Sunday, February 6, 2005

on why "hardcore marketing" to "hardcore gamers" is bad, m'k?

Robin recently posted some interesting thoughts on typical marketing to hardcore gamers, and implications of the gender- and age-specific marketing to “hardcore gamers“ that the industry frequently *scratch that* EXCLUSIVELY uses.

By industry, I mean the publishers, the developers (most of them, as they are influenced by the publishers and by status quo), the IHVs, the console vendors, the retailers, the press, and basically anyone else involved.

The discussion of what exactly comprises a “hardcore gamer” is a rathole. Is it number of hours played? Dollars spent on game SW? Dollars spent on Uber gaming rig? Is it the lengths one goes to in pursuit of gaming (“check yes if you missed an exam because you were playing Everquest“)? Is it gaming aptitude (“you aren't hardcore if you didn't make it to CPL quarter finals”). Regardless of the demographic definition, it doesn't really matter anyway, because most of the industry subscribes to a very deeply rooted stereotype: single male, teens to twenties, single (chronically so), socially challenged. ...Optionally extend to pasty-skinned, pimply, GWOR-concert-T-wearing and with pecs that don't exactly fill it out.

Is this, like other stereotypes, wrong? Yes. Data shows that gamers are a far more diverse group. Does the stereotype fit a large portion of the user base? Probably. So it follows that there are logical reasons that those selling to this market opt for the obvious marketing tactics: Shock value, violence, toilet humor, and of course, impossibly large chested women brandishing impossibly large guns or swords (pick your game genre).

Makes sense, right? So what's the problem? I'll get to it in a minute...

A while back, I was on an absolute tear of a rant about the SpikeTV Video Game Awards show. For those that missed it, here's the short version:

  • Very few game developers/publishers made it up on stage.
  • Most were seated at tables at the back, so front row tables could be occupied by hollywood celebs and rock musicians, some of whom admitted to never playing games.
  • Snoopdog hosted
  • Lingerie models were lowered in from the ceiling
  • There were intermission breaks with girls in lingerie reading cheat codes out loud (“Up, Up, Right, Down Down...“)
  • There were categories like “hottest babe in a game“ and such.

'nuff said. It totally pandered to base instincts, and totally sucked.

[hang on, I'm getting to my point soon... really...]

So while I was ranting to anyone that would give me an ear, a co-worker (who shall remain nameless), asked what was wrong with this type of marketing, and wished we'd participate or do some of it ourselves. In this person's mind, that's what the consumer likes, so sell'em what they like. They couldn't understand where my objection was coming from.

So, for those who care, here's the problem with this type of marketing (note, I'm going to use some other stereotypes here to make some points painfully obvious):

  • Its off-putting to more conservative consumers. (Gramma ain't going to buy Jimmy that game with Lara Croft on the cover)
  • It alienates those users that don't fit the stereotype. (Dad play's Jimmy's PS2, but he won't tell anyone about it because games are for teenage losers... this doesn't encourage him to show the Smiths next door Katamari next time they come over - they'll just stick to pictionary).
  • It alienates those POTENTIAL users that don't fit the stereotype (Jimmy tells Aunt Jenny that she'd LOVE The Sims, but she knows video games are for teenage losers, so she's not going to buy it - which means she's never going to BUY it).
  • Its off-putting to potential advertisers who care about their brand's image outside this audience. Many, many companies won't touch this market with a 10' pole. So while the industry's happy to get a little money from Axe fragrance or Playboy magazine, they don't realize they alienate Johnson & Johnson, Pampers, Skippy, etc, etc. And this extends beyond advertising. Gov'ts have been reluctant until recently to give grant money to games related fields, Academics have only recently accepted looking to the field and only in limited areas. In short, if you don't take yourself seriously, no one will take you seriously.

At the end of the day, I suppose it comes down to whether an advertiser would like to maximize near term revenue by targeting the core user; or whether they'd rather take some risk and stray from the beaten path in order to appeal to a wider audience and perhaps grow the segment in the long term. The latter is certainly a more noble goal, and one to which I wish more people/companies would aspire.

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