Interview with ArenaNet’s Chris Lye

I had the chance to ask ArenaNet’s Global Brand Director, Chris Lye, a few questions about marketing in MMOs.  Chris talked about dreams, demons, and marketing the Guild Wars series, and he was kind enough to drop a nice big Guild Wars 2 bite.  Check out the full interview after the break!

At gamer events, how do you describe your job to people?

Basically “Marketing Guy” gets the point across. Alas, people seem to have a very narrow (and dim) view of marketing – usually they think it’s just the ads. However, to do marketing right, especially for an MMO, it’s about building customer relationships – so I’m also responsible for ArenaNet’s website and the community team.

Would a “Marketing Demon” do anything differently?

Heh, the term “demon” got used because I’m passionate about the games I work on. Gamers have pretty good BS-detectors, so I think it’s important for someone who is marketing your game to be passionate about it. I’ve seen games that were marketed like they were “just another product” and it shows. It also means being passionate about the customer. The community team is usually on the frontlines for this, but any MMO marketer who isn’t in tune with his customer is doomed.

How does marketing an MMO differ from what Public Relations and the Community Managers do for an MMO?

PR and community are two critical customer-facing parts of games marketing, but before we start communicating outwards there are a lot of things that need to be done beforehand. There are long discussions w/ the design team to figure out what cool things to talk about and even the best way to talk about them. What does the competitive landscape look like? How do we differentiate ourselves? What are players thinking about, and how does that affect our design and marketing plans? So initially what a marketer does is a lot of research. Then, once things are in full-swing, the PR, community and web teams are the tip of the spear with advertising, events, and sales quickly following. These are all different teams, so it’s important to make sure we’re all coordinating closely to ensure a good roll-out. However, marketing doesn’t really stop there – with an MMO there are just so many customer touch-points. Holistically, we need to care about things like network ops, billing, customer support, etc. It’s challenging but so rewarding.

What is an MMO marketer’s worst nightmare and favorite dream?

Probably one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had in marketing MMOs is we’d gone ahead and done a great launch campaign for an expansion – people were taking off work so they could play it – and for some reason the log-in servers kept crashing. That feels awful. The favorite dream part – let me answer that in two ways. On a purely personal level, when you do something for a marketing campaign that’s so cool that the dev team goes and puts it in the game. That feels pretty awesome. On a professional/marketing level, the dream would be if something we do or say truly goes viral in a mainstream way – I’m talking “All your base” or LOLcats viral.

ArenaNet recently completed a viral marketing campaign to kick off the War in Kryta chapter of events.  How do you measure the effect and success of a viral marketing campaign, such as the one for War in Kryta?

Measuring the effectiveness of viral campaigns is always tricky, but fortunately people are getting smarter about it. For the War in Kryta roll-out, we look at things like Facebook fans, Twitter  followers and retweets, server concurrency, and unique log-ins. That’s just the quantitative stuff. Just as important are forum posts and comments after big stories like the one on GameSpot. If the players are loving it, then we’re happy. Even better is when someone who hasn’t been playing GW lately decides to come back for a special event.

In recent years, the hype machine for upcoming MMOs has started years from launch.  ArenaNet seems to be playing it a little more conservatively with Guild Wars 2.  Why?

Well, I think if you’re launching a totally new MMO franchise, it probably makes sense to start early, but you need to pace yourself. You asked about a marketer’s greatest fear – and one of them definitely is running out of things to talk about prior to launch. The analogy I always use is you’ve got a quiver with a limited number of arrows – the last thing you want is to run out of arrows when you need them most. The other part of this is that we’re all perfectionists at ArenaNet. We don’t want to release or talk about something until it’s “just right” – this is the standard we hold ourselves to, and we believe our fans do as well. Fortunately, in the next few weeks I think you’ll see a nice ramp-up of information about Guild Wars 2.

Is your marketing strategy for Guild Wars 2 more human, asuran, charr, sylvari, or norn?

Great question! I think all the planning and strategizing we’ve been doing, as well as our fondness for technology are very asuran characteristics. But at some point we’re going to be all up-in-your-face like the charr and looking to draft you into our cause.

What are you currently playing?  Do you view the games you play any differently due to your job?

The last game I played was Arkham Asylum, and I was really loving it because I’m a big comics geek. It’s probably the best Batman game I’ve ever played. However, we just had a little girl so that’s seriously cut into my game time. Right now I’ve got Assassin’s Creed 2 sitting unopened on my desk. Yeah, working in games does make you look at games differently, but in a good way. You’re hyper-critical of everything, especially the game’s intro experience. By the same token, a truly great game can just suck me in and make me a gamer again.

Anything you want to say to the ever-so-patient Guild Wars 2 fans awaiting another drip from the ArenaNet marketing torture machine?

The torture will soon be over … or maybe I’m just saying that to torture you more! Seriously, we will be lifting the veil soon enough and working very closely with the players on this marketing campaign. It’ll be worth the wait!

Thanks for your time!

30 thoughts on “Interview with ArenaNet’s Chris Lye”

  1. This is cool news. I have been dying for so long to get Guild Wars 2 news. I like hearing about what happens in Arenanet. Just reading current news about the makers of the game can help relieve some of that unbearable anticipation for the new product. I’ve been checking EVERY day at Guildwars2.com for updates. I hope “the torture will be over soon.”

  2. 10 Things to know:

    1.-Release Date
    2.-Playable Languages
    3.-Playable Classes
    4.-Hall of Monuments Unlocks
    5.-Interface Screenshots
    6.-Character Creator
    7.-Official World Map
    8.-System requirements
    9.-Gameplay and mechanics
    10.-Lore after “Ghosts of Ascalon”

  3. only 3 things i need to know, and in this order:

    1- Classes (Necromancer is a way of life… or lack of it).

    2- Release Date (Its what everyone wants to know).

    3- Gameplay mechanics (have they gone over the top complex or
    made it easy to pick up like GW1?).

  4. Hurray! More information about guild wars 2! and looks like we might get to know when it’s going to come out soon!

  5. I agree with Genna about Necromancers!

    I’d also like to know points 1 – 7 from mundogame’s list.

    Great to hear some different news though!

  6. a good marketing strategy is not keep reading interviews about anet staff think about of actual mmo’s and theyr game preferences…..
    Anet just need to learn what got wrong in gw1, and keep stoping with this kind of “news”

  7. Yet one more pointless A-net interview. Just more blah blah blah “we’re like the Asura now but we’ll be like the Charr later” *wink* *wink*. This tactic got old a year ago. Sure, we’ll wait; what the hell else are we going to do? I dislike A-net and I dislike their annoying wait and see tactics even more but for damn sure I’m getting the game if it ever comes out. They better have some blow you away stuff or this release is going to fail hard. It’s going to be very hard to make people happy with anything less than a prefect game with all this build up.

    1. You really need to take a deep breath for a second. They are going about making GW2 the right way. They aren’t just jumping the gun like Warhammer Online did. Warhammer Online was a fail launch because “THE GAME WASN’T READY”. What is the point of even giving out information about a game if the information can’t be surely promised. That’s like putting up a sign that says “World’s Best Cup of Coffee”, but when you actually go and try the coffee, it is completely the worst. Trust me on this one because waiting is a good thing. When the devs have something to promise you, they will foretell their great and utterly happy news.

  8. From what I have heard is that some of the old classes are being combined into a whole new class such as Necromancer and Ritualist abilities. I have to agree that Mesmer could be out of this one but they most likely incorporated their skills into another class as well. I bet they are going to have a Machinist job class because of the Golems and guns that will be in the game. I for one am really curious about the new job classes if you cant tell lol.

  9. Loved the interview because he made pointed out some good points. can not waite to read more about Guild Wars 2, hope to see them in E3. Keep up the good work;-)

  10. looks like the everybody either wants a release date of character class announcement.
    one or the other should buy Anet some time.

    Remember when we lost the beautiful green Ascalon and ended up in the dusty aftermath of the Charr invasion, our classes are like that too. We bond with our classes, we need to know that you have left us our classes since you took away our home!

  11. I thought this was a quality interview of a games marketing person. Nope, no GW2 info revealed, but that wasnt the focus of the interview. Personally, i enjoyed the piece as a perspective into games marketing.

    1. Thanks! That was the point. :) I really didn’t expect GW2 information apart from a past viewpoint, and I certainly didn’t expect Chris to say that there would be a ramp-up forthcoming shortly. So that was a major plus, but it is nice to see that people recognize the point of the interview rather than it all be overshadowed. :)

  12. Torture is right.

    one thing that needs to be done is to gauge the hype meter. if you say too much, it’s bad. if you say too little, it’s bad. what’s GOOD is if you tell us WHEN to expect things. that way the hype lasts much much longer. it’s like telling someone to run on a treadmill without telling them when they’re allowed to stop. our stamina for this silence wears very thin very quickly when we dont have any idea when the next news will be.

    nevertheless, after this interview my interest has re-piqued. i love guild wars too much to let torturous marketing tactics throw me. not that it isn’t a good tactic. but torturous still.

  13. Wanna know what the crafting deal is going to be. Inevitable in every game that is where the money is

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