Brand Loyalty In Gaming
Here is an idea that I have had on my mind for a really long time, which became pertinent in November when I took issue with the reception of two games based purely on how people felt about the series those games belonged to.
Now with the announcement of Assassin’s Creed IV — something I am personally quite excited about — that idea has once again come to the fore and I believe it is an apt opportunity to speak on it for a bit.
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I’ll try not to bore you all too much with how it all works and the science behind it because really, even I don’t care about all of that. But what I do want to talk about is how I feel we should carry ourselves in such situations. With various examples of where such a thing is rearing its ugly head in our beloved gaming pastime.
If I may begin with an anecdote, in July 2011 I made the conscious decision to stop buying New Age Gaming magazine. Now I really enjoy NAG Magazine and prior to that, I had been buying them on a monthly basis since March 2003, having not missed a single issue. But at R42 an issue in July 2011, what with writing for a gaming website and playing as many games as I was at the time (I’ve been lucky in life, it’s true) the only thing I was really paying for were the opinion columns. I adored those. The rest; the news, the reviews and so on, those could be found online. A lot of times I didn’t even care for the exclusives either.
Thing is, I knew that being a student, I needed that R42 each month and could use it for a lot more, and that I was under-appreciating each issue of the magazine because I would skim everything, read the last page (Tarryn’s columns were the highlight of my month) and then put the magazine back into its plastic and add it to my collection — for the record, I still have every issue perfectly preserved, since March 2003. I knew for quite a while actually, but I didn’t stop because I felt as if it was my duty to NAG to buy the magazine each month.
I’ll stop there for a moment to emphasise.
My duty. Fucking what?
It was that realisation one day which eventually led me to properly stop buying NAG. I now have a subscription which I won, to the magazine for a year, and once again I skim everything and skip ahead to Tarryn’s column at the end, then push the magazine into my shrine which is now missing everything from August 2011 to January 2013. But coming back to my point, why did I continue to buy the magazine even after I knew it was becoming a waste of my money?
That’s basically what it was. I had bought NAG for so many years that I had become loyal to the brand and when it got to the point that it was doing me more harm than good, I persevered because I felt I owed NAG… something. I don’t even know what.
Sadly, this applies to gaming in a huge way, nowadays.
The two games in question that initially brought up pertinence in November, were Need For Speed: Most Wanted and Call of Duty: Black Ops II.
With Need For Speed: Most Wanted, I felt that it was a frustrating racer that basically amounted to yet another Burnout title, call it Burnout Paradise 2 if you’d like, and it was highly overrated and earned many awards simply because it was Need for Speed with the Frostbite 2.0 engine. Meanwhile an arguably better racer in Forza Horizon was ignored for the most part because it didn’t boast the same sort of brand loyalty that an NFS game did.
How often will you hear someone say something the likes of: “I don’t really know if it’s good but I’ll check it out because it’s a Need for Speed game,” or whatever other series the game might belong to.
Most Wanted won awards for best racer at year-end, yet in my eyes it was an inferior offering. Thing is, nobody actually gave Forza Horizon a chance, in order to see that it was better in most respects.
With Black Ops II it was a whole other story. Reviews were pointless; they just existed for the purposes of slander and fierce debate between readers. Nobody actually cared what score was given because if it was low, it was obviously a CoD hater and if it was high, it was obviously a CoD fanboy. There was no in-between. People who were loyal to the CoD brand bought it, people who were not loyal to the CoD brand passed on it. It was one of the few games where it could have been the biggest piece of shit since Bono in that episode of South Park, and the world would have still eaten it up.
If I may use another very pertinent example, Aliens: Colonial Marines. Do I even need to say any more here? People pre-ordered it because it was an Aliens game from Gearbox. “How could it possibly be bad, given those production ties? Even that trailer was awesome, the way the AI worked and the lighting effects and everything. I am a loyal Gearbox fan and I’m a loyal Aliens fan so I will be buying this!”
And then it was shit.
There are other games which might also apply, including FIFA, Madden and other annual titles where gamers loyal to those brands will opt for FIFA over PES always, even if one is infinitely superior to the other, although in fairness in recent times FIFA has been the superior one; but that hasn’t always been the case. Anyway nobody cares about annual releases so let’s move on, shall we?
Finally we come to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Everybody who played ACIII agrees that the game had one of the worst endings in the history of gaming. Even worse than any level in Super Mario. Not only that, but it dropped a lot of the mythology and attempted to do things a little differently to what was apparent in previous AC games, and most people were not welcoming to these changes. A lot of what made AC2 and its expansions (which is what they were) so great was the whole Subject 16 arc and how The Ones That Came Before tied into the Templars Versus Assassins battle which had been raging for centuries. Unfortunately ACIII was too busy swooning over New World America to care about all of that and as a result, the series suffered.
This is one situation where I’m quite glad to see a lot of people forgoing brand loyalty and calling Ubisoft out on their failings in the third game.
But then I get accused of brand loyalty and blind adoration because I claim to be excited for ACIV. What the historic fuck, people.
Personally, I enjoyed ACIII immensely but I will not lie about missing the glyph puzzles and the sense of intrigue at the ‘greater-than-us’ presence of The Ones That Came Before. Sure Juno and Minerva had more presence in ACIII but it always seemed out-of-touch with everything else that was going on, more an afterthought than a plot-focused story-telling device. But what ACIII did, I was okay with because it was still a fun and enjoyable game to me. It doesn’t mean I cannot see the faults, though. Anyway my personal excitement for ACIV is now documented (see the link above) but I can agree that if someone blindly gets excited for ACIV just because, “LOLNEWACGAME,” then it is a classic case of brand loyalty. Especially in a year when Thief 4 has been announced and might eclipse, in every way, the upcoming Ubisoft blockbuster franchise.
Such was the case last year as well, with Dishonored. Great game, very nicely executed if you’ll excuse the pun, but ultimately always falling short in terms of awards and market success to something the likes of Hitman Absolution or indeed Assassin’s Creed III.
I think that while it’s great to show loyalty to a brand, it gets you nothing if it does you more harm than good. So you need to stop showing loyalty if a brand stops being beneficial to you. That Nvidia graphics card might be a GeForce, but if it’s overheating and causes your PC to constantly restart then you showing loyalty to Nvidia is not going to magically make it work properly, or provide better experiences in future.
Take everything at face value. Don’t just buy something because, “Well, I played everything prior to this.” This is one of the reasons I haven’t bought Dead Space 3 just yet. I am awaiting a price drop before I get it, because for the asking price, I don’t see myself as willing enough to pay for it. This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the series, no, I love the Dead Space franchise. I’ve even watched those animated tie-in videos. But as loyal as I am to the brand, I cannot let that blind me to the game Dead Space 3 is.
It’s ultimately your choice what you allow yourself to show loyalty towards but ask yourself this: If you are loyal to a particular brand, and that brand doesn’t give a generic fuck about you, why are you showing loyalty to it?