Yesterday, I was talking about how easily users or news media can be easily manipulated. "Manipulated" is such a harsh word, though. I meant it in it's harshest sense yesterday, but there's also another kind of manipulation that happens all the time that most don't view as manipulation.
It's the kind of manipulation you've grown accustomed to in television, billboard, radio, or internet advertising; sex in beer ads, Photoshopped women in magazines, survival or fear inducing advertisements that get you to buy a security system or gun, mood changing music, disturbing imagery to encourage charitable donations, or anything else that can manipulate your baser instincts.
You're manipulated into what you should buy or what brands you should trust. News media manipulate you with click-bait news reports about "Africanized Killer Bees" to get you watching their stations. (I'm still waiting for those killer bees that were supposed to wipe out the US.)
We are all being manipulated through very subtle means, but it's still manipulation.
Video games companies are no different. It started out as just groups of friends making fun games and selling them. The only marketing they were concerned with were retail box aesthetics, and where to advertise. But, as businesses evolved so did marketing.
These days, video game corporations employ scientists and psychologists who are experts in market research, analytics, consumer behavior and psychology, demographics, and purchasing patterns. And all of this is backed up even further by decades of marketing and gambling research performed in other fields of business. Even smaller video game companies, if they can't afford psychologists, will use marketing techniques from research studies that have been tempered over the decades.
So, when I use the word "manipulated", I mean it within a strategic marketing context.
Blizzard's Gentle Nudging Towards Titan
Now that I've gotten that out of the way.. did you know that Blizzard fans are being manipulated as we speak?
They're being prepared for "something" and most people won't even realize the plan until after fruition (if they even find out at all). But, I've always found it fun to see the plan from the beginning, watch as it unfolds around you, and see how users are being manipulated without even knowing it.
Their Next Gen MMO has been in the works for a while now, but they also have a lot of future features and services planned for release or post. There are many scheduled activities, and they don't just happen because of "last minute brainstorms", but rather they are planned YEARS in advance. Some things need to happen first, too, before the game comes out.
We're being prepared for Titan right now, and one thing that needs to happen is gamer acceptance.
Blizzard's revenue generators are changing, and with subscriptions becoming less and less acceptable (there are more AAA games with free subscriptions, and players are beginning to realize the true, extremely cheap, operating costs of these services), Blizzard needs to create new ways to generate revenue.. and players aren't going to like them.
It's going to be one of those "removing the band aid slowly" versus "ripping it off" type approaches. :)
The Real Money Auction House
This is one of the items that should be most obvious.
Blizzard needs the RMAH system to be more accepted by their existing consumers so that they're prepared for future similar changes to new (and possibly even existing) games.
There are promises of wealth and they're going after our greed needs just like lottery tickets.
Jay Wilson, Diablo 3 Game Director, is even hoping that Diablo 3 will be "the greatest slot machine ever made." (I knew that IGN quote would come in handy one day!)
I don't believe myself that the original concept (or multiple iterations) of Diablo 3 ever had a RMAH planned.. I think it was something that came out within the past 1-2 years, and it only came about after Titan brainstorming discussions. I think it's a way to make these systems more acceptable for Blizzard games, get player's feet wet, and get them prepared for Titan.
Even if the RMAH fails (meaning that it still generates revenue, but not within their expectations), they still have something else planned that's going to be huge.
Real ID 2.0
Have you noticed that over the past year, Blizzard has really been pushing their customers to start using Facebook? They're targeting players in all of their franchises: SC2, WOW and D3.
Starting with Starcraft 2, they even integrated Facebook features within Battle.net, and are integrating Battle.net features within Facebook. They also have plans on implementing even more "Facebook-related features on Battle.net" that will "be announced at a later date." These are all just the initial steps of a larger long term plan.
They're also having major contests through Facebook now, where you MUST have a legitimate Facebook account in order to be eligible for participation.
Hmm.. that's interesting. They're pushing Blizzard gamers for Real IDentities. Wait a minute! Didn't they just try that in Battle.net? Blizzard is pushing "Real ID" again, but indirectly. This time, though, there's no fuss, no outrage, no uproar, and no one's complaining.. interesting. :)
Don't be surprised if Blizzard creates new ways to push Facebook signups and utilization even further:
- There will be heavy advertising and promotions (especially as Titan gets closer) to attract Blizzard users to Facebook.
- Gamers will be encouraged to share with friends through Facebook.
- Existing FB users can invite friends for special bonuses through FB.
- Special bonuses or features for users who already have FB accounts. Virtual items like tabards, pets, or achievements for FB users only.
- Using FB "Likes" to unlock certain FB pages, videos or images (which forces more users to sign up on FB.)
- Videos or information that are only available through FB pages.
- Sweepstakes or mini-games that can only be played on Facebook.
(Make note too how a lot of these movements started in 2010.)
How Is Real ID 2.0 Useful Though?
So Blizzard is heavily pushing Facebook use, Facebook is integrated with Battle.net, and Facebook contains real player information and details about their life, interests, profession, what they like, and what they dislike.
Real ID through Battle.net was completely unacceptable because of privacy concerns. But, Blizzard just integrated your personal Facebook details with Battle.net and you apparently found that completely acceptable.. or you just never realized the connection. :)
Remember.. FB applications and this new B.Net integration have no boundaries. Battle.net now has complete access to all of your personal details that you think are only restricted to your close friends and family. (Real ID is still active, mind you, but it's just not mandatory. It can still be used internally by Blizzard for targeting, especially if combined with other databases.)
So, what was the purpose of Real ID in the first place?
Back in July 2010, Blizzard had planned targeted advertising within Starcraft 2. They entered into a contract with Microsoft's Massive Inc. to deliver in-game advertisements within Starcraft 2.
Coincidentally, this was also around the same time that REAL ID was announced. :)
Real ID caused a scandal and it failed, and then within about a month, Blizzard cancelled their contract and pulled the plug on their Microsoft partnership and SC2 in-game advertising.
It's almost as if in-game (targeted) advertising was dependent on the Real ID system. :)
Having a constant flow of 10-20 million players per day and access to a very sophisticated targeting advertising platform, Blizzard can reap a MASSIVE amount of profit by entering into the advertising business. (Targeted advertising is bigger than most people realize. It's where Google's immense wealth came from.)
Their first in-game advertising attempt failed due to Real ID "1.0". But, now they have Real ID 2.0, and a new monster to deliver in-game advertising.
I'm adding this quick entry to the list of "items needing gamer acceptance."
It's not that big of a deal as most gamers are okay with it (as long as it's not obtrusive or annoying). But, with their (failed) attempt at in-game advertising within Starcraft 2, Blizzard made their intentions clear that this is something they want, it's important, and they're trying to get our "feet wet" for more future implementations.
While we're on the subject of getting players "feet wet", according to the most recent Blizzcon Survey, Blizzard might also allow Virtual Ticket holders to play games remotely.
This sounds a lot like Battle.net 3.0. :)
Titan is supposed to have a wider audience and more "broad appeal", and it was theorized that that the Next Gen MMO could accomplish this through a gaming on demand service where it could be played on a large number of platforms:
It would fit in very well with their Battle.net services and would definitely work well with their new "Next Gen" MMO. Maybe the "Next Gen" bit isn't just about new consoles, but rather opening up their games for many platforms regardless of age? With live streaming services, you don't have to worry too much about processor speed, video card performance, memory, or harddrive capacity.If it's feasible, gamers could have high end graphics but on low end PCs.
Blizzard would just need to test it out, see if it's possible, how much of a reach the streaming service has (distance limitations), and acceptable performance. Blizzcon 2012 might be a good time for some initial testing. :)
How This All Relates To Titan
It's not just Titan though. Other Blizzard games could have any number of these features implemented, depending on how successful they are (and other factors).
Since Blizzard now has a new Real ID system, it will be perfect for targeted advertising within future games. But, it's not possible within all genres of video games. Advertisements could be used in Diablo chat rooms, for example, and on Starcraft 2 in-game billboards. But, they're not appropriate within the Diablo world itself.
A certain type of game would be needed to accommodate in-game ads. Something that matches our real world more closely; a modern world, with virtual billboards, radio, and TV. And that brings us to Titan.
Titan is rumored to be similar to Second Life, it will have a lot of characters (NPCs) within it, there are a large number of environments, and it might have more of a real (or modern) world feel to it. If so, a world like this would be perfect for in-game ads and linking real world items with in-game purchases or vice versa. (RL ads to get you buying virtual items, and in-game ads getting you to buy RL items.)
A lot of this can be done through a Real Money Auction House, which you can bet will be implemented in Titan if the D3 testing is successful. Titan would be perfect for a large quantity of items, homes, or furnishings that can be created or sold. Personally, I don't think there will be houses or land for sale, but I do think there will be a large number of vanity items that can be crafted or sold for real money.
(Even if there are multiple environments, like the historical and ancient cities that have been hinted at, advertising would still be possible whether they're at a certain hub, meeting place, or even in these environments depending on suitability.)
The Titan RMAH might also go under some (currently planned) changes.. for example, Blizzard selling virtual items like how the TF2 store is run. Blizzard doesn't want to offend any players right now by selling items directly themselves, so they're getting users familiar with the new system first before moving into their next phase. (Much like "Real ID 2.0", they're playing it cool and doing it smart).
Right now, they're targeting existing Blizzard customers and getting more of them to start using Facebook. Eventually, they'll target FB users (who are not Blizzard customers or MMO gamers) to become Blizzard regulars.
Of course, all of this could just be something as simple as using socialization to increase recognition, chatter, and new consumers. The failure of mandatory Real ID and the subsequent cancellation of their in-game advertisements could have been a sheer coincidence. But, I always found it strange that they wanted Real ID in the first place.. their reasoning never made any sense.
All of their pushes have been Facebook specific as well. When it comes to "pushing users", they're ignoring all of the other social platforms and advertising mediums. When was the last Twitter-specific contest? Twitter is just used to link back to Facebook.
They've talked a lot of Battle.net monetization and finding new ways to generate revenue. Subscription based games are slowly going away, with advertising or taking cuts from real money transactions making a great replacement.
I think it's all part of a greater plan. Like Blizzard said, Titan is their most ambitious project ever. And all of these systems or strategies are very easy to implement, they're practical, and they're highly lucrative.
It's just going to take a few years of nudging players into the right direction and adjusting their personal level of acceptance. You can call it "manipulation" if you want.. the description is apt.
tl;dr; Blizzard slowly entering into the advertising business. Titan will be subscription free, have more real life connections, have real money transactions, and have in-game advertising.