Episode 7: Alan Wilson on gaming, creating and fierce customer loyalty

Alan Wilson is a founder a co-owner of one of the most creative gaming companies around, Tripwire. He talks about how they’ve grown to millions of loyal users. He also talks about when to pay attention to and when to ignore bad reviews.


Rudy Fernandez:           Hey, this is Rudy Fernandez. My guest this episode is Alan Wilson, co-founder and co-owner of Tripwire Interactive. It’s a gaming company that’s grown to millions of users in a really short amount of time. Tripwire gamers are fiercely loyal to the games and to the brand itself. We talked about how Tripwire does that. We also talked about how gaming companies give fans a voice in designing mods for their product. Also, we talked about shooting stuff. Welcome to Marketing Upheaval.

Earcon:                         You’re listening to Marketing Upheaval from Creative Outhouse.

Rudy:                           Thanks for listening to Marketing Upheaval. My guest is Alan Wilson, vice president, co-owner and one of the founders of Tripwire Interactive. Tripwire has released ground-breaking games like Red Orchestra, the Killing Floor series, Vietnam, Chivalry, and Maneater. They have more than 10 million users and growing and we’re going to talk about how they do that. Thanks for joining me, Alan.

Alan Wilson:                 My pleasure.

Rudy:                           So, you actually started with a game before you had a company, right?

Alan:                            It’d be polite to call it a game. It was what we call a mod, which is where you take somebody else’s game, hack it around and make it actually good.

Rudy:                           But you won the Make Something Unreal contest in 2004.

Alan:                            Yeah. It was originally intended to be a contest for amateurs. And as we discovered on the way through, we were the only amateur team in the top 10 competing. The rest were all pros trying to catch some extra cash.

Rudy:                           Wow. That’s when you decided, “Well, we should do this for a living.”

Alan:                            Yeah, well, I mean when we won the contest, we got a lot of press acclaim, we had, I don’t know, half a million people playing the mod and we kind of all sat around and went, “What do we do now? We kind of better do a company or something because Epic’s kind of expecting something.” So we did.

Rudy:                           The perception of a gamer is always the nerd in the room by himself in his mom’s basement, but it’s actually moving more and more female now. It’s 56-44 male-female.

Alan:                            Yeah.

Rudy:                           And there’s more and more females coming in and the majority of the American public plays games, so past 60%. So, what’s changed in terms of how you release a game? How you market the game? How you get users interested in a game?

Alan:                            We founded the company in 2005. Back in those days, you’re still at the point where games were released in boxes. They went on store shelves. The first step in all those changes was really, well when selling games went digital, particularly, initially on the PC. And our title, Red Orchestra, was one of the first three non-Valve titles released on Steam, which became the predominant PC digital marketing platform.

Rudy:                           When you released Red Orchestra I guess it got a lot of buzz from winning?

Alan:                            Yeah, I mean yes, we got a lot of buzz. We got a lot of press from winning the contest. The thought that modders could come up and do all these exciting things and then go on to make a game was a pretty new idea. But our mod team starting up on their own and succeeding, I don’t think it had been done before. I think we were pretty much the first.

Rudy:                           And because I’m a newb, and anybody else that’s listening a mod is it’s sort of the video game version of fan fiction.

Alan:                            If you want to think of the fan fiction analogy, kind of think of, yeah take the Harry Potter books. Take the chapters you don’t like and throw them away. The idea is you take someone else’s game, you rip it apart, throw up a whole bunch of art assets away, create your own, and replace a whole bunch of stuff.

Rudy:                           And you made the game better than the original.

Alan:                            Well, that’s what we’d like to think, yeah.

Rudy:                           Well, a lot of people think. When you promote a game, just some forums are huge.

Alan:                            It’s definitely changed when you’re talking about the last 15 years begone.

Rudy:                           The ones I see are forums, events. You speak at a lot of events. There’s obviously digital, social influencer stuff. A lot of big gamers use traditional media.

Alan:                            Yeah, it has changed dramatically and the pace of the change of the change isn’t slowing up any. If you go back 15 years, maybe stop and think about it, traditional print media still existed. And there’s only one place we do any print advertising at all and that’s in PC Gamer and that’s only when we come up to a big release. I mean, yeah, you’re right, we used to troll forums a lot because that was free. You were starting to buy banner advertising and stuff like that, kind of in its infancy. And the whole concept of influences, YouTube, Twitch, streaming, all of that was… It didn’t even exist then.

Rudy:                           How has it changed now? I mean, I guess the tactics are the same? Or have they changed?

Alan:                            To be quite honest, we’ve been kind of wrestling with it for probably the last two or three years. We started a few years back, just started trying to track the effectiveness of different things and you realize that a couple of years ago we were still carefully crunching our numbers through web advertising, take over, a page take over on IGN or something like this, per what sort of how many clicks per dollar are we getting only to realize that actually, the whole influencer thing was already overtaking that.

Alan:                            Then it was a shift of gears again to try and think about, “Okay, how do we make use of that? Who do we talk to? Where do we go for that? How do you get into it without us having to chase down every nascent streamer who vaguely might like our games?” It’d be impossible. We work with a specialist company based up in New York whose job it is to keep track of all these guys and girls, you know we just did an influencer campaign for the update that’s went out for Vietnam. Four influencers involved, but again, it’s going through a third party to figure out which of those influencers are likely to have the audiences that we want to get at.

Alan:                            And then you’re thinking about, “Well, hang on. We don’t actually want to communicate this to the people who already play our game.” Because they’ve already bought it and yeah, well you want them to come back and play more, that’s good. Yeah, one of the key points of doing all these repeated updates on games and adding new content for free is A, to get the people to come back to play the game to get the player numbers up, and B, of course, is to make the updates pay for themselves, is to get new customers. So, it’s about finding the influencers who’ve got the reach into the kind of audiences we think we’re after.

Rudy:                           You try to create like a profile of people who play a certain game and then try to find those people elsewhere?

Alan:                            A lot of it. It’s still very subjective. Yeah, when someone recommends a set of influences to us, we’ll sit down and start watching some of their videos, start looking at their channels and go, “Who’s actually watching?” I think it was when we released Killing Floor 2, so it was March, might have been back as far as 2016. We found a whole bunch of people popping up and going, “Hey, can I get a review key? I’m a YouTube streamer. I’m Twitch streamer. I’d love to play your game with my friends.” And to start with, like everybody else, you just go, “Oh, great, cool,” and start handing out keys. Now, you start to wonder, and you go looking and you go, “Wait. You’ve got one video of you playing Minecraft and you and your mother have watched it. No! Go away.”

Rudy:                           So that’s the influencer in this area is the person playing the game and evaluating the game as you play?

Alan:                            It’s not solely evaluating the game. A perfect example with Vietnam. Beginning of this year, an influencer called, and I ought to double check this, but anyway, called SovietWomble, a fellow Brit. He and some friends had just happened to play some Rising Storm 2: Vietnam, put out a video, and it’s had about seven million hits.

Rudy:                           Wow.

Alan:                            And you could actually see the impact on our sales. You could actually measure it, and you know, if you could pay for that it would be wonderful.

Rudy:                           Yeah. He was not a paid influencer, right?

Alan:                            He was not a paid influencer-

Rudy:                           He’s someone who liked your game, one-

Alan:                            He just enjoyed the game, was doing all sorts of stupid stuff. That’s a large part of it is if people see someone who has similar sensibilities to them, having a ton of shits and giggles out of playing this game, they’re going to take an interest.

Rudy:                           He hears someone, he had fun, and someone else said, “I want to have fun, too.”

Alan:                            Yeah, I mean it leads on to that thing which drives me nuts which is people going, “Oh yeah, we need to create a viral video,” and you’re going, “No.”

Rudy:                           Well, let me tell you, as a creative person, I have gotten that a lot. “We need to create a viral video.” It’s like, “Really? Great.”

Alan:                            Yeah, really, we need a viral marketing campaign.

Rudy:                           Sure.

Alan:                            Yeah, yes. Sure.

Rudy:                           And to be honest, a lot of the social networks have made it harder to do that. They like for you to pay for things.

Alan:                            Oh, yes.

Rudy:                           So, one of the things that strikes me. People take their gaming, the games that they like to play, it’s very personal for them. They seem to be part of the brand. When people are in forums, let’s say, and they don’t like something about a game. They don’t just say, “Gosh. I don’t like that about the game.” They are very passionate about things they don’t like and things they do like and things they expect from games that they have played in the past, as if they have an ownership of it. Do you find that to be true?

Alan:                            There’s a caveat lurking here, and it’s one we have to remind ourselves of all the time. We just put out say the update we just did for Vietnam. We added on a green army men-

Rudy:                           I saw that. That was very clever.

Alan:                            Yeah, I mean that was fun enough. It plays to our history of don’t buy a mod team. They own it and we just got together with them and said, “This deserves a wider audience. Let’s do it.” But we had to… Because they’ve never released anything and they’ve never seen that level of feedback. I mean, they’ve released bits of mod through Steam Workshop, but a few hundred people will play it and you don’t get the same level of intensity, I think is a polite word for it.

Alan:                            And over the last, what are we on, Monday? Last six days they’ve started to see, for example, Reddit fire up with “I don’t like this.” And they’re going, wondering whether they should immediately leap on and change everything. No. First off, and this is where I was going with the caveat, is yes, some people get very wound up in it and very involved and all the rest of it, but it’s a very small minority.

Alan:                            We’ve seen this a number of time, I mean, we’ve had a classic example, must be seven or eight years ago, which is a real sort of really hammered that lesson home to us when we released the first DLC, downloadable content, weapon pack for Killing Floor 1 and asked people to pay for it. They were assigned grades from other weapons it’s not going to give you an advantage. It’s a cult game anyway. You’re all on the same side. But on our forums, at that time, the day or two after we released that pack, there were one or two people in the building beginning to think, “Oh God, have we done something terrible?” Because those people were out with pitch forks and-

Rudy:                           Because they had to pay for it?

Alan:                            Just because we were evil, money-grabbing dirt bags. I had kind of got used to this and I sat down and I counted, it was about 20 people on the forums who got their said pitchforks and the pitchforks and torches out for us and I had to point out to people that we, in the time that those 20 people were screaming blue murder on the forums, we sold over 100,000 units of this DLC and you’re going, “Guys, 20 people hate you. 100,000 people love you. We need to get a balance here.” It’s a strange phenomenon, is that yes, some people get really wound up in it and really invested in what they’re doing and I understand that, I mean hey, I’m a gamer as well. I know it’s sort of you bury one hundred, two hundred hours into a game, and yeah, you’re kind of invested in that. They can get very, very vociferous.

Alan:                            You’ll find we’ve actually changed which forums and so on we monitor because they have changed over the years. You look back and it’s actually kind of bizarre to us that we’re saying that we now go to Reddit as some of the most sane and reasoned of the forums that we listen to. Two or three years ago if someone had said that to me, you’d just go, “Don’t be ridiculous. Reddit’s full of nut jobs and it’s a cesspool.” And now Reddit actually has changed somehow.

Alan:                            But yeah, to your point, people do get very, very invested in that and we do understand why because we’re mostly all gamers here. And yeah you do get really invested in that stuff. The debate that some people get a little too invested. Look, it’s a game, but you have to keep in mind the bizarreness that we’ve had more than one couple come up to us at shows and say, “Hey, we just want to thank you. We met playing Killing Floor 1, Killing Floor 2, and we got married,” and you’re going, “Wow.”

Rudy:                           So they were playing multi-user games? For those listening, Killing Floor’s a multi-user game-

Alan:                            Killing Floor’s a co-op game so you get-

Rudy:                           So they met via, however, just playing?

Alan:                            Yeah, and we’ve had that happen at least twice, which just kind of gives you just a mental nudge as to how much people invest in that world. Yeah, we had people with Killing Floor 1 come up and say, “Oh, I looked at the stats on Killing Floor 2 recently.” On Killing Floor 1, we had people who, in the space of five years, have played over 3,000 hours of the game. When you stop and do the arithmetic, that’s something like it’s about two hours a day for five years. It’s a phenomenal amount of time to put into something. So you can see how people get really, really invested in these things. And if you kind of mess up their experience, some of them will let it be known.

Rudy:                           Because it’s a vital part of their life and not just their life, I guess it’s part of their social life because, given that you’re playing with other people, whether they’re in the room with you or somewhere else, they become sort of a community.

Alan:                            Oh, yeah. We ought to be careful about that because you have to remember that the four of us who founded the company had never met before we founded the company. You know, online dating, we met through the internet. We chatted through, I think it was IRC in those days, so yeah, the internet is a weird and wonderful thing.

Rudy:                           Yeah. I wanted to ask you about DLC’s. Now you said that a group of people created the toy soldier version of-

Alan:                            Green army men, yeah.

Rudy:                           I thought it was hilarious. I love that. How does that work? Did they just submit that to you or did you ask them to do that?

Alan:                            No. How it works, it’s primarily on a PC because it’s very much harder to do on the consoles. What they’ve basically done, sorry to interrupt this, they’ve basically taken the base game and do what we call start by re-skinning. So, you basically completely change up the uniforms they’re wearing and everything else and make basically what they did was to just make the whole thing, “Hey, these guys are bright green. These guys are bright blue.” Do the same thing with the weapons, re-skin them so that they no longer look like nice shiny weapons with bits of wood and plastic furniture and stuff. They’re green plastic and blue plastic.

Rudy:                           Toy soldiers.

Alan:                            So then, take all our stuff out, they use all our animations, with some modifications for the toy aesthetic, build their own maps to play in, and hey, presto, now you’ve got a map which you set on the ones we released in a pool party. It’s set around the pool instead of running around in the jungle, you’re running around the pool side and jumping in the pool as sort of three inch toy soldiers.

Rudy:                           But that’s unique, I think, to your industry. So, you don’t see Dove soap saying “Hey, we’re going to hand over the formula to our soap. You guys make a different version of the soap and see we’ll help you push that out.” No one that I can think of, there’s not a “Here’s our product. We’re going to give it to you. Create something on it.”

Alan:                            Which brings to mind, on short notice would be you’d think about it, at least in a current strain in the auto industry, you’ll see people doing a variety of after market mods to the car. It may well just be, “Oh, I want a prettier wheels,” through to some of the bizarrer things that people do to their cars.

Rudy:                           Yeah, but then the car manufacturer doesn’t push it out and say, “Hey, look what this guy did.”

Alan:                            Well, that’s the thing actually. I’ve sometimes wondered why the car industry doesn’t do and you see all the aftermarket kits you can get for Mustang. I mean, it’s phenomenal. Why doesn’t Ford buy the best of that in and sell it through the Ford aftermarket store or whatever you’d call it and take a rake off.

Rudy:                           No, I think that’s brilliant. I think, because again, the more I talk to you, the more I realize that that’s one of the bigger changes overall in brands is it used to be your brand belongs to you. And now, because people always felt close to whatever brand of whatever product they use. However, now they have a platform to say, “I’m mad at this brand,” or, “I think this,” or, “I think that,” where you can’t ignore it anymore.

Alan:                            I think you’re right, I mean to the point you were making earlier I think it’s an interesting and people aren’t just taking ownership of the game. They are taking ownership of the brand and you’ll see people, on the one hand, it’s great for us. We have well established brands and if the pitchforks come out for some reason, 99% of the time we have basically a couple of million brand ambassadors who will go and fight our battle for us, which is very convenient.

Alan:                            But to your point about people getting vociferous about changes to that, you go from iteration to iteration of a game, like we started out with Red Orchestra, the first Red Orchestra. Then we did Red Orchestra 2 and then we did Rising Storm and then did Rising Storm 2 Vietnam. They’re a whole sequence. And each time you do that, you will get people who are basically going, “I used to love your brand, now I hate you,” because they are invested not just in that game itself, but in the whole brand. There’s pros and cons to it, a decent extent, as we work up recognition of the company name as well. This almost an ownership in that fan base are corporate brand and you’ll see people who haven’t even bought Killing Floor 2 jumping on to forums to defend Tripwire and you’re like, “Wow. What is that? How does that work? How can you use it? Or how do you use it to your advantage? What are the threats?”

Rudy:                           I saw, because I know you’ve spoken at a lot of different gaming conferences, I don’t know what you call them, there’s like all kinds. You’ve spoken at cosplay, all kinds of stuff.

Alan:                            Yeah, we do a lot of, well, a fair number, of conferences. There’s the developer centric ones and the consumer centric ones, but yeah.

Rudy:                           And I saw where somebody created an avatar of you, actually. It didn’t look like you at all, but here was somebody who was a fan of, I guess, Tripwire, and created an avatar of you holding a gun and looking like sort of a Rambo type thing.

Alan:                            I should probably be deeply flattered.

Rudy:                           Or disturbed.

Alan:                            That too. There’ve been some strange ones over the years and let’s face the fact I’m not famous. Most people wouldn’t know who I am-

Rudy:                           After this podcast.

Alan:                            This is true, yeah.

Rudy:                           So, that I think is going back to what you’re saying. People finding a loyalty in the brand and what is that? Why are they loyal to the brand? There’s probably lots of reasons. The community aspect that you offer them, I guess just the experience. If you give people a good experience, then they connect. There’s an old Maya Angelou line is, “People may not remember what you do or say, but they’ll always remember the way you make them feel.”

Alan:                            Yep.

Rudy:                           And I think that that’s probably where you’re finding the loyalty.

Alan:                            That’s very true, and in our case, we’ll talk for hours on the phone. We’ve done free updates to our games since the get-go. It was something we kind of came into as a mod team where we did, we launched the first game. Most games were fire and forget. You put them in a box. You print off a couple of million units and scatter them across the globe. If something goes drastically wrong somewhere, you pull the team back together and do an update that fixes it and push it out through this internet thing and some people will find it, but we wanted to keep updating the games and we’ve been giving away free content for our games ever since.

Alan:                            I think that sort of thing probably contributes toward that strong brand loyalty, just because it is about communication. It’s about two way communication. It’s about being seen to listen to the customers to the point where yeah, we’ll get on the forums and with the release of the last Tuesday, I’ve been on and off Reddit just commenting on one or two places. We had an issue over the weekend and it’s just picking out “Hey, look. Yeah, we’ve heard. We’ll get it sorted,” and that’s important that people see that, “Okay, look. This is very complex software. There’s going to be issues, but what do you do about it?”

Alan:                            I think there’s an old adage somewhere about the most loyal customer is the one who had a problem and you fixed it for them, so I think that sort of stuff helps as well, and it’s probably also why some of the big publishing houses, the EA‘s and Activisions, tend to get hated because no one ever sees them doing any of that stuff. Even if they do do it they don’t make a big thing about the fact that they’re fixing things and doing stuff for the customer. It always appears they’re doing stuff for them.

Rudy:                           That’ll have to change. I think every brand, if they’re not aware of it, is going to become aware of it, your customers, they have to be loyal to the brand and if you’re not loyal to them, if you don’t give them a good experience, then they’re going to make sure a lot of people know about it.

Alan:                            Yeah, it’s an interesting one because you see, in the gaming world, you see the sort of the juggernaut games. You know, the GTA’s, Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, things like this which are just complete juggernauts. You’ll see them turn out a game every two or three years. And even after all the screaming about how much you charging, what are you doing, what’s this season past crap. They still sell them in millions and millions of units.

Rudy:                           Yeah.

Alan:                            As people pointed out the last couple of iterations of those have been sliding. Not enough to threaten the universe just yet, but it’d be interesting to see how those big companies react in the next few years. I think that’s half their trouble though, is their time to react.

Rudy:                           Yeah. I think that’s true of any big company. There used to be a, back in my world of an N ad guy who said, “How big do we get before we get bad?”

Alan:                            It’s something we ask ourselves about. How big do we want to be because we can see those things and you still think. We can’t end up making those mistakes because if you get to the point where you make those mistakes, you’re suddenly a different thing entirely.

Rudy:                           You have to keep up. You say you have to listen to the customers, to what’s out there in the ether and constantly keep on top of that and if you’re in the hundreds of millions of units, that’s a lot of people.

Alan:                            Just look at the development time. When you’re talking from inception to actual release, probably three to five years. So you’ve got to be looking at a long way down the line anyway and be prepared, for the trends are going to change in that period of time, the trends about how do you monetize games?

Alan:                            A good example, Loot Crates, where you’re playing the game and you get dropped a crate. There are plenty of games that you get this crate for free, don’t know what’s in it, and you can pay to unlock it. Now this started to run foul of European legislation, although now it’s potentially becoming an issue over here as well, where people are going, “Ah, wait. This is gambling. Because you don’t know what’s in these crates.” And Belgium, Netherlands, if I remember rightly, have both had these Loot Crates in games, on the grounds that if you’re playing and that’s a business model that’s probably going to have to change and change fairly rapidly.

Rudy:                           And if you’re developing a game three to five years down the line and that’s part of your revenue model, you-

Alan:                            Suddenly you’ve got to take a chunk of your revenue. If you like the underlying infrastructure to the game and worst case, throw the whole thing out, and start again and go, “Okay, so if we’re not using Loot Crates because it looks like they’re going to be toxic in the next year or so.”

Rudy:                           Is that in the category of micro-transactions?

Alan:                            Yep. All in Vietnam, for example, we do DLC, which is kind of like micro-transactions, but you know exactly what you’re going to get. Our biggest selling pack for Vietnam is basically personalized touch cosmetic pack, which basically gives you a whole bunch of mustaches, tattoos and stuff, but you know exactly what it is so there’s no concept of gambling. Here’s the price. Here’s what you get.

Rudy:                           So you’re a player and you buy a pack and you can dress up in a mustache and have a tattoo.

Alan:                            Indeed. Yeah, you can basically personalize your character.

Alan:                            The Sonny son games were, people talk about and they use the expression here, the whales, but something like ten percent of the people who are giving you money, are actually giving you about 80% of your money, and you’ll find now I think Valve was one of the first to have to react to it and they told us a few years back they actually took to calling people who were spending $1,000 a month on in-game stuff and going basically you have to check that. I saw a couple of articles on the BBC recently where people let their kids run wild.

Rudy:                           That’s a lot of mustaches.

Alan:                            That’s an awful lot of mustaches, yeah, on games like Feifer and people spending thousands of pounds, thousands of dollars, and they wanted to make sure that this wasn’t the eight year old just using this funny bit of plastic with mommy’s name on it going “Hmm.”

Rudy:                           Mommy’s credit card.

Alan:                            No, what they discovered was no, there were people who are generally happy to lash out a grand a month. It’s their favorite game. It’s their favorite pastime. It’s what they want to spend their money on.

Rudy:                           Well, look, the average age of a gamer in the US is 33 so they’re not all, most of them not kids. And you know what this free business idea, which you may have already thought of, you can also now start selling tattoo removal services on your Vietnam game because that’s probably going to be a big business someday.

Alan:                            Yeah. We’ll keep that one in mind, yes.

Rudy:                           Actually, here’s an interesting movement that I noticed. There are a lot of indie developers that are letting people watch them. Here you’re letting people develop mods for your game-

Alan:                            Yep.

Rudy:                           They’re actually taking a step further and they’re letting people watch them as they develop a game and comment on the thing. That sounds a little crazy to me, but how… Do you think that’ll take off?

Alan:                            I don’t know is the straight answer. Yeah, I wish I had a crystal ball. We’ve had to look at stuff like that and we do things like developer diaries and stuff like this. I think the problem for us is that they don’t take many to them and there’s something like 65 people working on that right now. What do you show? Do you show the artist who’s carving shark teeth this week? For a small indie it’s much easier because you’ve got, potentially, just two or three people who are basically working on the whole game, so you can kind of get a much better view of the game as a whole, than you can with a game that takes that much to develop. Yeah, we’ve certainly looked at some of that stuff. We dip in and out of doing our own streaming. We’ll almost try anything if people are interested in watching.

Rudy:                           I want to point out that you have… Is it Killing Floor where you can wear a chicken suit? You can wear a chicken suit while you shoot zombies. Not zombies, ZEDs.

Alan:                            ZEDs, please.

Rudy:                           ZEDs, ZEDs, sorry.

Alan:                            That’s quite all right.

Rudy:                           And one of the things I love about Maneater, the concept of it, while single shooter games, you obviously are, they sound like, in Maneater you are the shark. You get to eat-

Alan:                            But yeah, I mean just the idea that people like to come up with alternatives or different takes on it all, but yeah the idea that you get to plow around semi random bits of Gulf Coast eating everything and generally creating mayhem, yeah, it was too much fun on paper to pass up.

Rudy:                           So how do you launch that? How do you find an audience of people who would like to be a shark and eat-

Alan:                            It’s a few months out.

Rudy:                           Yeah, but how do you go about launching that? How do you go about telling that story and finding out who would be interested in being a shark?

Alan:                            The whole thing’s funny enough and silly enough and unique enough that you can go big on it from the start. So what we did was at the E3 PC Gamer now have an annual PC Gamer show at E3. They set it up, ostensibly really, to rival the platform holders like Microsoft and Sony and Nintendo who would all hold their own, “Hey look, here’s the show that’ll tell you about X-Box stuff. Here’s the show that tells you about PlayStation.” But no one was doing that for PC. So PC Gamer stepped in. So we did a trailer for Maneater and basically surprised the world with that, but the-

Rudy:                           It was at the show where-

Alan:                            It was actually out the PC Gamer show which was being live streamed. I think the audience had about a million people at peak total views or some phenomenal number for the show so that got it to a very, very, broad audience.

Rudy:                           How would you launch, say, another version, or how did you launch the first version of, say, Killing Floor or Vietnam, what were the steps you took?

Alan:                            It’s varied over the years because a lot of it varies on how much money we had available to spend. If you look at the first Red Orchestra, that was a lot of work trolling and spamming forums for a start to get people at least vaguely interested. And then working the press as much as possible to get, “Hey look, we’re doing a new trailer for this game. Would you like to carry it and we’ll do an exclusive interview or something?” Of course most of them go I don’t want an exclusive interview, assuming you even get an answer, but you keep prodding and you keep trying to go back to that thing of look, if we’re going to try and go out through the press, as it was then, we need to identify the journalists who are likely, who should be interested in this, let’s get off to them. Get them to carry the story. Get them to carry the next trailer and things like this and you try and snowball it up from there.

Alan:                            One publication carries it, others take some notice, so you take note of who else is reporting on it and you start following the threads. Now in the days of influencers, of course, I’d say that’s changed because there you’re looking at, “Okay we think this game should interest players of these games and these games and these games. Which influencers do we need to work with?” Are they, theoretically, have the data that says, “Hey, this guy targets these audiences and this guy targets these audiences.” We don’t tend to do the very broad brush, just par from everything else it’s very expensive.

Rudy:                           But you target based on previous game purchases?

Alan:                            Yes.

Rudy:                           You’re not trying to convince someone to like these types of games. They’re already in.

Alan:                            No. We simply haven’t got the marketing budget to persuade greater America, or whatever else, that you need to be playing a first person shooter.

Rudy:                           You’ve mentioned that like some of the big ones, Call of Duty, they’ll spend maybe, in your estimation, maybe as much marketing as they do developing it.

Alan:                            I think it was a moderately famous or infamous bit of to and fro going on between EA and Activision a couple of years ago around launch of a Call of Duty in a battlefield, I think it was, basically having a pissing test about who could spend more money.

Rudy:                           Yeah. I’m sure their agencies were very upset about that.

Alan:                            I’m sure they had a terrible time dealing with that problem, but you’re talking about them spending 100-150 million dollars on marketing.

Rudy:                           Jeez.

Alan:                            But that’s not a budget we can even get. We’d take a couple of zeros off.

Rudy:                           So let me ask you two more things. One is about the rise of e-sports which is fascinating to me. I was just talking to somebody about this. This older man was saying, “I don’t understand. You’re going to watch somebody else play video games?” But you watch somebody else play soccer, football, what’s the difference? It’s gotten, if reports are true, it’s bigger than soccer or football.

Alan:                            I don’t know about that yet. I obviously need the viewing figures. My suspicion is that the viewing and mainstream TV has no work caught up yet, but I don’t know the detail, the viewing figures on, for example, Twitch. And there I think the numbers do get insane.

Rudy:                           Yeah. Millions and millions of people watching two teams or two people going at it.

Alan:                            I mean there are some sports I can’t watch. It’s like watching paint dry.

Rudy:                           Golf. Why? I don’t know but people do, I’m sorry if I’m offending anybody who’s listening, but why would you watch somebody play golf or bowling? I don’t know.

Alan:                            Yeah there’s plenty of sports where it’s a kind of niche. Hey, I used to be a rower and watching rowing is like watching on TV you and I guess, maybe it’s that thing that like the really successful sports like football, your football, my football.

Rudy:                           Your football.

Alan:                            People who’ve played it, even if you only play a little bit, you have a sense that, “Hey I’ve done that, I can do that. I still do it. That stuff I can do.” So I can really appreciate the finesse, the nuance, the sheer violence going in or whatever it is.

Rudy:                           It goes back to the personal. Me. It has to connect with me and my identity.

Alan:                            Yeah. That’s why, as you say, that the games that have hit it really big there’s big prize money involved and there’s millions and millions, tens of millions of people playing them.

Rudy:                           Yeah it’s amazing. $150 billion dollar industry worldwide?

Alan:                            I haven’t seen this week’s stats, I mean, the numbers are way bigger than the movie industry.

Rudy:                           Yeah, oh gosh, yes. So, what do you see coming here in the next five years that excites you and something that might scare you?

Alan:                            I was going to say advances in technology. I guess the catch for me there is that I’ve been working in technology for 35 years, and I’ve kind of got to the point of going I’m barely surprised by what comes up anymore. I’m just so used to the insane pace of change, of technology. I go back to the days when we had, “Hey! We’ve got one of those new screens. It has color.” You look at what we do now and it’s just insane.

Alan:                            I guess my interest sort of has moved over to be with the changes in technology that are going to come at us. I mean if it was VR two or three years ago they weren’t suddenly going, “Oh my God, VR, it’s finally here.” It’s what are people going to do with it. It’s not the technology itself for me, because we’re coming up with more and more insane tech. I mean just take the phone that I left at home this morning. You look at your phone in comparison to computer 20 years ago, it’s ridiculous.

Rudy:                           You were carrying it in your pocket, people who don’t forget their phone at home, you’re carrying it in your pocket, basically a little studio, video studio, a camera, a phone, a device that helps you connect with anyone in the world, a library, a news… Everything. Everything is in your pocket. And who would’ve imagined that?

Alan:                            It used to take an army of people to keep something one tenth as complex as that working and now it’s just it’s in your pocket and taken for granted.

Rudy:                           So what is the technology you think that might stick here in the next five years?

Alan:                            We’re still very interested to see how VR actually plays out and there’s a good example. How will that play out? Will we’ll sit around? In five years time will we all have VR glasses and we won’t even have an 85 inch TV, we’ll have VR… Who knows. I have no guesses as to what complete new breakthroughs we’re going to see. I guess that’s one of the things we’ve seen, very little in the way of sudden surging breakthroughs in recent years, it’s really all about the power that you had two years ago, only a desktop, is next year it’s in your laptop and the year after that it’s in your phone.

Rudy:                           Well, that’s all I got. Thank you for your time today.

Alan:                            My pleasure. Thank you.

Rudy:                           Hey, thanks for listening to Marketing Upheaval from Creative Outhouse. If you want to learn more about Tripwire and all their really cool games, visit tripwireinteractive.com. For show notes, previous episodes, and previews to upcoming episodes, visit creativeouthouse.com/podcast and if you like this podcast, please give it five stars, subscribe, and share it with others. Well that’s it for this episode of Marketing Upheaval, and remember if the current state of marketing has got you confused, don’t worry. It’s all about to change.


Podcast credits:

Host: Rudy Fernandez

Producer and Cover Art: Susan Cooper

Earcon sound design: Gopal Swamy

Audio Consultant: Jason Shablik

Post production provided by: Music Radio Creative

Hosting provided by: Buzzsprout