Case Study: Burger King's Advergames - Part 3

This is the final part of an abstract from a new book  Changing the Game: How Video Games Are Transforming the Future of Business by David Edery and Ethan Mollick (here are part 1 and part 2).

Finally, the Burger King games could not have come about without an experienced and reliable game developer. Blitz Games had a long history of delivering projects on time, and had also worked on several projects involving outside stakeholders and IP holders. As such, they were well suited for the Burger King project. Despite this, Blitz still encountered several serious stumbling blocks during the course of the games’ development, learning hard-won lessons as  a result:

Multiplatform development
To maximize their potential audience, Burger King wanted games that were compatible with both the original Xbox and the Xbox 360. However, they also wanted the 360 version to be more impressive than the original
 Xbox version; after all, the 360 had just been released and was being marketed as a high-performance, “next generation” console.

Given the tight development time frame for the games, this took time and attention away from work that could have been put into additional game features and polish. Marketers should be aware that making a game compatible with multiple platforms—even platforms in the same line—can require significant effort, and should therefore budget and schedule accordingly.

Multiplayer challenges
Big Bumpin’ and Pocketbike Racer both include online multiplayer action—an important feature of
these games. Although online multiplayer modes can make a game much more compelling to consumers, such modes also make a game much more difficult and expensive to develop. Many developers consistently underestimate the difficulty of multiplayer development, especially on console platforms, and Blitz was no exception, though they ultimately managed to execute beautifully on Burger King’s vision. The lesson here: If you want a multiplayer game, make sure you reserve substantial time for the development and testing of that multiplayer functionality.

Different games, different assets
The benefit of creating three very different games was, as mentioned earlier, the fact that it enabled Burger King to appeal to different kinds of gamers and encourage multiple trips to Burger King restaurants. However, it also forced Blitz to develop very different assets (such as art and computer code) for the three games—time and effort that could have gone into raising the overall quality of a smaller number of games, or an equal number of more similar games. While developing three very different games ultimately proved to be a great strategy for Burger King, marketers who are seeking to raise the bar and stand out from competitors in the future may want to focus their budget on projects that are more ambitious in scale, but less ambitious in scope. As always, it depends on the situation.

Brand rules and restrictions
One of the biggest potential stumbling blocks for any game developer is something that marketers have total control over: the restrictions on how a company’s brands can be used in a game. Failure to carefully explain and explore these restrictions at the start of a game development project can wreak havoc later on.

Take the case of Sneak King. Blitz initially intended the game to be a Spy-versus-Spy-type game, with multiple Kings trying to out-deliver one another while laying traps for their opponents. After much design work, Blitz was informed  that “there can be only one King.” So Blitz substantially revised the design, choosing to focus on “king of the hill”–style gameplay; whoever captures the crown gets to be King. They were then informed  that “you cannot ‘become’ the King.”  So Blitz adjusted yet again: One person plays the King, while the others play the remaining BK personalities, laying traps to prevent him from making deliveries. They then heard, “The King is too savvy to find himself in danger of any kind.” And so on and so forth.

Some of the trouble with Sneak King was inevitable; it is impossible for marketers to predict every possible brand usage that a developer might propose. However, some of these brand-related missteps could have been avoided with clearer upfront communication. In particular, given the action-oriented nature of many video games, it was probably not hard to guess that “the King might find himself in danger.” Marketers would do well to put time, upfront,  into deciding and communicating what basic attributes of their brands are truly inviolable.

The Burger King promotion was expensive. In addition to the cost of developing the games themselves, Burger King had to pay distribution fees, promotional fees, and other nondevelopment expenses. In fact, the total cost of the promotion was ultimately many times the cost of game development itself, though it’s worth noting that Burger King recouped a significant percentage of its costs by selling the games for $3.99. Given the effort and financial resources necessary to support an initiative of this scope, marketers wanting to emulate Burger King’s success must be prepared to treat their initiative as a key one for their company. Otherwise, the risks of an expensive failure prove too great. Fortunately, as demonstrated by Burger King, the benefits of a well-managed advergame initiative are even greater.

Advertising Lab is pleased to offer highlights from a book that just came out, Changing the Game: How Video Games Are Transforming the Future of Business, co-authored (together with Ethan Mollick) by an old friend and former MIT colleague David Edery, who now works as Worldwide Games Portfolio Planner for Xbox Live Arcade.

You will find a review in Economist, and Cliff Notes in Inc. Here, with authors' permission, I'm publishing their findings and insights about Burger King's set of blockbuster advergames that are at least in part credited for the 41% jump in company's quarterly profits

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