadillac if we had the opportunity.

If you had the cash to spare, would you spend it on Quad-SLI?

Marketing partnership drags me back to WoW

I write this as I’m installing World of Warcraft on my computer.

What happened?

Blizzard Entertainment succeeded in creating one of the most immersive, fun, virtual game worlds I’ve ever played.

That’s why I bought the game four years ago.

I played for a couple of months, enjoying almost every moment of it. Then a combination of less time, and an unstable internet connection dragged me away.

So why am I re-installing it now, four years later?

I noticed a few days ago, that an icon for World of Warcraft appeared on my desktop. One of those free 10-day offers. A marketing partnership, in which a desktop shortcut piggy-backed onto my computer with some other piece of software. I did some quick detective work, and found that the piece of software that invited the shortcut to my desktop party was none other than an ATI driver update.

I couldn’t bring myself to delete the icon. And now, thinking about the characters I abandoned those years ago, I want to try the game again. I miss the vast landscapes, and high adventure that they’re home to.

All because of a clever partnership between Advanced Micro Devices/ATI and Blizzard Entertainment.

Partnerships like this exist throughout almost every facet of product promotion and marketing. But, I think the game industry benefits from these two-fold. The trial can hook new players – ones who either haven’t heard of the game, or have resisted playing it due to the price. It also draws fans back to games they haven’t played in a while.

A well-made, unique game never loses its fans, just it’s players (if that makes sense). What I mean is, if a game is good enough, and elicits a unique user experience, the memory of that experience sticks with players long after they put the game on the shelf. Every so often, the desire to relive that memory pops back into their mind. This is different from Spring Break 2002 in that you can re-live it by simply re-installing.

These partnerships are seeds that bring back the memories. At least, that’s what happened to me today.

I think I’ll re-start my WoW experience with a Tauren Shaman.

*Note* All of my old characters were still there and ready for me to resume playing immediately!

Trying to understand “video game addiction”

bees-in-the-video-gamesIs this phenomena constructed by the media, or is there something to this? I’ve noticed the subject of video game addictions in the media a lot these days. 

Video games can offer an immediate distraction from the world around us. They’re fun, they’re challenging, many offer intense stimuli – a very immersive experience. So when life isn’t going our way, it can be easy to turn to video games for escape.

There are countless outlets that people use for the same purpose. Food, exercise, sports, books, movies. They often become obsessions. What draws the media to pick on video games?

I think a large reason is because they’re relatively new. Video games only appeared about 30 years ago, and have really just become mainstream in the last 10 years. Only now are kids who grew up with games becoming parents themselves. Until now, most parents just saw video games as something their kids wanted – but didn’t know a whole lot about them.

It shouldn’t be surprising that teens are drawn so strongly to games. Video games are empowering to the player. While in the game world you’re usually playing the role of hero. You rescue people, fight off enemies, solve puzzles, and do all kinds of fantastic things. That’s powerful for a person crossing the bridge between childhood and adulthood.

The media really picked up on parents’ concern when their children began spending hours playing video games. The news has had a field day, and “Video Game Addiction” stories have been hits.

What criteria does heavy use of video games have to meet to become an addiction? For substance abuse, there are three primary criteria. Increased tolerance, signs of withdrawal and the acquisition of the substance putting stress on other aspects of your life.

There are plenty of cases where people play inordinate amounts of games; failed relationships, lost jobs, etc. But with video games, there’s the chicken and egg equation. Do they avoid other things to play games; or do they play games to avoid other issues?

I don’t think that there are any serious physiological withdrawal symptoms of going game-free. Nor do I think there’s any tolerance building to gaming (aside from thumb strength/calluses). I do think there are a lot of discontent and often depressed people who find video games an empowering escape.

The video game addiction is a media cover-up for many other, far more frightening problems and mental disorders. Games even come packaged with controllers – most other things are much trickier, and scarier to gain control of.

Gaming 2.0?

If Web 2.0 is collaborative content, commenting and sharing, what is gaming 2.0?

I’ll hazard that it is co-operative gaming. Ok, I’m just scratching for a snappy title to this post. Co-op gaming has been around for ages. Remember Double Dragon, Final Fight and all of those side-scrolling co-op fighters?

Doom had a co-op mode for dial-up and LAN play, and I believe so did Duke Nukem 3D.

There has, however, been a recent revival in its popularity! For a long time, online play was being used for competitive play, rather than co-operative. This changed a number of years ago with Halo. Since then there have been a number of games that are designed specifically with co-op in mind. 

Army of Two was released to critical ridicule last spring.

I haven’t had the chance to play many of these games, having no Xbox360 or Playstation3. I just played the demo for “Left 4 Dead”, a game set for release this week by Valve Software. It’s a Horror Survival game based on a setting similar to the movie “28 Days Later” where people are infected with a virus that turns them into blood thirsty zombie-like monsters.

In the game you can play with up to three others, working together to escape the infested city and reach safety. I like the return of co-op action games. It’s a fun way to engage with friends. It reminds me of playing Counter Strike in high school with a regular group.

I’m considering buying the full game, provided some friends also purchase it.

Let me know if you’re interested in playing some time. Share your SteamID.

Video Games and Corporate Communication

Following a fundraising event at my office last week, this is a subject I’ve been thinking about.

The fundraiser, as part of the Government of Canada’s Workplace Charitable Campaign, included Guitar Hero, Wii Tennis and Dance Dance Revolution, to be played for a donation.

Sadly, I didn’t see a lot of excitement surrounding the video game station. In fact, there wasn’t a lot of excitement surrounding the entire event. However, the paper airplane competition was a popular one.

When bringing video games into corporate communications, you need to consider your audience (as goes for any other tactics). I work in a fairly conservative office, where many employees, particularly managers, are over 45. When you’re trying to appeal mainly to baby boomers, video games might not be a great call.

Here’s one other issue I was considering: The younger employees who might be interested in video games report to managers who are likely in the boomer crowd; they may be worried that their managers or co-workers will frown on them taking part in video games at work.

If you’re considering working video games into a communications effort, be it for fundraising, awareness, or employee appreciation event, carefully consider how it fits.

  • Does it fit with the culture of your organization? Are people going to participate? Are you offering games that are going to appeal to your target audience?
  • Does it fit with the goal. In the case of a fundraiser, you want people to donate. If nobody’s interested in playing the games, they won’t donate. If your goal is awareness, does it match the message you’re trying to communicate. I.e. using Wii Fit or  DDR as part of a campaign to promote employee fitness makes sense. Using Rock Band to promote fitness doesn’t make as much sense.
  • If your budget allows for it, you may want to consider having a game developed that fits with your communication goals. 

You could consider offering a flash based game on your corporate intranet that educates and challenges employees. It may be surprisingly inexpensive to have a developer adapt one of their previous games to your needs with some changes in the characters, etc. Just make sure the game isn’t too addictive and replayable. Establish how long you want employees to spend playing and extracting the message or knowledge and tailor the game accordingly.

These are just some thoughts I had. As always, I invite your ideas and comments. Do you think games can be useful tools in the workplace?

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