9 Oct 2011

No Competitions For You!

We all like winning free stuff, right? There’s that warm glowy feeling that we get when we tear open a prize parcel, or the surprise when our numbers come up on the lottery. Even the chance of winning something makes us feel better.

It’s also not much of a surprise that competitions help companies to make fans. Whether it’s making your existing customers more loyal or reaching out to new ones, giving stuff away is one sure-fire way to grab our attention. Conversely, not giving stuff away or (even worse) being selective about how you do it is a sure-fire way to lose that attention.

Say that you’re running a large multinational corporation. You sell your products globally and have offices in a number of different countries. You invest in localising your products for local markets in order to win more customers. Your products are so well-loved you have fans worldwide.

The moment of your annual corporate shin-dig is approaching, the time when you welcome fans from across the globe in order to show them what you’re working on. You’re even selling live video streams of the event internationally for those fans that can’t make it.

So you look at building hype by starting some competitions to get the fans all fired up. All’s well and good until they come across this bit of small print in the competition rules.

Entrants in this Fancypants Contest to Win Free Stuff (the “Promotion”) must be legal residents of the U.S. and Canada (Rhode Island and Quebec excluded)

Your fans doubt themselves, asking how this can be. Then they see a succession of competitions organised by show sponsors, again with that same small print. It reinforces the point – your international fans just aren’t as important to you as the ones you have at home.

The usual defence in this situation is to point to laws governing competitions and prizes, wailing that “it’s too hard” to run contests that everyone can enter. Yet you still managed to cover off employment law, retail law, corporation law and tax law when you set up your overseas offices. Surely you could have done your homework? You’d just spend the money once, draw up a contests template and away you go.

I’m not going to lecture you on how your international fans feel – read the comments on almost any competition announcement and it’s always the same. Thanks for ignoring us. Again.

Before you say that this is just some British guy with an axe to grind, think again. There’s the folks in other European countries. There’s the gamers in Australia who put up with some horrible lag just to play your game. There’s the people in China, Japan and India who are so important to you that you make localised versions of your game just for them.

Yet where are their competitions? You like their money well enough, but you’re not prepared to give a little back? Disappointing.

In the end all it takes is for a single publisher who’s done their homework to start pulling fans away from you. Don’t make their job even easier by telling international fans they’re not important to you any more. You may end up being the biggest in the US, but if the rest of the world is playing a different game it’s small potatoes.

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15 Responses to No Competitions For You!

  1. Spinks says:

    “Your fans doubt themselves, asking how this can be.”

    More likely, your fans sigh because they’re used to it. The one that really bugs me is WoW Insider not accepting submissions from people outside the US. It’s not that hard to pay out through an international bank.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I think that WoW Insider/AOL allow for international columnists who get regularly paid by Paypal.

      The other issue is the seed.com content procurement system that all AOL companies use, which is restricted to US only. It’s been a major barrier stopping a number of bloggers from being able to pitch to AOL-owned properties.

    • Aislinana says:

      Unfortunately, WI does not have the budget that AOL does or quite the ability to have the legal reach that AOL does as a parent company. Seed isn’t run very forthright at the moment, making even normal stuff a bit of a hassle, nevermind trying to make the entire system open to international writers – which again, would have to be AOL’s deal, not necessarily WI’s.
      Aislinana recently posted..Leveling Through Misandry – Levels 1 Through 10My Profile

  2. Jaedia says:

    This is something that really bugs me. The book blogging community have got it right at least. You still get “US only” contests pop up but they always state a reason and that is usually that the cost of postage is too high. Fair enough, it’s a hobby for them. Most use the Book Depository who offer free international shipping to many, many countries which opens up to a lot more people. Yay. So it particularly bothers me that other companies can’t be bothered to even try, or at least offer separate giveaways for folk in other countries.
    Jaedia recently posted..Screenshot of the Week: :oMy Profile

  3. Rabid Cloud Wolf says:

    Yay! A mention of Australian gamers and their lag! But seriously Blizzard, put some servers ANYWHERE in the oceanic area, even if you put one in Singapore it we would still benefit! PvP = I didn’t even get to see that rogue appear before death

    • Gazimoff says:

      I think any Australian brave enough to PVP under those kinds of conditions is either brave or crazy. Either way I admire you for putting up with it.

      Just imagine what your connection would be like if Valve made an MMO :)

  4. Us Aussies are borderline crazy, and mostly we skim read and ignore any contests. Wowinsider, blizzard and most other major sites cater to the USA only as I think the legalities are just too much of a hindrance. I guess too though it depends on the prize – as a digital prize is something that can easily be given away, and shows like the Instance can somehow do that every few weeks.
    Are they just ignoring some legal aspect of it?
    TyphoonAndrew recently posted..+100 Need rolls in Raid FinderMy Profile

    • “Are they just ignoring some legal aspect of it?”

      No, it’s the fact that there’s a world of difference, legally, between “bunch of dudes that do a weekly podcast thing doing a contest” and “large corporation (Blizzard, AOL, etc.) doing a contest”. For example, the wording of the clause that generally makes Rhode Island be excluded wouldn’t hamper The Instance, because they don’t have a retail space (or a product, per se) that they’re advertising.

  5. Angelya says:

    Hear hear. After moving from the UK to Oz I was horrified at the latency jump, but we still love the game here so what can we do? I think bloggers in general do a much better job of competitions than gaming corporations do, and they don’t even have PR or merchandising teams :-/
    Angelya recently posted..15 Days of Screenshots: Inspiring ImageryMy Profile

    • tink says:

      Bloggers do not generally concern themselves with contest laws and are typically not giving away prize packages worth large money amounts. There’s a big difference between “Hey, I am going to give a reader a copy of this fairly inexpensive prize (< $100 USD) that I purchased/received as advance copy/etc." and "Hey guys, we're giving away this really awesome expensive set of prizes and also writing them off as a business expense."

      All Things Azeroth has given away big enough prizes, iirc, that the "US/Canada excluding RI and Quebec. Void where prohibited by law." standard has been used.

  6. tink says:

    You’re actually completely off the mark about contest laws being as “easy” as employment/retail/etc setup, but it’s 3:30 AM and I’m not going to do all of your research for you.

    Here are a few articles. They’re not the most recent things in the world, but the sentiments in them are as true today as they were when the articles were printed. (A small caveat, the Canada “test of skill” requirement is now only limited to Quebec, iirc, and they all require all contest materials to be available in French.)
    http://www.canimakebigmoneyonline.com/index.php/20071221-contest-and-sweepstakes-laws-around-the-world-are-complicated/
    http://www.howstuffworks.com/question541.htm
    http://www.dmaresponsibility.org/Sweepstakes/ <–this is more about what rules must be followed for mailings, but may still be of interest.

    • Gazimoff says:

      You’ll notice that I actually linked the howstuffworks article as part of my writeup :)

      Either way, companies have two options – either do the work and open up their competitions to more territories, or create contests for each country they operate in. This is not hard stuff. Sure it may require time and research to do it once, but it’s not difficult.

      More importantly though, I feel you’re missing the core point. By ignoring their international fans, companies effectively say that they’re not important to them. This may not be such a bugbear to you, as you’re normally slap bang in the middle of their target market. But for those of us living overseas the fact that it continually and regularly happens is a constant source of disappointment for us.

  7. Saresa says:

    I will admit, I get amazingly frustrated at every give away I see that I can’t enter (and between WoW, and cooking blogs, and everything else that I read, there are a LOT of them). It would be nice, if, every so often, a give away was run by these big companies for people in different places. You know, just once, cough up the little bit of extra cash and run one that people in Australia, New Zealand and the UK can enter (our permits aren’t that expensive, and it’s not that hard). Heck, exclude the Americans from it to save on permit costs – I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt for them to miss one once in a while!

    We are made to feel like second class customers by Blizzard in so many different ways (I just love having to stay up obscenely late, or get up stupidly early, to call Blizzard’s customer service!) I guess this is just another thing Australians and other non-US/Canadian people have to get used to :-)
    Saresa recently posted..Ode to a KeyringMy Profile

  8. Razerbug says:

    A fair proportion of it is our own fault as well – UK customs and excise has such weird ass daft ways of making sure they get a slice of every pie (even the free-stuff flavoured ones) that no one else wants the legal hassle.

    Even the shipping of items from an area with no sales tax, into our VAT system requires estimations on the things actual and retail values etc, and it’s not like we could just have a “this is a prize, no tax” option because then it’d be used for fraud.

    Rip off Britain means we can’t have nice things
    Razerbug recently posted..Playing the Bad GuyMy Profile

  9. Bronte says:

    This “not being in the US” crap is what really gets me. You make games for people around the world. You take their money from around the world. Why can’t you have competitions for people from around the world?
    Bronte recently posted..“Deus Ex: Boss Fights” or “A Comic Speaks a Thousand Words”My Profile