Well, the news is out that Rockstar, a label of Take-Two Interactive, is coming out with a table tennis game. Does anyone think this is a good match for the Rockstar brand? Here's what I had to say, in a letter I wrote to executives of the company exactly four years ago...
From: Scott Miller
Sent: Monday, March 04, 2002
I saw the news story below [not included here - ed.], and this line here is the one I want to talk about a little: "Their games are very unique," said Paul Kaump, an analyst with Dougherty & Co. "They focus on the mature market."
The Rockstar brand has become a true brand, unlike most meaningless, jack-of-all-trades brands in the game industry. The Rockstar brand, to consumers, is positioned as an adult, mature brand. Gamers and the press are picking up on this, and further games like DNF and Mafia will help reinforce this. And brand is only powerful, compelling and meaningful when it's focused on a single, easily-understood meaning. The Rockstar brand has achieved this.
Most publishers do not know how to make a brand meaningful, which is why most publisher brands are nearly worthless on their own.
And once Rockstar begins shipping games that do not fit this adult image, it too will become diluted, less-valuable, less-meaningful, and less able to attract gamers based on its own merits. The best way to kill this brand is to make it generic, like the Activision brand, or the THQ brand, or the Eidos brand, or the Acclaim brand, or the Sierra brand, or the Infogrames brand -- all nearly worthless brands that gamers don't care about because these brands do not stand for anything (because they stand for everything). In these cases, gamers buy the game brands, and don't care about the publisher brands. But in Rockstar's case, the brand brings value to the table because it stands for something--it is positioned very well.
So, I hope Take-Two understands what they have with the Rockstar brand and maintains the brand's purity and focus. This will mean that if a good game comes along that doesn't fit the Rockstar image, it should be published under a different label. For example, if Take-Two wants to publish a game based on N-Sync, then doing so under the Rockstar brand would be a giant blunder.
I did hear back from them the next day, and they fully agreed.
In a very recent update on Origin of Brands, Laura Ries writes: "Preserve your focus: Maintaining your focus is the best way to keep a brand strong. By chasing the latest trend, you unfocus the brand and lose the meaning, credibility and authenticity of the brand." It's really very simple to make a strong brand. But it's also incredibly tempting to muddy your own brand, by branching out and satisfying that burning desire to be all things to all people. When brands become strong, the executives in charge too often forget how they got that way to begin with. It's all about focus. Lose that, and you lose the brand's power.