Two sides of the same coin: Co-creation in the videogame industry


Value co-creation has started to spread more and more across various industries during the last decade. Media consumers have taken up the role of media producers, as firms give them the opportunity to design, produce or market content. And the game industry is no exception to this phenomenon.

Examples of games such as Spore and Little Big Planet, that rely heavily on user generated content, have introduced a new era for videogames, where the role of co-creative gamer is born (Banks & Potts, 2010). While many benefits may potentially be derived from this new trend, there are also dangers that might lead to utter failure. Two opposite case studies prove that it is not easy to find the keys to success.

Fury was an online game that was released in October 2007. During its development phase, the game looked quite promising. There were a lot of expert gamers that spent hours playing the open beta version, providing the designer company, Auran, with valuable feedback for improvement (Banks & Potts, 2010). In addition, since the game was used by some highly-ranked members of the online gaming community, many players were intrigued to try it out resulting in a form of online word-of-mouth marketing. The developers changed Fury quite a lot, always according to user feedback they were getting. However, in the end this advantage backfired. Upon the game’s release, the reviews were disappointing to say the least. Hardcore gamers, who spent hours providing input to improve the game, accused Auran that they released the game too early and did not take enough time to carefully implement most things discussed in the feedback. As a result, the gaming community turned its back on the project and Fury was shut down shortly after its release.

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Co-creation can indeed backfire…

Auran underestimated the consumers’ needs. As many expert gamers pointed out, they did not change some of the key aspects of the game simply because they did not want to. Introducing consumer value creation can disrupt some of the traditional models on which production in a certain industry is based (Banks & Potts, 2010). In this case, the expert producers disregarded the customers’ opinions and insisted on something that turned out to be unacceptable for the market. Nevertheless, there is always a way to find the right balance between company and consumer value creation. And the case of World of Warcraft makes a perfect example of this balance.

Blizzard is one of the largest gaming companies in the world. One of its biggest successes came with the release of the online game World of Warcraft, which is still the largest online game 10 years after its release with more than 10 million subscribers. But how did Blizzard use value co-creation effectively? Apart from the open beta version that was made available prior to the game’s release, the company made available, along with the full version of the game, a free API through which users could customize their user interface (Davidovici-Nora, 2009). Therefore, Blizzard put minimal effort in designing a simple and easy to use UI for casual gamers, while giving the opportunity to more hardcore consumers to enrich that UI according to their specific needs. They achieved this by creating add-ons that provided the original UI with additional functionalities. Users were also able to share their add-ons through the game’s online community. What Blizzard achieved, apart from minimum effort costs in interface design, was to keep the core of the game intact as the developers wanted it (Davidovici-Nora, 2009). But on the other hand, they empowered gamers by allowing them to create tools that would make their experience better.

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The opposite side of the coin: co-creation at its best!

The two case studies represent two different models of co-creation. On the one hand there is the use of open beta versions, which give the consumer the role of game tester and provide valuable feedback to the companies. In this more traditional model, co-creation happens before the marketing of the game (Davidovici-Nora, 2009). On the other hand, Blizzard used the API to allow gamers to create value even after the game’s marketing and to “pass on” to them the role of game developer, even to a certain extent. However, it was not this difference that determined the success or failure of the projects. Both cases show that value co-creation can be a powerful ally, but as companies give customers more power over their products, they need to take these newly forged relationships into account more seriously.

Hence, the gaming industry has reached an era where gamers are more useful than ever, as they do not purely consume but they are actively involved in game development. The lesson to be learned is that, as consumers gain more power over product creation, firms need to be ready to abandon some of the more traditional business models in order to make a successful transition into this new era of co-creation.

References:

Banks, John, and Jason Potts. “Co-creating games: a co-evolutionary analysis.” New Media & Society (2010).

Davidovici-Nora, Myriam. “The dynamics of co-creation in the video game industry: The case of world of warcraft.” Communications & Strategies 73 (2009): 43.

Jenkins, Henry. “Why Co-Creation Matters: An Interview with John Banks.” Henryjenkins.org (2014)

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