Monday, May 21, 2012

The value of a Brand: Diablo 3 versus Dungeon Siege 3

It is not by chance that I have an Android phone while my wife uses an Apple product. After eighteen years of marriage it has become patently clear that we hold mutually opposing views on the value of branding. My lovely wife is a brand junkie. She has an inherent distrust of generic products and if possible she will always go for the most expensive market leading brand. I on the other hand am not so much a brand agnostic as a brand atheist. I actively seek out cheaper products and avoid buying the market leader ever. I will trawl the internet and walk the roads for lesser known alternatives and nothing pleases me quite so much as finding a little known product that costs less and performs better that the brand leader.  

I am sure this opposition was a cause of strife in the early years of our union but 18 years of happy marriage has a way of moulding a couple's habits together. Compromises become so embedded you forget they are even there. At this stage we apply our preferences to our own private purchases and simply take for granted that the labels in our larder change dramatically depending on who does the grocery shopping.

If I were in militant mood I might boast at my thriftiness in comparison to my wife's indulgence but to be honest over the years I have come to see a certain logic in her position. It is not so much a matter of brand snobbery as a matter of guaranteed performance. For every story of a bargain I picked up that met our needs she could counter with examples of shoddy substitutes that performed as meagerly as they cost.

When you buy a phone from Apple, a car from Mercedes, a tin of beans from Heinz or a detergent from Proctor and Gamble you may or may not be getting the best product and you probably aren't getting the cheapest product. You are however almost certainly getting a product which does what you expect it to do. If I were in the mood for a rant I would point out that the reason big brands usually meet expectations is because we, sheep like consumers that we are, fall for their hype and allow them to mould our expectations to miraculaously coincide with the capabilities of their own offering. Regardless, whether it is due to brainwashing or not, buy a well known brand and you are buying insurance against dissapointment.

What has this got to do with gaming? Well Tobold today wrote a piece musing on the value of the brand to Diablo 3. In a somewhat dismissive summary of the game he suggest that the Diablo brand adds as much as 20 points to the review score. I think he may be missing the point. You cannot judge Diablo without taking into account the implicit promise of the brand. The generally positive impressions I have read from others is that the game play is exactly what they expect in a Diablo game with a high degree of polish on top. This is the promise of the brand fulfilled and the game is going to make a tonne of money for Blizzard. Indeed the only question marks on the horizon relate to the innovations of requiring an always on internet and the advent of a real money auction house but it seems likely at this stage that customers may complain about these for a while but still keep playing.

Contrast this with Dungeon Siege 3. Dungeon Siege never commanded quite as much respect as Diablo but it is nevertheless a very successful brand and one would expect a sequel to benefit from that. The game itself is very good and highly enjoyable but it is not what Dungeon Siege fans expected. They expected a hack and slash dungeon crawl, what they got is closer to third person action adventure. Rather than profiting from the brand the game seems to have suffered because of it with luke warm reviews and complaints from many customers. The implicit promise of branding was not honoured and the brand itself has been tarnished.

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