“You don’t fight fire with fire. That’s silly. You fight fire with water.”
— quote by Howard Gossage, Marketing Guru
The entry of WoW into the marketplace has, naturally, forced everyone else to react to some degree – totally expected, given that they are clearly now the online frontrunners, at least in North America. This has created a lot of discussion as to what their competition should do. The matter isn’t helped by the fact that we have a unique place in the industry. Most games are consumable, and as such, a fan of First Person Shooters might well buy Doom, Quake AND Halflife. Even if they choose only one for their online play, the makers of the game will get the full box price from those who chose to experiment. By contrast, those of us in the MMO space depend on that sweet, sweet monthly income. Most marketing and management departments at established game companies have trouble with this paradigm shift.
So what do you do when there is a market shift? How should Shadowbane, Dark Age of Camelot and Star Wars Galaxies react to the 900 pound gorilla in their midst? Well, the instincts of a businessman is to go where the new leader went – i.e. add some features from World of Warcraft and publicize it, in hopes that you can sate their wanderlust. This is fighting fire with fire. It rarely results in success.
When the auto market shifted from large cars to small cars, Cadillac put their name on a small car, the Catera. It went nowhere. When Polaroid came up with Instant Photography, Kodak tried to follow suit. Their excursions with instant photography went nowhere.
Instead, you fight fire with water. You go where the gorilla isn’t. You pick at it’s flaws. Eight years ago, many people, including some high ups at Verant, thought Everquest would get half of the success of Ultima Online. Surely, a no-name brand couldn’t beat someone who got to the MMO space first and had the weight of the Ultima brand, could they? And furthermore, they were SHRINKING the game, cutting out all ‘virtual world’ stuff that made Ultima Online so ambitious and exciting. Instead, they cut out all of the scary stuff, and focused and advertised having superior combat, quests and adventuring. And just like that, they beat Electronic Arts in a market segment that EA owned.
So the thing to do is to NOT just add WoW features to your game and advertise it. Sounds good, but what it really does is tacitly admit (at least in the purchasers’ mind) that WoW might be a better game than the one you have. But that’s not necessarily true. WoW is, at it’s core, a simple game. Most of these competitors have something on them. These guys need to be finding out what they’re doing better, shore that part of the game up, and then advertise it. It’s a good time to do so. WoW has introduced a new generation to MMO gameplay, but the warts are beginning to show.
As a case study, Shadowbane could have added features that WoW and EQ2 has, and advertised that as part of our recent expansion pack. Instead, we ran AWAY from WoW, focusing on the Siege gameplay that’s our heart and soul by adding a territorial control system that took that part of our gameplay to a new level.
Last week, we announced the launch of a new server called Wrath. Why? Because it effectively clears and resets the chess board, which is exciting and attention-getting for a strategy game. The results have been good – the new server has gotten a lot of attention, even from jaded MMO communities that the conventional wisdom says are all playing WoW or EQ2. The new server is packed.
There is no best MMO — all are good at some things, and bad at others. Find your own niche. Pick at the gorilla’s flaws. Fight fire with water.
Original comments thread is here.