An interesting statistic always leaps to mind when I start to consider the “metagame” that being Nick Yee’s (2006) statistical finding that the average MMO game player spends 10.8 hours each week performing game-related tasks outside of the game. Be that just checking web-resources like Wowhead or MMO-Champion, listening to “Blue Plz!” or “The Instance”, watching “The MMO Report” or “The Guild”, or, more likely, spending hours on their guild website both signing up for various events and discussing the merits and de-merits of certain approaches to both talent specs and boss fights. I have literally witnessed in my time four and five page forum threads over two talent specs which we’re 95% the same, and two posters arguing bitterly (with increasing levels of evidence) that their allocation of the remaining 5% was more optimal than the other persons.
The metagame. The stuff players do outside of the game, which relates directly to the game. Where the consumption tribe that surrounds the game come out to play.
What’s a Consumptive Tribe?
Cova and Cova (2002) introduced in a very evocative phrase into marketing; the consumptive tribe. I’ve blogged about this before and It’s not a spectacularly new idea, and for years marketers have used such words as “customer support groups”, “fan groupings” and so forth. However I find the wording very useful to create imagery with my students. The effectively said that certain products or services create customer groupings surrounding the product who are very involved in the domain of the product, far beyond which we’d normally expect. These customers are joined together by the act of consumption, the act of buying and using the product, and from this joining together the company has (by either intent or by luck) created self sustaining communities, or tribes.
To give a few examples, I’ve personally seen and been a part of many different consumption tribes over the years. I used to play Magic the Gathering in my younger teens, which is a game (hugely profitable and surprisingly successful) collectable card game in which player’s first buy and collect the cards and then play and trade the cards. The consumption activity of playing the cards is heavily supported by a competitive scene in which tournaments and large scale card related activities are held. There in an innate link here between the consumption act of buying the cards and the consumption activity of playing the cards that brings the customers together. Interestingly, in many different types of activities, ranging from football club support, Harley Davidson owners to sky diving, the power of bringing your customers together to reinforce both the consumption activity (i.e. getting the customers to buy more) and their belonging to the tribe (i.e. getting customers to remain with the brand or product longer, increasing retention) has been both noted.
Piggybacking and sticking like a limpet
This obviously doesn’t work for a whole host of products and services easily. Take my TV cable provider for example. Virgin Media have a lot of customers who all have the same consumption activity (watching non-terrestrial TV, using the internet, making phone calls) and yet it would be very difficult to bring these people together as a tribe. There isn’t a natural (or indeed, designed/engineered) coming together of the customers. That doesn’t mean an understanding of Consumer Tribes is useless to them though. Indeed, understanding the needs of a consumption tribe like “”World of Warcraft” players (and I’m using BIG PICTURE, BIG CRAYON words here, as anyone who knows the area well knows that I’ve just made a very sweeping generalisation) could be very useful. Imagine if Virgin Media decided to offer specifically “World of Warcraft” UK customers a “free for 3 month” upgrade to their 50meg connection speed. How many BT “World of Warcraft” customers might be tempted to switch? How many current Virgin customers would try out the offer and then, at the end of the free upgrade period, not downgrade again? How much free advertising would they get on the internet from message boards and such like spreading the word for them?
While a product or service may not itself be one which lends itself to creating its own consumer tribe, but by identifying and accessing relevant consumer tribes which could either surround or could be applied to your product/service potentially you can access these tribe and enhance your customer base or achieve at the very least greater awareness amongst customers. Cova and Cova in their original 2002 paper for example discuss how a established sports apparel company Salomon specifically in 1994 onwards started to target in-line skaters and the skaters scene (I know, who would have knew?), with the company piggy-backing on their consumption activities. From this they were able to increase their turnover by 15% (It’s a great paper by the way, well worth a read).
Meshing the MMO Metagame with the Consumption Tribes
If you go to a major MMO gaming website, what do you see? MMO Champion, a hugely popular news/informational website completely dedicated to Activision Blizzard’s World of Warcraft is filled with advertising for specialist gaming hardware (gamers like their tech), dating websites (gamers are mostly male, and statistically I found 58% currently aren’t in a relationship) adverts for other games like EVE Online (MMO gamers are more likely to try other MMO games than non-MMO gamers, so some good targeted advertising there from that smart Icelandic company! ). A quick trip over to Curse.com, a very well travelled community website, and a computer hardware company Doghouse Systems is running a competition to give away a hugely powerful gaming PC, a competition which nicely highlights both their brandname and the fact that their PC’s are amazingly powerful (which will almost definitely resonate with the target audience). A trip over to Wowhead, a rather bland database site, but still massively travelled, and I find adverts from BT telling me how much I can save on my phone bill (always something a gamer might be interested in). Listen to popular podcasts and you’ll find that they are either sponsored by a certain company (Doghouse Systems for “The Instance”, again. UGT Ventrillo Servers for “Blue Plz”) or a service relating to the consumption activity.
What does this tell me? It tells me that this may be an area in which practice is rapidly out-pacing theory. Consumer Tribes and the specific targeting of them by companies is an area marketing teams are clearly actively and robustly working on. I don’t completely agree with everything Cova and Cova say. They try, very hard, in their articles to define their “tribal approach” as something that goes beyond “relationship marketing”. Frankly; tosh, utter tosh. While I appreciate why they attempt to do so from an academic perspective (indeed, I’d probably do the same) “Tribal Marketing” is clearly very much about identifying, developing and nurturing relationships with potential customers, in other words, relationship marketing. They’ve carefully re-packaged the concept of leveraging your potential customer base and understanding opportunities, and indeed provided a great framework, but it’s relationship marketing not a “new” discipline. But hey, again, if it’d been me, I would have probably tried the same thing to get my name in lights too, so I can’t complain too much.