Quality Created Marketing: Blizzard’s “Unintentional” Boon From Flexible Release Dates

Blizzard’s policy of not releasing a game until it is polished and absolutely complete has worked out for both Blizzard, and for their game buying fans. With each games’ announcement, the online community explodes. Free marketing abound! With each delay of a Blizzard release, free marketing abound! When the game finally hits the hands of its wanting fans the level of anticipation has reached the same height of a Protoss Carrier.

Per Blizzard's Diablo 3 website (FAQ section).

For Blizzard, this practice of releasing games only when things are perfect has been awarded to them due to the money they’ve generated via World of Warcraft [WOW]. It also helps that each game they release, that has an extended development phase, is an award winning, financial success. With ample cash on hand, Blizzard can stretch out their development, alpha and beta phases. Many other gaming companies can not afford the luxury of having a negotiable release date, and in the case of Blizzard, the release date is not just negotiable but very flexible.

What was originally just the practice of giving its gamers/fans the most faultless iteration of its next game, Blizzard has created a marketing strategy original to the gaming industry. The constant delay and changing of release dates has now turned into a buzz machine for Blizzard. With some of the most appreciated and accepted games in the PC arena (Diablo, WarCraft, WOW and StarCraft) it’s understandable that Blizzard wants to get each release right. I do not think the delays in release are intentional but obviously Blizzard is aware of the storm it creates every time it even mentions another delay.

You can find the devil on Amazon.

When subscribers for WOW started to fall off slightly and Blizzard stock started to bleed (both happened in late 2011), I wrongfully predicted that Blizzard would, for the first time, hurry a release. I thought the pressures of share owners would finally put the squeeze on Blizzard and they would release a game before they wanted to. I am happy to be wrong. Perhaps Blizzard share holders have some faith and understanding of what makes Blizzard, just as polished as its games.

Once again, a Diablo 3 release date announcement is expected soon. Once again, the internet and gaming media are a buzz. Once again, Blizzard gets some free marketing. Once again, I am drooling at the opportunity to personally rip Diablo’s horns from his head.

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Free to Play: The Death of Single Player Campaigns?

Will free to play [FTP] be the death of the enjoyable and immersive single player campaign? Will the new and continuing stream of ‘no charge’ game play become the substitute for the detailed story driven games we talk about with friends? The continued trend of developers offering FTP games could definitely have an impact on the single player experience.

Recently Steam, the leading source for digital gaming downloads on the PC, started making free to play games part of their distribution practice. This significant development by the most significant distributor is a sign of things to come. FTP is here to stay, has been for awhile, and is growing in popularity and quality.

Valve is even in route to develop their own FTP game (http://www.ology.com/technology/valve-working-free-play-game). Other big developers jumping on board include EA (Battlefield Play4Free) and Bohemia (Arma 2).

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Battlefield Free2Play doesn't look like the FTP flash games of old.

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Will the FTP genre replace the single player option though? Not entirely. Though the trend of developers going the FTP course seems pretty overwhelming at the moment take a look back to the massively multiplayer online [MMO] start-ups of the late 90s and early 2000s. Look in particular at Blizzard and World of Warcraft. Did it stop them from creating enjoyable single player experiences? No, just look at StarCraft II and, with fingers crossed, Diablo III.

The FTP craze will settle a bit. Developers will see it for what it is, another income generator of many. The business model of today (even more so for online based operations) are multiple sources of income, and that is what FTP is, that is what a MMO is – and that is what a game with a solid single player experience is as well. The real winners will be us gamers, and those developers who can combine those aspect effectively.

There will be some effect on single player campaigns. Some developers, whose sole focus is FTP, will muddy the waters with stitched together single player campaigns attached to, what they hope is, a micro transaction money maker. This has already been seen and will continue. Those who make FTP their focus and increase their audience appreciation (and therefor their subscription bases) with a worthy single player experience will rise to the top.

As gamers we will adapt to the new landscape of FTP and subscribe, spend money (micro-transactions), and support the communities of FTP games that make complete games. Those developers who market their games accurately by only making polished online experiences their focus will have an advantage over companies who try to market an all encompassing game (i.e. single player, online and micro-transaction based play) that gets nothing right.

Doomsday is Coming: Q3 Diablo beta = holiday release!

Well we made it. The Saturday May 21st Doomsday didn’t happen but don’t worry, the pits of hell still may open up this year. Diablo 3’s [D3] beta will go live in Q3 and perhaps some Activision-Blizzard boardroom bullying will push the actual game out the door just in time for some holiday game bingeing.

With the D3 beta confirmed to be out as early as July will Activision-Blizzard make a push to release D3 before years end? Most who are familiar with Blizzard’s molasses like development  would say no but there is more going on behind the scenes, and in the boardroom, then usual.

Blizzard reported a first for its other mega franchise (World of Warcraft [WOW]), a drop in its monthly player subscriptions of 5%. Around the release of this news Activision-Blizzard stock took a dip. If the subscription drop in WOW accounts becomes a trend expect the stock reaction to follow suit. The same week the news regarding WOW subscriptions went public so did the news about the D3 beta and Activision-Blizzard stocks made a rebound. This wasn’t mere coincidence. This was a cause and effect occurrence. Cause, drop in WOW subscriptions, drop in stock price – Effect, announcement of D3 beta, rise in stock price.

Will drops in WOW subscriptions hasten D3's release?

With a more competitive massive multiplayer online market [MMO], more free-to-play [F2P] options of high quality and MMOs with developing loyal fan basis (SEE EVE Online) will the drop in WOW subscriptions and stock prices continue? I can assure you that those individuals on the Activision-Blizzard board are asking themselves the same question. It is the answer to that question that may influence the final release date of D3. It may be one the first times were we see Blizzards total control of when their games are released be heavily influenced. Blizzards attention to detail and ability to polish their games before release will be challenged by this development but what better publisher to face that confrontation and succeed than Blizzard.

The End Is Nigh! Prepare your hero!

We might just see the master of all betas cycle into a much desired holiday release. Hells gates and Doomsday could be upon us this winter. Deckard Cain and the heroes of Sanctuary are required again!

Stretch It Out and It Fits, Stretch It Too Much and It Sags

Blizzard (known for their WOW [World of Warcraft], Diablo and Star Craft franchises/games) seem to do it the best; revealing a small piece of information about a game at the start of a month and then another at, say, months end. Little bits and pieces of the game “leaked” out to the general public and media with the desired effect of ramping up anticipation and awareness of the upcoming title.

I’ve coined this tactic STRETCH MARKETING: stringing along information, sometimes key elements and most of the time just tidbits, of a game over a span of time. It creates the media buzz that helps advertising…advertise itself.

When is it too much? When have you released enough to get your targeted and hopefully untargeted audiences salivating at the mouth? How far out from release do you start? All serious concerns to consider when launching such a marketing campaign.

Start a stretch marketing campaign too soon and by the time the game is released you’ve burnt out the games fervor. If you have an expected release date 3 years in advance and you turn the marketing facet on immediately then, by the time the game is made available to the consumer, your facet will run dry. Your potential buyer will be in shoulder shrugging mode by release date. Around two years (give or take a couple of months depending on how far along game development is) prior to release seems to be the most efficient starting date for a stretch marketing campaign but make sure that those two years are not made up of insignificant game insight. For example, the press releases and game footage need to be a mix of significant game information, that appeals to the broader game player, and little aspects of the game that the die hard fan will eat up.

Those who seem to understand the near perfect mix of huge game information (like character classes or a new playable species) with minute information (such as a new weapon choice or spell) continue to exceed other publishers in creating player salivation.

The perfect amount of gaming oats to fill the trough seems to teeter between too much and too little. You want to get enough information out to your potential buyers until they think there is nothing more to expect, then boom goes the dynamite, you hit them with a new playable class.

Blizzard’s Diablo 3 may have already released all their playable classes but keep an eye on Diablo 3’s upcoming marketing exploits as its actual release date nears. Don’t be surprised if they have something substantial to talk about at this years E3 [Electronic Entertainment Expo] in June.

High Five Party

Don’t be surprised if Blizzard still has a little trinket up their Witch Doctor sleeves.

STRETCH MARKETING campaign should look unpredictable and not static. Keep your potential buyers asking, “What’s next?” and you keep them interested.

Thanks for letting me tie you up for a bit, return to the herd soon.