Speaking at GCAP 11 on Wednesday, VP of Capital Research for EEDAR (games research firm) controversially pushed brands over individual games.
The audience, the bulk of whom were independent developers, were taken aback by Divnich's bold and pertinent lessons about brand management.
Divnich began: "Publishers are in the entertainment business. They sell brands, not videogames."
He noted that of the top 50 selling games of 2010, 94% were pre-attached to some kind of brand, gaming or otherwise. Each game from a brand, he argued, was "a promise to the consumer on an established level of quality. You're saying, going forward, this is what you should expect from us."
As an example, he cited Call of Duty's implicit promise to be the premier online FPS. The promise is, of course, relative rather than absolute, and must take into account the evolution of the markets in question, the changing scope of what it takes to be the 'premier' online FPS of the day, and the constant threat of competition (which has the potential to break your promise).
With independent development, Divnich's advice was to steer away from the big players whenever the direct competition could be won by throwing more money at a brand.
He cited Ted Price as being a great example of someone who truly lives their brand, embodying it and advocating for it at countless conferences around the world to build brand awareness. This awareness, he argued, was why Insomniac games sell 30-40% more than your average direct competitor. It came down to Price being the Insomniac brand. He linked this same phenomenon to Too Human (in spite of poor review scores) selling 20% more than average direct competitors: the Silicon Knights brand was the determining factor here.
Taking into consideration the case study of Resident Evil's ongoing success versus Silent Hill's languishing niche appeal, Divnich stressed the importance of reflexiveness.
He also warned about a time in a franchise's life when it hits a 'feature ceiling', pointing to Tony Hawk's saturation point at around 'Underground', and implored publishers and developers alike to take seriously the notion that what happened to the music peripheral genre could happen to almost any other, and indeed has done so historically time and time again.
Divnich continued to stir the more artistically focused crowd, saying: "Originality plays a minor role in creating a brand. If you ask a regular Farmville player, they'll think it was completely original - that Farmville started it all. But we know that it's not."
Indeed, Divnich went on to recommend relatable characters, and linked relatability to reflexivity by asserting that as consumers' needs changed over time, brands had to adapt to survive.
The consistency of Rockstar Games was highlighted as the epitome of a successful brand-building exercise, but Divnich also noted that the publishing label does not necessarily need to be the recognisable part to consumers, noting Take Two Interactive's invisible status to the public in one instance, and Rovio (as compared with Angry Birds) in another.
Finally, there are some instances where games almost approach fast-moving-consumer-goods, and need brand recognition as their own individual line. To illustrate this, Divnich pointed to Ubisoft's occasionally confusing brand message by comparing Assassin's Creed to Shaun White and noting the lack of consistency. The Imagine range by Ubisoft, however, is so internally consistent and successful with its brand message, all of which is containted neither in reviews nor industry perception, but in a remarkably consistent brand story on the front of the box.
The core lesson Divnich espoused, however, involved taking advantage of technologies. Brands are born almost weekly at the beginning of a new console generation, but technological innovations are nearly limitless in this industry, and each one can be used as a springboard for beginning a new brand. Kinect, Move, Wii Motion-plus, Xbox Live, affordable HD, in-app purchasing, downloadable content, iMax movies and countless other innovations can all be used as pivotal moments in which to launch new IP into the marketplace.
30% of new IPs which began at the beginning of this console generation were successful (defined by EEDAR as having sold 1.8 million units or more and/or spawning a sequel). Currently, that number is at around 4%.
For more information about the EEDAR videogames research firm, click here.
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