What World of Warcraft’s Garrisons Teach Us About Priorities

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World of Warcraft’s latest expansion, Warlords of Draenor, introduced an entirely new game-within-a-game called Garrisons. Ostensibly a response to players’ requests for housing for their characters in-game, garrisons changes the Warcraft experience considerably. Now, your character can act as a commander or general to non-player characters called followers, as well as build an entire town. It’s a bit like adding SimTown to Warcraft.

Here’s what the task management screen (called missions) looks like:

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In this screen, you assign your followers to different missions that they can go out and do for extended periods of time, while you play, work, or have a life outside of the game.

Here’s what I find interesting about garrisons. They’re a fun mini-game inside the game, but they’re also a significant distraction from playing the actual game you signed up to play. World of Warcraft was principally an MMORPG. You created a character that was a hero and adventured all over a virtual world. You beat up Internet dragons, made friends, fought for your faction, and collected loot.

Now, it’s almost like your hero is semi-retired. Yes, you can still go out and adventure and kill Internet dragons, but you can also play Warcraft’s version of Pokemon, known as pet battles. If you travel to Southshore, you can play an in-game version of Plants vs. Zombies. Miss playing Atari’s Joust? You can do that too. Want to just try on new outfits and dress up a character? The Barber Shop and transmogrification allow you to do just that. Garrisons adds yet another diversion inside the game. Is that a bad thing? No, because it’s entertainment. If you’re more entertained by Pokemon than by killing Internet dragons, then Warcraft is still a place for you, and everyone pays the same $15 a month no matter how many or few features they use.

However, garrisons present an interesting lesson for us as marketers. You can get so caught up in the administration of your garrison – growing followers, assigning personnel, managing missions, building structures, harvesting crops, extracting resources – that you never get around to the adventuring part of the game in the time you have to play each day. You never get around to what is ostensibly the big mission, killing the bad guys and saving the world, because you’re diverted into managing your town.

It should be no surprise that life in your business is the same. You can lose all of the hours of your day doing administrative stuff. You can manage people, tasks, assignments, etc. and find that the entire day has vanished on you, and your business hasn’t moved forward in its mission to change the world for the better.

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So how do you fix that? In Warcraft, you install add-ons that accelerate the process of managing garrisons. You can streamline mission management, letting software make most of the analysis for you and leaving only the final decisions for you to make. You can reduce your focus on your followers. You also have to be rigorous with your time management, going so far as to set limits on yourself about how long you’ll spend in your garrison before you hop on a gryphon to go out adventuring. For me, I will spend a maximum of 15 minutes in a garrison (which adds up across multiple characters), then hit the road so I can advance my characters’ progress in the world.

In marketing… it’s about the same, really. Use software like marketing automation and CRM technologies to automate what you can, streamline what you can. Use packages and practices like GTD and Inbox Zero to tame the inbox. Most of all, set hard limits using your calendar about what you’ll do when during the day so that you can reclaim time in the day to accomplish your mission.

Both Warcraft and life offer multiple entertaining diversions that can take you off-mission. If the mission you’ve chosen is valuable, be rigorous in your personal discipline to stay on task and keep moving forward. The world needs you to succeed!

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Why NSA Spying in World of Warcraft is Ineffective

A simple infographic illustrates the data quality issue:

Why NSA Spying in World of Warcraft is Ineffective
As always, all things Warcraft are trademarks of Blizzard Entertainment.

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What World of Warcraft Can Teach You About Marketing Cooldowns


In World of Warcraft, your characters have special abilities that are used with a mandatory wait between uses, called a cooldown. Some abilities have longer cooldowns than others, meaning that you have to wait longer in between uses, but the tradeoff for a longer cooldown is often a more powerful ability. For example, paladins (like the one shown above) can use a special skill called Divine Shield that stops all harm to them for a few seconds with a mandatory 10 minute wait between uses. At the other end of the spectrum is an ability called Sacred Shield that reduces 20% of damage taken but you need only wait 30 seconds between uses.

When it comes to marketing, our tools and abilities have cooldowns, too. Take a look at this brief, incomplete list of marketing tools:

  • Press releases
  • Email newsletters and promotions
  • Search marketing
  • Paid advertising
  • Earned media placements/bylines
  • Tweets
  • Blog posts
  • Facebook posts
  • Podcasts
  • YouTube videos
  • Direct mail
  • Cold calls

How often can you use each of these tools, assuming you have great content and great products and services? If you were to send out email promotions day after day, hour after hour, you’d burn your list to the ground very quickly. People would unsubscribe in droves. If you were to send out press releases, how often could you spend $200-$600 before you hit diminishing returns? (fairly quickly, actually) If you were to Tweet as fast as you could, how long before people got tired of you being the only thing in their stream and unfollowing you?

That’s what I’d call a marketing cooldown – the time you need to let a marketing tool or ability rest and let your audience reset so that you don’t suffer diminishing returns. If you’re putting together a calendar of marketing efforts, knowing the cooldowns on the various tools you have at your disposal would let you best determine how to allocate your resources in advance, rather than on the fly. Your marketing cadence would be timed to maximize the impact of each channel.

You’d know, for example, that your particular house email list (every list varies) has a 5 business day cooldown – that if you send more frequently than that, your unsubscribe or complaint rate goes up. You’d know that your Twitter followers drop off faster if every 9 tweets is about your company vs. every 22 tweets. You’d know that SEO has diminishing returns after a point and once you get close to that limit, your efforts are best spent elsewhere. You’d know there is only so much money you can pour into AdWords before it becomes less effective than other channels.

I can’t tell you what your marketing cooldowns are, because every company, every industry, every customer database is radically different. Some house lists don’t mind 3 emails a day, like the Help a Reporter list, founded by Peter Shankman. Other lists won’t tolerate more than a quarterly update. Invest time determining what your audience’s cooldowns are, and you’ll rapidly improve your marketing effectiveness.

Bonus: as you level up in World Warcraft, meaning your characters become more and more powerful, your cooldown times decrease. (assuming you gear properly, etc.) A level 90 character can use their spells faster and more effectively on average than a level 1 character.

The same is true for your marketing efforts – the better your products and services are and the more skilled a marketer you become, the more often you can use your marketing tools to promote them, because more people will actively want to hear about how you can help them solve their problems. Once you know where you stand in terms of your tools and their cooldowns, work with the rest of your company to buff up your products and services, and you’ll find that marketing them becomes easier and easier.

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