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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