Gamer Humor for the Minor Illusion of Win

Effectively using humor in marketing is tricky. If you know your target market well, humor is great linkbait. The most viral web phenomena to date have all been funny… to some people. The problem is knowing if the market for your website or app has a generally homogeneous sense of humor.

Sometimes we are so immersed in our personal subcultures that we fail to see how anyone can NOT get the jokes that we take for granted.

Nowhere is this becoming more of a problem in my media diet than in the realm of gamer humor. Something happened this past week that made me wonder if gamer humor has crossover potential or if the misapplication of gamer humor is going to become a problem now that gameification is the new the black.

Gameification may be encouraging game designers to apply the stock tools* of game design to applications that might be much better without even a whiff of Leeroy Jenkins’ chicken.

*If chainmail binkini and “<blank> of <blank>ing” jokes are any less of a stock game tool than “badges” I’ll eat my lush dwarven beard.

But Everyone I Know Thinks It’s Funny!

Obviously, the more edgy or weird your jokes are, the higher the risk/reward potential is for creating a spectacularly offensive dud or the next big viral joke. Geek culture may be cool now, but gamer culture is still a niche experience, regardless of our powerful self-referential presence on teh Interweb.

Put another way, an All Your Base Are Belong to Toys “R” Us campaign is not going to play as well to the mommy market as one might hope, even acknowledging that the majority of online gamers may be women (at least according to research using very small samples to guesstimate the gender of online gamers).

There’s a big difference between enjoying games and being so into gamer culture that you understand gamer jokes.

But Humor will Help My Gameified App Go Viral!

Maybe, but maybe not. Contrived viral mega-hits like Old Spice Man are relatively rare compared to surprise, organic viral hits like Chocolate Rain. Many perfectly funny blog posts, videos, podcasts, and more never go viral in any way that transcends their pre-existing core audience. CollegeHumor type sites are chock full of hilarious content that reaches its core demographic, but fails to spread very far beyond the bromarket (hey, it’s classier than sausagesegment, nardsniche, etc.).

If your humor has breakout potential, like the Old Spice Man, then integrating the jokes into the app itself may be a good idea. Otherwise, it might be better to leave the humor to the marketing campaign and keep the app and core user experience humor agnostic.

Fortunately, most popular products and services are designed to be fairly humor agnostic so that a customer can be satisfied even if they personally don’t get the humor in an annoying marketing campaign (humor that a person doesn’t find funny tends to get annoying pretty fast). A lot of Microsoft Windows users didn’t dig the bizarre Jerry Seinfeld/Bill Gates commercials, but I doubt many people defected to a competing OS based on their unamused response to that one campaign. The backlash to misfired humor in marketing is not even that bad when a campaign both misses the funny bone AND offends people, as did Coca-Cola with their rank amateur “edgy” Dr. Pepper Facebook app (that inserted a reference to the infamous 2 Girls 1 Cup porn site into the status updates of participating users of ALL ages). I’d be floored if anyone who actually likes Dr. Pepper stopped drinking it over that campaign, regardless of the bad press and media flack.

In this day and age, nothing short of a humor campaign with overt racism, sexual violence, or sacrilegious themes is likely to piss off a significant number of previously loyal customers who will actually boycott your products. People already buying and satisfied with your products are going to be hesitant to switch over one lame, unfunny campaign.

But What Happens When the Inside Jokes Are in the Core User Experience?

The new product that inspired this post is the upcoming productivity game EpicWin. If you’re a gamer, this could be the GTD app of your dreams (note, I am not yet sure if they actually support the GTD process or if it’s just mentioned in a pithy way).

Swarthy dwarven toiler, eh? This reminds me of… oh yeah: the most famous productivity RPG (and many others that have been imagined but not yet created).

First up, (and this is a bit of gamer ranting, but stick with me) RPG does not equal “high fantasy” with the dwarves and the sorcerers and Helm of Hack-Writing. As someone paying for 2 WoW and 2 LotRO accounts every month, I can honestly say I enjoy a fantasy RPG as much as the next girl, but there is more to RPG writing than cribbing from the Gygax legacy.

So why would not only the first (Chore Wars) but now (arguably) the second most promising productivity RPG have dwarves and D&D style player stats (stamina, strength, etc.)? Originality aside, I hope the creators of EpicWin are shooting for gamers-into-GTD and not any wider market. Hopefully, the devs made the game skinnable with more thematic options so that players aren’t really forced to pick an in-game persona from the played-out stock RPG archetypes (well, besides treemen, since whatever a treeman is, I want one).

I’ve seen an app that tries to do a productivity RPG without all of the generic fantasty trappings (Level Me Up for the iPhone), but it didn’t get much press, whereas EpicWin has blown up recently with a lot of enthusiastic coverage.

This might mean that the closer a productivity game looks to a conventional entertainment game, the more well-received it will be in the media. But I’m not sure that the average productivity app user will be smitten with the whole gamer humor vibe.

Do you think the familiarity of gamer humor and other gamer conventions lend appeal to productivity apps? Or will the gamer humor limit the potential market of this productivity app to gamers and sabre-toothed limes? +1 Comment of Opining

2 thoughts on “Gamer Humor for the Minor Illusion of Win

  1. As a student of the industry (and an avid gamer myself) I can’t see how the humor used in the marketing for this would appeal to anyone BUT a gamer. There’s too much here hinging on someone being familiar with MMO tropes for it to be anything but.

    Does this limit the potential? Probably… but the marketing seems to be going for exactly the demographic the app was designed for. It’s hard for me to imagine the designer wanting broad appeal with such a heavily game-influenced app in the first place.

    1. Yeah, I think you’re right. They are targeting their own demographic. But if it’s a good app, I really hope they consider offering a version with a different “skin” since the concept of a productivity rpg is a good one that could target a more mainstream market (and still be fun and amusing, just maybe with more general humor).

      I think the timing is right for this kind of app, but in the case of EpicWin, the marketing/theme of it may make it the niche product that will find itself leap-frogged by a more mainstream-friendly imitator.

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