Behind the Curtain: Saving NWC
by Charles Watkins

This week, I’d like to take a break from mapmaking to say a few words about the future of the Heroes franchise. Sure, there has been a lot of talk (see the Heroes V Forum) about what we’d like to see in Heroes V and plenty of speculation on the status of New World Computing. However, there has been little discussion about the continued viability of Heroes as a product, and this is where I would like to weigh in.

I believe that the Heroes franchise is in severe danger of extinction, not so much due to flaws in the game but due to unimaginative marketing. When I say ‘marketing’ many people will think I’m just talking about the matter of advertising and publicizing a product–these are the parts that customers usually see–but there is far more to it. Marketing involves understanding customers and what they care about. It involves pricing, packaging, and distribution strategies. And above all, it involves figuring out what to sell and how to make money. I think 3DO and (to a lesser extent) NWC have failed in all three of these areas. And I think the future of Heroes depends on NWC joining with a company that appreciates the game and really understands how to market it.

Many of you know me as a gamer, but in ‘real life’ until I retired last year--young, I say--I was in software marketing for the better part of 30 years. My experience is mainly with operating systems, not games, but as a gamer I’ve had an abiding interest in that segment of the industry and have been monitoring its evolution through reporters like Angelspit at Celestial Heavens. I’ve also been at 3DO stockholder for many years. So though I am not a veteran of the games business, nor do I have any inside information about NWC, I do have some insight into the situation. There have been times when I thought I might someday move over to that side of the industry, but my impression is that most games companies are pretty screwed up.

This is not a short discussion, so it’s broken into two parts:

Part 1: Taking Stock – Can The Heroes Franchise Be Saved?
Before looking at ways to return Heroes to its former glory, we have to face the difficult question of whether it deserves to live. Put another way, is there enough value in the franchise to make it worthwhile to implement the changes needed for it to survive? And what kind of a product plan would be needed to return Heroes to profitability?

Part 2: Making Money – What I Would Do
For Heroes to succeed in today’s market, it must find new customers and this calls for changes to the game itself, not just an ad campaign. I think the key here is widening its appeal by incorporating the best features of Might and Magic. At the same time, the Heroes franchise needs to embrace the new realities of the PC games market and look beyond retail sales for sources of profits. This requires a Commercial Website, which I will outline.