Last week, I took a trip back to my hometown of Buffalo. Fun trip – got to see all my friends, and after almost two years of collaborating with Stryker online, it was nice for us to work face to face again. Of course, by “work”, I mean that we hit up the flea market and a couple of used game stores, where I managed to get my hands on a pretty nice, complete copy of Bulls vs. Lakers for the Genesis. Ok, so maybe an old basketball game wasn’t the most exciting find, but look what came inside:
This is EA’s Buy Two, Get One Free promotion from summer 1992. I actually took advantage of this back when it originally ran, and one of the two games I bought was, oddly enough, Bulls vs. Lakers. The other was Desert Strike, and the free game I received was F-22 Interceptor, which was my first choice, because I didn’t know any better (Road Rash would have been a better option). For some reason, it came in a weird box that was taller and thinner, without any kind of bracketing to hold the cartridge in place.
By the way, interesting side note – there seems to be some inconsistency about whether the company should be abbreviated EA or ECA.
I’m not exactly sure why EA ran this promotion. When you give away merchandise like this, the biggest cost generally isn’t the game itself, but rather the loss of a potential sale to all those people you’re giving a free game to who might have bought that game anyway. Which is probably why most of the titles being offered are a little bit older – the idea being that most of the people who were going to buy these games already had (and to be sure, there was no way I was paying actual money for a copy of F-22).
My best guess is that EA needed or wanted a cash infusion right away (hence the relatively short time frame), and this was seen as a way to get people to buy games a little sooner than they might have otherwise put off a bit. Maybe they had a new project they were trying to fund, or some kind of financial report that they wanted to make look good. But that’s just a guess. It could just as easily be that they had a warehouse full of copies of The Immortal they wanted to get rid of, and saw this as a way to unload those in a way that made people more likely to buy newer EA games. Or maybe they just wanted to do something nice for their customers.
But if the prospect of one free game doesn’t excite you, how about 20?
Now that’s a pretty sweet offer! This isn’t just any random twenty Genesis games, either – we’re talking Electronic Arts, circa 1992. That means potentially Starflight, Desert Strike, NHLPA ‘93 and a lot of other fantastic titles (and probably all those games being offered in the Buy 2 promotion). I would have been all over that as a kid. Heck, I’d be all over that now. Of course, it was a sweepstakes, so probably only one or two people won it.
We still see stuff like this today, though usually it comes from stores or restaurants offering to enter you into drawings for gift cards if you take their online surveys. Basically, companies are desperate to learn about who is buying their products and why, but don’t have a great way of finding out. This is a big deal, without any kind of feedback, companies are often in the dark about the demographics of their customers, or how they are finding out about them in the first place. There’s an old joke in advertising – “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”. Getting a little info on your customers is a good way to figure out which half.
The questions give us some hints as to what EA wants to know. The basic demographic info is necessary on the off chance you actually win the sweepstakes, but also useful for finding out if certain regions buy certain games more often (for example, they probably had a theory that Madden sells better in cities with NFL teams, which this could be used to verify). Age and sex are the big ones, though – very useful information there.
Still, that’s all “standard” stuff. The questions on the bottom half of the page are where you really get a glimpse into the kind of info a game publisher wants. What kind of games do you like best? Pretty obvious why they’d want to know that. Asking if players try games before they buy them, and where, gives them a good idea of how people are making their purchasing decisions, and offers hints as to what kind of marketing they need to do. For example, if a lot of people said they rented a game before buying it, they might try to work out a deal with Blockbuster for a lot of in-store advertising; and if people said they played it at an arcade, they would… probably get pretty confused, actually since they didn’t make any arcade games (though a coin-op Rings of Power would have been incredible). Asking how many hours per week you play games tells them whether their customers might be interested in lengthier, more in-depth games, or something more casual, and finding out how long you’ve had your Genesis gives them an idea about whether the market is growing. Finding out what other systems players own gives them data on what other platforms might be worth publishing games on, but also could demonstrate a preference for the Genesis over these other systems if the game purchased was available on one of the other platforms.
Finally, asking what other types of games you’d like to see them make is an invitation for all kinds of bad ideas, but maybe also the occasional good one.
The postage on this card is already paid, and I’m torn between keeping it for posterity, or filling it out and sending it in. There’s no expiration date on this thing, and I’ve been having trouble finding a copy of Might and Magic that’s still in decent shape.