Electronic Arts, founded in 1982, is a leading global interactive entertainment software company. EA Sports Madden Football is one of their premier products, first released in 1988. It is a very high quality simulation game that allows you to be an actual NFL player. It supports 1-4 players using game platforms like Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Vita, and Wii. EA estimates that the series has five to seven million dedicated fans, including NFL players, who typically play as themselves. Several active players have given the game some credit for their skills – playing the game for hours and hours seems to be a reasonable training ground, without the risk of heat exhaustion or concussion.
The NFL reportedly considers the game series as their 33rd franchise. Each week during the season, EA Sports receives the same film database of every play that the 32 real teams receive. The game is the NFL’s second largest source of licensing revenue, after apparel.
EA Sports had been very profitable, but their last profitable year was 2007. For their 2012 fiscal year their net revenue was more than US$4 billion, but they had a loss of over US$250 million. This was their “best” year since 2007.
While Madden Football does require Internet access to get player statistics and other updates, when you are in the game you are playing entirely “in the room.” You are interacting with people you can see and touch and the game is physically running on your game platform.
What happened to make Electronic Arts turn from extremely profitable to struggling?
In 2004 Blizzard Entertainment released World of Warcraft (aka WoW). WoW is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). According to Blizzard, it had over 10 million active players at the end of 2011. It is the world’s most subscribed and, according to Guinness World Records, the most popular MMORPG. Like Madden Football, in WoW you are a character in the game whose actions you control.
WoW does not require any special game platform, just a Windows or Mac computer and an Internet connection. The game is actually driven from Blizzard servers scattered around the world. WoW is in the Cloud. Much of the WoW play involves the completion of missions, usually called quests. Quests allow your character to gain new skills, in-game money, and tools; as well as explore new areas. When your character completes a quest, new quests become available. While you can play as a single character interacting with a huge number of computer-controlled characters, some of the quests require groups of a handful or more human-controlled characters. These groups form just like groups form in real life: people you know either in-game or in the real world, or characters you meet in the game who are looking to run the same quest.
Usually, you do not know much about the members of your group. You know a lot about their character, but you may not know their gender, age, or even what continent they are on. On the other hand, I know of at least one married couple that first met as WoW characters.
According to a skilled WoW player, in any group of 10 or more18-30 year old males in the US, at least one of them will be a WoW player.
There is at least a coincidental correlation between the growth of WoW and the decline in EA Sports.
Yawn, why should I care?
As I wrote about last time, your customers are in the Cloud. They are interacting through the cloud with their relatives and friends. I have a cousin who consistently sends at least 10,000 texts a month – I think that is her primary means of communication. It doesn’t matter where her friends are; she stays connected. I expect the actual technologies of social media to significantly change, but I believe that whatever it morphs into will be even more important in five years than it is are today.
More critically, I think there are some significant ways to take advantage of this trend, or at least should be considered. As my friend SocialSteve says, it is time to shift from Social Media to Social Marketing.
- Should you do product placement in some of these very popular MMORPG? Advertisers have found that product placement in TV shows and movies may be a less expensive and more effective form of advertising than the typical 30-second ad. Would companies like Blizzard be interested in having sponsored quests, possibly with real world links and prizes?
- You probably have a customer advisory board, a group of your “best” customers who get access to pre-releases and product plans and who give you their opinion of those plans and products. Instead of bringing them to your HQ for a few days every year, why not establish a private LinkedIn, Facebook or Google group for the purpose. You could easily allow, restrict and manage almost any number of members. You can use these groups to set up discussions on your new product roadmap, or on their ideas for improvements. You could use private YouTube videos to demonstrate your new ideas and products. Let you best customers be a bigger part of your product development, reducing the opportunity for creating engineering-led updates that don’t meet real customer needs and probably making initial acceptance better. You also do not have to wait for the next customer advisory board meeting.
- Embed you support teams in social media like LinkedIn and Facebook. Let your customers rant where you can listen and quickly respond.
- There are a number of companies who are using games to train their staff. While not necessarily MMORPGs, these games can help staff develop skills in support, facilitation, and other interactions. A few universities and large companies are investigating the possibility of using these game technologies to set up real-world problems and allowing teams to come up with solutions. Even the US Army is using these types of games for both training and determining a candidate’s suitability for specific assignments.
The last word:
Over the years I have played games like EA Sports Madden football, first-person shooter games where you wander around mostly destroying things, and what you see is from your character’s point of view, and games like WoW. In the last two categories, your character is constantly changing direction as it moves through the virtual environment of the game. Based on a very unscientific study, I think there are at least two types of people: those who can automatically keep track of where they are in the game and those who can’t. I have seen people running through these environments for an hour while constantly being distracted by other characters trying to do bad things to their character, and yet they always know exactly where they are and which direction is their final destination, even if they have never been in that part of the virtual world before.
That is not me; after five minutes in a virtual world, I am totally lost. In the real world, I rarely get lost. When wandering through a new city, I almost always know the direction of my final destination, even if I don’t know which roads might take me there. This works whether I am driving, or off walking in the wild, even on a cloudy day with no visible sun or shadows. I think it is because when you play a game, you do not change physical orientation. While playing a game, you are physically sitting in the same place and always facing the same direction in the real world, no matter what you character is doing is the virtual world. There are no physical acceleration clues to help your mind figure out where you are.
Most of those people who I have observed who always know where they are in the virtual world get easily lost in the physical world. Take away their GPS and give them a destination 100 miles away, and they are likely to head north instead of south at some point.
I’m not sure what do with this observation. Maybe ask for a million dollar federal grant to study it. But the important point is that people are different. Social Media will work for some, not for others. Do not abandon your legacy marketing methods and always make sure your customers or prospects can actually get to a real person fairly easily, even if they aren’t connected.
Keep your sense of humor.