Siding with all the sides of the market

Every international corporation has multiple ‘faces’ of promotion. Rare companies like Coca-Cola has relatively universal marketing across the globe, while entertainment companies like Nintendo and Sony have very much different approach depending on the market region they are in. In Japan, Kirby smiles and is happy-go-lucky, while in the US he wears a determined frown ready to cut shit down. This is extremely simple and straightforward example, yet it extents how corporations act in different markets. When a corporation tells you they act globally and think globally, it’s less about ‘Global’ thinking and more about being in as many probable markets around the globe they can. Why? Money, of course.

The whole deal with Blizzard nuking Hearthstone player blitzchung’s status and winning money has made some people realise this. For example, some of the characters in Overtwatch are gay outside China, while in China this statement has not been made, as Chinese standards on statistically deviating and abnormal sexuality in media is rather harsh. That is, it’s pretty much banned without any exception. Video and computer games themselves are considered to be detriment to the society, and having such examples that don’t align with Chinese standards of what is considered accepted. Then you had Blizzard making a statement that is very much different from their official Weibo account. One makes clear that Blizzard is not tied to Chinese in any way nor they can influence Blizzard’s decision, while the other rather clearly sides with the Chinese government and side with the current Hong Kong situation. Let’s put aside that Blizzard’s Western statement has been questioned anyway, as its language structure appears to be by someone Chinese who speaks English relatively fluently.

This is, of course, completely normal.

Wait Aalt, isn’t this Blizzard having two different opposite stands at the same time? Yes and no. Company can have completely different standards and practices in different market regions. For China, they have to conform to Chinese standards, and have majority of Chinese ownership somehow in order to operate there. This is why many companies would rather work together with a Chinese company, like what Nintendo used to do with the iQue Player. The company named iQue was fully owned by the Chinese while being Nintendo’s subsidiary. This has been the de-facto way of doing business in China, though within the last decade or so the Chinese have taken major parts of shares of some companies, while Chinese companies doing the heavy lifting, especially in the movie industry, All movies that Legendary Pictures have been part of somehow have had relatively heavy Chinese influence in them, and seeing China has become the single largest film market, it’s not unsurprising that studios are making Chinese-only edits of their movies. I recall Iron Man 3 having a China specific cut, where a Chinese doctor was cut in throughout the movie and is set to be person who ultimately removes all the metal shards from Tony Stark’s chest.

The question whether or not this is good or bad is really up to you, dear reader. This is largely just the reality of things. Don’t mistake one second that companies don’t have conflicting interests globally. While claiming to be progressive by being in favour of whatever class of minorities works as a decent way of making money in the West, this of course doesn’t apply everywhere and strategies need to be adjusted. Make no mistake, whatever the surface dwelling issue might be, companies will strike it to make money. Revealing characters to be homosexual seems to be very easy way to get in the good side of some of the customers seems to be a successful plan, at least in the US. Europe is not unified in this nearly to the same extent, and one way of advertising in London wouldn’t really work as well in Germany. Different cultures, different values.

That is the core here really. We expect companies to work under the regulations and values set in a country or region when they come from abroad. They might have damn good products, but they better hit the local consensus. Blizzard might be an American company, but that doesn’t negate that it is more sensible to try to cater the Chinese as well. Of course, most of the Western audience expects stances that cover the global market, but that is largely impossible. You can’t expect Americans to placate to Chinese values and vice versa. In the US, and probably in most regions outside China, banning blitzchung was extremely bad PR move. English speaking users have gone their way of closing their accounts, burning their games and overall voting with their wallets. Not all, some just don’t give a rat’s ass either way.

The question of course is if this is financially all that sensible. The Chinese market bubble isn’t looking too healthy in the future, despite being less than one third of the US economy. This is important, as US can be largely self-sufficient when it comes to international markets, while places like Japan have to import foodstuff and such. China could be too, but it doesn’t have the infrastructure or culture to be so. Chinese economical interests have been in building empty cities and expanding in Africa and Europe. China is dependent on exporting to the US though. According to George Friedman, China sends quarter of its exports to the US. If, perhaps when the US decides to pull off from the world stage, China’s economy is fucked. Around 2010, Friedman also estimated that China’s debt is around 40%, but still won’t enforce economic discipline. Japan had to do this in the 1990’s, which lead many unprofitable companies to be culled, something that continues to this day. Just look at how many Visual Novel companies have gone down in the recent years.

While catering to Chinese markets is completely standard procedure, something you don’t hear about because you’re not in the market, Chinese economy has higher chances imploding. Gaming is high-risk investment, and the Chinese are putting lots of money into gaming now to ride it. Electronic games market will feel when it hits. Companies with majority Chinese holders and money sources will dry up, projects will be cancelled and lots of people will lose their jobs. The Chinese government will put its citizens and companies before foreign ones. The Chinese market is not the same as Western markets, it is a twisted version of it at best. China is a communist nation after all, though their practices are more akin to fascism. Not Nazi fascism, but the kind that made The New Deal successful, the third road between capitalism and communism, putting the state at the handle of markets and companies. With Western companies, especially the US ones during when US seems to be retracting itself, are investing and putting their focus and effort like Blizzard has, the end result will be weak performance outside Chinese market, at worst straight out losing out if and when the Chinese economical implosion takes place.

I wouldn’t be worried about what happens to a games company in China. I’d be more worried about the incoming macro-economic shitstorm that is about to hit the world. The US can handle themselves just fine, the rest of the world really can’t. The Western world has fatal number of elderly people compared to the younger generation to replace them as workforce. When nations say they need immigrants to do work, they’re not lying. Global recession is imminent and countries have to look after their own asses. Common money like the Euro might end up fucking many nations over, thanks to already existing EMU partner nations who lied about their economical statuses and expected other member nations to bail them out whenever needed. In retrospect, it was a stupid idea for any EU nation to follow EU’s trading ban with Russia when Russia is one of the largest trading partners. In Finland, some of the industries like dairy products had to revamp their sales models and where they imported their products, as Russia was the most important trading partner. The dairy industry never got the same money off from European sales they managed to put up. If you’re not your own boss, you should be worried about your job.

It’s a small miracle that companies don’t practice different branding and advertising more in different regions. Of course, this is part of the whole globally recognised brand thing. I may not appreciate Blizzard having almost opposite stances in China compared to most of the rest of the world, but I can’t really boycott a company I was never a customer of. Game companies hope to hit gold with the Chinese bubble before it bursts, but after treating their PR this badly, they’ll have to work thrice as hard to win back the audience. All of it will be plastic surgery on the surface, while the core won’t change. Blizzard’s PR disaster probably will haunt them for a while among the fandom, but that will last only so long. They’ve lost a lot of good will from their customers, but their interest lies elsewhere. Vote with your wallet. People who say this doesn’t work clearly haven’t kept theirs closed enough. Make the company know your displeasure, hit where it hurts, and demand their focus to be on more solid market, market that houses the consumers who made their company.

Blizzard against their core audience

A lot has been said about the events in recent Blizzcon at this point. I do recommend watching a version of Diablo Immortal‘s reveal, like this one with Youtube chat enabled at the side.

The instant reaction of the fans can be summed as negative, if we’re diplomatic about it. After few applauds, some of which are always warranted or given by the staff around the group, there is no cheering. The sound of disapproval is silent, and Wyatt Cheng, the presenter, feels the pressure. He didn’t expect things to go this badly.

Blizzard’s core audience is PC gamers. Mobile may be  branch of PC gaming, but the core audience is fundamentally different due to the user interface and culture around them. A person playing a high-end PC game is not exactly interested in shoving thousands of dollars into Fate/Grand Order. By making their big announcement a mobile game to an audience that doesn’t want to play their favourite franchise on a mobile phone. This sort of announcement should have been a supplementary one alongside something more important, not the main dish itself.

The Diablo Immortal QA is a travesty, full of non-answers. Around the mid-point, a fan asks if there are plans to bring this to PC. There are no plans to bring it to PC at this point, which nets booing from the audience. Rather than taking this professionally and simply not react to this, the presenters directly counter the audience by asking if they don’t have a mobile phone or a tablet. This is the very moment Blizzard loses the audience and their fans. Their stance, attitude and reservations are on the edge thanks to the very silent reception of cinematic trailer. Simple business presentation rule in events like this is never to attack the consumer, especially when they are your core audience. You want to keep them happy, you want to tell tales that would put you in their favour. By asking if they don’t have phones to play the game with is the exact opposite what you should be doing.

Even if the audience had phones to play with, how many of them have a phone that can run modern mobile titles? Mines only few years old and some of the new ones just crap on it. Some don’t own a smartphone at all, instead opting for a standard mobile phone. Tablets had a big boom at one point, but not all people own a tablet, opting for a laptop or just not having a need for one.

No, it’s not an off-season joke, but this is a downhill road they can’t recover easily.

Following Capcom IR relations post, the reader should have a grasp why Blizzard wanted to do a mobile game. The possible revenues from that market are larger than the ones on PC or consoles. However, just like with Capcom, Blizzard has to fight a battle against money-making trains that sink pretty much everything around them. The aforementioned F/GO prints money every single day. It’s easy to see Blizzard thinking they can grab the market with a well-known IP, and by having a company that has a history of doing mobile games they most likely consider themselves to have money in the bank. NetEase is rather infamous developer in that they push micro-transactions in their games harder than most other companies to the point of being exploitative. Even the Chinese Diablo fans seem to be livid about this.

However, just as Capcom recognizes they lack the skill and know-how with mobile games, the situation seems to be the exact same with Blizzard. They will gain some whales to gain money from, but whether or not the game will turn out a title to rival big name mobile games is something only time will tell. Blizzard can only hope that it will.

The mobile market is already seen loads of Diablo-like games, and it would appear NetEase has opted to basically reskin an existing game of theirs,  Crusaders of Light, to serve as Diablo Immortal. While Blizzard tried to response to the audience in regards of this in an interview with IGN, they don’t dismiss this, but effectively dance around the issue. What’s one more game into the fray going to do, even with a recognizable IP?

Diablo Immortal‘s cinematic trailer on Youtube is one of their most disliked trailer, sitting at 17k likes against 437k dislikes. The number is skewed, as Blizzard has opted to moderate comments and the like/dislike ratio, which you can check via Socialblade. People have also been archiving the page. This isn’t anything new, the same thing happened with the Ghostbusters trailer.

Considering this sort of aggressive moderation is being done, Blizzard is not aware of their position as a product provider. The lifeline they have is their consumers. Blizzard doesn’t consider its core consumers’ wishes or wants, but they will monitor you if you play Overwatch and ban you if you misbehave in social media. Does Blizzard even care that they have a PR disaster in their hands? Probably not. As with many other things on the Internet, this one will probably be a blip and nothing more. Fans who disavow Blizzard will probably be back if Diablo 4 gets officially announced. A rumour is going around that they pulled Diablo 4‘s announcement because the development has been a mess. They missed their chance for a one-two punch.

Ultimately, this is both target audience and service failure. The target demographic of Diablo Immortal is not the same as with Diablo 3 or other long-running Blizzard franchise. By opting not to announce Diablo 4, even if was in a state where they could not show anything outside some concept trailers or such, it would have served better for Blizzcon, the place where the core audience came to. Their core audience response at the event leaves little room for guessing.

A response like this howls

Of course, this being being the biggest thing in games news for the week, there have been people who defend a million dollar corporation from fans hurting their feelings. After all, this is their IP, they can do whatever they want with it. Just like consumers can decide what to do with their money. This has gone from one extreme to another, but calling dissatisfied consumers as Nazis is few steps too far. This is business about entertainment, and consumers have all the rights to decide whether or not they want to purchase or boo when they get slapped in the face.