Digital communication in video game industry


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This academic report has been created in 2013 for the last year of study in ISC Paris business school.
The purpose of this study is to demonstrate the importance of digital communication in the video game industry, and the supremacy League of Legends possesses in this field. As in every other sector, the video game industry had to go through the digital revolution. Stores that sold cultural products are now in a difficult position because of their weak revenues1. Despite these dramatic circumstances, League of Legends plays its cards right by proposing a free offer that perfectly suits Internet users.

Digital communication in video game industry

  1. 1. REPORT Mathieu DESGURSE 2013 Class DIGITAL COMMUNICATION IN THE VIDEO GAME BUSINESS SECTOR. WHY IS LEAGUE OF LEGENDS SUCH A HUGE SUCCESS? - Made in June 2013 - Report advisor and study director: Franck BULINGE Student in: Data Management and Digital Communication
  2. 2. Special Thanks I would like to thank the teaching team of ISC Paris as well as the professional interveners in charge of the Digital Information and Communication Management course. This academic report is the continuity of a reflection initiated throughout my courses on e-reputation and digital communication, taught at the ISC Paris. I wish to thank Marion Joly without whom this English translation would not have been possible. I would also like to thank Mr. Bulinge for his trust, help and advice throughout this work. I would like to express my gratitude to the analysis platform team Social Bakers for providing me with free access to their records, allowing me to study the activity of Internet users on social networks for each of my study subjects. Finally, I would also like to thank my relatives and friends for their continued support during this work. 2
  3. 3. Table of Contents Overview ......................................................................................................................4 Introduction ..................................................................................................................8 Part one: state of the art of digital communication in video games ............................10 1. Reputation and Web 2.0 ....................................................................................10 1.1 Digital communication .................................................................................10 1.2 Defining reputation ......................................................................................11 1.3 Key points of e-reputation ............................................................................13 2. Digital communication surrounding a video game .............................................15 2.1 Digital communication strategies .................................................................15 2.2 Institutional communication channels ..........................................................19 2.3 Social networks ...........................................................................................22 3. E-reputation in the video game industry.............................................................26 3.1 Parallel communities ...................................................................................27 3.2 Opinion leaders ...........................................................................................28 3.3 Threats and opportunities regarding video games’ e-reputation .................30 4. Cartography of e-reputation's system ................................................................34 Part two: case study of League of Legends ...............................................................37 1. History, definitions and explanation of the company and the product ................37 1.1 Introducing Riot Games and League of Legends ........................................37 1.1.1 Riot Games Inc. ....................................................................................37 1.1.2 League of Legends, an innovation .......................................................39 1.2 Analyzing League of Legends’ characteristics ............................................40 1.2.1 League of Legends ..............................................................................40 1.2.2 Pricing system ......................................................................................40 1.2.3 Distribution mode .................................................................................41 1.2.4 Commercial policy ................................................................................42 1.2.5 Players typologies ................................................................................44 2. A comparative analysis of three video games ...................................................45 2.1 Digital communication .................................................................................45 2.1.1 Content-related communication ...........................................................47 2.1.2 Electronic sports ...................................................................................48 2.2 Professionals: online newspapers ...............................................................51 2.3 Social media ................................................................................................55 2.4 Community management.............................................................................65 3. Strategic analyses matrixes ...............................................................................67 3.1 SWOT ..........................................................................................................68 3.2 Porter’s five forces ......................................................................................69 3.3 Key Factors of success ...............................................................................71 Conclusion .................................................................................................................72 Bibliography ................................................................................................................74 Appendices summary...............................................................................................78 3
  4. 4. Overview Key points and characteristics of the topic The ever increasing number of Internet users -2.3 billion Internet users in 2012has allowed human civilization to enter a new era, the era of Information. In this context of abundantly available information, video game companies have to differentiate their products and services using entertaining information and digital communication strategies. The video game industry is part of the cultural business sector. Its commonality with the Internet is the use of information technology. Video games constitute a media in itself which, through the Internet, develops human networks. In order to expand and bring their communities together in the best possible ways, companies adopt different digital communication strategies based on several channels. These strategies are especially elaborated for a certain typology of video games, called competitive video games, of which League of Legends is part. However, this game is an exception in the industry, as it adopts a communication strategy entirely based on social networks, thus completely diverging from the classic pattern offered by the industry leaders. Electronic sports are also part of the communication strategy adopted by League of Legends. It is a fast growing sector, and a crucial stake in competitive video games because of the technical aspect of these games, exclusively adapted and directed to a limited audience. However, in practice, these competitions are a huge success, as evidenced by the millions of people that watched a live electronic competition in 2012. Problematic This study focuses on the different digital communication techniques employed in the video game industry, and more specifically on the digital communication strategy set for League of Legends: «Digital communication in the video game industry. Why is League of Legends such a huge success? » Questions raised by this problematic are the following: what is the relation between digital communication and e-reputation as far as video games are concerned? How do companies communicate about their products on the Internet? 4
  5. 5. What are the threats and opportunities of digital communication in video games? What is the best digital communication strategy for competitive video games? How is electronic sport developing, and what is its influence over companies’ e-reputation? Theme-making The purpose of this study is to demonstrate the importance of digital communication in the video game industry, and the supremacy League of Legends possesses in this field. As in every other sector, the video game industry had to go through the digital revolution. Stores that sold cultural products are now in a difficult position because of their weak revenues 1. Despite these dramatic circumstances, League of Legends plays its cards right by proposing a free offer that perfectly suits Internet users. The theoretical part will help us understand why digital communication is so significant today. The Internet media highlights the relationship between a company’s reputation and its product. Video game companies are slowly changing their communication patterns. These patterns have long been on a vertical scheme, privileging a moderated quantity of information up until the game’s release, in order to maximize expectation in gamers. However, video game companies must now adapt to the Internet by offering an entertaining communication that places gamers at the heart of the process. In the digital communication process of a game, several stakeholders have a particular role: producers, gamers, journalists (mainly prescribers) and parallel communities. A map representing these actors will be drawn to represent the extent of their influence. The analytic part will focus on the textbook case of digital communication that is League of Legends. The stakeholders participating in a video game’s digital communication process are studied using the example of League of Legends and its two main competitors: Dota 2 and Starcraft 2. The outcome shows that League of Legends has a solid position regarding digital communication, directly linked to electronic sports and community channels by offering innovative solutions regarding the major threat to its e-reputation: its environment. One of the main stakeholders in the environment of League of Legends is its community, suffering from a bad e1 «GAME starts closing stores, explains what’s happening to reward points, pre- orders etc» - 5
  6. 6. reputation because of the negative behaviors of some gamers in the game, and on the forums. League of Legends’ two main competitors are traditional actors in the video game industry. They now have a considerable advantage on prescribers, but, in the years to come, and the opinions of Internet users is as influential as those of prescribers, Dota 2 and Starcraft 2’s communication strategy may become inconsistent. Methodology Both concepts of digital communication and e-reputation are linked. These concepts are also fairly recent, since only a few academic researches have been made so far on the subject: - First, the theoretical ideas will be defined based upon reflections from several experts. - Secondly, the decisive factors influencing video games’ e-reputation will be determined. Once the definitions are set up, an exhaustive inventory of ereputation’s determining factors will be drawn up. The game League of Legends is based upon an innovative business model, and must be precisely defined in order for a better comparison to its competitors. In the second part, online resources and web-search engines will be privileged. We will reference each indicator in an Excel table and analyze it to find correlations. This part will constitute the heart of the report, since it will study the digital communication and e-reputation of different video games through tangible and measurable elements. Most of the information used within the report is called “white information”, that is to say information free from property and available for exploitation. Any use of gray information -confidential information from companies- will be mentioned beforehand. Conclusion 6
  7. 7. The Internet’s outbreak represented a real upheaval within the video game industry. A few stakeholders, such as League of Legends, use the Internet to provide its players with an exclusive online gaming experience. The game was released in 2009, and took a large market share of massively multiplayer video games by offering gamers to play for free. Following the example of its innovative business model, League of Legends differentiated itself from its competitors by offering a communication strategy mostly based on the idea of service, rather than on the product itself. In a world where companies’ e-reputation increasingly depends on the opinion of Internet users, League of Legends focuses exclusively on its community by offering exclusive in-game content and e-sport competitions. The aim of this report is not to give any specific recommendations on video game communication strategies, but to take a snapshot of video game developers’ priorities, and the effects on their digital identities. 7
  8. 8. Introduction The video game sector is part of the cultural industry. Revenues for this market have been estimated to 65 billion dollars 2 in 2011. In comparison, revenues registered for the book industry were of approximately 27 billion dollars 3, over the same period. The video game industry clearly benefited from the Internet’s growth. Video game developers and publishers have used the Internet to provide gamers with new experiences, which were met with great success. Figures extracted from a massively online multiplayer game, World of Warcraft, ranking over 12 million subscribers in 20124, vouch for this success. The Internet allowed the creation of a new branch in the video game industry, called multiplayer, designed for consoles or computers for almost every game. League of Legends, an exclusively online multiplayer video game was first commercialized in October 2009 and was instantly met with a worldwide success. It gathered even more subscribers than World of Warcraft, the leader of online multiplayer-based video games, and established for 8 years. Behind this planetary success, is Riot Games Inc. This American company has taken advantage of its game’s success and has multiplied its personnel by 5 in twenty months (from October 2009 to July 2011). The factors of success will be analyzed in this report. It appears that with the emergence of Web 2.0, companies are no longer the exclusive owners of information. Their communication has gone from a vertical to a horizontal pattern. All the stakeholders of the companies’ environment are free to express themselves on the web. The monthly 32 million active players of League of Legends are ambassadors of the product marketed by Riot Games Inc. 2 Liana B. Baker « Factbox: A look at the $65 billion video games industry » - article/2011/06/06/us-videogames-factbox-idUKTRE75552I20110606 3 Jim Milliot « Book Sales Fell 2.5% in 2011 » - industry-news/financial-reporting/article/53042-book-sales-fell-2-5-in-2011.html 4 Blizzard official press release « World of Warcraft dépasse les 12 millions d’abonnés dans le monde » - 8
  9. 9. League of Legends’ communication strategy is very specific. In fact, Riot Games took the decision to communicate on its game using the Internet exclusively. Thus, the digital communication used for League of Legends can be considered a textbook case. In this report, only the video game’s e-reputation and digital communication strategy will be taken into account, as the strategy used within traditional media is nonexistent. Riot Games’ e-reputation will not be studied, for it is deeply linked to its product, League of Legends. We can therefore ask ourselves whether digital communication was initiated by the company’s communication on its game itself, and then amplified by the gamers Internet users. The analysis submitted in this work will raise the following problematic: “Digital communication in the video game business sector. Why is League of Legends such a great success?” First, an analysis of digital communication in the video game industry will be realized. Definitions set by experts within the digital communication and e-reputation fields will be compared amongst themselves. Then, the various digital communication strategies and channels employed by video game studios will be analyzed. Then, as a conclusion on digital communication in the industry of video games, a map of the digital communication and e-reputation will be drawn. In the second part, theory and practice will be compared through to the study of the text-book case that is League of Legends. This study will encompass a presentation of the game's publisher and of the game itself. Then, a comparison of the different characteristics of League of Legends with its main competitors, Dota 2 and Starcraft 2, will be carried out. Finally, an analysis of the different digital communication strategies for these three games will be drawn up. This work falls within an analytic approach aiming at observing the influence of social networks and digital communication in the video game business sector. 9
  10. 10. Part one: state of the art of digital communication in video games 1. Reputation and Web 2.0 Reputation has long been considered the companies’ prerogative. Nowadays, the reputation of a brand is built through all the people who contribute to, and shape its environment. Web 2.0, or accessibility and interactivity web, allows Internet users to express themselves easily and freely. Consequently, the company no longer controls its image and reputation, and has to develop an Internet-specific communication strategy. Researches made on e-reputation and digital communication helped taking a census of various experts’ points of view. However, it is impossible to draw up a final and unanimous state of the art on the subject, considering the multiform aspect of the Internet. The e-reputation and digital communication both stem from the Internet, are in constant evolution and include as many options and theories as there are Internet users. 1.1 Digital communication Digital communication encompasses all the means detained by a company to give its product visibility on the Internet. Digital communication offers a large spectrum of possibilities, the Internet’s recently acquired significance. According to Médiamétrie5, the Internet is now used by more than 40 million French people, that is to say two thirds of the country's whole population. Digital communication is deeply and inherently linked to the recent media that is the Internet. Nevertheless, the communication techniques can be compared to those encountered in mass media. The advertising repetition technique is part of these. Repeating a message permits to influence the target through a mechanism of memorization, but also to influence people within the target’s environment, through a word of mouth mechanism. Publicists work on broadcasting messages on every web 5 Médiamétrie « Nombre d’internautes en France » - nombre-internautes-france.shtml 10
  11. 11. site visited by the target. This segmentation according to web site visitors represents a major innovation. It is now possible to target precisely the message addressee, mainly through social networks, inboxes, news web sites or search engines, which collect online behavior-related information. Nowadays, the main stake of digital communication is to influence consumers, whatever the device they are using or the site they are visiting (cell phones, tablets, computers, social networks, news websites, web TV, ...) to influence on companies’ e-reputation. 1.2 Defining reputation A company's reputation is an invisible asset, and is therefore “difficult” to assess. In order to best define the recent concept of e-reputation, we must go back to the origins of companies’ reputation. In the dictionary, reputation is defined as the “common idea on someone or something”. In this definition, we can isolate the expression “common idea”, wherein the notion of sharing and community are present, and which also happens to be the main reason why Internet was created. Therefore, it appears that companies’ reputation is based on public opinion, or opinion shared by communities, and that the Internet is a conveyor of this expression. According to the Cigref6 , a company’s reputation is the result of information exchanges regarding said company. These exchanges are made between the different stakeholders, which are more or less part of the company's close environment. In fact, this information is multidimensional and refers to various key factors that help differentiate a company from others on the market. According to Jean Cazeneuve 7, "There is a notion of public opinion when a compliance factor appears in the distribution of individuals regarding the various possible nuances of this attitude”. This statement might have been relevant in 1962, when the mass media was strongly expanding. However, in our permanently connected world with a mutating media industry, this assertion is only partially true. 6 CIGREF, Organisation gathering 130 big french companies - « Etude des risques et opportunités liés à l’e-réputation des entreprises » 7 Jean Cazeneuve La fabrication de l’opinion 11
  12. 12. The public opinion is now actually divided into various group or community-oriented opinions. Reputation is now parceled out according to the social standards, and the socially accepted behaviors within different groups. If we focus on the reputation of the rapper 50 Cent for example, we can see it is perceived in extremely different ways from one social environment to the other. For some groups of opinion, 50 Cent is considered a modern Shakespeare, while for others, he is nothing more than a gangster. There is a converging similarity between the concepts of brand image and reputation. The industrial revolution was the origin of brand creation. At this time, there was no distinction between manufacturers and their product. It was all about brand reputation. The development of advertising, followed by the outbreak of television, replaced the notion of reputation (associating a product to its manufacturer) by brand image. About this, Patrick Le Lay, President of the French public channel TF1, said in a 2004 interview with the AFP (Agence France-Presse): “What we sell to Coca-Cola is available human brain time”. This famous quote refers to the mutation of the product/manufacturer’s reputation to a brand image smoothed out by companies’ communication strategies, which have become totally impersonal. With the outbreak of Web 2.0 -or participative web- the companies’ communication has evolved from a vertical pattern (from the company to the consumer) to a horizontal pattern (the company and the consumer communicate simultaneously on the products), hence the arrival of the concept of Internet reputation, and the direct association of a product with a brand 8. IDC, a research firm, defines e-reputation by the way Internet users perceive a company or an institution, its brands or its associates 9. Considering the IDC/SAS observatory has established that each Internet user spends at least 3 hours a day surfing the web, it is easily understandable that the notions of “e-reputation” and “reputation” are more and more convergent. 8 Prodimarques « Réputation ou image de marque ? » - gratuit/64/reputation-ou-image-de-marque.php 9 Karim Bahloul et Cyril Meunier Médias sociaux et e-réputation 12
  13. 13. 1.3 Key points of e-reputation E-reputation, also called digital identity, is a crucial stake for the public as much as for companies. “All social networks are scenes where one performs, becomes the spectator of one’s own digital identity. We give a show for others as much as we watch the show the others put on. The sites' architecture in itself is just a network of mirroring individuals, of digital reflections. This set of mirrors has its limits, though: “Our own image enables us to know ourselves, just as much as it creates a sort of estrangement: I am no longer who I immediately thought I was, but I am this image of myself reflected by the mirror. To quote Dr. Lacan, this leads to a perception of my own self by my spatial image. Consequently, I quit the reality of my own living self to constantly refer to my idealized, fictional or imaginary self, first sketched by the specular image 10”. This analysis of the digital reputation is particularly true for individuals, but is erroneous when it comes to companies. Indeed, companies do influence Internet users’ opinion, and therefore their e-reputation through digital communication strategies, but this has no impact on their own perception. A comparison between the reputation and digital reputation’s definitions given by Wikipedia is a fairly good illustration of the increasing significance of e-reputation. The first definition is succinct and contains only two parts, while the second one includes seven detailed parts. According to Chris Anderson11, editor in chief of Wired, an American reference magazine in new technologies, e-reputation highly depends on the algorithms used by search engines. Internet users are looking for information on someone or something through search engines by typing key words. Google is the most used search engines throughout the world, with 65% of held searches 12. It is also massively used in France, since it adds up more than 90% of key word searches 13. According to the graph below, half of Internet users click on the two first "natural” 10 Titiou Lecoq and Diane Lisarelli Encyclopédie de la Web Culture 11 Chris Anderson The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More 12 Danny Sullivan « Google still world’s most popular search engine by far, but share of unique searchers dips slightly » - 13 AT Internet « Baromètre des moteurs de recherche Juin 2012 » - barometre-des-moteurs-de-recherche-juin-2012/ 13
  14. 14. links (non-commercial) when using a search engine. The first results displayed by search engines are therefore crucial for the companies’ e-reputation. Beyond this observation, the companies’ e-reputation greatly depends on the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategy companies adopt. Top Google Result Gets 36,4% of Clicks The CIGREF carried out a typology of various companies’ e-reputation, which evidenced the following: Preferred brands are constituted by companies coming from business sectors benefiting from a good image, such as Apple, or Nutella. Sensitive and “scapegoat” brands are generally associated with companies coming from controversial business sectors, such as banks. Functional brands are constituted by companies that have no particular bonds with their users, such as the RATP (Paris’ public transport operator). "Under-the-radar” brands, constituted by most companies, which have no ereputation because of their lack of exposure. According to this typology, video games pertain to the preferred brands. Indeed, as cultural goods, video games are products with high added and emotional values. How do video game companies rope in the specificity of a cultural good in their digital communication? 14
  15. 15. 2. Digital communication surrounding a video game The first marketed video game was created in 1972 (Pong by Atari) while the first ad was produced in 1994 for AT&T (an American telecommunication company). Ereputation and digital communication within the sector of video games are everchanging topics that adapt according to market evolution and techniques used by companies. Companies’ institutional communication channels are tools that give Internet users the latest updates on video games. These are used in communication strategies set up ahead of the game’s development by studios’ marketing teams. Institutional communication channels differ from social networks because of the control companies’ have on the various communication tools. Conversely, social networks are platforms where Internet users may express themselves more freely. 2.1 Digital communication strategies Video game-specific digital communication strategy is particular: it starts gradually within the few months prior to the game’s release, and gets more intense as the release date draws near. This aims at increasing the players’ wait and making them buy the game as soon as it is released, or even better, pre-order it when possible. Video game launching-related digital strategies are a dominating aspect because it is the most strategic communication phase in the video games sale process. In fact, video games are cultural goods that represent the third of a company’s total revenue over the three months following release14 . In big companies, a game’s communication strategy is set even before the product is finalized. As we said before, companies divide their strategy into three main channels: the press, the community and the main communication materials. This distinction between these three different channels can be explained by the required quality level for each channel, as well as the exposure level offered by each one. Therefore, news available within the fan community on social networks are related to fan made content, studio photos and questions about the game. The specific interest is for people within the community to become involved and to participate as much as possible they feel they are part of the game’s creation. Online articles also matter within a game’s digital communication process because of the conditioning 14 Information grise 15
  16. 16. role it has on the game’s commercial success. Indeed, games that receive negative feedback from the press are less efficient on the market than well-rated games. The main digital communication materials are video trailers. 3D animated clips and CGI clips are much appreciated communication tools. They introduce the game’s storyline under its most favorable aspect. These animated trailers are the most expensive, with some costing around €300,000 (over $400,000) and requiring over eight months of work15. Digital communication strategies differ from game to game, but we can identify the main current trends. Please note that the following list aims at gathering the main digital communication techniques. Let us start off with the announcement of a video game. Video game companies privilege control over their communication, above all else. Product-related information is therefore highly protected. The announcement of a video game is always crucial for its reputation. It may be carried out in all pomp and circumstance, like for Ubisoft's Watch Dogs, presented during E3 2012 (the biggest video game exhibition in the world). The game immediately aroused the players’ interest. A game announcement may also be more discreet, like the gradual announcement of Grand Theft Auto V by Take 2 studio. The company started by buying domain names identical to certain car brand names used in the game16 in February 2011. Then, in March of the same year, it allowed for a project name and a specific cast to leak through a communication agency17 . The rumor amplified until October 2011, when Take 2 made the official release announcement for GTA V. Then, the following week, the company invited all players to watch the first game trailer, which got hundreds of thousands views within a few hours. However a game announcement is made, there is a constant within the video game industry: each newly released game becomes a brand with its own identity, synopsis, esthetic codes and gaming sensations. 15 « Tout sur le prix de vos jeux » - 16 « GTA V : Take 2 aurait-il commencé son teasing ? » - news/2011/00049104-gta-v-take-2-aurait-il-commence-son-teasing.htm 17 « GTA V : d’éventuelles infos » - 16
  17. 17. This notion of brand defines the digital communication narration, more commonly referred to as “storytelling”. Since a video game is a visual media, storytelling strategies are based on quality visuals that take up the game universe and allow Internet users to better assess the atmosphere and synopsis the game will offer. In the case of Irrational Games’ latest release, Bioshock Infinite, the digital communication strategy employs a more “vintage” tone. Images evoking America’s history have been released throughout the communication campaign. Video game studios often allow magazines to publish exclusive pictures as a front page for video gaming news. Bioshock Infinite confirms its positioning in the “vintage” trend and the “Steampunk” visual style deriving from the eponymous literary genre created in 1980, which pays tribute to the post-industrial revolution period. There are various communication strategies according to the types of video games. Therefore, a “complete” game like Far Cry 3 benefits from a long-term communication scheme because of the game's budget and offered content (over twenty hours of gameplay were announced for Far Cry 3). Far Cry 3 thus benefited from a communication that spread out over a year and a half. Its add-on, called Blood Dragon, offers 8 additional hours of gameplay, with a communication scheme that was reduced to a month. These differences between communication periods length are crucial in video games. Indeed, the longer the communication strategy, the more impatient players get. For the studio, it is all about filling these long waiting periods by offering gradually more precise and relevant information about the game’s content. If the communication period does not last long, it is crucial for the gamers’ understanding to orient this communication towards the game’s main aspects. The so-called “carpet bombing” digital communication strategy is used when the length of a game’s communication scheme is relatively short. This strategy consists in sending an email newsletter to registered Internet users. Internet users’ email addresses are taken from a database, regardless of their profiles. Thus, when the communication period is short, there is no interest in looking to adapt the message to a certain target. It is more helpful for a game’s image to carry out a massive communication campaign. “Crowd funding” is a strategy that arrived in late 2011 on the video game market, and which allows development studios involving Internet users in a game’s funding. 17
  18. 18. This communication channel is part of the digital communication strategies, because it pertains to a specific approach. In fact, the studio benefiting from this crowd funding has to draw up an exhaustive presentation stating: The video game’s content, Promotional picture of Bioshock Infinite to illustrate the storytelling using a video presentation, a written introduction and pictures. The commercial offers given out for each participant. These offers are divided into several amounts, for example ranging from $5 to $10,000 for the game Torment: Tides of Numenera. Each stage increases the amount of content a participant is entitled to. Consequently, these offers have to be attractive to the Internet users, and it is recommended to show them off as a graph, for an easier reading. The sales commitments according to each global step achieved. The global step is the total amount given by Internet users for the project. For this crowd funding process to be successful, developers have to set a total sum that must be reached over a determined crowd funding period (generally, around 2 months). Crowd funding is an alternative to the traditional funding model in which a developer presents his video game’s concept to an editor. This type of funding is a good example of the power Internet users hold over the video game industry. Moreover, it legitimates the approach of some studios that collaborate with their community. Crowd funding was met with great success for some games, like Torment: Tides of Numenera18, which received over one million dollar from the first day, and reached four million dollars in total, offered by 74,405 participants. The main crowd funding website for video games is the American website Kickstarter. 18 Kickstarter « Torment: Tides of Numenera » - 18
  19. 19. To conclude with this inventory of the different digital communication strategies used by video game companies, let us talk about an entertaining digital communication modeled on the sector and entailing a strong viral potential, the communication strategy adopted by Bethesda for the game Skyrim. The editor organized a contest allowing people having a child born on 11/11/11 (Skyrim’s release date) and named Dovahkiin (name of a Skyrim character) to be rewarded with Bethesda games for life. It was Dovahkiin Tom Kellermeyer, born on November 11, 2011 who won the contest19 . This news was relayed by all general public-oriented news web sites. 2.2 Institutional communication channels This part will help us give a better definition of the digital communication channels used within the video game industry. Those principal channels are the main tools a company disposes of to communicate on the game online. Here is a presentation of these channels. A video game’s web site is crucial for its good referencing and its e-reputation on search engines. It necessarily has to be the first displayed result when an Internet user is looking up the game’s name using a search engine. It must therefore be attractive, prompt curiosity in the Internet user, and allow him to subscribe to a newsletter. Players like to receive information about their favorite game in their inbox. Sending a newsletter is therefore essential for any company having a database of players who registered to receive more information on their favorite video games. The studio must make sure it collects relevant information on players. Therefore, if the studio has several video games in its catalogue, it must ask a registering Internet user: 19 Kickstarter page of Torment; Tides of Numenera Bethesda Blog « Dragonborn! » - 19
  20. 20. - What are his/her favorite video games - What type of video games he/she prefers - What games he/she already has The newsletter is a tool that helps support a marketing strategy. Square Enix therefore communicates on video game announcements, releases and promotions as shown in the opposite image. The use of newsletters permits to trigger an immediate or short term reaction from the Internet user, and prompts him to act, therefore having a conative function. Often associated with a trailer during a game’s communication phase, the newsletter calls on an emotional mechanism. The person reading a video game's newsletter is indeed prompted to watch the presented video, and to buy the game. The fact that newsletters rely on the authorization given to companies to send out personal information is noteworthy. This authorized newsletter is much more relevant and functional than a non-authorized newsletter would be. Seth Godin 20 defines non-authorized newsletters as a type of interruption advertising, which diverts attention. He also defines advertising as the art of creating and placing intrusive message in the consumer’s mind to prompt him to act. Conversely, permission marketing increases commercial communication’s efficacy since the Internet user expects to receive relevant information he subscribed to through registration forms. Online advertising is a very important digital communication channel for promoting a game to a public who does not know about this particular game. There are several options for online advertising: gaming-related information web sites, general information web sites, search engines, social networks, and mobile app advertising. These different advertising options enable video game companies to target their advertising addressees. Studies on the advertising message’s animation have been carried out21 , and showed contradictory outcomes. The only absolute certainty is that animated images have a positive influence on the consumer's behavior regarding the announcement and brand, particularly in the context of a video game, which is a visual media. It seems that animated images trigger essentially positive emotional reactions. Animation used in a video game’s 20 Seth Godin « Email campaign case studies (one good, one bad) » - seths_blog/2009/02/email-campaign-case-studies-one-good-one-bad.html 21 Catherine Viot Le e-marketing à l’heure du web 2.0 20
  21. 21. communication must then have an emotional aspect to arouse the gamer’s interest. Intrusive formats like pop-ups, interstitial ads or transparent flashes are considered disturbing. It is therefore better not to use these. Companies may also develop their own blogs in order to offer more targeted news to the community. Video game companies’ blog-specific communication is indeed more directed towards news about production teams and their work. It is a more personal, and often quite appreciated starting point for video game fans. Video game studios' blogs also convey very relevant information such as animated GIFs (digital image format widely used on the Internet), original contests results and blog readers’ creations. Within the so-called 360° digital communication strategy, companies may develop mobile and tablet apps promoting the video game. There are two types of apps in this case: Companion apps: they provide more information about a game’s content. The app Mass Effect 3 Datapad created by EA Mobile and that was launched at the same time as the game Mass Effect 3 grants players a quick access to game-specific news and their achievements within the game. Game app: video games on mobiles modeled on console games. These apps are launched at the same time as the video games they are based on. The digital communication for the game Batman Arkham City released on consoles was supported by the launching of Batman Arkham City Lockdown available on mobiles and tablets. Digital video game distribution softwares (dematerialized games only available through downloads) are operated for these games’ digital communication. They are called Steam, Uplay, Origins, iTunes, are owned by editors and computer manufacturers and are fairly new to the digital economy. Steam, the oldest stakeholder on the market, was launched for the general public in 2003. It is essential for a video game to communicate quality information on these platforms, since they represent the brand in the public eye. Trailers, pictures and descriptive texts offered through these softwares have to be localized in supported languages for comprehension matters. Editors frequently provide several offers through these platforms. Therefore, Firaxis Games’ Civilization V comes in two editions: a basic 21
  22. 22. game featuring only the first released edition of Civilization V, and a more complete game featuring the original title and all released add-ons. These platforms also allow promoting video games through temporary promotions, and a recommendation system as shown here. These platforms are social networks in their own rights. They actually allow players to link their friends’ accounts to theirs to experience cooperative gameplay. Digital video game distribution software offer feedback and rating systems, thus allowing players to give their opinion. This notion of community is quite significant with the software Steam. Steam enables players to create additional content for their game. This service, called Steam Workshop highly increases video games' lifespan. Portal 2 gives access to over 250,000 gamer-made creations. The community using this tool is therefore very wide, but also much attached to these tools. A gamer called Gary Hudson even proposed to his girlfriend through a game level of Portal 2 he had specifically created for the occasion22. Easter eggs are hidden functions within a video game. It allows the company to wink at gamers, to insert references, which players generally greatly appreciate. Easter eggs are communication tools in themselves, intended for the most passionate players that also have significant computing skills. Indeed, after the release of every popular video game, such as the Grand Theft Auto series, passionate gamers within the community throw themselves in an Easter-egg hunt and communicate a lot about this experience. This communication channel, more subtle than the previous ones, is intended for a very particular target audience. This digital communication can be qualified as niche communication. Beyond these classic institutional communication channels, companies dispose of more personalized communication means, which are also closer to their gamers thanks to the use of social networks. 2.3 Social networks Social networks are the utmost evaluation of these past years in terms of digital Recommandations on Steam Le journal du Geek « Une demande en mariage via Portal 2 » - 2011/08/25/une-demande-de-mariage-via-portal-2/ 22 22
  23. 23. communication. They reunite more than 2.1 billion users throughout the world 23, thus representing almost 30% of the global population. The enclosed graph shows the big types of social media, and gives a classification for each social network. Thus, publication social media constituted of blogging platforms like Wordpress, Blogger and share platforms, like Flickr for pictures or YouTube for videos, are part of the “conversation family”. They all have in common the subjects shared by the community. Digital communication used by companies through social media is greatly related to the “conversation family”, since, for these, it is a matter of publishing game-related content (pictures, information). The second social media type is the “interaction family” where we can find social networks used for information on products gathered by Internet users, like (French website for help and advice in the IT field) or Yelp and meeting social networks like Viadeo or Linkedin. Social networks enabling interactions between Internet users have always been used by companies, notably through the form of forums. Now, companies head more and more into social networks allowing exchanges with their players, for example with the platform Reddit. At the crossroads of interaction and conversation families’ social media, social networks based on localization are seldom used by companies. However, video game-integrated social networks, like Steam or Uplay are the stakeholders of social media-based communications tools used by companies. Here are three of the most used social networks throughout the world, according to the agency 50A: Facebook, with 900 million users, Twitter, with 465 million registered accounts, Google +, which totalizes 90 million users. These social networks are conversation and interaction social media at the same time. They are also widely used by companies. Before analyzing the way social networks are used, it is necessary to divide them into two groups: “early adopters” social networks, or the first ones to adopt a product, and social networks open to the general public. Video games, like many high technology related products, greatly depend on early adopters’ opinion, for they represent the new brands in the public eye. The white 23 50A (agence de communication digitale) « 50A présente les chiffres clés des médias sociaux en 2012 » - 23
  24. 24. book focusing on this subject24 indicates that early adopters can sometimes represent half of a new product’s sales. Social networks open to the general public Facebook is an inescapable social media for every company, most particularly video game companies selling a cultural good about which everyone is entitled to give their opinion. It should be pointed out that a well-conceived Facebook page must be available in every language the game comes in, and must be displayed as the first result. Facebook is used by companies to feed the community who follows the p a g e ’s l a t e s t n e w s . G e n e r a l l y, companies choose to create pages for their brand in order to relay different types of information: Overview of social media in 2012 General information about the game, Open questions about the game, Commercial offers on by-products, Information especially directed to Facebook users following the latest news on a game, Messages from developers, Pictures created for the social network. Finally, many video games offer through their Facebook communication to relay fan made graphic creations, which is an excellent way to put the gamers’ community forth. It should be noted that Facebook is a social media used by companies to promote their products to a particular target audience, through available filter tools. These ads appear at the core of some apps or games during the page loading, via “Facebook ads” in the right hand column or in the user’s newsfeed thanks to a 24 Yahoo « What Digital Adopters Want, How to Reach Them, and Why Every Marketer Should Pay Attention » - 24
  25. 25. service called “Sponsored Stories”. More and more games offer gamers with a Facebook account to post their achievements and successes on their Facebook profile, which allows lining the communication up on a viral mode. Twitter is originally a micro-blogging tool. With its latest updates, Twitter is now more and more considered a social network. Companies use it differently than Facebook. Indeed, while there is a Facebook fan page available for every brand, companies prefer to invest in a brand universe-related account when it comes to Twitter, like the account @might&magic, related to Ubisoft's Might & Magic games. Twitter is also used as a communication channel for support functions. It allows companies to quickly inform the players on potential game-related problems. The significant number of Xbox Support accounts is therefore noteworthy. Twitter is also a discussion and exchange tool regarding a game’s content, much used to strike up conversations about the players' expectations. Early adopters social networks Reddit is an essentially conversation-oriented social network. It enables companies to interact directly with players. These conversations are content-related and are often much appreciated by players for they allow them to talk directly to developers without having to go through the marketing department filter, which generally manages social networks accounts. Developers for the game Divinity Original Sin, Larian Studios offered Internet users to ask their questions on a Reddit25 page. This digital communication approach is more qualitative than quantitative and is directed towards a small part of very involved gamers, who often happen to be the most influential within a community. Reddit’s specificity, in comparison to a forum, is that the content is assessed by the community, thus allowing the most relevant content searches to be displayed in the first results. Twitch is a new platform allowing Internet users to share live videos. This platform is very used by gamers that like sharing their video gaming experience with the community. The success of Twitch’s and home-made videos attracted many professionals, like journalists or influential bloggers, who now use this platform. Facing this professionalization of the community platform, many companies are now 25 Reddit « We are Larian Studios, developing Divinity: Original Sin and Divinity: Dragon Commander. Ask us anything! » - we_are_larian_studios_developing_divinity/ 25
  26. 26. starting to use it for new product announcements, or simply to talk to the community through chats. Blizzard thus recently announced the release of Hearthstone, a card game to be launched on Twitch26 during the video game exhibition PAX East. A social network used by the general public and early adopters YouTube is obviously one of the social networks most used by video game companies. The reason for this success is that YouTube allows uploading videos that are then evaluated by the community thanks to a rating and comment system. Videos are the most popular content in the video game industry, since they allow players to get a better idea of a game’s content. The most popular videos received millions of views. As an example, the introduction video for Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood was viewed by more than 15 million Internet users 27. It must be pointed out that YouTube offers an integrated advertising system for the entire Google realm. If an Internet user logs in with his Google account on YouTube, he is identified thanks to information previously given when creating the account. The advertisements he will see before watching the video of his choice will therefore be specifically directed to him. This system allows companies to select their ad targets very accurately. Every social media used has a direct influence on a game’s e-reputation. Indeed, Internet users' comments quickly appear and have therefore the capacity to influence the act of purchase of Internet users looking for advice’ We are now going to deal more precisely with the manner a video game’s e-reputation is determined. 3. E-reputation in the video game industry Video games' e-reputation is defined as every digital communication tool set up by a company, as well as Internet users’ feedback published on social media. Broadcasting of the content is fully managed by companies, even though these have the impossibility to moderate social media as they please. The following part will go over digital communication channels and media that are independent from company control, and therefore, more sensitive to the game's e-reputation. 26 Kotaku Australia « Blizzard Reveals Hearthstone: Heroes Of Warcraft » - 2013/03/blizzard-reveals-hearthstone-heroes-of-warcraft/ 27 Youtube « Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood E3 Trailer [North America] » - watch?v=zzNs4-kRLaE 26
  27. 27. 3.1 Parallel communities Parallel communities are constituted of players with specific profiles. The Maslow pyramid (opposite) defines human needs by priority. It therefore appears that gamers quench their thirst for belonging to a community. However, community members want to relieve a self-esteem need. Now, let us talk about how these parallel communities subsist and how these players relieve their self-esteem need. Fan sites allow the community to gather and exchange. These are generally created without the companies’ input and may sometimes be more active than official websites. It is interesting for the gaming digital community to bring quality content (pictures, videos) to these websites. Moreover, the creation of specific apps offering additional content for the game helps maintaining discussions within the community. Bethesda therefore presented an interactive map of its game Skyrim28. A “wiki” is a copyright-free, reproducible web site structure. Often developed by several people, these structures gather every game-related information. The fact that these pages are for the majority created and moderated by communities is noteworthy. “Mods” (modification) are additional, fan made contents. They can modify the game’s graphic aspect, but also its rules. Once the game has been released, the company no longer publishes new content. Thanks to mods though, gamers that want more content have the possibility to create it themselves and share it with the community. As an indication, only 5% of players use mod-making tools 29. Mods imply a development effort from the video game studio. The investment is very interesting in terms of digital communication and e-reputation. Indeed, mods increase a game’s lifespan. More and more mods are regularly referred to in the online press 30. Game forums gather the biggest communities of early adopters. Indeed, these are exchange-dedicated spaces where everyone is allowed to give feedback on the product. Companies must mind these forums, since opinions ventured by Internet users on these forums have the ability to shape a game’s e-reputation. Thus, Touch 28 « Interactive map The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim » - 29 Information grise 30 Luke Plunkett « There is an Elder Scrolls universe mod for Crusader Kings II. » there-is-an-elder-scrolls-universe-mod-for-crusader-kin-472932239 27
  28. 28. Arcade is the rallying forum for the biggest mobile and tablet gamer community. Developers are invited to present themselves on the forum, and to talk about their game directly with the community. However, it must be pointed out that this web site's community is very critical regarding games' quality and can quickly emphasize on the negative points. The best solution for the company in that case is to take into account Internet users’ feedback and to offer game improvements. It is therefore a matter of interaction, or direct reaction towards the community in order to optimize the ‘Theories and new practices in Marketing Mercator experience offered by a game. 2013’ - Lendrevie et Lévy 3.2 Opinion leaders The opinion leaders’ influence is more and more important in the video game industry. They are considered true prescribers, since they carry out tests for products almost exclusively. This quick overview will allow us to list the various trends in order to best determine the targets privileged by companies. Companies have to communicate accurately with these stakeholders because of their high standards. Video game-oriented online press is the most influential opinion leader. According to the site specialized in web site classification, is the 1st specialized information site and is the 31st most visited web site in France. It should be pointed out that the French agency of Video games (Agence Française des Jeux Vidéo) presents a classification of all specialized information web sites 31 updated monthly. Unlike universal online newspapers dealing with various subjects and offering in depth investigations, specialized information websites offer almost exclusively opinions on products. Whatever, this communication channel has a significant place in every communication campaign. During each event, online newspapers are apprised and relay the information in order to attract consumers. Online publications’ popularity can be explained by the rates given out during product 31 Classement des sites Internet dédiés aux actualités du jeu vidéo 2394_classement-sites-jeux-video 28
  29. 29. testing. This rating model can be compared to the way movies are rated by weekly newspapers, like Télérama, and is decisive of a video game’s commercial success 32. Indeed, a game’s rating is a testament to its quality. However, newspaper ratings may spark off controversy. Since Internet users are also allowed to give their opinion on selling platforms (Amazon for example), newspapers are regularly criticized based on their ratings. Collusions with companies are often suspected. This debate challenges the press' objectivity as a prescriber. For this reason, many informative web sites present two types of ratings: ratings ventured by the newspaper’s editorial board, and ratings ventured by the community. Despite these critics, online newspapers remain major stakeholders to put forth in a communication scheme. Independent blogs are part of the opinion leaders. Many bloggers give their opinion on games they test. These blogs are usually specialized. For instance, video game bloggers are interested in video game news in general, or to certain types of games. is therefore a blog exclusively dedicated to Minecraft-related news. Some blogs are in partnership with companies in order to promote the product, and to gain more readers. It is the case for Ogaming TV which is in partnership with Ubisoft for various games: Duel of Champions, Shootmania and Assassin’s Creed. Bloggers are part of the video game-specialized online press family. Youtubers are recent opinion leaders. This movement was born in 2002, with the creation of Machinimas, a neologism deriving from words ‘machine’ and ‘cinema’. A machinima is a movie created with computer generated images extracted from video games. One of the most famous of these movies is "The French Democracy”. Based on the video game The Movies, by Alex Chan 33, this movie recalled the riots that took place in France in 2005. As video game evolved, the esthetic of game sequences got increasingly better. Indeed, machinimas have gradually given way to videos directly extracted from video games and uploaded by amateurs, or Youtubers. While journalists carry out relatively short video tests to sum up the strong and weak points of a game, Youtubers make several videos they record directly during their game sessions. Sequences are therefore considerably longer than those offered by online 32 Jason Schreider « Metacritic matters: How review scores hurt video games » - metacritic-matters-how-review-scores-hurt-video-games-472462218 33 Alex Chan « The french democracy » - the-movies-pc-machinima-the-french-democracy-00018323.htm 29
  30. 30. newspapers (by at least 20 minutes). Unlike a movie, a video game is interactive. A gamer has to play to fully live the experience. The video content is more influential than a text would be, since a video appeals to feelings and emotions in the viewer. A video content will therefore be likely more attractive to the target, which can partly explain the success encountered by YouTube Two ratings : press and Internet users in red c h a n n e l s . Yo u t u b e r s h a v e a n boxes on the web site increasingly important place for info consumers. Youtubers’ audience rates are close to those of online newspapers, as shown in the opposite graph 34. This graph highlights the number of monthly viewed online newspaper pages (blue) and the number of monthly viewed YouTube videos (red). Moreover, Youtubers benefit from the YouTube platform, which grants them access to every social functionality they might need for their communities to react. It should be pointed out that Youtubers make money out of their audience figures thanks to video advertising broadcast on their channel. As previously stated, video games’ digital communication influences their ereputation. It is interesting to notice that a video game's e-reputation highly depends on feedback from opinion leaders. Therefore, if a game receives positive feedback, it will gain a better legitimacy and the company will directly benefit from its game’s reputation. 3.3 Threats and opportunities regarding video games’ e-reputation The SWOT matrix (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) allows reporting what digital communication tools are used for video games. This SWOT table is not exhaustive, but presents the main stakes a game is put through during its lifespan. Rémi Abida « Industrie du jeu vidéo : Qui a aujourd’hui le pouvoir d’influence ? » - http:// 34 30
  31. 31. Strengths Weaknesses - Matthew effect - Institutional communication channels - Company-controlled social media - Lack of visibility on social media (television, written press, radio) - Lack of visibility on big news web sites Opportunities Threats - Mods - Opinion leaders - Easter eggs - Fan sites - Wikis - Ad blockers - Opinion leaders - Intercultural problems - The controversy according to which video games would encourage violence - Misuses of video games The evoked topics in the SWOT matrix have been described in previous paragraphs. In addition, the Matthew effect, and the specific threats will be discussed further. As cultural goods, the most successful video games are sequels. This has been described by Robert Frank and Philip Cook in their book35 "The Winner-Take-AllSociety”, to evoke the evangelist’s assessment: “To all those who have, more will be given, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away”. The sequels’ success therefore enables the editors to fit their digital communication in the « Video game industry : who has the power of influence nowadays? » Rémi Abida continuity of the previously released titles. Moreover, since the video games' e-reputation was met with a significant critic and commercial success, this ensures the sequels will benefit from a good e-reputation as well. 35 Robert Frank et Philip Cook The Winner-Take-All-Society 31
  32. 32. Ad blockers are a problem for companies that invest in online advertising. Indeed, these ad blockers make the game lose its visibility, and put a disadvantage on informational web sites whose revenues almost exclusively depend on advertising. Adblock is a software that blocks every ad featured on web sites and social media. Intercultural problems are classified in the threat section for companies’ ereputation. The most striking example is the case of video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, released in 2005 36. The featured Easter egg that raised an intercultural problem offered an adult only content while the game was sold to a wider public, for 17 and up audiences. 2K Games, the game’s editor, liable for the game’s content, was sued by senators and family protection associations in the United-States. The lawsuit forced 2K Games to get back every copy of the game featuring said Easter egg, and to send back other copies without this particular content. This cost the company more than a million dollars 37. The controversy according to which video games would encourage violence is still topical, as evidenced by Google search trends. An investigation on the recent Newton shooting revealed the shooter, Adam Lanza used to play violent video games. Since then, Barack Obama has asked the Congress to spend more than ten million dollars on research for potential links between violence and media, for which video games are a leader, according to the NRA38 . This controversy is dangerous for video games’ e-reputation. Misuses of video games are also considered a threat for video games’ ereputation. A Korean 23-year old player was found dead in front of his computer39. He would have reportedly played League of Legends for 23 hours straight, which would have lead to his death by heart attack. 36 Rockstar Games « Grand Theft Auto : San Andreas » - 37 Overlawyered « Grand Theft Auto: Class Action Settlement $26,505 for the unrepresented class, $1 million fee request » - 38 Le HuffPost « Les jeux vidéo rendent-ils vraiment violents? » - 2013/01/17/tous-jeux-video-rendent-ils-violents-effets-positifs-cerveau-tuerie-newton-plan-obamaarmes-nra_n_2498418.html 39 Mirror « Man dies after playing League of Legends for 23 hours » - 32
  33. 33. Google France search with key word « video games » 33
  34. 34. 4. Cartography of e-reputation's system Digital communication techniques and e-reputation are linked. Let us see how information on video games flows in the following map. The below diagram, taken from L’Encyclopédie de la Web Culture represents a link’s birth and death. It is interesting, since it conveys the state of mind of Internet users towards digital communication. Therefore, the link follows a referencing order. Since the creation to the hypothetical TV broadcasting, a link has to go through several stages until it is considered to be “dead”. This notion of information death is specific to our current society. In this context, we can underline that this diagram also applies to the video game industry. The opposite general cartography allows locating more accurately all digital communication stakeholders in the video game industry. In green, we can see the commercial information flow in relation to video games. In blue, we can see the critical information flow, ventured by the main video game prescribers: bloggers, Youtubers and specialized journalists. These stakeholders have acquired their expertise through experience, and the interest their feedback sparkle in consumers. It should be pointed out that the influence on consumers is different according to the material. Therefore, video material has more influence than text material since it appeals more to the gamers’ feelings than to their reasoning. In orange, we can see the feedback flow from gamers. Video game studios have recently started to provide live answers to consumers’ questions using a platform called Reddit, therefore we can see the arrow goes both ways between parallel communities and a video game studio. 34
  35. 35. Birth and death of a link ’L’Encyclopédie de la Web Culture’ by Titiou Lecoq and Diane Lisarelli 35
  36. 36. 36
  37. 37. Part two: case study of League of Legends 1. History, definitions and explanation of the company and the product First, we will introduce Riot Games and its game League of Legends. Secondly, we shall analyze digital communications used for two competitors of League of Legends. These analyses will be based on the theoretical model presented as a conclusion of the first part, and will help comparing it to the digital communication specific to League of Legends. 1.1 Introducing Riot Games and League of Legends League of Legends, created by the American company Riot Games was chosen for its exclusively digital communication strategy. This company succeeded in getting to several millions of consumers with a free game model, without using traditional advertising (written press, television, radio, bill-posting). How can we explain this company and its product’s massive success? 1.1.1 Riot Games Inc. Riot Games is a company created in 2006 by Brandon “Ryze” Beck, and Marc “Tryndamere” Merrill. The company started off with approximately a dozen former employees of Blizzard, an American heavyweight of game development. Riot Games is based in Santa Monica, California. The company is the editor of Leagues of Legends, launched in October 2009. Its proclaimed mission is to listen to consumers and create a product that meets their needs and wants. In a 2008 interview with Kotaku 40, Mitch Lasky, commercial partner of Riot Games, along with Brandon Beck and Mark Merril, CEO and Director of Riot Games, respectively, gave more details about their strategy. Lasky said that League of Legends' developers consider their game to be a “service”. Still according to him, they are totally aware of their target, and it is not the 15 to 54 age group, usually targeted by big companies in the market. In 2008, Riot Games was targeting a specific group of people, the so-called “gamers”, used to a certain type of games, and expecting a game that would fulfill 40 Kotaku « Riot Games Get a $7M Launch » - 37
  38. 38. their high standards in terms of game mechanics. Regarding data, we could not identify revenues generated by Riot Games since the company was purchased for more than 350 million dollars in 2009 by Tencent, a Chinese company specialized in online services 41. Since then, Riot Games kept on recruiting new associates, and opening new subsidiaries. Two elements can be seen on their web site: - a forum post from 2011 offering over 100 job vacancies 42 - eight messages about the opening of new subsidiaries on their official web site43 - two offices in the USA (Santa Monica, Saint Louis) - one office in Dublin - one office in Korea - one office in Turkey - one office in Australia - one office in Russia - one office in Brazil A genesis of the company, an estimation of its outcomes as well as its goals were found through online searches. League of Legends’ e-reputation will therefore be identifiable on the Internet media. Contrary to many video games developers and editors, Riot Games is developing one game only, this is the reason why League of Legends’ e-reputation is crucial for the company. Its strategy is to offer an optimal service (the term used by the company’s directors to refer to League of Legends) for consumers. Thus, developers work relentlessly on the game’s optimization, to improve: - its compatibility with the various platforms (PC, Mac), - its geographical coverage, - its content, the means used to communicate with the community. 41 Reuters « Tencent acquires majority stake in Riot Games » - 2011/02/05/riotgames-tencent-idUSN044616620110205 42 League of Legends « Riot Games is Hiring » - showthread.php?t=549854 43 Riot Games « Riot News» - 38
  39. 39. Riot Games’ communication has two very interesting characteristics that will be analyzed in the second part: - an exclusive digital communication strategy for its game League of Legends, since Riot Games’ communication is solely made through the Internet - a digital communication strategy based on the segment of electronic sports. 1.1.2 League of Legends, an innovation League of Legends is a game staging a battle arena in which several gamers fight. The game is exclusively played online, and requires 6 to 10 players. There is a "competition" mode where players are classified in 6 levels, according to the number of victories they total up. Roger Caillois developed a classification of games depending on their typology44 . League of Legends is part of the “competition games”. Indeed, it is neither a game of chance nor a simulation or vertigo game. League of Legends is the perfect example of a competition game, also called electronic sports, in line with traditional sports. League of Legends’ rules are directly derived from a 2002 video game: Warcraft III : Reign of Chaos. This game offered a level and content edition software allowing players to share their levels with the whole community via a free online service. This editor therefore allowed a player called “Eul” to create a level (or map) that was completely different from those created for Warcraft III’s official release. This map, called DoTa (Defense of the Ancient) was met with a great success. In March 2009, Gamasutra estimated more than 10 million gamers had already used DoTa. Over time, many players enriched this map by adding new objects, events, or new settings. As an example, gamers such as Steve “Guinsoo” Feak, and Steve “Pendragon” Mescon contributed to the enhancement of the map 45. The success of their creation allowed them to earn the respect of Warcraft III’s community. This can be explained by the fact that enhancements made by Guinsoo and Pendragon to DoTa were totally free. Their map’s success led to the creation of their own company (Riot Games) and to develop their own game, (League of Legends). 44 Roger Caillois Les jeux et les Hommes 45 Gamasutra « Postmortem: Defense of the Ancients » - 132358/postmortem_defense_of_the_ancients.php 39
  40. 40. The way League of Legends and its business model were created lead to extensive online specialized press coverage. It is impossible to understand the sweep of this game’s success without first understanding the economic principles governing League of Legends. 1.2 Analyzing League of Legends’ characteristics The analysis of League of Legends’ characteristics is important to better understand how innovative League of Legends and its digital communication are. To figure it out as a whole, we will deal with the game’s principle, pricing system, distribution mode, commercial policy, and typology of gamers. These four points will be compared with the information we have on competitor games Dota 2 and Starcraft 2. 1.2.1 League of Legends When League of Legends was created, it was not considered as a product, but as a service. Riot Games makes a point of principle of its game being an enjoyable experience for every player. This is why the game offers various additions, such as a colorblind mode, or more efficient shortcuts for expert gamers, as well as competitive and non-competitive gaming modes. We can add to this that League of Legends is a multiplayer game, which means its lifespan is almost infinite. Indeed, the game is a huge success and several millions of players log in every day. They keep on playing, aroused by the interest of competing against new players with new characters. All these improvements leading to the game’s success would be impossible without a competitive pricing policy. 1.2.2 Pricing system League of Legends adopted a “free to play” model. “Free to play” is a model that appeared and was developed recently, mainly through the development of payment methods. It is a real revolution in the video game industry, since the average price for a new PC game is about €50. Many multiplayer video games offer a monthly subscription payment method, while League of Legends is available for free download and does not require any particular purchase to play. However, an 40
  41. 41. important part of its content is not free. Thus, the characters used for playing can be unlocked with two currencies: a soft currency (won in games, and limited to only some of the available items), called Influence points, a hard currency (buyable with real money, and that allows unlocking any available item) called Riot Points. Competitor video games have different models. Starcraft 2 is a traditional paying game costing around €30, and Dota 2 can be purchased in its early access state for €28. Dota 2 is not considered an end product by its developers, this is why it has not been officially released yet. One of the main reasons why League of Legends uses a free to play model is the first experience of Warcraft III’s creators. The work they shared to provide the community with an entirely free gaming mod allowed them to understand they could create a need of obtaining access to a multiplayer game instantaneously, and for free. “Do not make players pay for entertainment. Entertain them so that they will pay.” Jamie Cheng, founder of Klei Entertainment. No matter what technical means of protection are used for video games, they always end up being hacked. However, the advantage of League of Legends is that it can only be played online. The security surrounding League of Legends’ serversholdsd back hackers and secure constant revenues for Riot Games. These revenues come from all over the world. Here is a detailed description of who plays League of Legends. 1.2.3 Distribution mode In fact, League of Legends is accessible in every country and is played in more than 145 countries 46. However, service is not optimal in each country. The greater the distance between the person and the game's server, the longer the response time. Therefore, there is important service lag. League of Legends’ servers are located in: North America, Brazil, Turkey, Eastern Europe, Northern Europe, Western Europe, Russia, Korea, Easter South-Asia and Australia. These locations are part of Riot 46 Activision, Joystiq, Forbes, VG Chartz, Statista, Youtube, Facebook, Riot Games « The Major League [of Legends] » - 41
  42. 42. Games’ particularly sensitive and vigorously protected data. As a matter of fact, without server, there is no more game and therefore, no more activity for the company. The game is available in few languages: Russian, French, English, Italian, German, Spanish, Romanian, Polish, Portuguese, Korean and Geographic repartition of League of Legends servers in Europe Chinese. The distribution platform of a video game is always quite important because it allows targeting certain typologies of players, and positioning the game on the market. For example, most shooting games are available on game consoles, like Microsoft’s Xbox 360, or Sony’s Playstation 3. The main reason is that these games are directed to a younger audience looking for extreme sensations. Just like most dance games are developed for video game consoles since these games require a multiplayer-friendly space. In the case of League of Legends, the platform issue was naturally answered by the game’s DNA. League of Legends is a free role-playing video game addressed to players keen on multiplayer team modes. The free economic model is not available on a platform other than PC. Indeed, to keep its stranglehold on its economic system, Riot Games preferred creating and distributing its own software rather than go through video game consoles mass retailers. This explains League of Legends’ presence on PC. Dota 2 and Starcraft 2, its direct competitors, are also available on PC. Starcraft 2 is also available on Mac. Clearly, the three games target mainly PC owners. League of Legends is present in more than one hundred countries. We will now deal with Riot Games’ recipe for a game as popular as League of Legends. 1.2.4 Commercial policy Riot Games uses an atypical promotion strategy. Without any available physical content, League of Legends communication is exclusively digital. No ad broadcasted on traditional media has been reported to date. The majority of its communication is made through its YouTube channel, its Facebook page, its Twitter account and its 42
  43. 43. official website. This communication technique is optimal since League of Legends’ main target is technophile and often connected to the Internet. It is therefore used to surfing on its favorite companies’ pages. Moreover, clever communication operations have been directed by Riot Games since the very beginning. Thus, if a player subscribes to League of Legends’ Youtube channel, he will be given free game content. Most big-budget video games carry out important communication campaigns that are not exclusively broadcast on the Internet. For example, a huge poster of Bethesda’s game Dishonored could be seen in the Gare Saint-Lazare, in Paris. Bigbudget video games also have their own trailers in cinemas, their own television ads, and magazine pages. These huge communication campaigns reach record highs with Call of Duty, which had a marketing budget estimated between 40 and 50 million dollars 47. As a comparison, Starcraft 2, carried out traditional communication campaigns using television ads, bill-posting, ads in specialized magazines and even an airplane poster campaign, as shown in the opposite picture. Dota 2 is not currently organizing any physical or digital communication campaign since the game is yet to be released. Starcraft 2 ad on a Korean Air’s plane 47 « Le budget de Call of Duty : Modern Warfare 2 » - 2009/00038691-le-budget-de-call-of-duty-modern-warfare-2.htm 43
  44. 44. 1.2.5 Players typologies The video game market was already overtaking the movie industry in 2004 48. The world’s most sold video game deposed the world’s biggest box-office success in 201149. These time indicators in favor of the video game sector show that cultural goods now dispose of solid arguments to carry out wide communication campaigns, competing with even Hollywood’s biggest eccentricities. However, the means set up for video game communication are more and more Internet-oriented since this media offers an unrivaled spectrum of possibilities. We will analyze the digital communication means used by Riot Games for the game League of Legends. The “free to play” economic model of League of Legends allows targeting a typology of player that is different from the traditional 16-24 year old core target of video games. Apart from the "free to play" economic model, League of Legends is meant to be within reach of any type of player. The rules are indeed much more accessible than Dota 2 or Starcraft 2 rules. Therefore, League of Legends is directed to a younger and more feminine audience50. A study has been conducted on the number of French players' evolution. It appears that the age groups where video game consumption is more frequent are the 7 to 15 and 16 to 24 years old groups. Moreover, League of Legends is rated PEGI 12, which means parents are advised not to let children under 12 years old play this game. PEGI is a classification system recognized in many European countries and considered a European standardization model in terms of child protection by the European Commission. 48 ZD Net « Business: le marché français du jeu vidéo dépasse le cinéma » - actualites/business-le-marche-francais-du-jeu-video-depasse-le-cinema-39227871.htm 49 The Verge « Modern Warfare 3 sales edge out Avatar by reaching $1 billion in record time » - http:// 50 Gamasutra « The design of Free-To-Play Games » - the_design_of_freetoplay_games_.php?print=1 44
  45. 45. Next Level : 2nd edition of the observatory of video games: 2012/10/18/next-level-2eme-edition-de-lobservatoire-du-jeu-video/ As for Starcraft 2, it is a real-time strategy game and its rules are more technical than League of Legends. This is why it targets players over 16 years old, and was rated PEGI 16. Since it has still not been released, Dota 2 does not have a PEGI rate yet. Dota 2 and League of Legends’ rules are alike, but Dota 2 is directed to a more specific target because of the subtleties of its rules. It should be noted that Dota 2 takes over the Matthew effect by relying on the fame of the previous Dota game. Dota 2 therefore targets a typology of older players comparing to League of Legends. It remains totally unknown to the younger players. 2. A comparative analysis of three video games The comparative analysis of the three following games’ digital communication strategies -League of Legends, Dota 2 and Starcraft 2- will help us draw up a cartography of their e-reputation. These three games were chosen because of the similarities of their rules. As for the methodology used, the cartography drawn up at the end of the part one will be used in order to analyze the different digital strategies. The analyses will therefore focus on: - Companies’ digital communication, - Video game prescribers' digital communication (specialized press, YouTube, blogs), - Players’ ratings published on forums and social networks, as well as how these ratings are processed by companies via Community Management. 2.1 Digital communication The three games’ digital communications are different, as shown by their respective web sites. Access to the game is showcased in three different manners: Dota 2’ blog does not feature information on how to gain access to the game, since it is yet to be officially released and is still available through Steam in limited access. 45
  46. 46. Starcraft 2’s web site displays a rather discreet button on the right hand corner dedicated to ads, League of Legends’ website displays a button on the head banner that is a lot more noticeable. As we explained in the first part, a company’s e-reputation greatly depends on browsers, since Internet users get information from these in the first place. Thus, Google Trends is a tool enabling the comparison of the number of searches related to League of Legends, in blue, Dota 2, in red, and Starcraft 2 in yellow. This graph shows a very important Google search peak for Starcraft 2 in July 2010, which corresponds to the game’s release date. Searches about Starcraft 2 appear to be decreasing up to now. Conversely, the number of searches related to League of Legends and Dota 2 is in constant progression. Indeed, League of Legends quickly reaches important volumes of searches. If we compare these volumes of searches for the year 2011, League of Legends shows an average result of 29, Dota 2 an average result of 5.6 and Starcraft 2 of 13.7. League of Legends is therefore clearly ahead in terms of Google searches and may consequently be considered the most popular of the three games on Google. Google Trends: %202%2C%20starcraft%202&cmpt=q Digital communication is different for the three games, and follows two product strategies: - Content additions, - E-sport competitions. 46
  47. 47. 2.1.1 Content-related communication -Content additions are directed to all players and are real events for the community. We can differentiate two types of content additions: the regular additions meant to retain players, and the irregular additions, depending on the companies. Regarding regular content additions, League of Legends used to offer two or three new playable characters monthly, during the game’s first three years of marketing (2009-2012). During year 2013, this number of playable characters was lowered to one per month. Concurrently with this decrease, the number of modifications made on former characters increased. It is noteworthy to mention that the communication strategy used for new characters always stands out in the same way: The character is introduced through a presentation of its characteristics, history and a so-called “concept art” picture. The character becomes available to play a month after the announcement. A character’s introduction and launching is relayed through League of Legends’ website, on social networks and through League of Legends’ software. New game mods are part of the regular content additions. League of Legends currently disposes of four game mods. However, when it was released in 2009, only one mod was available. Game mods are more consistent additions than character creations. They require a longer development step. After a comparison of new mods release dates, it appears that League of Legends offers a new game mod every year. Digital communication for these mods has evolved throughout the years. Initially limited to a trailer related to new mods creation process, and an introduction trailer, League of Legends now offers a series of add-ons in order to promote new game mods. This series give League of Legends better media coverage. Freijord’s recent digital communication relied on the “story telling” strategy, through: - a web site, - a story about the game’s mod, - an introduction trailer for the new mod, - a trailer based on this mod’s creation, - the coordinated launching of a playable character, 47
  48. 48. - the coordinated launching of two redesigned playable characters. Content additions for Dota 2 are very regular. Like League of Legends, Dota 2 offers a new character each month. One of Dota 2’s strengths as opposed to League of Legends is the number of available monthly updates. League of Legends offers approximately one monthly update, while Dota 2 offers three in average. In order to release news about incoming content additions, Dota 2 owns a blog rather than a web site. Therefore, access to information is a little more tedious than on League of Legends’ web site. Dota 2 is produced by Valve which owns the biggest download platform available for computers: Steam. This platform hosts Dota 2’s game page and displays news on the game‘s incoming content. Starcraft 2 is a fixed-content game, which means there are no add-ons like for League of Legends and Dota 2. Updates are mainly dedicated to settings improvements. These are fairly regular since one update per month has been accounted for. Starcraft 2’s considerable advantage as opposed to League of Legends and Dota 2 resides in the form of its updates, gathered in various add-ons released approximately every two and a half years. Therefore, Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty was released in July 2010 and was joined by Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm in March 2013. This update is part of the irregular content additions. Starcraft 2 benefits from the fact that each release goes along with an intense communication phase, thus conveying a better visibility. Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm's release was therefore live broadcasted on the streaming platform Twitch, and viewed by more than one million Internet users 51. If we compare the three video games, Dota 2 appears to be the one offering the more updates for its only game mod. Starcraft 2 focuses on irregular updates, which creates a real event around the game. League of Legends counts on various spaced out updates, thus providing gamers with new gaming experiences. This game seems to have drawn inspiration from its two competitors, since it is the only game to offer such varied content additions. 2.1.2 Electronic sports 51 Ben Parfitt - « Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm launch show attracts 1.1m viewers on Twitch » http:// 48
  49. 49. League of Legends, Dota 2 and Starcraft 2’s second line of product communication is e-sports. These three games are indeed more and more recognized as the ambassadors of electronic sports. The second digital communication source for League of Legends is the one-of-akind professional league called “LCS League of Legends Championship Series”, set up by Riot Games in 2012. It is divided into two regions, the United States and Europe, and allows 40 players from these regions to compete during a season lasting around 7 months (from October to April). Players that take part in the league receive an annual revenue of $30,000, payed by Riot Games52, plus the bonuses they are entitled to. League of Legends’ electronic sport-related digital communication strategy is oriented towards a web site dedicated to these leagues, which conveys all information about former matches, teams ranking and matches to come. Social networks, as well as League of Legends’ official web site and software are relaying information on electronic sports. However, the main communication channel of this league is live streaming, or platforms such as Twitch and YouTube, presented by professional commentators and hosts. It is also important to put the stress on Riot Games’ mastery of video broadcasting techniques, which sometimes calls on several filming crews to capture the game's high points. Marc Merrill, Riot Games’ CEO wants the competitions based on League of Legends to improve qualitatively over time, in order to attract a larger audience, whether it be players or non-players. He wants to draw inspiration from traditional sports by offering professional sports commentaries. Riot Games therefore employs English-speaking professional commentators for League of Legends. Matches are also commented in various languages by the most passionate players. League of Legends gathered more than one million people during Season 2 World cup final53. This electronic sports digital communication strategy helps retaining players by offering additional entertainment around the game. In order to support this strategy on the electronic sports segment, League of Legends created a website and a YouTube channel, as well as a Twitch channel and a Twitter account. All these tools announce matches, present them in 52 Steve Peterson « League of Legends and Riot’s Play for Global Domination » - http:// 53 Riot Games « League of Legends season two championship » - 20121017/549/league-legends-season-two-championship 49
  50. 50. video format and interact with the community. A digital communication operation was launched at the end of this year’ season. It allowed Internet users to vote for the best professional players in order to create several teams that will compete during all-star matches, gathering the best players of each continent. The recent broadcasting of a major trailer (expensive judging from its quality) during a competition is the last example of how important e-sport is to League of Legends. This exclusive trailer’s broadcasting during an e-sport competition shows how crucial this line of product communication is for League of Legends. As a response to League of Legends’ aggressive strategy regarding e-sport, Dota 2 is working on innovating in the e-sport's business sector. Valve, editor of Dota 2, introduced a new format for its championship called “The International Dota 2 Championships” in May 2013. In order to differentiate itself from its competitors, the championship offers a system seldom used by video game editors, crowd funding. This technical means is used to raise funds to constitute a reward for the championship’s winners. When a stage is achieved, players that took part in the crowd funding of the reward receive a present they can unlock in the game. As for Starcraft 2, it recently made news on the e-sport scene with the announcement of a new championship organized in April 2013 by Blizzard, the game’s editor. The tournament is called WCS and gathers three regions: Europe, USA and South Korea. It has a lot of similarities with League of Legends’ championship in terms of organization. According to Dustin Browder 54 , Starcraft 2 was conceived as a game that should make people want to play and watch. One of the main features production teams worked on to make Starcraft 2 nice to watch during a competition was its simplicity. Blizzard counts a lot on the market of e-sport for Starcraft 2, and bought an independent e-sport championship organized by one of the biggest video game press web site in the world, IGN 55. Starcraft 2’s e-reputation is kept alive thanks to a community that never hesitates to go into action and create events like Iron Squid, in France. This tournament is organized by French 54 Dustin Browder « The game design of Starcraft 2: Designing an e-sport » - play/1014488/The-Game-Design-of-STARCRAFT 55 Samit Sarkar « Blizzard buys IGN Pro League technology, assets » - 2013/4/8/4201740/blizzard-buys-ign-pro-league 50