Published at 04/02/2021

On Early Majority & Marketing a Digital Product on the Example of "League of Legends."


title: On Getting to Early Majority & Marketing a Digital Product on the Example of “League of Legends.”
date: “2021-02-04T17:39:00.000Z”


“League of Legends” is a wildly successful game. It’s played virtually all over globe, with a new variation, Wild Rift available now on smartphones and soon on consoles. We all can learn some lessons from their rise to the top in the area of a successful delivery of a digital product.

_Article based on the film "League of Legends: Origins" and the book "Crossing the Chasm" by Geoffrey A. Moore_

“League of Legends” is a wildly successful game. It’s played virtually all over globe, with a new variation, Wild Rift available now on smartphones and soon on consoles. We all can learn some lessons from their rise to the top in the area of a successful delivery of a digital product.

In August of 2019, Riot Games announced in their blog post that League of Legends was played concurrently by 8 million players source. This is a huge achievement, overshadowed only by one other video game (!). That huge success, perhaps, would not have happened should they not have made some key decisions early on:

  1. To market the game to a very specific segment (a group of people able to reference themselves when making a purchase decision)
  2. To release the game in a freemium model (disclaimer: it worked in that particular case; I am not implying it is the best choice in every case)
  3. They took an existing product, and made it just a little different, having improved on the original.

Before we dive into what Riot Games did, and how does it relate to what rules are outlined in "Crossing the Chasm", we have to take a look at the Product Lifecycle and its stages.

“Products Lifecycle” and its stages

Product Lifecycle is a description of a process through which every (or almost every) product goes through.

There are five stages:

  1. Introduction
  2. Growth
  3. Maturity
  4. Saturation
  5. Decline

Each stage is represented by a different type of customers. As G.A. Moore outlined it they are as follows:

  1. Innovators
  2. Early Adopters
  3. Early Majority
  4. Late Majority
  5. Laggards
Now that I know this - what’s "chasm", and what’s so hard about “crossing” it?

The biggest issue is, that managers feel as if they can get to the early majority by introducing new features when their growth levels out. Wrong. In general, what you should do is reduce the number of bugs, and make sure your product just works. Whilst the early customers tolerate some smaller (or bigger) errors, your early majority won’t.

What do the early adopters/innovators expect of your product?

They expect to be excited. In general, they are relatively price insensitive (more or less the degree to which demand changes when the cost changes), and they want to feel the thrill when seeing a product.

The product in question doesn’t even need to properly work or be useful yet. In fact, League of Legends was really bad for a long time - "The game really sucked for a long time,” said Riot Games producer Jeff Jew, who was an intern at the time. “Nobody [at Riot] wanted to play the game because it was really bad. But they forced us to.” (source)

Focus on making a very narrow group of early adopters go bananas about your offering.

Kill two birds with one stone.
This might be a really cool concept, except it won’t work in this case. You won’t make two different segments go crazy about your product at once. They have different needs and expectations, and your company won’t have the resources (yet) to adjust your product accordingly. It goes without saying, however, that the segment should be big enough to matter - women aged 35 named Lisa living in flats on the second floor on a single street might not be significant. Your company has to pay the bills whilst focusing on that one segment, after all. It cannot be too big, as well, because you aim to be the big fish, not a small, weak one.

That’s what Riot did - they focused on small group of heavy Dota (the original one) players in the beginning.

What do I do after dominating that one segment?

You pick another one, and dominate that one.

What do I do after dominating that next segment?

You pick another one, and dominate that one.

Word of Mouth is crucial for wide adoption of the product

According to the film cited in the first paragraph, League of Legends’ 85% of early users were acquired through word of mouth marketing. Rather not on purpose, as the company did not appear to have been planning to optimise for that/ nor they did not planned that.

Why is the Word of Mouth crucial? “92% of [customers] believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising.” (source).
Speaks for itself, does it not?

Why you have to polish your product before approaching the early majority stage

When approaching the early majority stage, you might be tempted to start marketing like crazy or start adding new features. Don’t. League on PC has remained more or less the same game ever since its initial stable release. Sure, new modes were released, but the changes to the game were first and foremost focused on making the experience better (and still are).

Just before that stage when you are about to really hit it big, stop with new features, and decrease marketing spending, because if you don’t, you get the early majority familiarised with your product that is not intended for them to see yet.

The early majority segment is only content with a bug-free product that optimises their processes, such as LoL maximised the amount of entertainment one receives.

Aboe all else - don’t focus on making it useful too early - focus on exciting users.

Direct Communication with Users

If you are transparent, and treat your users like humans, you can go far, and potentially mitigate your mistakes, just how Riot did - they had their early majority segment see their unpolished product which could have been tragic for the future of the game if they had not been super transparent, and up close with the community.

The company embraced a transparent and personal connection with potential users/ users right from the start - when they created personal connections to the first 200 players they met at the “PAX” conference dedicated to gaming.

Equality and Business Model

People seem to have an inherent need for equality, contrary to what the world suggests (the world suggest that, since there are so many people not giving too much thought about equality, the need for that is something that is learnt vs it is in human nature).

You can’t have people going on overpowering other people based on the thickness of their wallets. People hate that. Riot realised it in one of their internal meetings, when they wanted to make a certain character (Annie) play different upon purchase.

What they’ve done instead is they have offered cosmetic changes to the character, than don’t influence the gameplay in any way other than the character looking different. They now have billions of revenue from people purchasing cosmetic items in-game.

A note should be made on the free-to-play business model. Riot Games, and their competitor, S2 Games (authors of “Heroes of Newerth”) launched their games around the same time. In the beginning, Riot were losing, significantly. As Jeff Jew recalls:

Where League of Legends didn’t charge to play the game — instead relying on in-game purchases, Heroes of Newerth sold like a traditional box game with a fixed price tag. Jew said shortly after Heroes announced its set price, it lost half its players. That was because, Jew theorizes, those players were in Asia or Southeast Asia and either couldn’t afford or didn’t want to spend that money on a game all at once. “And all of those players flipped and they came to League of Legends because we were free to play still,” Jew said. “It was crazy, we never expected that.”_ (source)

You don’t need to have something entirely new

League of Legends was, and, is, nothing else than a spin on DOTA, a mod to a widely popular “Warcraft” game.

If you see it as a weakness, it is not. It’s a strength. People want something new in a familiar package. That was League of Legends.

Let’s look at another example: when first electric cars were launched, they looked, and felt more or less the same as standard, combustion engine cars, however work on a totally different basis (petrol vs electricity).

Your product does not have to be that different. It just needs to be different enough for customers to be able to distinguish it from competitors.

Constant Positive Experience

For your users to continue to use your product, you need to offer them a continued positive experience. If “League…” was ONLY about destroying the structures and nothing else, it would have died off pretty soon after launch.

What’s the real goal in playing the game is the pursue of mastery - it’s about being the best among your friends or in the world. It’s a very similar goal to some people’s motivation to play sports.

Another example: people buy Apple because showing off Airpods Pro or that new iPhone is the feeling of the status.
Sure, there are some distinct characteristics or advantages of Cupertino-based company’s products such as being easier to use (in most aspects). Is really it why people buy their products, however?

You have to ask yourself “what is my constant positive experience?”

What if you make a mistake?

Don’t worry. Riot Games had one of the biggest potential flops they could have. During their first World Cup, during one of the matches, the game crashed over and over again resulting in 7 hours (sic!) of repeated games instead of 1.5 - 3 hours of a show. They did not finish the matchup in the end - the game had to be restarted another day.

The audience was highly disappointed. So what did they do? They refunded their tickets, awarded $25 in Riot Points to each one of the audience members (which btw made everybody explode with happiness), and gave away free merch (people started chanting “Riot”).

Phenomenon of the Riot Points solution? It did not cost the company a penny, and that alone made people happy. Not getting their actual money back; getting a pretend “currency” worked.

Conclusion

Telling whether a product will be successful or not is a really hard. Better products perform financially worse than the worse products which flourish. After identifying there is a product-market fit your offering can flop, and the other way around - without a product-market fit your product can be an instant hit.
Humans are fully irrational creatures, and there is no doubt about it. What you can do, is you can follow some best practices, and some rules laid out by researchers, and hope for the best.