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What’s in a game?

It’s an important question because gaming brands are some of the biggest out there—Nintendo, Ubisoft, Rockstar, Blizzard, and almost too many more to count. Don’t know these brands? Maybe just Nintendo? It’s time to pick up the controller.

Storytelling is evolving.

Now before you back away because you think games aren’t a serious medium, know this—if you aren’t paying attention to the highly-immersive, storytelling world of gaming you aren’t dialed in. At more than $135 billion in 2018, the global games industry is now valued at about three times the global film industry.

Games have become the new silver screen. That doesn’t mean Casablanca would have had the same impact on living room televisions, or that the latest Avengers movie should be watched on a phone. Decades after Casablanca, studios are still trying to push you into seats at the theatre—in front of the big screen—to give you the full experience: the true, engrossing, intimate experience. And that’s because intimacy in brand experience is about matching the message to the medium and giving your audience an opportunity to be part of the story—it isn’t just about having a small gadget that fits in your hands and your hands alone.

And thanks to games’ new role as a medium of immersive brand experiences that showcase storytelling, technology, art and design, the ingredients that make great games are no longer just an arena of interest for teenagers. Not at all. Games are important to all of us because they can help us keep an eye on what makes a brand experience great—and what qualifies as immersive and intimate to modern audiences. And with all that, games can also help us understand the missteps that lead to brand failures.

Consumer agency is everything.

Take two recent examples.

 

In late October, Rockstar Games—the studio behind the world-famous Grand Theft Auto franchise—released Red Dead Redemption 2, the third game in a series of western action-adventures. Universally acclaimed by critics and fans, the game is set in a living, breathing, open-world environment where the players’ choices impact nearly everything around them. Players can spend their time hunting, robbing trains, petting stray dogs, or simply chopping wood to build a cabin and improve their character’s crafting skills. Red Dead Redemption 2 is truly immersive because all players get their own experiences, their own stories, and because the care and attention to detail put into that experience matches what the medium can offer. Technology, storytelling, and Rockstar’s mastery of those elements met fans’ expectations and set the tone for a game that takes advantage of the latest technology while remaining intimate.

 

But what does failure look like? It looks a lot like Diablo Immortal. Announced this October with no set release date, Diablo Immortal is an action role-playing game designed for mobile devices. It’s a drastic departure from previous games in the series that were launched on PCs and is largely seen as a watered-down version of its predecessors. It abandons the care, attention to detail and intimacy that had previously defined the Diablo franchise. While the game may now fit in your pocket, it doesn’t offer an experience the players see themselves fitting into. It’s not that Blizzard needed to offer up a game with exact equivalents of petting dogs, chopping wood or robbing trains. It’s that Blizzard failed to avoid the tension between technology and their brand, deviating too much to one side and delivering a new technological experience that didn’t make the case for a new brand experience.

Connection first, details second.

Blizzard’s misstep is a universal lesson. Brands can’t just cash in on what technology has to offer—they also have to pay attention to what the competition is delivering, and what their audiences expect. That means offering connection, emotion, authenticity and narrative. While technology sets the tone for how people communicate and connect with brands, it’s not the only component of an engaging product.

Blizzard abandoned the care and quality that it was known for in order to stumble into the world of mobile technology, and in doing so highlighted the peril brands face when they focus only on one element. Blizzard knew better and had done better before. The company got comfortable and they failed to remain vigilant and true to their craft while exploring new technologies—and their audience noticed. Will yours?

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