The ability for people to remix, mash-up and otherwise take copyrighted works in new directions through avenues like machinima, which uses games to create animation, doesn’t always sit well with with content owners. But Funcom, the company behind the massively multiplayer online game Age of Conan is actively using fan-created machinima to market its game with hardly any restrictions on the type of content that can be created. Of course, getting people to do your marketing for free doesn’t hurt when your company is facing tough times.
“We like machinima because our customers sell our product better than we do,” said Terri Perkins, Funcom’s media strategy director. “It’s not very likely that someone is going to share a banner ad with their friends, but it’s very likely they will share videos.”
And Funcom needs people to spread the word, as the company suffered a pretty rough 2008. After launching last summer, Age of Conan dropped to fewer than 100,000 subscribers from a high of 700,000. The game director quit last year, and the company ended 2008 with an operating loss of $23.3 million attributed to Conan’s poor performance.
FunCom had seen Age of Conan-based machinima such as “AoC good times with a horse” (embedded) rack up hundreds of thousands of plays, and in December decided to launch an official machinima marketing campaign, including video tutorials created with Machinima.com on how to create animations using Age of Conan. The tutorials were part of an overall marketing campaign Funcom conducted with Machinima.com that involved display and in-video advertisements.
Other game companies like Blizzard and Microsoft (s MSFT) also encourage people to create machinima from their IP, but they have terms and guidelines set up as to what can be created. When I talked with Perkins, she said that there weren’t any restrictions (other than one takedown instance where a user had uploaded footage that hadn’t been released yet).
“There have been some that we didn’t like,” said Perkins, “I think that’s just part of it.” That’s a pretty lenient policy for the Internet, which tends to foster a rather juvenile sense of humor. “No one mistakes the videos that are created as official videos,” Perkins said, “It doesn’t hurt us in any way.”
But how much it helped has yet to be seen. A look back through Age of Conan machinima titles show the ones attracting the most plays were created last summer, before the partnership with Machinima.com. However, Funcom was pleased enough with its first foray to launch another machinima-inspired marketing campaign this May.
The company feels it has turned a corner and that its situation in 2009 is improving. Funcom says that its Conan subscriber base has been “relatively stable” during the first quarter of this year and play times have increased. Now it hopes that machinima can play a part in attracting new users to the brand.