This post is the last of a series of three in which I am trying to map WoW marketer strategies to RL ones based on two marketer blogs. The first part deals with the methodology, I put the data in the second part and this last part contains the discussion, limitations and conclusion.
Most of the time, the two marketers have strongly different strategies. But it happens that they agree on particular domains such as niche markets or lay offs. Their opinions also often differ about general topics such as respect or misunderstanding.
Image and communication(Data)
Unlike Godin the RL marketer, Gevlon the VW marketer does not rely on his image to sell his products. This is particularly obvious when looking at the "Celebrity", "Offering Gifts" or "Donations" quotes, and when observing how they have decided to manage their increasing number of blog followers. At a certain point, managing their community has started to consume them a lot of (their precious) time. On the one hand, Seth Godin, careful with his image, disabled the comments on his blog so that he does not have to moderate or answer them. On the other hand, Gevlon stated he would stay quite involved in the moderation of his blog comments (
I delete troll comments) and skim through his followers' mails (
I'll have a very effective and anti-social mail policy [...] I know that I'll lose some readers because of that. But my own time is more important than reader count (especially when readers are in pretty large supply).). While Seth Godin keeps thanking his readers, Gevlon admitted that
Most of my readers are not idiots and lot of them don't like me at all, they come here to bitterly argue and troll.
Moreover, while Godin promotes respect, tolerance and sharing knowledge, Gevlon pretends that
business tricks are kept secret and he does not care about treating someone an idiot (see the "Sharing strategies" and "Respect" quotes). But actually, Gevlon shares if not all at least some of his strategies with his readers. So I think that both Gevlon and Godin have the same goal (keeping the blog followers), but they achieve it through different communication strategies (inspirational, pleasant and agreeable versus selfish, meritocrat and cynical).
Back to marketer strategies, a successful WoW marketer does not own a loyal customer base. When they need a particular item, Auction House buyers take the cheapest and do not really care for the vendor's name. This particularity echoes the unique rules in WoW economy mentioned by Gevlon: WoW has no second-hand economy mostly because of soulbound items, and no cartels are dictating prices because avatars' needs are not matter of actual life and death. Consequently, I could only find basic "anonymous" economic strategies shared between the two marketers.
First, niches are considered as successful economic strategies for both RL and VW marketers. Niches are small by definition, but small is larger than tiny, and potentially pays more. Both marketers agree that even though they pay less than mainstream marketing, niches are free from competition and easier markets because the customer base relies on the (most of the time) single vendor's products.
Second, choosing to sell in markets where the supply does not meet the demand is another strategy shared between the two. Gevlon explains it very simply at the end of a post. Let us say one vendor has a monopoly and sells overpriced items. The possible reasons for monopolies detailed by the two marketers are very similar. The main difference between RL and VW concerning monopolies is that in VW, monopolists can be pushed out of market. In WoW, a smart marketer simply enters a market in flooding it with lower-than-monopolist's but still high-priced items. This flood forces the former monopolist to buy all his/her concurrent's items to keep the monopoly. This means, the newcomer is selling to the former monopolist, hereby making profit! Seth Godin explains that for "nice" RL items or services (eg luxury hotels), customers are ready to pay the intrinsic "extra" for the "nice", but vendors can still make huge benefits. This does not seem to apply in WoW: any marketer can jump in the gap between the median/normal price and the current higher price and make profit, ruining other marketers profits. This strategy and undercutting make it usually rare for marketers to gain on mainstream "nice" virtual goods (eg glyphs).
Third, both marketers recognize that the customer is king. It is useless to try to sell unappropriate products to your customers. It is even more difficult to sell to people who do not want to buy your products, more particularly in VW where drinking water is not a matter of life and death...
This study examined only two marketers. Even though each of them was supposed to be a somewhat representative sample of his respective marketer population, the samples' very small size raise obvious external validity issues. However, given the short time allocated to this study, I could only do with these small samples. I recognize that some WoW marketers disagreed with some of Gevlon's strategies, and Gevlon adressed some of them. While Gevlon does not hide his fight against "socials", Markco, a rival WoW marketer of Gevlon, claims his social side loud and clear:
Don't Be Anti-Social says the left-wing panel of his blog. But at the same time, Markco wrote a book about how to make gold in WoW, and he certainly wants people to buy it. Yet another marketing blog used to effectively get customers ...
Still about external validity threats, I do not think this study relied on "perishable" materials (ie quotes that are not valid anymore). A few quotes from Seth Godin date from several years ago (2005) but I do not think that RL marketers change their opinion so quickly about efficient marketing strategies. As for VW marketer strategies, it is very possible that they change very often: one can use patches to make profit (
buying in mass when cheap and selling after a patch when it becomes more interesting) and above all, one has to permanently come up with new strategies (because
A single guy being aware of the trick can ruin it for you). However, all Gevlon's quotes but one are dated 2009 or 2010, so I think the collected quotes are still relevant today.
On his blog, Seth Godin has been talking about marketing for years, but he has also been effectively marketing (if not his company's products, at least his image). Gevlon has rejected advertising on his blog several times because he presumably simply wants to spread the goblinish widsom:
Spreading goblinish ideas is a very selfish move: I convince people not to waste gold and time to M&S in the game. [...] "I want my hard-earned money to be mine. I don't want to support complete strangers just because they are poor." If enough people will say that, the world will be a much better place. As seen in the mapping framework, the motivations of the observed samples matter a lot. Indeed, keeping in mind throughout this study that the two marketers had somewhat different motivations helped me be particularly cautious when picking quotes, especially when dealing with the image and communication strategies.
The line was sometimes blurred between marketer strategies (the study interest), effectively marketing (eg "get my new book!") and blog followers management (eg "morons of the week"). This is a relatively small threat to reliability as I have been following these two blogs for over 6 months, and I have learned to detect when each of them looks for what. For instance, I realized that 2002 articles from Godin contain more links to/comments about external sources than nowadays's articles, and Gevlon's September 2008 articles had a less cynical tone and nearly each of them contained WoW everyday life screenshots. Even some of Gevlon's rants about bad groups were softer (well OK, World of Retardcraft was a particularly harsh post...). I guess people tend to speak more about themselves when they multiply by 100 their number of readers.
One can argue that me picking up myself particular post quotes to make my point introduces a severe bias. I think it was not: if we take a blog as a long and recurrent interview about various topics, quoting particular article lines was no different from selecting excerpts from traditional interviews. At the first glance, I found analyzing blog articles was a methodology that gave even more freedom to the analyzed individuals than unstructured interviews. Indeed, these bloggers have been writing spontaneously about what they want. I was definitely not obtrusive and there was no possible Hawthorne effect. However, there was no control of the data materials.
Finally, I have only considered the anonymous and somewhat basic Auction House trade chanel as it was the only one mentioned by Gevlon. I did not look at other possible trade chanels (friends, guild ...). I might be wrong, but I do not think that VW marketers can massively use other chanels than the one specifically designed for trading by the game designers, ie the Auction House for WoW. I agree that for Second Life, where people sell goods they created themselves to each other, one should not only take into account the B2C trade chanels, but also the C2C ones.
I have tried to keep in mind the mapping principle framework suggested by Williams throughout the study. Although the methodology of this short comparison of RL and WoW marketer strategies could largely be improved, I have found interesting mapping and non-mapping results in the direcionality VW to RL. Cutomer relationships do not exist in WoW because the current trade system was designed so that consumers can buy the cheapest item from any one at any time, independently of their previous purchase. However, some WoW strategies mentioned by Gevlon such as niches marketing seem to map to the RL strategies mentioned by Godin.
I do not pretend having done any top-research-quality work with this short study. Although I have tried not to spend too much time on this post, I have also tried to be as critical as possible, particularly concerning the methodology. Collecting quotes from blog posts was much more difficult than collecting data from interviews. Google Search mastery and Google Reader sometimes helped finding relevant posts, but this study took very VERY much time and did not bring that many satisfying results.
In the end, I think the mapping framework helped keeping in mind particular issues (eg motivations), but I do not think it should be taken as an article template to follow blindly.
Edit: Tobold, a WoW player, found in January 2010 that current posts from Gevlon contradict the ones Gevlon posted a year ago.