More than 10 million people play World of Warcraft (WoW) for nearly fifteen hours a week, but the game was previously an untapped focus for brands. While some brands have targeted the game’s audience, for the first time ever, a brand is entering into the World of Warcraft.
World of Warcraft, Activision Blizzard’s massive multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) borders on a worldwide phenomenon. With an expansion pack adding more content in November, WoW shows no signs of slowing down. While most games may occupy a gamer’s attention for 60 hours, WoW players measure their game time in days.
Considering the media consumption habits of these primarily 16-24 year old males, it would make sense for marketers to be involving themselves with the World of Warcraft. But there’s a major obstacle. The world is one of fantasy – of magic and dragons – not of real world brands. So while there has been a considerate amount of successful branding surrounding the game in “out of game advertising” such as Toyota’s viral video or South Park’s Emmy award winning “Make Love not Warcraft,” brands haven’t entered the game.
Until Bejeweled. Popcap just sponsored an integration of their highly successful casual game Bejeweled into the World of Warcraft environment. Particularly interesting is that this was done without participation by Activision Blizzard, the creators and maintainers of World of Warcraft. Perhaps an explanation is in order.
When Blizzard was making World of Warcraft, they wisely anticipated different people were going to play in different ways, and allowed the game interface to be highly customizable. Over time, players used the customization tools to build sophisticated “addons” that enhanced gameplay. In layman’s terms, if World of Warcraft were a car, addons would be like GPS – sure, one can drive without it, but after driving with it, the tool becomes a necessity. In the case of Bejeweled, a player had created a game similar to Popcap’s game to pass the time while in WoW. When Popcap found out about it, instead of issuing a cease and desist, they hired the developer to increase the quality, and make the game official. Despite Bejeweled not fitting into the fantasy context of WoW, the announcement has received nearly unanimous positive feedback by the gaming community. And considering Blizzard’s previously open approach to addons, it’s unlikely the producer will be stepping in to prevent such uses.
So, a brand is permeating the previously untapped game space of the most profitable game in history, the players are supportive, and Activision Blizzard has an existing policy of non-interference. Luckily for other marketers who see the opportunity here, there are many addons out there. Curse Gaming, one of the most popular portals for addons, shows downloads in the millions for the most popular tools, with the best getting over six thousand downloads a day. These are the work of very dedicated programmers working mostly from a few donations and lots of gratitude. For the right brand, a sponsorship could be a great symbiotic relationship, potentially even incorporating display ads into the configuration menus for the tool. If the result of the sponsorship led to a higher quality product and a more reliable life cycle, the community would likely be welcoming to the pairing as well.