I'm an IT guy through and through, but I've had to sit through enough seemingly interminable marketing meetings to have developed a somewhat jaundiced eye towards them. To someone that actually produces things, the whole effort often appears to be useless make work blather with the end result being nothing more than a group think derived consensus to do exactly the wrong thing. For example, I was once invited to travel to corporate HQ to participate in a re-design of the marketing department's pet web site. I was there for the kick-off meeting, the goal of which was to develop a list of top-level requirements. It was to be an all day meeting, and the first hour was devoted to deciding whether or not the requirement “Easy to use” should be included. After 45 minutes of intense discussion, I ventured a question: “Is there anyone here advocating for the requirement that the site be difficult to use?”
I was not invited to any more of those meetings.
I didn't miss them.
This brings us to EA's NERF N-Strike Elite, a hybrid package containing a NERF gun and a Wii game. With my experience in the world of marketing, I can easily imagine the thought process at the table:
“Ok, let's start by defining our brand.”
“Really? Because you know we've been cranking these things out under the Nerf brand for quite a few years. Don't we have a pretty solid understanding of the appeal and target segments for the brand?”
“You are excused. Please allow the door to hit you on the way out.”
At the end of the meeting, they would have spent a number of hours re-affirming what they already know: Nerf guns appeal to persons of all ages because of their ease-of-use, relatively low chance of damage or injury being caused by negligent use, and low cost. With those bullets safely captured on a series of a dozen PowerPoint slides, they would have adjourned with the goal of reconvening in a few days to discuss ideas for broadening their penetration in the pre-teen segment.
And thus the idea for the Wii game / NERF gun combo pack was born.
The only shame is that the idea didn't die in the crib.
That said, the issue is not so much with the idea but with the implementation. The initial discussions surely would have made sense:
“Ok, easy-to-use, benign, and appealing to various age groups. What else has those traits?”
“Uh, no. Anyone else?”
[Two hours of discussion ensue]
“Ok, so there's too much disparity in the various cell phone platforms, plus there's no human interface to them that resembles a weapon. Keep thinking!”
“Hey, what about the Wii? It has that little swing around remote controller thingy, and literally everyone under the age of 12 has one. And the parents play them too!”
[Four hours of discussion ensue]
“Well, that all sound great, but we don't know how to develop games.”
And, as it turns out, that guy was right. Too bad he was howled out of the room and beaten up in the men's room after lunch. He was also not invited to sit on the committee that designed the game. Had he been, he might have provided some meaningful direction to the design. Instead, the result was a game that clearly tried to use the same NERF-appeal bullet points rather than be designed as a form of entertainment. One can almost deconstruct the thought process:
“It has to be approachable to very young people.”
“Ok, put the main character on rails. Don't even allow the player to control where the character is looking. Just let the player move a reticle around the screen shooting at anything that moves. Even a diaper-clad preemie could handle that.”
“But will that appeal to older ages too?”
“No, not really, but they're going to buy it just because of the NERF name. They trust us.”
And that is how good brands die.
For $60 (quite tellingly reduced to $39 at Walmart right after Xmas) you get a $15 NERF gun and a game that would have been better served up by including it as a freebie in a box of Froot Loops. The game itself is the very definition of shovelware, suitable for ages three to four. Naturally, it carries an ESRB content rating of 10+, thus ensuring that anyone in the ESRB-approved age bracket will find it painfully boring. A better way to spend the $60 would be to buy the $15 NERF gun and use the other $45 to buy a decent Wii game. Or, truth be told, even a mediocre Wii game would be better than this.
What were they thinking? The lameness of this game is a slap in the face to every NERF aficionado ever born and, quite frankly, those still in the womb.