The Dangers of Over-Marketing

When the Marketing Out-Classes the Product

Most of you writers and Internet marketers probably don’t pay attention to the business engines behind MMO’s (Massively Multiplayer Online video games). If you play them at all, you might not care overly much how their stock prices are faring and if you’re trading stocks, you may not play them.

The reason I bring this up is that I’ve discovered a marvelous object lesson in the dangers of over-marketing. Marketing people will argue that you can’t have too much and there are studies that prove that the more often a person sees an advertisement, the more likely they are to buy.

I’m not arguing this point.

Age of Conan ScreenshotWhat I’m arguing is that you had better have a stellar product to back up your marketing. Let’s look at exhibit A: Funcom‘s recent release of Age of Conan.

Here is an MMO that seemed like the answer to adult players dreams: stunningly realistic graphics, adult content, player housing, siege warfare, mounted combat, crafting. It was also based on an IP (intellectual property) that had a strong fan base: Conan movies, the comics, and the short stories and poems by Robert E. Howard.

The lead developers were also the primary spokespeople and they were and are absolutely passionate about this game. (see my article on brand love for more on the importance of product passion.) At conferences they talked up their game. The demos of game play were exciting. Gamespot E3 featured them several times.

Keaira as Conan icon.They bought advertising in magazines and on websites. They were featured on the front page of over 30 magazines. Conan even employed one of their digital heroines as a spokesperson. Keaira, one of the Conan characters, appeared nude in the December 2007 issue of Playboy.

The developers estimated that they would launch having sold around 200,000 copies of the game.

The promotional rhetoric was so effective that Age of Conan sold out its pre-order copies. All of them. Even the expensive deluxe editions. 800,000 copies. (Source Funcom Q2 Financial Report Presentation.)


These are some of the marketing tips covered in my workbook, Marketing for Writers: A Practical Workbook, that Funcom employed with great success:

  • Featured articles in a wide variety of magazines
  • Multiple television interviews and demos
  • Demos and presentations at leading gaming conventions
  • Trailers distributed on the web
  • Passionate spokespeople who were also very likable

In April 2008, they went to open beta testing and the reviews were mixed. The world was indeed lovely and the combat intensive and exciting. The siege warfare was not yet enabled. Crafting was broken. Simple game play mechanics were still buggy. The beta testers, while still excited about the game told Funcom that it wasn’t ready to launch.

Originally scheduled to launch in November of 2007, they’d already delayed launch twice. On May 20, 2008 they launched anyway and had the biggest MMO launch since World of Warcraft, and a launch only slightly smaller than World of Warcraft’s Burning Crusade expansion. In their second quarter earnings statement, they reported a customer base of 415,000. Because the game did not live up to its pre-launch expectations, they lost almost half of their customers in the first two months. (Source Funcom Q2 Financial Report Presentation.)

To put this in perspective, most MMOs see a decline in customers within the first two quarters after a launch, but then they stabilize and that’s basically where they remain. World of Warcraft is the exception where they’ve actually gone up. The thing of note here is that Conan’s customer base dropped so rapidly. The game simply wasn’t ready. Once the play is fixed, some of those customers may return, but until then there are other games on the horizon. There’s a chance it will never recover.

The lesson here is not to oversell yourself or your product. Listen to your customers. The beta testers told Conan developers in no uncertain terms that the game wasn’t ready for prime time and that the launch should be delayed a few months. MMO customers would appreciate that candor and would have waited with the promise of a more perfected game.

So take a lesson here and make sure your marketing efforts are in sync with your product both in time and in promises.

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This entry was posted by on Wednesday, September 3, 2008.
Filed under: Articles, Experience Stories, Marketing
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