BlizzCon & QuakeCon: Benefits Enjoyed

A fairly recent phenomenon in an admittedly young industry, trade events involving competition and promotion held by gaming companies are becoming ever more ubiquitous. Two of the largest of these are Activision Blizzard’s behemoth ‘BlizzCon’ and ZeniMax Media’s giant ‘QuakeCon’. They both differ in aesthetic and presentation, employ somewhat juxtaposed marketing techniques and are significantly opposed in origin, yet they ultimately share analogous goals and achieve similar benefits.

BlizzCon is run by the huge gaming oligarch Blizzard (Activision Blizzard, 2010), developer and publisher of the overwhelmingly successful World of Warcraft, which has at least 4.5 million active subscribers (Lau, 2005) all paying a monthly fee of £8.99 (Activision Blizzard, 2010). On top of this cash cow Blizzard also have the wildly popular StarCraft and Diablo franchises that both enjoy massive fan followings. QuakeCon is an event held by idSoftware, now also co-hosted by Bethesda Softworks since the purchase of both companies by Zenimax Media (French, 2009), where other successful IPs are shown and played, including Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein.

The events are essentially Bring Your Own Computer (BYOC) Local Area Network (LAN) parties that are presented in a competitive format, alongside a larger conference and showcase of the latest news, announcements and games from Blizzard and ZeniMax – though it should be noted that QuakeCon is far more heavily weighted to the LAN element than BlizzCon is.

One of the primary motivations for staging the exposition, especially for Blizzard, is financial gain. The tickets retail for $150 and have sold out within an hour every year since its inception in 2005 (Olivetti, 2010). Exhibited at the Anaheim Convention Centre in California with a capacity of 30,000, a significant amount of revenue is obtained by Blizzard. Furthermore, those that cannot or choose not to attend BlizzCon in person are offered a live web or TV stream in a pay-per-view format of the three day event for the price of $39.95 (Plunkett, 2009). Clearly BlizzCon, despite its likely high overheads, generates a healthy income for the organisers.

It is not merely direct fiscal benefits that the companies attain. There are a great number of companies that sponsor the proceedings, from the purchased multimedia adverts exhibited at the conventions - either in print, video, in-game or other format – to the equipment provided by the corporate partners of ZeniMax at QuakeCon. NVidia, ATI and AMD all supply much of the extensive network of cabling and technology required to hold such an epic system of computers (id Software, 2010). This is beneficial not only to the consumers as entry fees are cheaper (it is essential in retaining QuakeCon as a free event), but also to the organisers as overheads and costs are lower; the service/equipment providers also enjoy perks, as they receive increased exposure to their target audiences and can demonstrate the competence of their products in a high-profile environment.

QuakeCon and BlizzCon are also a means with which to maintain a positive industry reputation for the hosts, and also a way to cement Blizzard’s and id’s prestige at being associated with successful and popular events (Chek Yang Foo, 2004).

It is this exposure that is particularly valued by the relevant companies, and a number of the features of the conventions exist primarily to generate hype and increase exposure to the companies and their products. The appearance of industry celebrities like John McCormack at QuakeCon leads to increased media coverage of the shows, and QuakeCon’s free entry to the public also summons as much exposure as possible. Press invitations from both conventions has gradually led to more and more widespread journalistic coverage: again a good opportunity for publicity for the involved businesses. Even the competitions themselves are primarily for PR and exposure purposes, as USPs like QuakeCon’s LAN-related Guiness World Record (Wikipedia Editors, 2010) and performances from mainstream acts such as Ozzy Osbourne at BlizzCon (WoWwiki, 2010) are as much about exposure as the competitions are. Indeed, much of the entertainments, competitions and events on show are tailored to the target audience and aimed at increasing publicity, rather than solely ‘for the sake of the event’.

LAN gamers [are] almost exclusively male, with a mean age of 19.5 years. They devoted about 2.6 hours each day to gaming. They were motivated by social contact and a need to know more about games. The competition motive was third in the total sample
- Jeroen Jansz, 2005

Much of the appeal for the punters to attend QuakeCon and BlizzCon seems to lie in the social element; community is central to the success of the shows. Moreover, they are interested in learning more about the games in question, and Blizzard and id Software reveal and showcase new titles accordingly. Games in the Quake, Doom, Wolfenstein, World of Warcraft and Diablo series have all been revealed and played for the first time at the conventions – very much part of the allure for attendees and the press alike.

Beta versions of these pre-release games are sometimes given away or played on-site (e.g. StarCraft 2 and Quake 3) which can give the developers direct feedback from the community on the quality, interest and usability of the game. It is important to note that both case studies are focused around MMOs or other online/multiplayer experiences. It is no surprise that BlizzCon and QuakeCon are so popular and also that they are even held at all, as online/multiplayer-based publishers need to maintain an active and informed relationship with their consumers. Many of the games at each convention rely on a form of community (e.g. World of Warcraft’s guilds and clans or Doom’s modding community) and it is vital that a healthy correspondence is upheld. This is true not only between player and company, but also between player and player. The success of a gaming company can be judged by the success at which it retains an ‘individual feel’: a unique branding and close community of both staff and player (Venkatesh Shanka, 2003).

The management of the community is not the solitary responsibility of Blizzard or id employees, and as I described beforehand it is also valuable for the players to feel bonded and connected in order to continue engaging with the publisher’s products, and thusly carry on contributing to their revenues through further subscription fees or future purchase of games or DLC. QuakeCon was actually devised and created by the Quake-playing community in 1996, before id stepped in to regulate and financially ease the running of the event. It still runs entirely with volunteer staff. Blizzard and ZeniMax obtain feedback from their active and most passionate sectors of their playing communities and also are able to profile their consumers in the process.

The conventions also include conferences; not only are games revealed, but also general industry talks and keynotes are held. Third party exhibits have also been present at the more recent stagings of BlizzCon and QuakeCon. Many of the events held at these conventions such as these are more broadly beneficial to the companies. A general and mutual advancement of the games industry is targeted and acquired by all of the appropriate companies involved – even though many of the aspects of the conventions may seem to not directly benefit the hosts, the indirect boost to the industry will ultimately benefit the hosts later on as the market is improved and widened.
The more new people we can get into the industry, the more it helps everybody... one of the cool things about this Quakecon is we have a number of different companies demonstrating games. And they’re all a little bit different.
- Tim Willits (Edge Magazine, 2007)

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