by NorseGamer, HSM Editor-in-Chief
If you’re a Home developer, there are two ways to get your message across to your consumer base: inside Home and outside of Home.
Outside of Home is easier and cheaper. You have the official PlayStation Blog, satellite Home media sites, and whatever various social media tools you choose to employ directly: newsletters, podcasts, Twitter and Facebook announcements, dedicated proprietary websites, and so forth.
The catch with any exterior marketing, however, is that you’re ultimately limited by mathematics. Even if all of these marketing efforts working in tandem reach an audience of tens of thousands of people, that’s still a small number compared to the total amount of user traffic cycling through Home itself. So that means, if you’re a developer, there has to be a serious examination of how to improve the in-Home footprint you have.
In Home’s earlier days, this wasn’t a big deal. Even as little as three years ago, it was still possible to have a good working knowledge of everything Home had to offer, and it was not uncommon to see everyone flocking to the latest personal estate or clothing item simply because it was new. Those days, however, have long since evaporated like a morning mist under a noonday sun. Today, Home is a very competitive marketplace, substantially more fractured and noisy.
Despite Home’s growth, however, Sony’s methods of marketing new Home commodities are largely still stuck in the past. Aside from the Message of the Day, advertising screens during the initial sign-in loading process, and a featured spot on the hideously inadequate Navigator interface, there just isn’t much in Home itself to spotlight new and specific content.
So it falls to the developers to do it themselves.
At this point, public showcases aren’t exactly new in Home. Lockwood, LOOT and nDreams all boast them. And now Heavy Water is jumping into the fray, with their newly-announced D2O District. But why are public showcases so important, though?
Simple. It allows you to promote your brand, not just your products.
A dedicated public space showcasing your entire product line is a summation of your brand’s identity and core ethos to the entire Home consumer base, not just those who frequent external sites beyond Home itself. It’s tantamount to saying, “This is who we are, and we believe so much in further investment with this platform that we sank the money into building this space to show ourselves off to you.”
If you look at Lockwood, LOOT and nDreams, each of their public showcases exists as an interactive summary of each brand’s ethos. nDreams is Home put through Terry Gilliam’s funhouse mirror, and Aurora represents this with its whimsical, Baron von Munchausen setting. LOOT is a futuristic space station with a giant movie theatre (and more), representing their position as the bleeding-edge technical innovators of Home. And Lockwood’s showcase adroitly demonstrates that when it comes to Home, they’re just a little bit better at a little bit of everything.
People don’t just invest in products; they invest in brands. And they don’t just invest with their wallets; they invest with their emotions. They choose to overtly support certain developers over others — have a predisposition to endorse and financially invest in them — based on the perceived success of the brand itself. So far in Home, Lockwood has done this the best, and appropriately reaped the rewards for this. Heavy Water, however, also has demonstrated a track record of brand consciousness, by tying many of their products together under the “Heavy” label — even going so far as to use that as their slogan, with “Go Heavy or go home.” And you’ve seen Heavy Ink, Heavy Peeps, Heavy Strike…the idea is to keep the developer’s brand at the front of the user’s mind when they pick up a new commodity. That way, when a friend asks, “Where’d you get that from?” — it’s easy for the user to remember.
No, not every major developer has a public showcase, even if they have public spaces designed around specific gaming environments. But it can be argued that having a public showcase is exceptionally important.
First off, a public showcase allows users to socialize in an environment surrounded solely by attractions from that one developer. When people stay in one place and type for extended periods of time, that’s a gold mine for advertising. Second, attracting a user to commerce points at a dedicated showcase space pulls them away from the Navigator and all its competing attractions for sale. And, third, a sufficiently compelling public space that people want to hang out in predisposes them to be favorably inclined towards the brand.
The catch, of course, is how to make a public showcase sufficiently compelling for people to want to visit and revisit for months and years at a time. This requires designing attractions which users will want to return to on a daily basis. nDreams’ Aurora achieved this with OrbRunner as well as various other mini-games, all of them scaled out to a timeframe that takes months to complete. Same goes for Lockwood’s egg-smashing game. And, likewise, the periodic updates to LOOT’s EOD content keep people coming back.
So what will Heavy Water’s showcase have to offer, and why was it created? We took a few questions to D2O producer Stephen Grose, and got back some fascinating answers:
HW: We feel that perhaps a majority of Home users do not participate in the online forums, fan sites or e-zines, such as HSM, and need a ‘physical’ representation in Home to know what a developer has to offer. Our upcoming D2O District public space gives Home users a chance to see what we have to offer, but we also made sure it was an interesting and engaging place to hang out with your friends. We also added a place for users to dance!
We saw a great amount of positive feedback from Avalon and we intend to keep that high quality and interactivity in everything we create. Our space will offer more than just stores to browse through, it is an extension of our brand and will have interactive features not yet seen in a public environment. It is just a small glimpse into what we are currently creating for Home users.
HSM: Heavy Water isn’t the first Home developer to create a public showcase. How did you decide on the overall theme and aesthetics of yours? What are, in Heavy Water’s opinion, the elements of a successful public showcase?
HW: We do not believe our public space is a “showcase.” It does show some of our products and you can see all the different brands in their own commerce points, but the space is called “D2O District” not “Heavy Water Showcase.” This public space is the first we are seeing of the dystopian future that comes from the world of Avalon. We have plans to show this world in at least these two other time settings. Soon Home users will be part of a system that crosses time and space within this universe.
D2O District is a city’s commercial district; policed by gruff Enforcers with stores and some fun little activities. This theme and aesthetic is very close to our hearts here at Heavy Water. We love the futuristic dystopian settings of such films as The Fifth Element, Blade Runner and the new Judge Dredd.
We believe a successful public space, whether that be for a developer’s entire content line or a specific vein [Avalon, or the upcoming Emo Ray universe], is to have a fun environment; something exciting and different. Having interesting interactivity and free items or new updates definitely makes a public space do well. We are also learning the merit of community goals and plan to continue on that path.
HSM: A public showcase is an opportunity for a developer to promote its own *brand,* not just individual products. If you had to summarize D2O’s brand in one sentence — a sort of one-line, TV Guide summary of a plot — how would Heavy Water describe its own brand? And how does this public showcase exemplify and deliver this to the consumer?
HW: “Heavy Water: Not another “home-ogenized” developer.”
The D2O District has all features that one would come to expect from Heavy Water: NPCs walk around the area, chatting up the users, but this time we’ve added voiceovers. That’s right; you can hear what those big, intimidating Enforcers say with your own ears. We have also added our revolutionary Helicopter [the hit Active Item that was sparked from our Dragonfly mini-game in Avalon Keep] to the D2O District as a free to play feature. You will be able to, for the first time, fly around a public space.
This feature gives the Home a user a perspective that has never been seen in Home before. This alone shows our innovation, skill and edgy nature. We push the envelope of Home and it’s always a great feeling when the community can see and appreciate that as well.
I am personally touched with great reviews and user accolades of our latest offerings.
I want to give back to the community that has helped make us so successful. Offering the helicopter camera as a free to play public experience to all Home users is our gift to you. I am really excited for Home users to experience our flying camera technology in a public venue.
I am very excited to see what the Home community can create in the way of networked multi-user generated machinima. The D2O District allows multiple users to simultaneously fly multiple helicopters allowing each helicopter user to see the action from their unique POV. This camera control ability coupled with a user’s creativity and a cooperative user base [ and some DVRs ] could be not only a Home first but a first for interactive networked communities EVER.
I see from the hundreds of YouTube posts that many Home users are “machinima-tors” – I challenge the community to come together and create something that has never been done before.
In the D2O District, I have finally been able to follow up our numerous commercials with a universe that matches their style. That being said, this universe is not locked into a specific period in time. Avalon Keep was the first offering of our universe. D2O is an extension to that same universe. D2O, being a dystopian Mega-City commercial district, required all that one might see in that sort of local: signage, advertisements and branding that overpowers you as you navigate the dystopian city streets. It just seemed natural to populate D2O with advertisements and signage of our original brands. Kiosks for users to acquire our content in the D2O district also seemed to be a natural fit.
I have felt for quite a while that Heavy Water needed a public presence in Home. We are not your run of the mill Home developer/publisher. I didn’t want to make another “me-too” public space, nor did I want to make something that looked and felt like it was a one off. Why would users want to go to another “mall” location? Everything we make speaks to a style that is carried throughout all our property lines. We feel that Home is polluted with “home-ogenized” content. The Home community deserves choices.
Our core strength, as a Home Developer, is the fact that we have always followed a different path. This path is chosen based on our passion and creativity, not with what other publishers have been successful in offering. We say, “What would be fun to make today?” and we make it. We feel if we love making the content, then the users will feel that love and in turn love it as much as we do.
There is nothing in Home like the D2O District. I personally invite all Home users to check it out and let me know what you think.
What excites me about all this, personally, is the idea of interlinked storytelling: that these developers are creating fleshed-out stories which link their virtual items and experiences together. How exactly does the world of Avalon Keep connect to the dystopian D2O District? That remains to be seen. But what’s important is that there is a cohesive narrative — a larger plan — at work behind the scenes. An unfolding story is one of the best ways to keep users engaged and coming back long-term, which of course puts more eyeballs on the commodities Heavy Water is trying to sell.
Check out Heavy Water’s D2O District when it arrives. I think you’ll be impressed.