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Marketing comparison: Diablo III x Guild Wars II

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Most recently two games have caught my attention like no other game in years. The first one was Guild Wars 2, in which I parachuted from a MMORPG-dedicated website at a time of some sort of MMO-starvation. I've been tracking Guild Wars 2's progress since they released information on the Mesmer. I know it's not a long time, especially considering the enormous fanbase the original Guild Wars has, but it was enough for me to get very anxious to try it out.

The other game is Diablo III with which I have kind of a story. Like many people, really, I was an eager player of the previous installments. I was young during Diablo, but spent much of my teenages dwelling through Sanctuary in Diablo II and the expansion. They were fundamental in my approach to MMOs in many ways. It was only natural I would follow Diablo III's marketing campaign very closely.

The subject on my blog post today is exactly that. Marketing. I'm not a marketing expert, nor am I the most informed person in the world of gaming, so don't take any of what I say as laws or confirmed rules. I'm merely observing how these two game's marketing campaigns have been affecting me since I started following them more closely.

In the past few months the two sites must have been very busy. While overwhelmingly opposites from a design standpoint (Diablo being dark and full of textures and Guild Wars being white and clean and quite groundbreaking), they most certainly had similarities in the number of daily updates. I was one of those numbers who were constantly updating the website to see if there were any news. It stroke me first that while clean and polite, the Guild Wars 2 website was also static, with news and blogposts regarding mostly very small aspects of gameplay and social media.

Diablo III seemed to me as more appealing to the public by flooding players with an overwhelming ammount of information regarding lore aspects, eye-candy material and the most important aspect I can now consider prior to a game's launch: previsibility.

I'll explain. As a child, around the months of May or June I would get so anxious to Christmas that one year I actually began counting the days. The holiday period, of course, meant I was going to travel and see my cousins and everything, but more than that, it was a date in which I would gain toys. That was the point of Christmas for me (as well as for many children round the world).

When Diablo III's release date was set to May 15 (incidentally my father's birthday), developers, PRs and general media developers were able to work with the audience, because they knew just how sought after the game was. So they installed a tremendous amount of effort into bringing new content to the website as often as they could. They set up a special website with sort of a countdown and in definite dates they would release a video-log of the developer process.

At the end of which they would release the amazing Wrath video, directed by none other than Peter Chung, a name obviously picked from a swarm of directors that would possibly help expand the Diablo universe to different people.

In the meantime I was stalking Guild Wars 2's Twitter account. The Community team does a great, great job at being available to answer people over Twitter almost everyday. They didn't answer me when I sent them my blog post. They even answered someone who wanted visibility for charity, but not me. But hey, no hard feelings, right?

Only after the release of Diablo III I had an epiphany on Guild Wars 2 strategy. I'm not sure this is strategic, but they, just like Blizzard, didn't want to deliver a half-made game. Well, while Blizzard was able to maintain audience by releasing dates, and giving players something stable to hope for, Guild Wars 2 has been doing the exact opposite with similar results. Each and every time I read "We haven't announced a date yet" in their Twitter feed I get more eager to stalk them even harder and be there at the minute they announce either a beta or a release date, hell, even a Stress Test became sort of an event for me.

In short, Diablo III fed so much candy we kept on going wherever they lead. Guild Wars 2 is leading us without the need to spend with candy by letting us starve so that perhaps we might appreciate the treat more intensely when it's finally delivered.

The Guild Wars 2 impact

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According to thefreedictionary.com, the word "impress" comes from Middle-English, impressen, "to imprint", which then comes from a derivative form of Latin, in-premere, "to press".

My point being Guild Wars 2 has brought me to the root of the word. I has impressed me, imprinted something on me that no other game in my 14-year history of a hardcore gamer has ever done. I'll talk about my past experiences with MMORPGS in the few previous years then I'll get to the point where I'll explain the life-changing part Guild Wars 2 has been playing since Beta. So for those who don't like long stories or reading at all, I'll use headings.

The past experience and uneasiness

I had been moving from MMO to MMO much like a monkey does, unsatisfied by some core aspects games have been presenting to me that seriously hindered my experience.

The classic game that has struggled to occupy the number one place in my list was no other than the world's daisy, World of Warcraft. Don't get me wrong, World of Warcraft has provided me with many epic moments. But there is a reason why I used this sentence in the past tense. All about WoW wreaks of past. Even the newly added textures, even the DirectX11 support that makes physics in the water so eye-candy - and so paradoxal when put next to a Draenei's cloak floating about one palm above his tail.

Amidst all that are plenty other games on the race that would just not do well in the end. Terraria had been deliberately abandoned by their fathers, Lord of the Rings Online has the most decent lore ever, but fails doubly to deliver when it falls into the Free-to-play model, charging for just about 70% of an experience that isn't even technically or graphically satisfying. DC Universe Online proved powerful graphics and enviable lore cannot sustain themselves with poor controls that were obviously poorly ported from a console. And don't get me started on character customisation.

I thought I had settled with RIFT's stunning graphics, innovative lore and grouping system as well as its generally polished design so much I was willing to overlook its serious absence of content. I must be honest when I say I don't feel comfortable with seeing high-level characters wearing the same armour as me, just as much as I believe high-level characters would be pissed when they saw me wearing the same outfit they worked so hard for.

Why, a game focused so much in aesthetics should at the very least care about wardrobe variation. You are, after all, trying to express yourself in an immersive multiplayer game and the only way to do so - especially when you are faced with few races and classes with little face customisation - is by altering your outfit.

Just as I was settling down with my MMO, I saw Kevin VanOrd's preview of TERA's amazing character customisation and I pondered. The beta was out there and it was free. I figured, why not? I was previously disappointed with Forsaken Worlds and Perfect World, and Lineage II before that. Since I was particularly excited with ArcheAge, I figured I should give a chance to the Korean games. I created my account and was startled with the size and the time TERA took to download. It bode well, though. I was always in favour of a game that takes a lot of hardware space and delivered content, graphics and gameplay.

When I launched TERA, that was the impression I was having. Its dynamic combat is unrivalled on an MMO of that proportion. I always dreamed about having World of Warcraft with Mount & Blade's, or Skyrim's controls and there it was right before me, with impressive graphics and a satisfying gameplay.

Only there was a veiled, almost unconscious distaste for the oriental design. The female clothing (or lack of), the exaggerated ornaments in just about everything, the creepy cat-girl, the metrosexual male elves (to be political), the 8-bit-like-repetitive-uninteresting soundtrack, the crafting system...

None of that appeared when I pre-ordered TERA. Until I saw on TERA's global channel that someone was just trying out TERA while they waited for Guild Wars 2 beta. Then I got curious about it and tried it out. And it was complicated, at the very least.


The Avant Garde

I had been waiting for Guild Wars 2 for a while too. In my first MMO crisis I opened up a few MMO websites to look for something appealing and the most appealing games I saw were in production. Guild Wars 2, The Secret World and ArcheAge. Well, I tried Guild Wars 2 this weekend and it is impressive. I'm normally very critical for games. I evaluate the smallest details and when it's rare for me to hate everything about a game, it is equally rare (or even rarer) for me to love everything about a game. That wasn't the case with Guild Wars 2. I recall asking myself "My God, what game is this?". That might sound weird for foreigners, but in Brazil that means roughly "is this game even real?".

That is my question, still. I haven't ever touched Guild Wars, but the second installment of the game seems so intriguingly genuine that I was impressed. I kept asking myself how could the developers have thought about everything? If you are a peaceful player, you can level up by exploring and helping NPCs without ever touching a weapon. If the opposite you can level up just by killing everything in your path.

The character customisation is robust to say the least. You can create a very personal character and while there is still a timid number of hairstyles and face sliders (let's agree, this is not The Sims), the rich number of colours you can choose to paint your character and your armour, as well as the number of channels you can dye your armour in helps you create something that stands out and makes you feel unique. Of course it opens the doors for distasteful less serious people who are in the game with the clear intention of having people laugh at them. So eventually you will stumble upon someone with a blue afro over his purple eyes. Although this is very rare, hopefully developers will open a roleplay server with boundaries for naming and looks on characters so other people who are trying to have a serious medieval roleplay session won't feel uncomfortable. But that is another talk.

The game innovates in just about everything, so what I found very appealing was combat. It's all very dynamic, very strategic and very personal. You can choose when and whether to heal or support or damage. You don't die often and when you do there is almost instantly someone trying to revive you. Community seems to be very friendly and all that coupled with the living world of instantaneous events happening all the time, and people walking in the streets and NPCs fighting mobs or running away from them makes you feel a gigantic sense of belonging.

Basically the only downside I could find for Guild Wars 2 was the lack of a more blunt path to level. That might be because I'm so used to NPCs telling me what to do and when to do it that when I'm faced with freedom I just don't know what to do. The personal storyline is interesting, but it also makes you want to play the game by yourself more than with your mates. I know because I play with my friend for life and at a point I was a Nord and he was a Human and we had completely different personal storylines, so we had to choose which one to follow. We chose his, and at any point when I got to my home instance I felt a warm feeling and also sad because at the whole time we were playing his campaign, it was his campaign. I felt like a decorative lamp or a mercenary who would kill for him when the time came.

Also, the pre-order items weren't worth it, in my opinion. They are temporary. I would have a personal banker for five days and then it would vanish. I don't think extra 10 dollars are worth 3 temporary benefits.

But that is a small part of a detail a very critical person found. It is nowhere near a ruining experience.

The problem that day was it was Beta Weekend Event. Meaning it would end. And I wouldn't have Guild Wars 2 anymore. When that moment came, when I woke up on Monday and I couldn't log on (yes, I tried. I know many of you did too) I almost cried. I spent the day asking myself what would I play? What could I possibly that would satiate my hunger for Guild Wars 2? Well, I still don't have an answer. All my other games feel shallow and uninteresting.

What I can say is that Guild Wars 2 hasn't even launched and it's already my number one MMORPG. The one I want to spend years on. The one I want to promote and bring my friends into, and wear T-shirts and draw.

Today after refreshing Guild Wars 2 front page and stalking the twitter account, after watching the MMO manifesto and teaser videos, and reading everything I could about it, the only thing left to do was write about it. And here I am.

I can only hope that the next Beta Weekend Event isn't too far. And the launch date too.

Perhaps what I want most right now is be a part of this world.

Think international

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This is more of a shout in the emptiness. Maybe it will be heard, but it's best to shout than to shut up.

If Earth has something of a common global language, it's English. And it tends to expand potentially. However, that doesn't make the United States or Europe the centre of the planet. Or "where things happen". Things happen everywhere, at all times. I have nothing against americans or europeans, or against these countries in any way. What gets to me is the sense of uniqueness that sometimes permeate the actions that generally come from these origins.

Of course, you have to be a foreigner to begin to realise that. If you live 'where things happen', it's very hard for you to intuitivelly undestand that there are place where "things don't happen". Well, I live in one of these places.

What I'm trying to say, for instance, is that the internet has provided a way for people, companies, events, to be somewhat omnipresent. And this tends to be truer by the hour. So even now I'm typing from Brasil, in English, and I'm pretty sure I might be read by someone who's neither Brazillian, American or English, that is connected to me through the network.

That person who's reading me will also not benefit of, for example, the special Global Agenda flair items HiRez is giving away for people who attend to PAX Prime 2011 in Washington. Also they won't be able to get customised World of Warcraft credit cards, neither have World of Warcraft plushies delivered to them at their address.

Some of them won't be able to play Vindictus and won't be able to enjoy the benefits of a pre-purchase offer from Star Wars: The Old Republic. Some people can't play Angry Birds and can't download the Last.fm app from the AppStore to their iPhones or iPads. Some people don't even get iPhones and iPads at all. Simply because the conditions that were imposed to them from birth are not as kind as to have them live elsewhere, "where things happen".

And if your phenotype is Hispanic, Indian, Middle-eastern or something like that it's extra difficult to get into the United States or England without people instantly looking at you thinking you're a terrorist. I know this is slowly changing, but flamers, please, halt. Don't bother with self-righteousness. I've been there. I've been through crooked stares and questioning whether I carried a bomb in my backpack when I was in England. One American friend of mine was frightened when he first saw a picture of me and saw that I was tan, not white.

Well, my cousin's husband turned out to be a serial killer and he was American. Of the whitest type. I don't think colour or place of birth truly makes up who you are. It influences. But at the very core we're all human.

I'm not trying to bring up racism here. This is truly not the subject. I drift.

What I'm suggesting with this first post is that some people, some companies, some countries can't seem to think internationally. A simple question of "how can I make my goods accessible to all?" might help solve this problem. I beg them to start thinking abroad, far from their own belly buttons. It may even be a matter of selflessness sometimes. The lack of thought about how other people might feel.

There is no better argument than BioWare's own statement regarding international launch:

To all of our fans outside of North America and Europe:

Today we've announced the pre-order details for the initial launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic, and as you may now know, we've taken the difficult but necessary decision to limit our initial launch supply for the game. BioWare and LucasArts are completely focused on building an exceptional game and an exceptional game service to go with it. We decided to constrain our launch capacity to ensure we deliver a great experience to every player.

Part of the reason this decision was made was because of the overwhelming demand for The Old Republic, and we're humbled by that level of excitement and anticipation. We fully intend to deliver to you an amazing game when we expand our service post-launch, but right now we cannot commit to any timeframe for when that may happen. As soon as we have more information about additional launches in more territories, we'll let you know.

We are committed to delivering Star Wars: The Old Republic to BioWare and Star Wars fans around the world, and to growing a truly global community.

What I see here is a committed, perfectionist company that doesn't want to deliver a half-made product to their customers. Yes. But they have also been very self-centered, anxious and over excited. It's been three years. I would gladly wait for another year or so in order to being able to enjoy pre-purchase of this certainly wonderful game. Logistics, anyone? It's the same as saying "We thought it was best to let a few people enjoy a very good game and let the rest of the world salivate than launch a less impressive MMO to everyone so we can slowly craft our way to perfection".

But it's done. The hard decision has been taken. Just like shutting down Galaxies. Business, money spoke louder. I still blame poor logistics. The fact is still bareskin and glowing: Brazillians will not be able to enjoy day one of The Old Republic. We will be made to watch eager American and Erupean fanboy-made videos on YouTube about a game we also have put our hearts, our faith, and probably our forum suggestions into.

And yet, they have let us down again. I don't speak for Brazillians only. Argentinians, South Africans, Indians and Japanese for instance. They can and will be SWtOR fans. As well as they can and will wait for another year because we are potential customers. We have been for KOTOR, Mass Effect, Dragon Age.

Also, gamers are slowly learning that buying is supporting, which then turns to benefits (like Steam's pre-purchase in-game item offers). I don't have the numbers, but I'm more than certain that piracy has diminished since Steam. Otherwise Ubisoft wouldn't be so kind as to remove From Dust's DRM as a vote of confidence and an answer to unending protest from paying customers all over the world.

I know that many governments pose a law so hard that it makes it difficult for companies to get through. I know. I'm in one of them. Brazillian law is so stupid Apple itself couldn't cope with it and conveniently removed the Games category from the brazillian AppStore. Thus leading most Brazillian iPhone and iPad owners to register their Apple ID in an Argentinian address, as Argentina will allow foreign credit cards. I doubt Apple will sue brazillians for that. Remember that these people are trying to access the store. They intend to buy!

The message I want to pass on is simple. What would be of Blizzard if not for the Koreans? Ten years of Starcraft, guys. Imagine the sort of feedback, even the culture a game can acquire in ten years. That didn't happen in the United States. Where "things happen". These things happened elsewhere.

Therefore, Game Developers, you should really try harder to focus your efforts to launch a game everyone can enjoy. If the premise is using the internet, an Online Role-playing Game, well I've got something for you. Online means "globally". As we say in Brasil, not doing that is a "tiro no pé". A shot on the foot. I can assure you that many people that regarded BioWare and other companies with the highest esteem are now both sad and mad.

It may be too late to 'think twice' now. But there is always a next time for those with an open mind.