Note: This is the third post in a series. If you’re new, start with the intro post.
Imagine we have a time machine and we go back to 2004 to change the destiny of Telltale.
It’s 2004. Mark Zuckerberg founds Facebook and George W. Bush is reelected President of the United States.
What should Telltale do to become a successful and prosperous company in the long term?
These are the first questions the founders of Telltale should ask themselves:
- In which game category we want to be first in the player’s mind?
- Is there a market leader in that category? Who are our competitors?
- Do we have enough money to stay focused on the long-term period?
- Do we have enough courage to carry on our idea without being charmed by short term profit derived from lack of focus and line extension?
The market leader of point-and-click adventures is LucasArts, who suddenly decides to change direction. In other words, the market leader leaves the stage, opening the first position for the first company that decides to take it.
But let’s make our analysis more difficult.
Let’s suppose LucasArts decides to continue with graphic adventures. Moreover, Telltale’s founders decide to leave LucasArts anyway to create their own company. What would have been the best strategy for Telltale to win the war against LucasArts?
A proper positioning strategy is composed of five elements:
- Find a New Category,
- A proper name for the company,
- An effective slogan,
- A Visual Hammer: a visual that will help drive the slogan into players’ minds.
1. A New Category: Tailored Adventures
LucasArts owns the category Graphic Adventures in players’ mind.
Sierra detains the second position.
Graphic adventures are mainly point-and-click adventures and the best way to fight LucasArts is to re-position them, that is, associate LucasArts with a new sub-category in players’ mind.
The idea is to split the Graphic Adventures category into two sub-categories: Point-And-Click Adventures and Tailored Adventures.
In this way, LucasArts and Sierra are re-positioned as leader and co-leader of point-and-click adventures, whereas Telltale becomes the pioneer of tailored adventures.
This move provides Telltale with the tools to become leader of a new category, and gradually unhorse the other two attacking their sides.
Moreover, Telltale can take advantage of two additional events:
- The generational change: younger players have not played LucasArts and Sierra graphic adventures. Therefore, their position is not so strong in these players’ minds,
- The availability of new technology, which allows Telltale to create complex stories that can change according to the player’s choice.
What is a tailored adventure?
With its new Jurassic Park game, Telltale has created a sub-category without even realising it. The same sub-category that has allowed the company to gain $40 million with The Walking Dead series.
Tailored adventures are the first adventures where NPCs do remember players’ previous choices, and the story changes according to these choices.
In traditional graphic adventures, the story is pre-fixed, and the player can only follow the script.
In tailored adventures, the player can modify the course of the story because NPC characters will remember his choices.
Telltale must bet everything on this new category, being its precursor, and patent the concept of the game it has created:
“[Name of Character] will remember your choice.”
The previous sentence appears on the screen anytime the player makes a specific choice.
The power of this idea is so strong that you can find memes on the web too.
Patents and brands are the fundamental assets of a company. Having a patent will reinforce Telltale brand as a leader of tailored adventures.
I have already discussed this point in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. Here a quick recap:
- Forget about developing an in-house engine and instead use Unreal 4 from the start. This way, the few resources available are focused on the creation of game content.
- Don’t consider the idea to act as a publisher for other developers.
Before becoming a publisher, Telltale should make sure that its brand is the recognized leader in the Tailored Adventures category. And then eventually create a publishing brand that is completely detached from Telltale.
- Focus mainly on the creation of proprietary IPs. Licences are good in the early years of the company, and in the longer term only as teaser products to push proprietary IPs.
3. Company’s name
Why are names and taglines ineffective? As Laura Ries explains in her book Battlecry, it’s because they’re just words and a mind cannot understand words. A mind can only understand sounds.
In her book, Laura describes five powerful techniques for creating a memorable slogan or name to remember:
- Rhyme: “Roto-Rooter, that’s the name. And away go troubles down the drain.”
- Alliteration: “M&Ms melt in your mouth, not in your hands.”
- Repetition: “The few. The proud. The Marines.”
- Reversals: “Two great tastes that taste great together. Reese’s peanut butter cups.”
- Double-entendre: “A diamond is forever.”
For example, one of the reasons Fortnite was able to overthrow Playerunknown’s Battleground in the player’s mind is due to naming:
- Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is too long and complicated to remember (no repetition, no alliteration, no rhyme, etc.),
- Even the short name, PUBG, is not easy to pronounce and remember,
- Fortnite is shorter and much easier to remember.
In conclusion, Telltale is the perfect name:
- It contains alliteration (Tell-Tale),
- It’s short (two syllables),
- It contains repetition of meaning (tales are usually told),
- Its meaning recalls the company’s positioning (narrative stories).
Adding “Games” after “Telltale” is useless. It makes the name longer and breaks up all of the previous characteristics.
4. An effective slogan
I propose two choices for the slogan:
Battlecry No. 1: The Inventors of Tailored Adventures
Battlecry No. 2: Feel Like You Are Part of Them
They both work.
The first choice outlines Telltales as the inventor of tailored adventures and it contains rhyme.
The second choice reinforces the concept of players as no longer passive but active actors who can really modify the course of events.
5. Visual Hammer
Creating a slogan is only half the battle. The other half of the battle is a visual that will help drive the slogan into players’ minds.
Telltale’s logo should enhance the company’s mission and convey it to its target players. The actual logo of Telltale is composed of the company’s name initials. The problem is that this logo doesn’t convey the company’s message.
The logo should represent the idea of an adventure that is custom-made by the players’ choice.
For example, we might introduce a sewing needle and string to give the idea, or even the action of sewing itself, as long as it’s simple and minimalist.
An example of a logo proposal is shown below.
Why the colour of the string is red?
That’s because the colour is another important element of a logo.
Above all, the colour should be different from competing brands, in order to stand out and accentuate the company’s own difference.
These are the logos of LucasArts and Sierra:
Telltale’s dark red logo does work because it clearly stands out from competitors’ logos.
In March 2017 Kevin Bruner resigned as the company’s CEO.
In September of the same year, the Board of Directors nominated Pete Hawley (ex-manager of Zynga and co-founder of Red Robot Labs) as new CEO.
The Board described Pete as “a manager looking at the future and with a deep understanding of the direction the interactive entertainment industry is taking.”
Which decisions Pete Hawley took as new CEO of Telltale?
- He reduced production to 3 games a year,
- He got rid of the in-house engine and the company switched to Unity,
- Telltale’s Publishing wing was temporarily closed.
In conclusion, the right decisions were finally made.
Unfortunately, too late.
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