Category Archives: marketing

Another Evening With Minecraft

It’s 8:30pm …now going on 8:45… “Hey! Turn off that @#$% iPad and start getting ready for bed”. My yelling sounds an awful lot like my father’s tone back in the day. It’s a school night and time once again for what’s become an evening ritual at our home: the arduous process of prying my 7-1/2 year-old son away from his beloved Minecraft.

It’s a rather addictive game. It all started earlier this year when my son blazed through the Skylanders Giants game on PS3 —awesome by the way, considering my wallet desperately needed a break from the biweekly runs to GameStop/EB Games searching for a growing list of elusive characters.

I’d say the marketing geniuses over at Activision created a brilliant revenue stream with the Skylanders franchise. Progression in the game is tied to purchasing individual characters, each sold separately of course or in packages of three. Each character possesses magical powers and abilities specifically suited to completing certain levels. The game’s narrative is completely structured around these characters and the incentive is to accumulate as many characters as possible with the necessary powers which enable you to keep moving forward through the story.
Keep in mind these characters are roughly $10 – $14 each and there are more than 30 characters —honestly I’ve actually lost count.
Naturally I’ll contain my excitement for the latest release in the Skylanders series, Swap Force, launching a mere 18-days from today and which will of course include a whole new series of characters we’ll need to run out and buy.

Minecraft on the other hand doesn’t involve purchasing physical characters or accessories like Skylanders’ Portal of Power. Rather, there are a vast array of virtual add-ons including “seeds” and tools that enhance a player’s ability to create more elaborate worlds. Most of these tools are free, though as you might have guessed, some of the more exotic seeds will cost you a few dollars.

Minecraft is peculiar in comparison to many of the high budget console games which tout slick photorealistic environments that starkly contrast with Minecraft’s low-fidelity 1980’s-esque 16-bit graphics and sound. The simple bitmapped textures lining the mostly planar surfaces remind me of some of my earliest exploits learning to model and render objects in 3DS Max. It’s quirky and very nostalgic in a way for someone like myself who grew up playing Intellivision.

Game theory aficionados might refer to Minecraft’s game play as a “sticky experience” similar to the likes of Farmville or Angry Birds because the game is designed to essentially go on and on with no real end in sight.
If kids appear to be spending copious amounts of time immersed in building Minecraft worlds, the silver lining, I’m happy to hear, is that experts suggest the game may help develop spatial, construction and planning skills.

As of this writing 12,233,127 people have downloaded the PC/Mac version of the game; there are 7,710,647 fans on Facebook, and more than 800,000 people are following
Jens Bergensten, one of the game’s lead developers on Twitter.

With it’s soaring popularity it begs the question, where’s LEGO’s answer to Minecraft?

You Are What You Like

Facebook: You Are What You LikeApparently Facebook has begun re-posting people’s likes at random intervals, usually a prominent product or brand, posted with a hyperlink to a persuasively worded “related article” (a.k.a. Sponsored Story) . On the surface these pseudo-updates look authentic and almost identical to regular status updates, but guess what, they’re published on your behalf completely unbeknownst to you.

Last week my partner mentioned how odd it was that my Facebook updates were routinely including likes for a well-known brand of take-out pizza and Mexican fast food. Conservatively speaking, let’s say this was happening several times per week. Now don’t get me wrong, I love pizza and a good Mexican burrito every now and then, but I wouldn’t say I eat the stuff several times a week.
As it turns out I had in fact become a fan of these particular products several years ago. Now it seems these fast food brands wanted all my Facebook friends to know I was liking these products every week—again and again—presumably around dinner time.

While impersonation might sound a bit strong, Facebook could be seen as taking significant liberties with our likes by making it seem as though we’re actively endorsing a product or brand on a recurring basis. Using our name and profile picture next to an Ad gives the appearance of a legitimate personal status update and makes others—that is, our friends—more inclined to stop and read the message.
From a digital marketing perspective this is a very clever appropriation of our Facebook identity. Although the mild annoyance one might feel when they learn their profile is being used to promote products on a regular basis (and without expressed written consent) could eventually turn sour if friends start formulating certain opinions about you based on what you’ve liked in the not so distant past.

Update: Here comes the enevitable class action lawsuit.

Via Gizmodo:

In October [2011], Facebook agreed to a settlement about this whole Sponsored Stories issue, wherein they may have used your likeness in a Sponsored Story ad without your permission. The settlement set aside $20 million for you poor, wronged souls, and now Facebook is starting to get ready to pay it out.

So, in the event your likeness was appropriated you can file a claim to receive a whopping $10 payout from Zuckerberg and company.

#AskMadonna Was It Good For You?

MDNA booklet photo

The Material Girl (does she still go by that name?) graced the threads of Twitter Monday night to answer questions for 90-minutes. Billed as a “one night only” event, Madonna live chatted with fans at @MadonnaMDNAday who were encouraged to use the hashtag #askmadonna to help build interest in her latest studio release MDNA, her first album since 2008.

Meanwhile over at the design inspiration/lifestyle site fab.com Madonna is offering Web audiences a deluxe “web only” $7.99 version of her latest CD at almost 50% off the regular store price.

There’s also a giveaway with the digital music service Spotify for two listeners who play MDNA at least three times during the next two weeks who could then win tickets to one of her upcoming shows.

On Saturday (prior to the Twitter event) Madonna was on a Facebook livestream with late-night TV host Jimmy Fallon responding to fan submitted questions, again just for one night.

Hmm…smells like there’s a digital strategy at work here. All this activity indicates that Madonna is proactively taking steps to strengthen her social media following rather than rely on the traditional talkshow routes and news outlets to create buzz for her new album.
Consider Spotify’s recent integration with Facebook and the new Timeline feature which, among other things, allows people to view a small thumbnail of recently listened to albums and tracks. Madonna’s marketing people are clearly targeting the Facebook platform and things like the new listen with friends feature.

But the above mentioned events (the Twitter chat in particular) seem carefully choreographed—dare I say contrived, perhaps by one of Madonna’s PR marketing aides. After all, the 53-year old Madonna (is she a grandmother yet?) may have just a passing interest in connecting with fans on social networks. Why else would she engage with fans on Twitter for just one night? I suppose daily chats are out of the question, so how about once a week?

Check out the spike in the chart over at social media monitor Radian6 which reveals an interesting blip in Madonna’s recent Twitter feed exchange with fans.

The obvious comparison comes next: Lady Gaga, who arguably sets the bar for social media engagement with fans. No one does it better. With well over 21-million followers they don’t call her the queen of Twitter for nothing. Gaga is also fast approaching 50-million fans on Facebook and is in approximately 1.1-million circles on Google+.

The Material Girl on the other hand couldn’t possibly buy that kind of digital clout. Now could she?

The distinction one could draw between Gaga and Madonna is not simply the disparity between the number of Likes, Followers, and Circles (incidentally Gaga has 5-times as many Facebook fans over Madonna), but the consistency of engagement.
In Gaga’s case the fan engagement seems more authentic because it occurs on a daily basis and doesn’t start and stop abruptly to coincide with album releases as in Madonna’s case.

The Material Girl could learn something from mother mons†er —don’t you think?