Whilst magazine circulation and sales decline (though Game Informer seems to be doing well) and tales of hidden agendas appear, online video gaming journalism has continued its strong rise. How? By producing high quality reviews and news in a medium that fits the industry better. Content like trailers, video interviews and breaking news work much better on blogs and news sites, in much in the same way many other print magazines and news papers are struggling to keep up with the online offering.
Online gaming publications have another big advantage; multiplayer games and achievements mean that offline gaming no longer holds the same attraction, so the audience of video games are already online and ‘social’.
This probably makes it all the more important, as a gaming developer or publisher, to keep tabs on the online conversation that takes place around released or pending titles. Three of my favourite series are all hitting the final journey of their trilogy in the later half of this year, so I though it would be interesting to try and gauge the buzz around the titles and the online marketing efforts of the teams behind them.
Cue some real and some possible fake covers for Gears of War 3 (release date September 2011), Mass Effect 3 (Q4 release) and Modern Warfare 3 (which might not actually be a trilogy and may also be a prequel, and will be released November 2011).
All set to be fantastic games if they live up to their predecessors, all with slightly different audiences and very different expected sales figures (Gears of War 2 sold 7 million copies, Mass Effect 2 sold over 2 million and Modern Warfare 2 pulled in over 22 million). So I was interested to see how they compared after running through a few free online monitoring tools…
It probably makes sense to go through these in order of sales, as that way the result should increase as we go along. And I like nice escalations. So that puts the order as ME3, GOW3 and MW3.
Social mention is the first site I looked at, which aims to give an overview of the reach and number of mentions of the search terms, as well as a stab at sentiment (eek). The tool isn’t perfect by any stretch, so the results probably aren’t hugely accurate, but I guess if all the terms used the same tool then they can at least be compared against each other, even if the numbers aren’t quite right.
So the left is ME3, middle is GOW3 and right is MW3.
The strength of the conversation is defined by Social Mention as being the likelihood your brand is being discussed. The sentiment is the positive:negative mentions. The passion is the likelihood that individuals will discuss your brand again. Reach is a measure of the range of influence; how far the message traveled. It’s also worth noting that this all applies to a 24 hour snapshot. I did it a few times and the results varied a little. So these are all from the same snap shot of about 10:30pm (GMT), which is annoyingly about the time I usually get an idea for a blog post.
As expected, most of the conversation was around MW3, with a mention every minute. MW3 also had the most strength, passion and reach; i.e. more likely to be discussed, discussed repeatedly and for the discussion to be seen by a higher number of people. However, the sentiment is lower than the other two titles. Perhaps because the game appeals to a bigger audience, it also draws more criticism. The issues between Activision and Infinity Ward (and the resulting lay-offs) probably haven’t helped.
I was a little surprised at the low sentiment score for ME3. Though the sales are lower, the sci-fi game has a fairly loyal audience of fans, who often post in forums and upload videos of their characters to YouTube. However, a quick scan through the results reveals the answer and it is the same problem that all sentiment analysis programs; they can’t truly tell the good from the bad. Results such as ‘Mass Effect 3 is the shit!’ or ‘Can’t fucking wait for Mass Effect 3!’ are noted as being negative in sentiment. Much of the content noted as neutral is also positive; some are articles showing screenshots, other are excited Facebook statuses.
As for GOW3, the game being released soonest; the invite-only beta opened at the end of last month, so if sentiment is anything to go by, people are responding favourably towards it, though with fewer authors and less mentions (perhaps because only a limited number of people currently have access).
Next up, I decided to have a quick look at Google trends for the visual search volume graphs, as well as an overview of which stories have generated an increase in searches for the titles.
For ME3, the big story was the Q4 release date, as well as the cross platform availability. With the characters being the life-blood of the series, the story about recurring characters also sparked an increase in search. Though the volume hasn’t continued to increase in the same way as the other titles, ME3 is the only title without a confirmed release date and has the smallest audience.
GOW3 has the highest search volume, and the most big hits in terms of stories. It seems as though they’ve been drip feeding news sites with stories, such as release dates, behind the scenes and charity links. The beta coupled with epic version of Bulletstorm was a good move, appealing to a similar audience and being mentioned alongside the many articles that Bulletstorm created due to its humorous/controversial content. Search has really peaked for the titles now that more people have access to the beta, which also provides Epic Games with a fantastic opportunity to check what feedback the players are giving the game in forums and on blogs.
Though the MW3 search volume looks to rival GOW3, don’t be fooled by the graph; it’s actually only peaking at over a 2.00 index. The title has had to share its search though, being the only one on the list with another game released from the series; Black Ops.
Above is a similar graph, this time as a comparison of the the titles and their daily blog mentions. The results mirror those from Google Trends pretty closely, with conversation volume in the same order: Gears>Mass Effect>Modern Warfare.
So, what are the marketers actually doing to generate extra conversation?
Gears of War
If you’ve ever played Gears, you’ll know that though the story line is engaging, interesting and is given replay value due to the difficulty settings and co-op option; it’s still the online multiplayer mode that will keep you putting the disk back in. Multiplayer is a good way to make fans pay more than just the original £39.99, with new map packs and other downloadable content keeping the game feeling fresh and interesting.
So why not give fans some control over this element of the game? That’s exactly what Epic Games did when they announced fans could vote on which map makes in into the Gears of War 3 beta. Fans ‘liked’ the Facebook page and left a comment on the photo of the map they wanted to play on. Not only is this a great way to get fans involve and increase engagement, but as ‘fans’ of the page Epic Game can now use to continue conversation and marketing opportunities. Plus, fans get a sneak peak of the graphics and feel of the final game, and gaming blogs have image content to use and continue to conversation.
At the end of 2010, Epic also used Kenny-like character Carmine, yet to survive a game, in an online/offine campaign: Decide the fate of Carmine. The campaign was promoted heavily online and then backed up offline at events like Comic-Con. Fans bought t-shirts with ‘Save Carmine’ or ‘Carmine must die’ from retailers like Amazon or at the events. More for die-hard fans willing to fork out and wear the gear, the idea was still fun and played on the running theme of Carmine’s inability to live through the fight.
From using the beta to gauge fan’s reactions and implementing feedback into the final, to inviting them to shape the most important element of the game; it seems like Epic Game really understand what makes their audience tick and how to use it for both publicity and that all important feedback, which promises to make GOW3 a finale to remember.
Similar to Gears of War, Bioware launched an online campaign, based on Facebook, to invite fans to choose the fate of one of the characters for Mass Effect 2; Thane Krios.
At first I thought this was a fan made campaign, as it seems fans really, really want Thane to live. However, it seems Bioware used this to leverage a mini Facebook campaign (perhaps after seeing how dedicated supporters are) for fans to change their display picture to save their green hero. Though I’m pretty sure changing your display picture to enter a competition is against Facebook’s T&C’s, it might not apply when there is no prize up for grabs. If so, I like the idea; all your friends see your new image, and any gamers in your contact list may be intrigued enough to ask about it, Google it or even join in.
Mass Effect has no mulitplayer, but an incredibly rich storyline, in which the player has a wealth of possible endings. The characters, whose fate depends on your own skill, are the most important part of the game; you spend a lot of time gaining their loyalty and learning their background. So it make sense for any viral campaign to focus around a characters whose fate is currently unknown (terminal disease) for an audience who feels strongly about it (as in fan art, fan fiction, petition-y kind of strong).
Modern Warfare 3
Activision are keeping pretty tight-lipped on the next game in the series, though there was a lot of commotion a while back after a http://findmakarov.com/ popped up with a countdown timer (later revealed to be for a fan inspired film, though the guys behind it did get the attention of gaming blogs).
So, who’s winning?
I’d say the guys (and girls!) at Epic Games are doing a fantastic job of wetting the appetite of their audience for the final installment of a fantastic series. They understand their fans and know just how to get conversation going. Bioware doesn’t have the same kind of audience (and possibly budget) to compete, but their fans are dedicated and continue to discuss the game in forums like it was released last week. Activision’s interal issues probably haven’t helped their cause, but you can still guarantee their next game will be a record breaker in terms of sales, even if they didn’t work as hard.
Above are the trailers for the Gears of War 3 and Mass Effect 3. Which will you be buying?
EDIT: Mass Effect 3 is now scheduled for 2012. Boo