Nearly two years ago, I was gushing over the marketing for "Fable II." It was really on the forefront of using virtual goods as a reward for pre-release interest and ordering. Today, nary a game doesn't have some in-game reward for out-of-game behaviors. Deciding between which retailer's pre-order bonus to select has become a mental chore for many a gamer.
So as the release date for "Fable III" has neared, I've been eagerly awaiting what form the marketing would take. And I haven't been disappointed. Last release, there was a micro-site where visitors could play through a short puppet play that exemplified the moral ambiguity featured in the game, and at the end players unlocked exclusive in-game goods depending on what moral path they took. This time, the micro-site actually lets the players create the content itself.
The "Fable III" micro-site offers players a chance to create a villager who will populate their copy of the game, as long as they've pre-ordered it. The character creator walks the visitor through several moral scenarios for their intended character, once again getting across one of the main features of the game. Finally, after determining the personality, it lets players select from various clothes, hairstyles, and voices to determine the aesthetics of the character.
Considering the main game essentially lets players create their very own hero or cretin as the game progresses, this is a unique opportunity to create another character that the hero or cretin can interact with. In essence, it allows players the opportunity to create their very own in-game effigy. Some players can create a character resembling their girlfriend, and then marry and create a family in the game. Others might create their landlord, and then upon finding this villager in the game, buy their house and evict them. It really is a quite clever promotion, and one that is still far ahead of other game marketing promotions to date.
But as good as the marketing is for "Fable III," it is disappointing that only one title has really been pushing the envelope with virtual good marketing tactics. Further, it's a sad state of affairs that brands are still so far behind the game industry when it comes to these types of integrations.
Throwing a dynamic in-game billboard into a sports arena will raise a brand's awareness, but it isn't going to create a magical positive association. Gamers aren't going to think a brand "gets them" because it can plaster ads on a virtual wall. Create a marketing engagement that gives a gamer something unique and cool within a game they highly value, and they will respond quite favorably. The discussions between brands and publishers are currently happening way too late in the game.