I want to talk to you about advertising. If you’ve listened to the podcast for any length of time you’ll know I have very strong views on Funcom’s advertising department. We did a segment once where I got very vocal about them. Very vocal indeed. You can find it here if you’re interested.
Marketing serves two purposes. Firstly to get new and old players into the game and secondly to get us to buy things once we are there. The question is when does advertising become too much?
In the past I always complained that there wasn’t enough marketing to new players and the marketing decisions that were made to existing players were often so clearly motivated by money that they turned people off them. And I get it, Funcom is a business and one that is in need of money more than most. But what effect does aggressive marketing have on the playerbase? What does it say to new and potential players?
Let me tell you about another game that recently made some changes. Mostly design changes. I hopped in after they kindly gave me a weekends worth of Patrons benefits to see what I was missing. It was fine, as a subscriber you play the game as it was intended with a few perks like additional fast travel and more XP. All fairly standard. However once my free time had ended I noticed a complete change to the the appearance of the game. A large disruptive icon (almost the same size as the mini map) had appeared to tell me how great it was to be a subscriber. Fine, I could ignore that, I thought. How wrong I was. I wandered around killing things and every so often a glint at the top right side of my screen would catch my eye. The subscriber icon was set to flash every few minutes to remind me that it would be really nice if I gave them money.
Why do I tell you about this experience? Because this aggressive marketing served to make me quit the game and ensure that I never gave them a single penny ever again. It put me off the game and the company. It made it seem like they only wanted my money and had little interest in anything else. Quite the opposite to the effect they were going for.
Marketing is not easy, people will always disagree on the best way to advertise. Some people would say that the example I just gave is perfectly fine and I should quit complaining because I am not paying for the game in the first place and that is fine. But personally I found that approach to advertising completely counterproductive to the end goal.
But how about in The Secret World? Well the way the subscription is advertised to non-subs is a bit over the top. Sure the icon on your ToolBar doesn’t flash every few seconds but everywhere you go you are reminded that because you aren’t subscribed you are somehow not as good as everyone else. Hell even as a subscriber you are regularly reminded that you are “better” from the constant prompts that you are getting (30% membership bonus) on XP or (50% membership bonus) on Black Bullion to the regular reminder that you are saving 350 Pax by using the anima leap in Scorched Desert because it’s free (now what shall I spend my whopping 350 pax on?).
And this is where it get tricky. Finding a balance. Firstly you need to find a way of showing people that they are going to get something for subscribing. How do you do that without being obnoxious? Secondly once players are subscribed you need to remind them why they should stay subscribed. Again without being obnoxious. I’d love to say Funcom has found the right balance with it’s latest changes. Unfortunately I don’t think it has. There are probably a few reasons for that though and for once I don’t think this is all down to marketing (which is a pity because we all know how much I love to blame them).
A lot of the changes display in the game world or chat system in some way. From additional text in the Mission Hand-ins, to a line of text in the chat window telling you about why you’re getting two instead of the one BB you expected from Bullet’s for Andy. The game has to find some way of giving you feedback. And that is where the actual gameplay and mechanics come into play. TSW wasn’t built with this two tiered playerbase in mind (at launch it was always subscriber or nothing). Even the previous Buy to Play model did not really change the core system in terms of mechanics or interface. Now that TSW has a severely limited development team I imagine that it was a case of finding the simplest method that could be implemented with the least amount of recourses. The changes didn’t hit Test Live and the team were working on Shambala simultaneously so it needed to be something that could be internally tested and implemented quickly and without impacting the development schedule of other projects.
Unlike a lot of the larger games that have switched to the Buy to Play (or Free to Play) model this was done with a considerably smaller team who, let’s not forget also work over two other live games. I am guessing that unlike some games the facilities to make sweeping changes to the structure of the game mechanics were just not there.
I know, that sounds like a very convenient excuse. But when you think about it, it does explain some of the more random elements of the recent changes to the subscription model. I’m hoping that over time, we’ll see small tweaks to the designs and implementation so that it is not so in your face. So that newer players don’t feel so overwhelmed and existing players have more control over what they see when they are subscribed.
Over all I feel aggressive marketing is usually counterproductive. That more often than not it has the opposite effect to the one it set out to achieve but in the case of the recent changes to subscriptions in TSW I am hopeful that that things will be tweaked and adjusted based on player feedback.
Kle regularly can be found sighing at Auroris on the Podcast and in-game wearing very little clothing at Psywarrior’s shows. You can follow him on Twitter @klethetemplar or you can get in touch by email firstname.lastname@example.org