Outside the Magic Circle

June 1, 2007

Sorry this post has come a bit late, it’s been sitting half done in my drafts section since Tuesday the day I upgraded my computer with, amongst other things, Vista… So far the only good thing I can say about Vista is that it will rapidly improve your problem solving capabilities.

So, where was I…

When it comes to the role of brands in MMORPGs/virtual worlds Second Life is usually held up as the example par excellence. The fact that it invites commercial interests in is a major reason for its success on this count, but another factor is probably its ‘real world’ as opposed to fantasy/science fiction aesthetic characteristic of most MMORPGs. Basically RL brands don’t look as out of place in Second Life and therefore don’t break the ‘illusion’ or sense of ‘immersion’ conjured up.

While I’m all for brands taking the leap into virtual worlds in terms of adding in branded content, I also acknowledge that it may not be possible in the short term, due to factors such as costs, time etc. But there are other ways.

My friend and highly experienced WoWer, James/Tiiki suggested that a good starter level for branded association with a game like WoW would be through sponsorship of e-sport Arena PVP teams/contests and well known ‘addons’ sites.

Now, anybody unfamiliar with WoW will presumably be scratching their head wondering what the hell ‘e-sport’, ‘Arena PvP Teams’ and ‘Addons’ are. This is one of the big problems when niche media goes mainstream – there are a whole set of obscure cultural activities that surround the core IP product. While these ‘satellite’ activities may seem peripheral to the core product they are often essential to the core product’s success and because they are frequently community driven they are easier for outsider brands to access and act as a direct-line of support for. The diagram below shows the kinds of fan-made satellite activities that support the core World of Warcraft product, the satellites that overlap are those that have some kind of in-game presence.


These satellite activities have been explored in depth by academics like Henry Jenkins (see Convergence Culture) under the rubric of ‘fan-culture’ (the old-school word for UGC) and he also shows how these activities have been successfully exploited for commercial purposes.

The latest development of which James made me aware was that World of Ming, a blog written by a World of Warcraft Arena Team player is about to gain commercial sponsorship (by whom it is not yet clear).  This is certainly the first WoW blog to take on this kind of deal, if not the first to be approached with such an offer.

I also just spotted the ‘Robin Hood’ competition on the official World of Warcraft Community Site homepage (appears to be US only not EU). This competition asks players to provide screenshots from the game that are ‘Robin Hood-like’ (there are lots of World of Warcraft Flickr sets). Again,this promotion uses a mixture of in-game and out-of game fan produced material.

Presumably there is someone on the BBCs promotions team that plays World of Warcraft because a stranger to the game would be unfamiliar with the popularity of screenshots. So the whole concept of e-sports is likely to go over the heads of most marketing departments. Although there are a few who are currently involved in sponsorship/partnership deals with certain teams they tend to be tech companies, but there is no reason why a broader range of brands shouldn’t be able get involved. Which is why, below, I’m going to provide a quick guide to Arena Teams and Addons.

WoW Arena Teams for beginners

Part of the appeal of WoW for many is the Player vs Player aspect (PvP). PvP is defined in opposition to Player vs Environment (PvE) where players don’t fight one another only characters/monsters controlled by the game. There are certain locations in WoW that are made explicitly for PvP some of which are called battlegrounds and some called arenas. Arenas are particularly popular because teams can give themselves a name, with the potential for notoriety amongst the gaming populace. The youtube video below shows an example of Arena Team PvP combat (I know it’s hard to see what’s going on, but just imagine it on a 5o foot screen!)

Addons for Beginners

Addons are fan-made pieces of software that add extra information to a players user interface (read, ‘screen’). Blizzard don’t make any themselves, but are have happily given players the tools to do it. Many of these are deemed essential, such as an addon that adds grid reference co-ordinates to a players map. Others come down to an individuals need, whether a character’s class or their play style –  and this

is why they are so popular – they allow players to strongly personalise their user interface. the images below show a standard interface and a heavily modified screen for comparison.





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