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!