100 Days of Pop: Episode 9

Today we’re talking video games!  No, not Fortnite, the other video game company, Blizzard, makers of video game royalty like Diablo, Warcraft and Overwatch.  

Don’t tune out if you aren’t familiar w/  gaming or if you aren’t a gamer. What we’re really talking about today is Expectations.  Those of your customers and those of your business and what happens when those expectations aren’t aligned.  

This example just happened to take place live at a keynote event in front of 35,000 of Blizzards most loyal and hardcore fans, so we’ve been able to see it unfold in a very open and public way.

I’m Joe Cox, the Pop-Marketer. I find those places where brand marketing and pop culture overlap and uncover those insights and nuggets that can help us all be more impactful and more modern marketers.

Now let’s talk about Blizzcon 2018, the announcement of the mobile game Diablo: Immortal and how something so exciting can go so oh very wrong when expectations aren’t aligned between your business and your customers.

Blizzard, a video game company has been around since 1991 - They’re stock trades on the S&P 500 with a market cap of 54 billion dollars, so they’re “established”.   They put Real Time Strategy games on the map with Warcraft and Starcraft and then did the same thing with the dungeon crawler role playing genre with the Diablo series, then they did it AGAIN with World of Warcraft and Hearthstone, creating the most popular MMORPG.    

Yep, I said, MMORPG or MMORPG-  It stands for Massively Multi-Player Online Role Playing game so don’t tell me you didn’t learn anything new today- that game evolved into an online card game and I haven’t even brought up Overwatch which is one of the world’s hottest First Person Shooters in the egame streaming and tournament world.  

In 2005, Blizzard had built such a strong online community that they decided to hold a conference that they called Blizzcon.  Think of it like Disney’s D23 Expo. A place to bring all of these gamers together to celebrate with the game makers as well as a moment in the calendar that Blizzard could maximize earned media around their new lineup of games and expansions.

This weekend was their 12th Blizzcon and they always start the event with a giant live keynote for the 35,000 Blizzard fanatics in attendance as well as the hundreds of thousands of fans around the world watching the live stream.  

Think Apple Keynote but with cosplay and more ironic t-shirts.  It’s a gaming spectacle to behold.

During the Diablo portion of the keynote, thousands of Diablo fanboys and girls were anxiously expecting a Diablo 4 announcement. After waiting 6 long years since the Diablo 3 release, let’s say that expectations in the crowd were high and the rumor was already out that Diablo 4 was going to be teased.

Out comes Wyatt Cheng our ANTI-HERO in this story-  He’a a chief game designer for Blizzard. He loves Blizzard, he loves video games and has worked his butt off for years to bring the world this announcement.

But Cheng wasn’t there to announce Diablo 4. He was there to announce Diablo: Immortal, the franchises first push into mobile gaming.

Here’s where we see the realization on stage and in the crowd that they weren’t on the same page.

So the crowd made up of the most hardcore gamers and loyal superfans were revved up to 10 thinking Diablo 4 and this is really happening!!!!

And the company and representatives on stage were expecting the crowd to be psyched even giddy about the new mobile game that they had worked so hard to bring to life.

What happened was that the crowd's expectations weren’t met and Diablo 4 was clearly not going to be announced-  they took all of that pent up fan fueld energy and tranformed it into haterade for the mobile game that was announced. One fan even asking the team on stage if this was all just an out of season April Fools Joke.

The team’s expectations for the crowd to be super pumped and instead being let down and a bit rude was frustration- Never let them see you sweat and NEVER let the internet see you get frustrated. ,at one point after a gamer asked if the mobile game would ever be released on PC and Cheng asks condescendingly- You guys all have phones, right?   Followed by audible booing from the audience. That moment will now be relived a million times over due to the fact that it’s turned into the meme of the entire event.

This response was then amplified online by fans tuning into the live feed on Twitch, where gas was poured on the flames, blowing up the internet in the forms of memes, youtube videos, subreddits as we get to witneess the fury and beauty of a motivated connected community of that size.  The fire burnt large enough to gobble up all of the press from the event and turning a fumble into something that actually affected the stock by dropping it 7% on the Monday after the event. That’s why meeting expectations is so damn important.

Tell me there’s something we can take from all of this?

It lands on us as marketers to be the designers of these communications, to run the scenarios and to make sure we’re able to pay off the anticipation that we’re building for a new product or offering and to ask if the announcement or news is really as exciting to our users as it is to us as the representative of the business and making money.

Always ask-  What are we wanting our audience to feel and are we seeing this from their perspective.  Is this the audience we want to make this announcement to or is this something more in line to announce at a more business-focused event like E3?

I’ll say this-  Blizzard will be fine. They’re truly the best in the world when it comes to community communication and having a dialogue with their superfans, but I appreciate the case study and the Blizzard team for taking this one in the jaw so that we can all be reminded how important these communications are in a modern comms plan.

I’ll include links in this post so you can enjoy all of the awkwardness for yourself.

Also sign up to my Weekly Zeitgeist email at pop-marketer.com and get a weekly dose of what’s happening in Pop-Marketing and if you want to learn about how to arm your own marketing team with the art of Pop-Marketing hit me up about workshops or speaking for your team or event.

Later gators!

Joe Cox