Halo: Reach, the final installment of Xbox’s enormously successful Halo video game series, was released this week to epic fanfare. Game trailers on YouTube have over have views in the millions-- each. Fans camped out in front of game stores to attend midnight launch parties. This prequel to the trilogy made over $200 million its first day. This franchise is the Harry Potter of video games.
Starcraft 2, another critically acclaimed sequel, was released in July and also had fans lined up around the block. It has a 93 on Metacritic, compared to Reach's 92. And, according to VGChartz, Starcraft 2 sold 1,341,583 copies in its first week worldwide. Reach sold a staggering three million copies on its FIRST DAY. With so many critically acclaimed games, some with strong established fan bases, coming out every year, why Halo?
One word: Bungie.
If you aren’t a Halo fan, that word probably brings to mind those rubber cords you used to keep that mattress from flying off of your car. To the Halo fan, Bungie, the developers of Halo, are king. Even more so, fans actually consider Bungie their friends. Companies would kill to have millions of people referring to them as their friends. That's the dream of every business that has ever taken a stab at social media and "starting the conversation." Bungie did it and they did it before it was vogue. In my opinion, there is a full case study in Bungie's story, but let's hit three quick things every company can learn from them.
1. Be open to us.
For years, Bungie has done an update post every week. These weekly updates are full of info about progress on games, what Bungie is doing, and all the things any seriously committed fan would want to see. When Bungie is working on a new game, they periodically release video documentaries showing the progress on various aspects of the development. Bungie never leaves their followers in the dark (the anti-Apple, if you will). We, the public, love it when our company keeps us up to date.
2. Be honest with us.
If you ask diehard Halo fans what they think of the overall series, most will say something like, "IT'S AMAZINGG G!!1... except for Halo 2." Halo 2 had a half-finished story and a host of technical bugs. Who's at fault is a bit of a gray area (Microsoft is sometimes blamed for rushing Bungie). But Bungie didn't play the blame game. When fans expressed disappointment, Bungie took full responsibility. They explained their decisions, acted quickly to resolve issues, and apologized for not delivering the absolute best product they could. When Halo 3 was announced, Bungie was very clear that they would not make the mistakes they did with 2 and that the game would NOT be released until it was perfect.
3. Be one of us.
The people at Bungie are nerds. They have this weird obsession with the number “7”. Every year on July 7th (07/07) is "Bungie Day," and they do something fun for their fans. In past years they have released new downloadable content for Halo. This year they released a video showcasing new features in Halo: Reach. All throughout the year, they add whacky scenarios to Halo to entertain their players. A group of fans started using the game to make a web sitcom and Bungie loved it, even promoting it on their website. Fans are a fickle bunch, and we love a company that relates to us. If your fans are nerds, be nerds too! If your fans are vampires, better grow some fangs. In the last weekly update, the writer said:
“For the first time since I started working at Bungie, I really don’t want to write this update today. I really don’t even want to be here at all, parked at my desk, staring into this computer monitor. Fact is I’d rather be playing some Reach.”
Bungie makes gamers feel like they are part of something bigger. That is why people stand outside of stores for hours waiting to get the game at midnight. It is a cultural moment. You have to make your consumers feel like buying your product and being loyal to your brand is something worth fighting for, not something they could take or leave tomorrow. That will never happen if your customers don't trust you. Be genuine, be open, and customers will listen. I’d know, I’m one of these fans and I’d follow Bungie to the ends of the Earth. I actually hear that's the plot to their next title.
--Kyle Sacks, Nerd-Wise Creative Department Intern
(PS "Nerd-wise" was Kyle's idea. He embraces his inner nerd as we all should. Now excuse me, I'm taking my lunchbreak to go watch some Thundercats. Oh, and am I the only person who thought Ben-Gali was just like a blue Tygra? Way to phone it in on that character design Rankin/Bass.--George)
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