Meeting Expectations When the Brand is Star Wars

by Mary Kurek and Michael Johnson

By the time you read this, Star Wars, The Old Republic (SWTOR) will have been out about a month…plenty of time to know whether or not the game meets or exceeds the expectations of the players.  With more than a million gamers that obtained pre-release access, it’s clear that Star Wars junkies anticipated the game’s arrival like it was the phone call following a job interview.  Even with some interesting marketing teases during a pre-release phase, you run the risk of over-hyping and setting into motion a domino of disappointment..the kind no one likes to endure at the close of 4th quarter.  But, for now, let’s assume a success, and take a look at how you market a game that you hope will stand up to a really big name.

Control Your Reveal:  Gareth Harmer, owner of UK based The Obscurecast and SWTOR game tester noticed that EA took a different approach on announcing this game. Says Harmer, “the game was under a strict NDA up until a month before launch. EA controlled what was revealed and in what way, usually providing added value at the same time, such as insight videos or in depth articles. As soon as the NDA dropped, the Internet came to life with a huge amount of information about the game. The blog sphere lit up with posts describing the beta, while YouTube was flooded with videos covering almost every facet of the game. Suddenly, it seemed like everyone was talking aboutSWTOR.  While the NDA drop felt very late to most MMO bloggers, it was perfectly timed to support the launch date. A massive beta invite weekend gave anyone who was interested the chance to try the game beforehand. The community team worked hard on networks like Twitter and built ties with a number of fan sites to continue the excitement.  They worked the pre-order model heavily by offering bonuses to players who signed up early. There was also strong guild support, with potential guild masters encouraged to get their members pre-ordering in order to reserve a place for their guild. All of this helped to build steady anticipation of the game.”

Market Directly to the Customer:  The biggest thing to focus on here is who EA is actually marketing this game toward. As opposed to games like World of Warcraft, who market their game using mass media, SWTOR chose to market directly to their fans and the “hardcore gamer” audience. Outside of promoting developer diaries on their web site, and various gaming sites, such as GameInformer, Joystiq, IGN, etc., their most significant marketing has been at expos and trade shows and in social media outlets that allow for direct interaction.

When asked his take on how EA began attracting the fans, Harmer, says “there seemed to be little comparison of SWTOR to other MMOs by EA. They actively avoided trying to court players from other MMOs in the way RIFT did with their ‘Not in Azeroth Any More’ campaign. Instead, it felt like they were trying to grow the size of the MMO market by pulling in Star Wars videogamers and franchise fans, as well as fans from their other RPGs, such as Mass Effect.”

Partner with Companion Entertainment Sources with the Same Audience: BioWare and LucasArts partnered with Dark Horse Comics to publish some online exclusive comics based on the game and the “Old Republic” universe. that SWTOR is based on the games released on the original Xbox, entitled Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, also released by BioWare.

Encourage the Talent to Help You Promote:  One of BioWare’s game writers, Drew Karpyshyn, wrote a book to promote the game entitled Star Wars The Old Republic: Revan.

Entertain Your Customers Before the Product is Released:  BioWare spent a lot of time posting free tracks on their Facebook page. Apparently, they started posting a music track a day, which has successfully helped them to build the following.

Throw Splashy Launch Parties: Launch events were planned for New York, Austin, London, and Paris. At the event in New York, Dr. Muyzka and Dr. Zeschuk were booked to talk to fans and sign autographs. Free limited edition launch event lithograph for attendees and a chance to win free copies of the game were included in the launch goodies.

License the Name to a Company to Create Branded Peripherals:  Well, of course you have to do this…don’t you?  The slick new PC peripherals and the partnership with Razer was announced at E3, immediately followed by a pre-order campaign.

While I’m sure this is just a tiny sampling of all that went on to get this game to launch, I feel like it’s enough to beg the question:  So, is the game worth the hype?  Harmer, who admits to not being the most fervent fan of the Star Wars franchise, says he really likes the story and believes those who have waited won’t be disappointed.  That seems to be the consensus among many.  Good thing…because LucasArts intended for the story and cinematic features of the game to shine through.That said, Harmer also notes that gamers “might get a little jaded once the story novelty wears off.” Though It didn’t stop Harmer from pre-ordering the game, himself.

When you put so much investment and energy in pre-launch, you have to continue the plan past launch and know where you are headed.  I’m not sure where EA is headed with marketing for the longer haul, but it should be interesting to see how creative they can get at keeping up with expectations.  At the very least, they already have the best branding tool…a name with a ready and loyal fan base.  No better force to be with you.

Mary Kurek is a Professional Networker who makes business introductions for games professionals.  She is a nationally endorsed author, business columnist for IGDA and Casual Connect writer.

Michael Johnson is a games industry marketing professional with a focus on feature and review writing, as well as social media management.


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