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January 28, 2005

Comments

Factory

"Jaws was a well acted, with a good script, good production design, a good director, and a shark, which was really successful. Movie companies decided that ppl wanted more films with sharks in them." :)

mike

Yes. I remember stories of projects that, shortly after GTA3 became a phenomenon, were retrofitted with hookers. I mean, that's why GTA did so well, right?

PaG

Brand extensions do give a popularity boost in the short term, which is one thing that helped WOW (quality was also a factor obviously). When Pepsi created Pepsi Blue, more people tried it right away because it was Pepsi than if it had been a new brand -- but Pepsi Blue certainly didn't help the Pepsi brand in the long term. By using Warcraft as the brand for their new MMORPG, Blizzard obviously gained some short term popularity boost from the brand's fame.

However, on the long term I'm not sure it was a good move because it dilutes the meaning of Warcraft. I like RTS games, so when I saw "Warcraft" in a news post on some site or wherever, it got my attention. I don't care for MMORPGs however, so now when I see "Warcraft" I'm not as interested as before.

The line extension wasn't really necessary either. Would the gaming community been that much less interested by a MMORPG set in a new universe created by Blizzard? Blizzard is already a strong brand by itself, which is less pigeon-holed than the Warcraft brand. They should have used the Blizzard name to push that game, it would have been as succesful in the short term and not as damaging in the long term.

And don't even get me started on Starcraft Ghost...

Patrick

PaG: You make a *very* interesting point about knowing (or not-knowing) if you should pay attention to a news post about Warcraft. It got me thinking about things, for sure...

But the conclusion I came to is that WoW will only help the overall Warcraft Universe. It’s bringing new players into the fold, and allowing existing RTS Warcraft fans a chance to explore the world from a new perspective. As for players like you and me who aren’t as interested in an MMO, we’re still hearing good things from our friends who are playing the game, it’s not making us like the RTS games any less.

If WoW had been a lame product, then it would have backfired. People would think bad things about not only the MMO, but also about the RTS games by extension. A recent example of this is the Matrix sequels. I loved the first Matrix film. LOVED IT. But the second and third film ruined it for me, and the video game didn’t help any either. I will never buy another product related to that franchise. Ever.

So a brand-extending product is a calculated risk, but so is every sequel. A spin-off game in a different genre might be more of a risk, but no one ever got rich (and stayed rich) by taking the safe road. Big media properties like Star Wars, 007, Lord of the Rings, Pokemon, and Harry Potter all prove that brand-extending products absolutely do work, can be insanely popular, and be very profitable.

By the way, the branding theories that Scott Miller likes to quote are almost all from Al Ries and Jack Trout. Check out their book “Positioning” if you want to know where these ideas came from (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN%3D0071373586/102-9815596-8842513)

But, I don’t think all of their theories apply to games or other media properties. They would never tell George Lucas to not make Star Wars action figures. :-)

PaG

It's a mistake to think in absolute "good" and "bad" moves. Not all brand extensions are created equal, some are worse than others. On one hand you could claim that releasing a RTS Warcraft 4 would be a form of brand extension -- not really negative unless they blunder it -- while on the other hand releasing Warcraft-branded cans of soup would also be brand extension -- very bad extension.

WOW isn't too bad a move because what it does is move Warcraft from meaning "RTS set in a medieval-fantasy universe" to meaning "the Warcraft universe". It's broadening the brand more than pushing it in a completely new direction. The bad of this is that a brand with a strong focus is more powerful. Now that Warcraft doesn't mean med-fan RTS anymore, there's room for another game to get that crown.

I think it would have been better for Blizzard to create new universe for their MMORPG. They have enough reputation to have made it popular anyway and they wouldn't have loosened the focus of the Warcraft brand. Diablo proved that they can create new universes and make them popular.

Starcraft Ghost is a worse move. Starcraft didn't have as strong a world as Warcraft did (Warcraft 3 fleshed it out a lot with its RPGs aspects and more story, not to mention it was the third game to add details), so extending the brand to meaning the universe is harder. Moreover the new game isn't really about the universe at all. A MMORPG is all about the game's universe, so it makes sense to use a universe's brand to promote it. A third-person shooter like Ghost isn't nearly as focused on the universe, so it feels like a game strapped on a franchise.

Moreover Ghost is for consoles, a platform Blizzard has little reputation on. PC gamers won't really care about Ghost because it's not on PC and not a RTS, console gamers won't care because they don't really know Blizzard nor Starcraft. I guess they're aiming this at PC gamers who also play console and who play RTS games and third-person shooter -- that doesn't like a good move to me.

Patrick

I agree that Starcraft: Ghost is most-likely a misstep. But I disagree that Blizzard should have created a new universe for their MMO.

Blizzard does have a brand of their own, which they certainly could have leveraged to launch a new MMO IP. That’d be fine in vacuum, but considering the competitive landscape, that would be a huge mistake.

When Blizzard decided to enter the MMO market, they were making the decision to compete head on with Sony and Everquest. Talk about monster brands! EverQuest was the leading western MMO, and it probably still is. Not only would Blizzard have to contend with the EverQuest brand, but also with one of the biggest names in the world of all media – Star Wars Galaxies.

To put it in the terms Ries and Trout would use, Everquest held the defensive position as the leading MMO in the market. For Blizzard to attempt to storm the market with a new brand would be foolhardy. They already had to convince the world that they could make an MMO that could compete with the big boys, but to have to convince everyone of a new brand, setting, cast of characters, and gaming universe would extremely costly.

Instead, Blizzard decided to use their greatest offensive weapon against Sony – the Warcraft brand. Not only did they guarantee that people would take notice and be excited about this new product, but they also saved millions of dollars and years of effort by expanding on a universe they already had well designed, and very well documented. MMOs are the most labor-intensive genre of game to develop, so why take two huge risks, when you can take only one?

Lucien Douville

Terrific

Obi Busta Nobi

I wonder how much quality costs? Is there a correlation between how much is spent on a project, not how much it makes, and quality?

JP

GAH. GAMERANKINGS != QUALITY PEOPLE. Positive reviews can be and are bought by publishers. Journalists are, more often than not, just gamers getting paid to play games and regurgitate press releases. They are just as susceptible to hype as ordinary consumers. If GameRankings is a metric for anything, it's production value and marketing.

Nathan McKenzie

JP:

The "high production values but no hint of fun thing" I find particularly baffling. Unreal2 has a GR score of 77% somehow. Huh? Wha...?

I see that surprisingly often in reviews - "This game is gorgeous, the lousy dialogue is voiced by top hollywood talent, the generic score is performed by a full symphony, and after thirty minutes of playing I basically had to force myself to continue. I really didn't bother finishing the game. 75%." I think this has the curious side effect that you rarely see huge standard deviations on game review scores, much less so than on movies. Go check gamerankings on, say, Max Payne 2, and look at how many reviews are in the 8.5 to 9.4 range. Throwing away for a moment the general production values of the title, at least SOME of those people had to have been bored with the Max Payne gameplay, character, and story, right? Right? And I'd say the same critique ought to apply to nearly any game... and yet. The reviewers don't seem to agree with me.

JP

"This game is gorgeous, the lousy dialogue is voiced by top hollywood talent, the generic score is performed by a full symphony, and after thirty minutes of playing I basically had to force myself to continue. I really didn't bother finishing the game. 75%."

Possibly the saddest part of all that? Good money could've bought a better writer. (not to bash on Unreal 2 specifically, but in general)

Course, it might also have bought better designer(s). But it also wouldn't have *guaranteed* either.

Quality is always more elusive than the money guys want to believe.

Relatedly, read all the reviews for Doom 3 for proof that if production values are high, reviewers will fall all over themselves apologizing when they find even a tiny flaw or have some problem with the game. It's like a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.

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Jamie's Bragging Rights

  • Spider-Man 2
    The best superhero games of all time Game Informer
    Top five games of all time Yahtzee Croshaw
    Top five superhero games of all time MSNBC
    Top 100 PS2 games of all time Official Playstation 2 Magazine
    1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die Nomination for Excellence in Gameplay Engineering Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences
  • Schizoid
    Penny Arcade PAX 10 Award
    Nominated for XBLA Best Original Game
    Nominated for XBLA Best Co-Op Game