While it was not my original intention to stay up late writing a blog post before hitting the sack, there’s really no reason for me not to write a post at this point. Besides, there’s something I’ve been meaning to write about for days now, and now is as good a time as any to get it off my chest.
Before I go diving into what I wanted to talk about, I have to mention Steve Jobs. I talked about him stepping down from Apple many blog posts ago, but his death this past week has shocked me. I knew his health had deteriorated over the years, but not to the point that it had. His obvious influence on Apple and technology is well documented and there’s nothing I could add to that particular thought process. Interestingly enough, I wish I had to opportunity to speak with him. I have to imagine a conversation with him would be fascinating. At least to me it would, just to see how he thinks and what makes him tick, beyond what’s been written about him. After all, who knows Steve Jobs better than Steve Jobs (maybe his family?)
I also wanted to talk about a game that came out this past Tuesday: Dark Souls for XBox 360 and PS3.
The spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls, both games have a distinct reputation of being amazingly difficult. Despite my excessive workload, I decided to try the game out this past weekend, and was treated to a difficult boss battle during the tutorial. The gameplay is both punishing and rewarding at the same time, and the more you play, the more I realize that somehow, someway it taps into the defiant part of your psyche where despite the challenging obstacles presented, with the right tools, observation, proper timing and patience you can be successful. The developer’s should be proud of themselves for creating a game so enticing as it is difficult.
This leads to the topic I wanted to talk about, which is brand loyalty. A long time ago, when I was a mere lad, I watched my first basketball game on television between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls. A young Michael Jordan played for the Bulls at the time, and he was certainly and impressive athlete. However, the player that caught my eye was not #23, but rather #33 on the opposing team. Larry Bird was past his prime, could not jump and appeared almost awkward in his appearance. But everything else he did was quite simply, poetry in motion. A dynamic scorer, a virtuoso passer, someone with a complete game and made everyone around him better. It was at that moment that I became a lifelong Boston Celtics fan. Larry Bird was the reason for that. Heck, he’s the reason I’m even a basketball fan.
The reason I bring up Bird is that 2K Sports announced three cover athletes for this year’s edition of NBA 2K12: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird. My usual method of operation regarding sports games is to buy one every 3-5 years, or so. I bought NBA 2K11 last year, and was not planning to buy this years edition. However, when they made this announcement, I immediately decided that I had to buy NBA 2K12 with Larry Bird on the cover, even though it’s the exact same game regardless of who’s on the cover.
I’m not sure what to think of this, except that by making this decision, 2K Sports immediately appealed to longtime fans of basketball, who grew up watching the rivalry between Magic and Bird, as well as the aerial majesty of Michael Jordan. Brand loyalty can be a powerful thing to tap into, and considering the increasing likelihood that an NBA lockout may occur for the year, 2K Sports very smartly did just that.
The question in my mind is how do others create such loyalty in the video game industry? It’s an interesting question with no easy answer, but with that said I’m not sure looking at how sports games operate will yield any answer. It’s different for sports titles, as it taps into two distinct fans: those that love sports, and those that love video games. Hence, we have sports gamers that have no intention of purchasing a Gears of War or Uncharted, but will buy Madden and NBA 2K every year. Longtime sports fans with strong memories of attending a Super Bowl or NBA Championship may be moved to buy a game that would allow them to experience that excitement once more. For other video games and other genres however, establishing and building that quality intellectual property and its’ history, as opposed to having that history already built into the fan will require hard work, dedication, and being transparent to the fans. At least in my opinion; then again, I’ve been wrong before. One could go into much greater depth with the qualities I mentioned, but this blog post is long enough, and I could use some rest.