World of Warcraft is one of the most popular MMO’s ever. With over 11,000,000 players as of 2010 its membership fees alone can generate $800,000,000 annually in gross revenue (assuming player retention of one year – I have no data on this). Average playing time is just over 22 hours per week (compared to the average 36 hours per week that people spend working).
More impressive is that the game itself helps forge virtual relationships through its use of kinships and team play. These relationships become as real as those forged in what some call “meat-space” (i.e., real life). Friendships and deeper relationships have been made and broken in its virtual halls, with gameplay spilling over into non-virtual time due to pre-login planning and scheduling, post-event analysis, and other activities that support this virtual life.
There are other games too, each with their own passionate players who expend the same number of hours (Lord of the Rings Online, EVE, Age of Conan, Dark Age of Camelot, and, Everquest) in their quests to defeat evil or grow their personal empire. As Seth Godin said in one of his TED talks, our world now consists of tribes of our own making, each with its own rules and culture; and each one a fundamental part of their members lives.
For marketers, this is an amazing but yet perilous opportunity to engage with people who live in these worlds.
Amazing because the opportunity to co-brand and even engage with people who are providing undivided attention in a cradle-to-grave environment means that every engagement has a higher probability of resulting in a warmer response to that effort. By tying a brand to a much-loved activity, companies can forge longer-lasting relationships.
It is also perilous because one mis-step can result in serious backlash from tribe members unless that brand is well schooled in both the ethos and standards of that world. Ham-fisted ad placements, intrusive messaging, or incompatible offers will shut out that brand for good (“Hey WoW players, stop by Askander Hammerfist’s tavern for more information on how we can save you money on your auto insurance…”)
The next frontier of brand engagement will be when smart marketers and willing MMO’s connect and work together to create opportunity for their members and partners.
One day you may be swinging a battle axe sponsored by Nike!