In the past week, Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard, and Sony have each used Facebook in connection with their game properties. The methods and level of integration were totally different in each example, but all three approaches were interesting and appropriate for the brands.
Blizzard announced what was perhaps the deepest of the integrations. Aligned with the launch of "Starcraft II," Blizzard's Battle.net will integrate with Facebook to allow Battle.net players to identify and add Facebook friends to their Battle.net friends list. This is similar to the integration previously seen on Microsoft's Xbox 360. It will be interesting to see how far this will extend into the Battle.net properties, including "World of Warcraft" and the upcoming "Diablo III."
For the upcoming spy-themed MMO "The Agency," Sony created an offshoot social game on Facebook. "The Agency: Covert Ops" is quite similar to games like "Mob Wars," but with a bit more complex gameplay. What I find interesting here is that with the scope of the social games market and size of Facebook, this offshoot game theoretically has the potential to be larger than the actual release it's generating hype for. It was also be worth seeing if and how this social game will interact with the final product upon release.
Finally, Ubisoft started seeding some alternate reality game (ARG) elements on the "Assassin's Creed" Facebook fan page yesterday. ARG has always been a really interesting concept, and as more of these game elements move into Facebook, they are starting to transform into an even-cooler ARG 2.0 type of experience. This also fits really nicely with the virtual reality and conspiracy theory elements of the "Assassin's Creed" franchise.
With Facebook becoming a central hub for the Web, it makes sense that the fan page or Facebook app is the new microsite for marketing video games. It will be interesting to see if these secondary marketing efforts end up crossing over with brand marketers. Much as 42 Entertainment's ARG for "The Dark Knight" also had product placement from Nokia, these offshoots and secondary integrations present an untapped opportunity for new revenue streams for publishers, along with access to specific demographics for brands.
The assumption that a marketing campaign on Facebook will translate into a positive ROI for these video game developers and publishers is suspect at best. Consider the cost of such endeavors? Are we talking "The Big Game" rates here? Are the impressions really getting through with the emotional hook necessary to capture the target market's discretionary spending potential? What kind of mood are gamers in while in social networking mode? State of mind matters!
Facebook has so many marketing and promotional relationships that it now seems intuitive that escalating dilution taking place is becoming a problem for those who are purchasing these impressions. Is the dish being served cold by the time it gets to the table? Is targeting relevant when delivered that way? Is fast food always the best value for your money? "Lettuce" consider the risks of ill effects.
While a large subset of both casual and core gamers have Facebook accounts, my experience with this industry over many years leads me to believe that the CMO's of these gaming companies are making their decisions based on assumptions that are supported by shifting tides of what is real. Today’s ice berg becomes tomorrow’s oil slick, especially with the reporting media in ultra hyper mode. The tail is out in front of the dog.
In addition, sea changes in the perception of what Facebook is and what it means to gamers will almost certainly occur over time. The associations these game companies are making with social networks like Facebook and others tend to stick for long periods of time.
This creates risks for these brands which can later lead to contamination. The tie lasts longer than the reality of the business relationship, especially with social media. We will all laugh about this in much less time than most could imagine possible.
We are closing in on the moment in time when social networking and these platforms of communication will start to shift out of favor with the trend leaders. The cracks are already visible for those who really look closely. Much too often, one bird in the middle of a very large flock can change direction and as if by magic, the whole mass of feathers and wings alter their efforts.
The generation of gamers that will get presents under the tree this year are all too use to social media and how it ties into content. To them this is all so 2008. Take a step back and ask yourself, do you really need bolt on friends that bad that you are willing to hang your laundry on a line for everyone to see? That is so 50’s.