At Blizzcon Blizzard announced the release of the Pandaren race and the monk class for the next expansion. The monk class is one that eventually made sense a hybrid melee healer who would be able to give World of Warcraft a strong link to Chinese culture (a place where World of Warcraft is booming).
The interesting thing is that the choice for the Panda race does not come with trying to increase their share in the Chinese market, but instead to increase its share in the tween market.
The tween market is one of the hardest ones to get to specifically because the tween market is the awkward one that is uncommitted to what it likes.
A Tweenie, tweener or “tween” is a person who is “in between” teen-age and childhood. They are a group of people who are attempting to look and feel more like teenagers yet unable or unwilling to let go of elements of their childhood. The most successful products to market this odd demographic by making a hybrid product that might appeal to a teenager.
A good example of a typical tween product is Pixar films movies. Many argue this is the success of the Pixar computer animation films. Here is a movie (Toy Story) which is so obviously made for children given that it is a story about toys in a cartoon format… and yet it has semi-adult themes and life lessons. It was a movie that swept the world and had massive commercial success. What Producer Steve Jobs (and 33% owner of Pixar) found was that if you can attract a product specifically for 12-year-olds you are going to gain a massive portion of untapped market. As an after effect what they found was that teenagers and adults who had not fully made that transition out of their childhood were buying into this semi-childhood market.
This is also why the iPhone, iPad and iTunes were such a killer success. All of the marketing for the iPod was designed around trying to convince this tweener market that they should buy into this (and through them everyone else). They did this by taking largely unknown bands (The Fratelis and Franz Ferdinand and mixing them in with well known bands (Jet and U2). They used silhouette dancers in the background doing dances that nobody in their right mind would do as a teenager in order to convince tweeners that this is what it means to be a teenager, owning an iPod. Future iPhone and iPad commercials would be done the same. Below is a simple illustration, pay attention to the age group that is doing the crazy dances (teenagers) and the simple color schemes that would appeal to a child:
Apple would market every single product they had as a toy for adults which gave a similar outcome as Toy Story, total capturing of the 10-12 market and large shares of the adult and teenager market.
World of Warcraft developers Blizzard are not stupid. They are aware of how to make a game and how to market it. By telling people they are looking to market for the 12-year-olds the only people they are going to upset are people who are already upset with Blizzard. In truth this move will increase their shares of the market across the board.
As more MMOs are being created they are all looking to capture that premium 21-35 market. That is the gamers who have a lot of money to spend and want to spend all of their time doing it. But as more MMOs are created that means the market is going to be far more clustered and it’ll be harder to make a buck. I’m sure Blizzard has noticed that the child themed Korean games (Prius Anima Online/Rusty Hearts) are those that are doing the best. While Blizzard boasts a 12-13 million subscriber basis these small and cheap games are swinging a 3-4M subscriber basis each… and these games are by no means mainstream or as well marketed as Blizzard’s World of Warcraft.
As the current 21-35 market ages they will be having children and families. Family-friendly games are going to be more appealing and the more casual the better. The pandaren monk is a perfect synergy of age and youth to trap 12-year olds into playing their brand for years to come. It is enough to convince parents that World of Warcraft is harmless fun and enough to keep a younger child interested in a game that is so massively dominated by adults.
So many people misinterpreted this news as them developing for an existing young audience. The truth is they lack a young audience and as the game ages they will continue to lose their player base. Cheers to the folks at Blizzard for proving that they are not an old dinosaur and are willing to make drastic moves in order to stay in a market.
It won’t make me want to come back to the game… but I see what you did there Blizzard.