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In-Depth: How Does The Open Door Policy Work With  Mega Man Legends 3 ?
In-Depth: How Does The Open Door Policy Work With Mega Man Legends 3?
May 11, 2011 | By Colin Campbell

May 11, 2011 | By Colin Campbell
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[Capcom says its Mega Man Legends 3 is being designed with significant input from the public. Is this possible -- or is it a marketing gambit? Gamasutra business editor Colin Campbell takes a look.]

Marketers talk a lot about social media "engagement" and "transparency" these days. In theory, this means using Facebook and Twitter to co-opt the fanbase's goodwill in order to generate cheap buzz. In practice you usually end up with some lame "Like Us to see a screenshot" campaign, and crappy tweets about the company picnic.

In the absence of imagination and daring, gimmickry is the preferred tactic.

Capcom, uniquely among games companies, actually does engagement and transparency, shaming its competitors with a vibrant, well-executed blog that's constantly feeding fans with new information, insights and fun. Capcom-Unity's traffic is higher than some well-known media outlets in the games biz.

Capcom-Unity became an internal inspiration that led to the company opening its doors fully for the 3DS game Mega Man Legends 3. Key components of the game's design and development are discussed openly with a special community and voted upon. There are updates every day, ranging in detail from design contests and development tutorials to sweet, intimate notes on the benefits of moving office furniture around in order to foster greater creativity.

Most games blogs are patronizing in tone, handing out information like a school-ma'am doling out candy to good little children. But Capcom's DevRoom treats its readers like adults and appears to be genuinely interested in feedback. It lacks the feverish clique-factor of so many forums.

I love this stuff. I work for a company that sells content to brands (we didn't work on Capcom-Unity). For me, companies are so obsessed with secrecy, so wedded to tired marketing techniques, that they fail to realize their most precious narrative assets -- their creative people, their fascinating processes and the possibilities of valuable relationships with the public. Alas, most social media campaigns cleave to the marketing techniques of the past.

When I first came across this Capcom campaign, I saw it as a smart piece of marketing, but carried some doubt that this would be a game in which the public would really "be part of the development team" [YouTube]. After all, game designers have used this tactic before, sometimes to iron out glitches or to enhance the gameplay experience in, for example, a big MMO. Usually though, it's a marketing gambit with limited impact on the actual game's design.

I visited Capcom's San Mateo office to meet with Joveth Gonzalez, Community Manager for Capcom-Unity in order to find out more, and came away deeply impressed with the company's active commitment to its stated aims.

Gonzalez says Capcom-Unity has been one of the most cost-effective marketing campaigns the company has created. In the simplest possible terms, he says, "we just put information out there for people and the amount of interest we get back is totally worth it." In the age of Facebook and Twitter, this gives people something tangible to share, a thing of value in the social-informational economy. "A lot of people are on Facebook all day and they see that we've updated a story so of course they're going to click on the link and visit our site, and share what they see."

Most companies have blogs and Facebook pages, but Capcom is creating traction by offering up great content that's actually worth sharing, not just a stream of marketing assets.

Gonzalez says the idea for a DevRoom that was completely dedicated to an open development strategy for Mega Man Legends 3 came from the developers in Japan, rather than a team of marketers. The game itself has not been green-lit, and much will depend on the public's reaction to a prototype due to be released when Nintendo opens its 3DS e-shop.

"We decided that there would be no walls, we would share as much information as possible, without any PR input. It's been rough, especially at the beginning because we weren't sure exactly how much to share but when we realized that they [the public] just wanted everything, that was surprising and refreshing. So it's all out there. Everything."

There are limits to this openness. Game designers and marketers will all have their opinions on how far a campaign like this can really have "no walls." For example, readers are asked to vote on their favorite enemy robots in the game, but the votes offer no realtime results. Capcom says this avoids people voting for whatever's popular, but it feels like the company is holding back, because ultimately it needs to be the one to make the final decision, even if the final decision is necessarily based heavily on consumer input.

A contest-winning entry to design a major asset in the game was re-realized by the team. Gonzalez calls this a "tweak" -- judge for yourself -- adding that any 2D contest-entry will go through changes before it can be inserted into a 3D world with a specific graphical look and feel.

Perhaps most interesting was a vote for the main character's suit-design. Given three options, the public not only voted for their favorites, but offered up loads of valuable feedback on each of the options' pros and cons, leading the designers to make some tweaks, and offer up a new vote.

This feels iterative, just like real design. The designers aren't merely following a pre-set marketing agenda, but engaging in an actual conversation They are showing a desire to make the best game possible based on what the public is saying.

Although creating a site like Capcom-Unity and the DevRoom is cost-effective, that doesn't mean it's cheap. The site includes excellent articles from people throughout Capcom, who must find the time to share their insights. It takes a corporate commitment at a cultural level to make this stuff happen, as any brand blogger will tell you.

The constant exchange of information between the U.S. site and the Japanese developers takes resources and hard work. And, of course, any direct exchange between a brand and the public carries risks, which must be avoided or at least mitigated.

But the benefits are real. Gonzalez adds, "We've found that people have rallied behind the game. They feel a part of the title. They want to fight for it. They come together to support us. For our marketing team that's the best thing you can ask for, a grassroots campaign promote a title, to be involved."

[Full Disclosure: As well as being business editor for Gamasutra, Colin Campbell works for a marketing agency that provides content and blogs to brands. You can follow him on Twitter @brandnarrative.]


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Comments


Jonathan Escobedo
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While I do feel Capcom is genuine in saying they want gamers to provide their opinion on how MML 3 should be made, I can't help but think that someone at Capcom agreed to this on the off chance that if the game bombs, they can blame the fans.

Eric Geer
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Nah...it seems in the end that Capcom will make the final judgements--they may use and tweek some of the ideas provided..but a lot of what they have asked for(at least in this article) is more cosmetic than gameplay/game mechanics.

A W
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Well they can at-least say with a straight face that they made the game with the fans in mind. I think this would be a prefect idea for a low level RPG or MMO. Square-Enix should look into it... or may be an American company?

Matthew Mouras
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I guess I'm an old-school fuddy duddy because when I read about stuff like this, it turns me off. I want to pay for an experience that is spoonfed to me from the developer. I don't want to be involved in the development - that's what I pay them to do. These kinds of campaigns certainly engage many fans, but they also generate ideas for the company and that's valuable. It's just another way to mine the fan base.



Or if the adoption of fan suggestions goes too far, you run the risk of compromising the cohesive vision of design leads. What if the original Star Wars was made by a committe of fans instead of by a great filmmaker with a vision? It wouldn't be as good.



It makes me think of Vernor Vinge's excellent book, "Rainbow's End". In the novel, thousands of people come together to create massive digital worlds that recreate periods in history they enjoy. That's awesome... but they do it all as a labor of love and allow companies to sponsor their efforts and reap all the benefits.



Or maybe I'm way off base... something just rubs me the wrong way when the line between developer and fan is thoroughly blurred.

Todd Boyd
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A.) Just because suggestions are being taken from the community does not mean that the developers at Capcom won't have final say over the decisions made.



B.) If you don't want to be involved in the development, then don't be--nobody is twisting your arm. Just ignore the blog posts and whatnot and view the game with a fresh set of eyes on release day like you are used to.



I see no reason for the negative attitude toward this practice, so long as the decisions aren't left entirely up to the fans. (A horse designed by committee winds up being a camel.)

Harris Javed
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The only thing I can think of that had allow a lot of public input into its design was a movie called Snakes on a Plane. I, unfortunately, never got to see it. However, Legends probably won't go that way as it already has a customer base who really want to see a great game and not something good-bad like Snakes on a Plane.



You know, I don't know for certain if there are any good-bad games out there in the industry. I can think of maybe one but I never played it. It was some Japanese game made by a comedian for the Famicom. I don't remember the name of it, but all I've heard that it was just an impossible game to play. Actually, I think the comedian really hated videogames, but I don't know what his intention was in designing it.

Ed Alexander
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Oh god, go see Snakes on a Plane! It is such a wonderful movie, very much an ode to The Rocky Picture Horror Show or The Room.



As we left the theaters, it was very easy to see who didn't *get it* because they tried to take the movie seriously. "Well I wasn't scared at all." "I know, right?! It's like they'll let anyone make horror movies anymore."



Did you know they filmed two versions, the theatrical version *and* the language censored TV version? Yes, Samuel L. Jackson really did say "Let's get these monkey fighting snakes off this Monday to Friday plane", it was not dubbed in. SO GLORIOUS!

Harris Javed
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I'll have to try and convince some people to watch it with me (rarely, do I watch films by myself these days). It sounds like it's going to fun! :)

George Blott
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A Zenny saved is a Zenny earned.

Seems to me that having fans feel involved by allowing them input on the superficial design of a game is win win. Nowhere in the article does it imply that the game design is being crowd-sourced.



@Harris the game you are thinking of is Takeshi no Chōsenjō

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takeshi_no_Ch%C5%8Dsenj%C5%8D

Harris Javed
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Yep, that's the one. Thanks!

Ed Alexander
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Why not listen to your customers? People are pretty passionate about gaming, that's why we're often considered "nerds". While gamers don't always know what's best for them, sometimes they do. I've seen the posts on the various blogs and the communities are indeed hyped and responsive... I've even voted for some of the polls they've put out.



One of the things I really value as a player is a feeling that I've somehow stumbled upon "insider infos". For example, there are good arguments on both sides, but personally I loved it at the Wrath of the Lich King beta when Ghostcrawler started explaining behind-the-scenes discussions about decisions. I followed his posts like a disciple trying to gain every bit of insight I could into decisions made to better understand the game and what went into making potential changes.



Personable communication goes a hell of a long way with me. I like feeling like an individual, a friend to the company; not a consumer whore. (And how!)

Mu LaFlaga
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There's no such thing as a bad idea, only ones that are a better fit for your purpose than others. Might as well get all the crazy, pie in the sky, ideas out there so the developers can start culling them rather than having them develop one almost to fruition only to realize it sucks.

Trevor Cuthbertson
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Capcom certainly has a great idea. But with this idea comes a great danger. If management falls in love with the concept of allowing the public to “be part of the development team” too much, MML 3 could become a game that never gets completed. I think of Andy Warhol’s “15 Minutes of Fame” expression, but in this case, it would be “everyone is a professional.”


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