When Will Virtual Goods Businesses Descend on Comic Con?
If you’ve never been to Comic Con, add it to your bucket list. Strolling around the immense convention center, you can’t help but fall in love with the unabashed dorkdom of the yearly comic book, game, toy, and TV/movie event. We were lucky enough to be there last weekend, and it got us wondering. How will Comic Con — the Mecca for video games promotions, and promotions in general — change in the future to reflect the continuing evolution of the gaming industry?
Comic Con is the venue to launch a comic book, toy, video game, or action/sci-fi movie. Ubisoft, Capcom, EA, THQ, Activision, and many others were in attendance this year, hoping to build buzz for their upcoming game releases. These companies spared no expense. For example, Bioware took over an entire hotel to promote the much-anticipated MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic. Exhibitors pay at least $2,500 per 10×10 block of floor space, and in 2010 the convention brought in, conservatively, more than $160 million to the City of San Diego (which is why cities like L.A. and Anaheim fought, and lost, to steal away the event).
But Comic Con was not always so big. It started out as a place for comic collectors to come and trade comics. Just three hundred people attended the first event in 1970. But as comic books seeped into action movies, and as action movies seeped into video games, the convention expanded. “[Today] everything that has to do with entertainment is at Comic Con,” claims Marvel comic book legend Stan Lee.
And while Comic Con has evolved, so too has there been significant evolution in the video game industry. Disruption, we call it. EA, the previous king of the gaming industry, is today valued less than Zynga, a company founded just four years ago. And where was Zynga, or any of its competitors in social and mobile gaming — Playdom, Playfish, ngmoco, Chillingo, Pop Cap, Pocket Gems, or Digital Chocolate — this past weekend? Not at Comic Con. (OK, Rovio did have a booth there, but their entire presence was centered around merchandising, all they were doing was selling Angry Birds plushies in anticipation of the Angry Birds movie in production.)
Comic Con has evolved. The gaming industry has evolved. But nouveau-gaming companies have not yet caught on to Comic Con. Why? Maybe companies like Zynga and Digital Chocolate don’t bother with shameless marketing spectacles because they know they have more efficient ways to promote their games. A Facebook advertising campaign can use analytics to measure, click by click, the effectiveness of dollars spent. But the value of spend on a attending Comic Con — not just the booths, but the travel, staffing, planning, rentals — to companies that pride themselves on tracking everything? Maybe it’s just hard to justify.
Or it could be the hyper-focused culture of startups that keeps them away. Zynga’s employees, it has been said, don’t really know how to have fun. Many startups craft their offices to encourage employees to never need to leave work. For lack of better insight, let’s just say that social and mobile gaming companies just can’t handle Comic Con — the costumes, the giveaways, the energy — it’s an immersive experience, just like the kind of game social and mobile developers haven’t figured out how to make yet.
But after some of these companies go public, then they can lighten up and shell out a few frivolous dollars. We hope for their sake they can take the flight down to sunny San Diego soon. It’s pretty. Darn. Awesome.