Thursday, 23 October 2008

Far Cry 2: marketing strategy or missed opportunity for retailers?

Tomorrow is the day. Yes, it is THE day. The day that Far Cry 2 is finally released. This is a game which I have been looking forward to for a long time. At least since I discovered one of the lead developer's (Clint Hocking) blog last year. In that blog Hocking told of his aim to implement a new system of narrative planing that would take the immersive dynamics of the game to a whole new level. I've blogged about this before somewhere, and Paul Abbott even went so far as to come up with a Narrative Manifesto in praise of this type of development. The game promises a lot and has the weight of expectation on its shoulders (not least since the overall design meant that the production and release of a playable demo was impossible).

Suffice to say, I'll be purchasing the game tomorrow. I haven't pre-ordered the game (more on that in a moment) despite several retailers offering extra 'exclusive' unlockable content if you pre-purchase, which is unusual for me - I tend to be a sucker for these types of strategies. It happened with CDs and DVDs - why buy the 'standard' release when you can purchase a 'rare' version in a digipack or a release with bonus features for a marginal cost?

Many CDs come in different packaging for the collector out there - I purchased Sasha's Invol2ver album in the 'special' packaging at an increased cost because it looked unusual. Better living through design? Perhaps, perhaps not (the CD case has been nominated for a People's Design Award), but there is something both appealing and irrational about good design and the assumption that you are getting something unique. I'm sure Walter Benajmin might disagree with me. However, there are two interesting promotional strategies being employed here:
  1. Offer added value to the consumer
  2. Stimulate demand by restricting supply
Strategic marketing

Firstly, offering people something which seems like a bargain (in this case the 'exclusive' content) is a great tool for enticing people to part with their cash, especially if they were willing to do so already. Now, they feel they are getting something extra. HMV's exclusive deal might mean that customers will opt to purchase the product at their store for a fee of £39.99 instead of going to a cheaper retailer like Shopto (£36.99) or a simlarily priced one like Play (£39.99). It's worth noting that Play is offering a different exclusive to HMV - a 'Steelbook' case. Nice to look at, sure, but not really that much of a gameplay enhancement. Not to be outdone, Shopto are offering a 'Collector's Edition' (£52.99) where the serious gamer gets the following for the additional £15:
  • "The Art of Far® Cry 2" Artbook
  • Collector 50km² map
  • Map Guide Book
  • Making-of DVD, including the development team's thrilling African trip!
This is all well and good but I'm not convinced it will offer good value for money. Much of the material which constitutes this pack has already been made available in various forms online (via Ubisoft's website) and what hasn't is sure to appear on filesharing sites or on YouTube.

I've already touched on the second aspect, namely that preventing gamers from getting their hands on the game in advance of its release prevents them from forming negative opinions about the gameplay mechanics. Lots of game companies release playable demos to Xbox Live or PSN in order to wet the appetites of gamers, but Far Cry 2 was different, or at least so we were told. Talking to Eurogamer about the open nature of the massive 50 km2 environment, Hocking explained:
"One reason is, even if we were to give out what you played today - even if we put invisible walls around it and said, here's the demo, you can go anywhere you like inside these walls and play it how you want - that's potentially right there eight-to-ten hours of gameplay. I don't know too many people who are willing to give away a 12-hour game for free."
Claims like that are in of themselves useful promotional strategies which emphasizes a good sized playing experience to cost ratio. This game is meant to be B.I.G.

The rub

I want to go back to the reason as to why I haven't fallen foul of the HMV pre-order strategy. This is mainly because the Internet has allowed for a good deal of flattening when it comes to the relationship between retailers and consumers looking to secure brand loyalty (I make most of my online purchases on the basis of cost and whether or not stores are affiliated with consumer co-operatives like QuidCo). It took less than a minute for me to Google the term "far cry 2 extra missions exclusive" and find a Sony page with a code on it allowing anyone to unlock the so-called 'exclusive' content. In case you can't read the code from the image it is: 6aPHusewe

If a company really wants to secure customer loyalty then it might have to do a little more than what HMV are doing in this instance. What makes this an even more bizarre scenario is the simple fact that Sony made their games machine region free when it comes to purchasing games titles. There's nothing stopping consumers bypassing the inflated European prices and buying direct from Asia at a 30% discounted price. Although, that last option make mean longer delivery dates and that tomorrow is not THE day after all

[EDIT]I unlocked extra machete skins by registering with Ubisoft. The code I mentioned above didn't seem to do anything on the PS3 version I own. However, these codes unlocked extra missions via the Promotional Content menu (although I think they do the same thing!): 2Tuw5esw and 96CesuHu

Pause the game, and display the "Map Legend" menu. You will see a new envelop legend labeled "Special Mission". Successfully complete the tutorial and a few missions. You will eventually get a phone call from a distorted voice that sends you on your "predecessor's tracks". Go to the envelop map legend location to find an old bus that is now a shack, and continue.

These are also dud codes:

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Separating data within the same column (Excel)

A Problem:

This post is for personal reference but may be of some use to some people. Occasionally I export databases into Excel for work related business. One of the things which personally irks me about this process is that data which would normally be expected to appear in different columns ends up all jumbled up into one.

This tends to happen when exporting info associated with student names from the SITS database at work. So instead of getting a set of columns clearly separated by title, forename and surname I end up getting "Mr Random Person" all in one column. Not ideal if you want to arrange the data alphabetiacally by surname. Anyway, there is an easy solution to sort this mess out. I'm working with Microsoft Excel 2008 for Mac by the way.

The solution:

The solution is to delimit the selected text.
  • Select the cell or column you want to split into several sections, then choose Data from the top of the screen, followed by Text to Columns to open the Convert Text to Columns Wizard.
  • Excel will now ask you what kind of separation you'd like (Delimited or Fixed Width). Select Delimited, followed by Next.
  • The Wizard will then present a number of division tools which may be suitable depending on the format of the text in the cells. Choose the Space or Tab options and select Next or Finish
Your columns should now be neatly separated and ready for sorting.

NB: make sure you have enough space to for you columns to expand out into as Excel will overright material in the adjacent columns. Simpley insert a blank column by right clicking the cell range and selecting Insert

Not a particularly exciting or even interesting post but at least I know where to find the info as I forget every time I need to do this...

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Engaging students 101?

It's been a while since my last post, mainly because I've been back at work preparing for a new semester of teaching (it was Freshers Week last week too) and my upcoming wedding. One of the things that has preoccupied my mind recently has been the issue of innovation in education and how to translate that to student engagement.

I run a large core module for my second students (MAC201 Media Studies 1) which I have modified this year to include an hourly workshop which focuses on helping the students apply what they have learned to an example. I did this mainly because I had a lot of students come see me through the course of last year needing personal tutorials outside of my established office hours and seminar times, effectively doubling my work load, but also because I recognize that not all students are suited to the lecture/seminar/independent study format. A quick show of hands in the workshop on Wednesday revealed most of my students hadn't been to the scheduled screening or read the required reading material.

This isn't in itself unusual. However, there are 180 students on this module and only about 35 turned up for the voluntary session. Now, either this is because 140+ are so confident that they know what they are doing or that the 35 that turned up were those with doubts and were seeking clarification, or that it can be difficult to engage students in the first week back. Who knows? Despite this, I felt the session went well and next week's session will build on the groundwork covered yesterday.

NB: any students reading this can go to WebCT VIsta/SunSpace and access the additional resources I placed there for you yesterday afternoon

I'm also developing a new module at level 3 (MAC309 Media Studies Special Topic) and I've been thinking about a completely different way to engage students and assess them. I've been taking my inspiration from two people in particular, namely Howard Rheingold at Berkely and Stanford University and Tarleton Gillespie at Cornell University. Rheingold delivers two courses, one in Digital Journalism and the other Virtual Communities/Social Media, and its the way he gets the students to interact with the course and its materials which I think is innovative and advantageous. Both of those courses are powered by Socialtext wiki software, and require students to actively participate in their own learning by keeping a blog and a personal wiki which is assessed at the end of the term (along with other modes of assessment too).

What is impressive about this model of engagement is that it encourages the students to take owenership of their own learning and evidence it on a week by week basis, with plenty self-reflection regarding the learners individual responsibilities to themselves and their academic development. I'd like to roll out a similar format myself. Week 9 of the Social Media course even has students meeting in Second Life! There may be problems in implementing this as I am not sure if we have a wiki or if the University's PCs are up to scratch to run Second Life. My 6 month old iMac on my desktop at work can hardly do that.

I think that this kind of course delivery would help to avoid the the situation I had in MAC201 earlier on in this post when the vast majority of students failed to turn up. I'm going to keep an eye on the attendance for this module and see how the students engage with the material. I also have an online discussion space setup in WebCT but, historically, this has been poorly utilized by students. Time will tell if these measures will help the students.