Let’s talk about BioWare. BioWare is well and truly a great game developer. So it’s frustrating to see them screw the pooch constantly on the community front. The series of bloopers includes:
- Chris Priestly making flippant, confused, and misspelled comments on the forums (for an example, see the first entry on this tumblr)
- “There are no gays in Star Wars”
- Stanley Woo lumping Jews in with Yu-Gi-Oh players on the BioWare forums, and huffing and puffing about the negative response on his personal blog, to the point where CM expert Sanya Weathers tries to educate him
- Jesse Houston saying that female Hawke from Dragon Age 2 isn’t iconic, then saying he meant that’s how marketing viewed it, then deleting some of this tweets on the subject.
There’s even some apparent dishonesty going on. Take this Game Informer interview of CEO Ray Muzyka and VP Greg Zeschuk, the co-founders of BioWare. On page 3, this question, and their answers:For both Mass Effect and Dragon Age, the marketing has focused on male protagonists. Since players can create both male and female characters, why isn’t the female side represented?
Muzyka: That’s a great question. One of the things we really embrace in our games is diversity and enabling people to take on different roles so, obviously, we have strong female leads. We have amazing voice acting talent for both the male and the female roles.
That said, for the marketing face we have to make a choice. And it’s a tough choice to pick an iconic face — the face of the brand. You have to pick an iconic representation for the brand and it comes down to the marketing team’s intuition. It’s not easy because we know a lot of the fans enjoy playing the female lead so we always make sure it’s just as high quality as the male lead for the main characters in our games.
Let’s break this down:
- “One of the things we really embrace in our games is diversity and enabling people to take on different roles” - Does this statement jibe with “There are no gays in Star Wars,” or Stanley Woo’s stance on racial diversity in Dragon Age 2, or male-centric marketing?
- “And it’s a tough choice to pick an iconic face — the face of the brand.” No, it isn’t. You pick the face, and it becomes the icon to the fans. You don’t even have to have an iconic face. Look at Fallout!
- “You have to pick an iconic representation for the brand and it comes down to the marketing team’s intuition.” So, it’s some marketing person’s (or team’s) gut feeling. Remember that phrase, “marketing team’s intuition,” because I’m going to come back to it in a little bit.
- “It’s not easy” - Our hearts bleed. It’s only difficult because marketing is telling you you won’t make any money if you market to women, and you’re making the choice to obey their intuition.
- “because we know a lot of the fans enjoy playing a female lead” - Okay.
- “so we always make sure it’s just as high quality as the male lead for the main characters in our games.” - FALSE. Fans have noted over and over that the animations, model, and textures for the female Shepard of Mass Effect, for example, are of lower quality than those of male Shepard.
Now, keep the above points in mind as you read the question and answer that immediately preceded:
Dragon Age and Mass Effect have had big marketing campaigns. Does Bioware have much input in regards to marketing?
Muzyka: Very much. The marketing is driven by Bioware marketing and PR people, and we’re part of EA. We’re part of a publisher now. We have dedicated marketing and PR resources that are part of our team. They attend meetings with the team. They collaborate on the design. They give us feedback from the fans, and that’s really important to us.
Again, let’s break this down.
- “The marketing is driven by Bioware marketing and PR people” - FALSE. BioWare’s marketing is driven by EA. Meet David Silverman, EA’s marketing director for BioWare. Note that his Twitter handle is @dsilvermanEA. He is not based in Edmonton, at BioWare’s headquarters, nor in BioWare’s Austin or Montreal offices. He works at EA headquarters.
Now, pardon me, BioWare, but when your marketing director works out of your publisher and parent company’s headquarters, and not yours, that suggests to me that your marketing is NOT driven by your own people, no matter how many minions he may have stashed in Edmonton.
“EA’s RPG and MMO franchises including Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Star Wars: The Old Republic?” Yet BioWare’s marketing is driven by BioWare people? I’m not seeing it.
But let’s get back to that interview.
- “We have dedicated marketing and PR resources that are part of our team.” Yeah, we gathered that.
- “They attend meetings with the team.” Via video conferencing equipment and instant message, one must assume.
- “They collaborate on the design.” Oh, great.
- “They give us feedback from the fans, that’s really important to us.” EA marketing and PR are the ones communicating the fans’ feedback to BioWare? And that’s really important to you? Okay, let’s talk about femShep from Mass Effect some more.
By the time David Silverman, part of the team that is supposed to be giving feedback from the fans to BioWare, stumbled onto femShep’s fanbase, the femShep thread on BioWare’s own forums was over 1200 pages long, and growing daily. When fans (and even Jennifer Hale, female Shepard’s voice actor) had been clamoring for female Shepard to be used in marketing trailers, demos, and screenshots for years, ever since Mass Effect 1, Mr. Silverman was somehow managed to register surprise when he made an off-hand tweet to a fan, and was met with a wave of femShep marketing support.
“Guess you guys want to see that.” Well yes, and they’ve been pretty vocal about that in places where someone who is supposed to be in touch with fan feedback ought to be keeping an eye on.
He wasn’t alone. BioWare’s Studio General Manager, Aaryn Flynn, also made note of it.
So Silverman proposes, instead of real marketing, a fan-made trailer contest.
So cool, right? And EA wouldn’t have to spend any extra marketing money on it. Except it turns out that femshep.com is already holding such a contest.
In fact, fans had already long been making femShep trailers and tributes such as this one, in part because they wished BioWare had made them.
He switches tactics, then. An EA-made trailer for femShep. Hurrah! Except…
I won’t summarize the rest of this fiasco here, because many others have already done so. Suffice it to say that many different segments of the BioWare fanbase facepalmed for many different reasons at that point. As of 8/23/2011, there is still no trailer for female Shepard. We’re still deciding what her hair color should be. Probably what we should expect, coming from a guy who has “no comment” when asked whether he’s the one whose marketing intuition caused BioWare to market only male Hawke for Dragon Age 2.
My question is, where the hell is BioWare’s community management team? Because this new hireling ain’t gonna cut it:
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