Why I Am Disappointed in Dragon Age: Inquisition

First, I enjoy the game. I really do. Its well put together and I don’t feel like I was cheated out of my money upon completion, as far as cut content/withheld content for a later date/etc.

I still give it an 8 or 9/10, but…

But I’m still disappointed. Other people seem to be bugged by little things that piled up.  Other people seemed to be bugged because it isn’t Origins 2.0.

I’m just bugged and disappointed because I felt like I was lied to. I paid too much attention to the demos/interviews. It stems from this general statement,

“We learned our mistakes! Only showing and sharing 100% complete and in the game things!”

They kept going on about how they had learned lessons from previous releases and the whole reason they weren’t showing us anything about this game at first was because they didn’t want to show us anything unless it was working and was for sure going to be in the game.  And then they showed us things that are not in the game.

*sigh*

Choice Missions

No choice missions to save the town/citadel.

I’m actually really disappointed that after seeing the footage of protecting a fort or choosing the village, that it isn’t in the game. Especially since they talked about how “To avoid false expectations we’re only going to show things that are 100% in the game” or whatever it was Mike or Mark said.

Someone else on BSN said this:

Either we get a game in which our choices matter and create multiple and widely divergent endings (but with those choices being retconned or resolved in external media because it would be too much work for one game) or we get a game in which our choices don’t really matter or only result in a few mildly different endings that can be carried over to the next installment without too much of a headache for the writers/developers.

I’m totally cool with option 2, but let my dumb little things that are cosmetic have an impact. (ie, Templar tower, troop armor, sparring grounds/infirmary, etc.)

I get that the big story ones have to be a bit more linear for the sake of future games, but the dumb ones that don’t mean squat the second I get the “You are Winner” screen should do something. The ones that become codex level, if that, in future games should be more visible for the sake of “I did something”.

Clothing/Armor Customization

I remember when they were doing E3 interviews and stuff, they talked about how we could add dyes to our clothes and armor and minions armor. “You can pick these! Multiple outfits! Etc.”

Well, there is no ability to add dyes to your/others/minions armors. There is no way to customize your minions appearance. There is no set of casual outfits to pick from.

I hate looking at my soldiers and scouts run around in ugly armor and booger coloured tunics. After like 90 hours, the grey pajamas got tiring. Even adjusting it to blue/red/black would’ve been great.

I don’t enjoy making armor with the perfect stats, only for it to be soft pink, bright yellow, green and grey. That blows. I have to look at this monstrosity. I found myself wearing under leveled or situation inappropriate armor just because it didn’t look like vomit. Even a basic Minecraft level dye system would’ve been acceptable.

“You collected a Spindleweed” then go to a table “crushed Spindleweed into red dye” then “dying this armor requires 20 Spindleweed dyes”. Totally fine. I can fart and the gas will find 6 Spindleweeds in some places.

I’m not certain on other armor options, but for heavy armor for a warrior I basically had 2 different coat options the entire game with small differences. Lame. I wanted some big cool looking plate armor.

Skyhold

Skyhold doesn’t actually change let alone ever get fixed. Still have busted ass walls and garbage laying all over the place.

Before each upgrade, I made a save and went to both options to see which I liked more.

Gathered the materials required to upgrade my main tower. After I finally found the “upgraded” main tower, I feel like I wasted my time. I was told I’d get some killer badass Templar tower. I got three small rooms. My Templars don’t even use it as a hang out. Like 3 guys are there.

I also had a hard time finding it. Usually, the little upgrade… kiosk(?) is right next to it. Not that time. I had a hard time finding it, which means it’s really not that noticeable. I had been doing a Google free playthrough, but had to do it because I needed to know where it was.

When I picked mage tower, I thought that the mages would use it. Nope, still sitting in my library. Schematics or an awesome staff in a chest would have been awesome, but nope.

I’ve also upgraded the chantry garden area, only to get a few flower pots in one corner. So then I decided to try the Chantry upgrade. It was… a few statues. But I get more gold from people making donations! Except there is no way to tell if this is true or not. There is no collection plate and I don’t have any random gold deposits happening when I’m out or when I get back to Skyhold.

If we’re going to upgrade Skyhold, please make it more useful. For example, if I decide I want the main tower to accommodate mages, then perhaps include unique mage gear/schematics in a treasure chest there.  If we upgrade the garden, it could provide exclusive reagents for a powerful potion/tonic/grenade.

Also why the hell won’t the walls of Skyhold ever be full repaired? Parts of it were fixed as I progressed through the game but then I still have like 2-3 busted towers and broken walls. Why did they clean up my room, added nice new furniture…  but didn’t even bother to remove the bricks from the stairs leading up to my chambers? There are spider webs and bits of lumber lying everywhere.

There are holes in the walls, can’t they patch that up? I have like a gajillion gold and tons of alliances. Are you telling me I ran out of mortar?

Poor Cullen doesn’t have a roof above his bed. Its just busted. I’m on top of a mountain in a snowy area. How is homedawg supposed to sleep?

Finally, the training grounds vs the infirmary. I went with the sparring grounds, which actually did something. I have a little sparring ring. I noticed it. Neat. It did absolutely nothing else, but hey I actually noticed this one. I can pretend my soldiers are getting better.

Reloaded, went with the infirmary and I couldn’t find the new infirmary. I thought all those tents out front would be improved, nope. Turns out it was that broken down building next to requisitions. I think there is three whole beds.

Heck, if it gave me an extra military perk for the sparring ring or an extra diplomacy perk for the infirmary, then it would be a thing at least. There were 3 upgrading choices. Could make it 2-2-2 across the ones your advisors represent. Or even doing it in general just unlocked a freebie perk.

Nothing.

Reactivity

They hyped the reactivity of the game and it turned out just to be idle NPC chatter/skins.

You now have a Templar standing there. In Templar regalia despite the fact you abolished the Templar order and said they are just fancy Inqusition soliders.

I haven’t had one quests be different because I’m a reaver or noticed, from what I’ve discussed with friends/BSNers who played different races, any race specific quests. Again, this was stuff we were told we were getting. I remember reading the blog or forum post or whatever Gaider or Laidlaw talked about it in. “No origins but you’ll have race specific side quests/race will open up specific branches in missions… Limited specializations because now NPC’s and quests will be different based off your specialization! We’re only telling you this because its 100% in the game!”

At most I got a couple things that were different at the war table, I’m assuming, or a couple throwaway lines of dialogue. “Oh you’re nobility so you understand noble stuff.” Okay then. That’s not bad. But no missions. Were the like… two(?) war tables mission my specific ones for being a human noble? Is that really a “mission”?

Was that my special reaver centric mission I can only get as a reaver?

I kept waiting and waiting for that stuff to happen and then nope. I’m like 100 hours in and nada. Only have the last main story mission to finish and a few random “put the thing here” quests.

Closing

I kept thinking “Oh, they must be holding that feature until I get to Skyhold. That makes sense!”

But it isn’t there.  At all. “We’re showing you because its in the game!” Nope. It isn’t. I don’t even think that region from the demo where you could save the town/keep is in the game now that I look back at it.

“We wanted it to be worthwhile but we ran out of time…” You delayed the game twice. Maybe cut two of the couple completely needless areas and spend that time on doing what you told me you were going to do.

This isn’t even getting into the busted ass PC controls and poor MP loot design.

:/

Advertisements

Does the groundswell even lift, bro?

Once you’ve set up your groundswell should be able to get its swell on by itself. You can work with it as a spotter, but you want it to do all the heavy lifting itself.

In non-bro-dude-gym lingo, you want the groundswell to support itself. Basically, this is your new customer support hotline. People should be able to Google their problem and get to your site to help. This could be your FAQ, your community message boards, or an outside message board where they can find a solution.

For instance, isn’t it better if I am able to Google “How do I kill the High Dragon on the Sacred Ashes mission in Dragon Age: Origins?” and find my answer somewhere on the internet versus 1) calling Bioware or EA and asking for help (that their customer support likely has no clue about) or 2) Going on Twitter and saying “OMG DAO SUX THE DRAGON IS TOO DAMN HARD!!1! eFFF THIS GAME!! #BIOWARESUCKS#EASUCKS #XBOXSUCKS!!

daohelp

Now that is a bit of a goofy example but the principal is pretty universal regardless of if you’re business is blenders, vacuums, computer programs, newspapers, or swimsuits. But this is where your groundswell can support your company. The great thing about it is that the general public is able to create posts, answers, questions, reviews, help, tips, tricks, etc. The focus can also be on more than one of your products, your company, your competition, prices, etc.

This is the one-to-many/many-to-many effect.

However, before you start to create a community for your groundswell, there are three points that must be outlined:

  1. Problem you are going to solve
  2. How you will participate within the groundswell
  3. Create a support community or join an existing one

1. Problem you are going to solvePut yourself into your customers’ shoes. How will you create a community that will solve customers’ problems and create value?

2. How you will participate within the groundswell. You must keep activity in your groundswell that there is the generation of new content.

  • Drive people to your community (such as a message board) from messages posted on your Web site, social media accounts, products or other advertising efforts
  • Participate in the groundswell by helping people by answering questions and engaging in conversation. After a while hopefully the groundswell itself does this, but it doesn’t mean you can stop.

3. Create a support community or join an existing one

Whether your organization decides to become active in a pre-existing community or create a new one of your own, the goal is that both will be beneficial and add value. The community should be able to support itself, listen to conversation about your product, and talk to and engage with users about the product and what they like or don’t like, as well as let word-of-mouth travel.

I keep coming back to Bioware for this because I’m most familiar with their community and the way it is engaged. With the upcoming release of Dragon Age: Inquisition and having been a somewhat active member of the forums for the passed two years I can see how they’ve changed their approach to pre-release as well as the game’s construction based to an extent on what the community itself desired. The only details being released are about what has been confirmed for the game. Also, the changes in the combat engine, appearance variety and dialogue system in the new game stems from a dissatisfaction felt by many fans in the previous game.

As far as plain interaction with the community, I feel it is well done. Members of the development team and writers seem to pop in and have discussions on occasion or to debunk/confirm “rumours” to help keep control of their community and the expectations of the game. Those are good things.

dragon-age-inquisition-21308-1280x800

Source: Li, C., & Bernoff, J. (2011) Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Speaking Groundswellian

Want to talk with the groundswell? You know, that whole social media discussion sharing one-to-many or many-to-many thing? You do, because it is important.

New-Marketing-Funnel1

The Marketing Funnel

This is the marketing funnel. Its a classic model that works on “interruption” based marketing. This is changing. Now marketing is more about “permission” based tactics. Think of it like SHOUTING AT THE CUSTOMER versus engaging in a conversation with a customer. Thank the internet.

This is your new marketing funnel

This is your new marketing funnel

Marketers cannot control customers in the internet age the same way they used to be able to years ago. Consumers now have their own channels to utilize when evaluating and purchasing a product. This is why it is incredibly important to have some presence in social media* and to use it as effectively as possible.

*anywhere with user generated content sharing. Message boards, YouTube, blogs, Facebook, Reddit.

Now, what is the most effective way possible? Well, it relates to the POST Process. Figuring out what you want to do. This is about doing that. There are really 4 options to go with, with the execution and details varying at some level inside of those options.

1) Post a viral video
This is probably the hardest of all 4 options. It is easy enough to make a video, and even easier for it to get views. All you need is a camera and some content. But to make viral? To have people share it because of the actual content? That is tough. Especially to market something. There has to be a catch and finding one that clicks is tough. Anyone can make a video like “Thumbs up, comment, subscribe and share for your chance to win a free copy of our new game!” Does that really add value to your company or your product? No, its just cheap. What could you do? The book example talks about Blendtec doing a video showing their videos blending all sorts of objects then challenging people to do the same. Neat! Shows how durable your blenders are! Now for video games? Maybe ask fans to create their own videos in a chance to win something. Or do something funny where you show what other uses your game serves to play up the humour. “Not only is it a game, it is also a coaster! Shin pads!!… etc” anything that would be interesting enough to share and add meet your POST goal.

SocialMediaLandscapeOrganism

2) Engage in social networks and user-generated content sites
The key word being engage. This isn’t just having a Facebook page and a Twitter account. Engage with your users through these platforms. Have a conversation. Not quite like a FAQ or “help hotline” but try to start a conversation, and then take part. Especially in the games industry there is a lot to talk with your fans about. There is your own wesbite where you can create a message board. There is Facebook and Twitter where you can converse and promote your fans (think about how great that is for them) if they do something great with your IP like fan-art, cosplays, songs, YouTube videos, fan-merch, etc. Fans add value to your company and any social media plan, at its most basic level, is about increasing that value.

3) Join the blogosphere
Startup a blog, and be casual. This isn’t a press release. Its not a political speech. This is to get on the same “level” as your audience. Sort of like an email to your staff about the pizza party. No one wants to read a textbook with stats and numbers being shoved down their throats. A blog like this should be for fun/casual expression. Feel free to inform people, but keep it casual. Speak their language.

4) Create a community
A community refers to your audience, sort of. Think of the people posting on message boards. If they’re posting about your product then they’re your community. So why not try and construct a centralized one for them? This could be on your own site, or by creating a sub-forum on an existing message board (like sub-reddits). Or why not both? The more conversation the more better. This can act as a form of word-of-mouth marketing and as a FAQ that saves your company money because the community helps each other. You can also learn plenty of information to serve as feedback that is probably a lot more informative than any feedback comment section or email from your corporate website.

What to post depends on your industry. If you’re making video games, you’re goal is probably going to be to find a way to use all of these. Create a video around release for buzz. Have an active social media program to disseminate information. Have someone from the dev team or a project lead or a writer do some blog posts to keep fans updated on their long awaited game. And have a community to be able to gauge fan sentiment or feedback so you can optimize your product.

dragon-age-iii-inquisition-header-530x298

A game I’m currently waiting on is Dragon Age: Inquisition. So far, Bioware has released some trailers that I shared on Facebook. There have also been blog posts and developer diary type videos to give me information on what to expect and what the game will include. There are a number of people who work on the game that are relatively active on the Bioware forums, their own community, to help answer fan questions and keep them informed.

All of this adds value to the company. It is “permission” based marketing. Your audience is inviting you. So why not accept their invitation?

Hit The P.O.S.T.

Source material: groundswell by Li C., Bernoff, J

How important is the Groundswell? Well its arguably the most important thing in business. The best companies listen to their customers and users and form their entire company around that. They use the Social Technographics Profile they have constructed and kept updated to feed them quality information. It all starts with people (users and customers). Trying to start anywhere else would be like trying to start playing a game at the final boss and not knowing what the controls are. How are you going to plan to beat Big Bad Boss Character without knowing what exactly you’re supposed to do? So it is beyond important to figure this out and it all starts now.

AB_CMW_Post

1. People – What are your customers ready for? What do they want? How are customers going to engage in your company? Depending what industry you are in then it determines just how much time needs to be spent here. If you’re a tech company, ideas here are relatively standard. Apps, web pages, forums, social media, etc. Internet and mobile stuff. If you’re a consumer product such as a vacuum or running shoes, people might be more likely to engage in a 3rd party forum for user reviews/conversation than a social network you may set up on your own site.

2. Objectives – What are your goals? Are you trying to get marketing information via communication with the groundswell or are you trying to invigorate sales? Both? What about tapping your internal groundswell to find ideas to better your organizational design? What about finding out how employees think they may work more efficiently or with greater satisfaction? There is generally 5 main objectives that anything and everything can be linked into.

  1. Listening: Research and understanding of your customers. What do they expect? Can get very important insight for marketing and R&D.
  2. Talking: Spreading messages about your company. You talking to customers. This is more about disseminating your company and creating awareness much like advertising.
  3. EnergizingThis is igniting conversation in others. Like poking and prodding, in the nicest way possible, to get others to share your company/message/product via word-of-mouth for brand selling.
  4. Supporting: Could be as simple as a FAQ. Could go the extra step and set up your own support and help forums/section on your website for either you to answer or other users to help each other.
  5. Embracing: The most challenging and should probably not be attempted if you haven’t aced 1 through 4  above. This is integrating your customers into your company and using their insights for R&D and marketing.

3. Strategy – How do you want things to change? What of the above 5 objectives are you trying to accomplish? Once this has been hammered out it also lets you set goals to judge whether or not you’ve been successful. Also you’ll have a better idea how to prepare your organization and which people to involve.

4. Technology – What applications are you going to use? What channels? Is it blogs? Wikis? Social networking? Most will involve a multitude of platforms throughout the process but picking the right ones at the start are crucial to successfully accomplishing your goal.

Some companies that are great at doing this are generally video game companies. When they create games they look at what people want for a game, what features, what experiences and try to find their own way to deliver that. Neatherrealm Studios did this when they rebooted the Mortal Kombat franchise in 2011 to great success. People wanted the game to get back to basics after the lore turned into a convoluted mess after Mortal Kombat: Deception.

The development team at Bioware is using feedback and consumer insight in developing Dragon Age: Inquisition. Fans liked parts of both the previous two main entries, Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2, and now Bioware is using that feedback to find the happy medium between both games on things such as environments, combat and character interaction. A lot of this feedback comes from Bioware’s own social network where members of the writing and development team are quite active.

masseffect3survey

Example Mass Effect 3 survey conducted by Bioware

Another good example of a company that underwent change after making a commitment to the groundswell was the WWE. In fact, the change in direction that involved social media and other outside inputs following this pipebomb from CM Punk is largely responsible for the re-invigoration of the company since 2011 when ratings and revenues had been on a continuous slide since 2006.

All these companies created POST process plans, maybe not in the exact words as this but likely in a very similar fashion, and have used it to do what their customers want.

And in the end, isn’t that the point?

Is Anybody Listening?

Source material: groundswell by Li C., Bernoff, J

This was probably my favourite chapter so far because it relates so well to all the mistakes that pretty well every company make. Here are a few key points that really stood out to me but get screwed up.

1. “Your brand is what your customer says it is.”

ev17d3(source)

“The value of the brand belongs to the market, not the company.”

The company believes they are, or wants to be, one thing, while the market/consumers believe they are something else.  You can tell yourself that you’re “B” all you want but if people just see a “13” then you’re a “13”.

A good example would be Blackberry.  They believed for the longest time that they were the premier business phone, which they were for a long while. But they did not adapt to the new smartphones being released and a shift in the market and became synonymous with “old persons” phone. The smartphone market is won or lost in the 20-35ish demographic, especially at the time of the Blackberry and iPhone going head to head in 2008 – 2009. College aged people accounted for just shy of 50% of smartphone users in 2011. They saw the Blackberry as “dads” phone or the stuffy business person phone. It is what sunk Blackberry. They were not able to shake that stigma. Why? Well, after years of generally ignoring the needs, aka not listening, of younger people with phones they found it impossible to catch back up. Meanwhile, Android and Apple have focused almost the entirety of their marketing efforts on people aged 18-35 and the market clamoured that they were “cool” phones and they’re alive and well. They listened to the market and built their product for it while Blackberry built their product and told the market how to use it.

2. What is listening?

If you’re listening efforts are not revealing new insight then you are doing it wrong. Plain and simple. If you are any gaming company at all and you are not constantly finding input from your community on how to tweak things to better the experience then you are a failing gaming company.  Times have changed from the 90s where you made a game and people played it.  Now you make your game in the mould of the customer.

If you’re XBOX and all the internet chatter is “Boo DRM! Boo always online! Boo Kinect! Boo!” and you come right out and say “DRM. Always online. Kinect. Deal with it!” well you weren’t listening at all. At all. In fact, you’re competitor who said “…” on all the issues above had their stock jump 8% because of you.

What XBOX tried to do was make their service into Steam. Fantastic idea. Everyone loves Steam. But instead of telling people “This is XBOX Steam” which people would have loved to hear, all that was said was the dirty, dirty engineering words and none of the benefits.

3. Set up a community

This is simple enough and should be your primary listening plan. It can be as simple as having a Facebook page or a Twitter account which can be really effective if you run them well. Read all the action happening on your Facebook wall. Check all your mentions on Twitter and search hashtags that are directly or indirectly related to your company.  Find where your audience’s Social Technographic Profile is and start interacting. Don’t just listen or read, reply. Have a conversation. You don’t need to reply to everyone but you should be conversing to some extent in a proper two-way manner. If you’re in technology or games, you probably have your own forums. Great. Also be aware of all the other forums on other websites that are more neutral ground than yours. For instance, there is the Bioware Social Network and then there are people talking Bioware games on Gamefaqs and other sites. You can find just as much valuable information among the trash there as you can anywhere else.

4. Closing thoughts

None of this is exactly difficult. Not for tech companies and video game makers and developers and whatever else. Your entire market is online people. This is why you have community managers.  To listen at the ground floor what the audience wants, let your development team know and give that to market.

Listening well can change the power structure of your company. Listening poorly can send you up the river without a paddle.

This is a great video from Steve Jobs where he talks about tailoring your messaging.