Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ninjas, Kites and Tanks

We're going to start this post off with a little exercise. If you don't have time to play along, you can come back later. Ready?

Think of your favorite brand and product that you enjoy the most. I'll give you a second. Got one? Ok.

Now think about how you engage with it: How you recognize it, consume it, sense it.

How would you describe it to someone or write a profile on it?

If applicable, think about the accessories, the other things you use it with.

Now think about the feelings that you get while using it.

All these things define your relationship with your brand and product. They are uniquely how you experience this item and the value that you get from it. However, not everything is unique right? Others probably feel the same way. You've probably also borrowed ideas or values from other users or marketing.

A really successful brand or product has a sub-culture around it. It has a language, traditions, taboos and history. If this doesn't apply to your brand or product, then you thought of the wrong brand or product. Hehe. Just kidding.

Let me now take the example of MMORPGs. Not a particular brand or product but a suite of offerings by various companies. The sub-culture of MMORPGs is rich, more so than say toothpaste. This is intrinsic to the nature of the product because it is high-context and engagement.

I like to visit the MMORPG Lexicon, a site that, among other things, has a list of slang words used by gamers. My favorites are Kiting, Ninja looting and Tanks. These words provide definition (look mom, I made a pun) to the experience. They do more than serve as shortcuts between people communicating, they are key to the culture.

Although I have no formal sociology training, I would dare say that language is critical for building culture. I do have enough experience to know for a fact that language is a key tool on a marketer's belt. Helping to establish the language of your brand is critical in how users perceive and experience it.

That's why I've paid special attention to the language of BOTS. There's only so much I can do because you can't control how a culture is created. However, you can provide framework and seed ideas. Here's a few seeds that I've planted:

  • BOTS is a word that is always all caps, so as to not confused it with any other game term such as bot programs for MMORPGs.
  • Whenever possible, I refer to the game characters as BOTS, you should not see them as "characters" or "robots" or "mechs". This is because I want to instill a uniqueness to the BOTS instead of going generic or borrowing from other cultures.
  • To establish the fun and playful nature of the game, there is no mention of killing or death. BOTS are knocked out and battle each other but don't die or destroy each other.
  • Giving players a way to communicate PvP tactics by style
    • Pushies - BOTS that use the environment to win by causing others to fall.
    • Brutes - BOTS that fight head on with others.
    • Turtles - BOTS that run away and avoid fighting until the crowd is thinned out.
I think you get the picture. Granted, there's no way to know if any of it will stick and whether or not it's worth it (especially the last one). However, this stuff needs to be considered because it is critical in building a product and the culture associated with the product. Got any tips for me from your favorite brand? Let me know.

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