Midnight in Salem, OR Her Interactive’s Marketing Nightmare (Part 1)

Today, I’d like to introduce you to a company that I’ve admired for a long time, but has recently had a dramatic change in marketing style. For the next couple of posts, we’ll be doing a case study of Her Interactive, a company that has moved from an open, small, but dedicated family of people to a company that seems as if it is under lock and key. A company that has changed tactics from a warm, straightforward, and communicative style to one that is filled with legalese and vague non-answers. Today, we’ll be coving who Her Interactive is and how they got to where they are today.

Founded in 1995, Her Interactive is best known for its extensive library of Nancy Drew point-and-click adventure games, released twice yearly since 1998, for a total of 32 games. The games are generally very well received and they have sizable fan communities on Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, and the company’s forums. According to Business Wire: “As the number-one PC mystery franchise since 2004, unit sales of the Nancy Drew series have exceeded those of Harry Potter, Myst, and Tomb Raider.”

What makes this so remarkable is that the company is tiny, somewhere between 25 and 50 employees, and while some work, including music and early animation, has always been outsourced, most of the major elements like the game design and writing were done in house. Not only that, but head writers were incredibly accessible.

One player took to emailing Her to ask questions about the games’ development and clarify plot points. Not only were questions answered by the company, the emails were passed around the office for several people to chime in on, and the head writer would take time to give thoughtful and careful answers to each question. In response to questions on the 28th game in the series, The Ghost of Thornton Hall, the writers noted,

“In many ways [Ghost of Thornton Hall] is a very dark story – but we are a company that designs for ages 10 and up. Our goal in this particular game was to design a game that would engage the younger players, but really scare the older players. That’s why you have to connect some of the dots on your own as a player. This is not an approach we will always take, but in this case we wanted to deliver on the promised scares – but only for the players who wanted to look into the darker parts of the Thornton family saga.”

If you have some time (and aren’t worried about spoilers/aren’t going to play the game), I recommend reading through the whole email because I think it really underlines the care and attention this company gave to its fans.

Beyond emails like this, Her has a strong social media presence on Facebook, as well as profiles on Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest. On their Facebook page, material is split between promotional material for upcoming games (including game trailers and teasers, character profiles and concept art for upcoming games, giveaways, and trivia questions) and fan-generated material that has been shared with the page. Fans share enormous amounts of fan-created material…

…including costumes, pumpkin carvings, cookies and cakes, artwork, pictures of their game collections, and live-streams of themselves playing the games.

The tone of their marketing material has always been open and warm, and you can see that very clearly in the comments Her receives on their posts. Not only that, but fans continue to write essays and lengthy comments about what these games and this company mean to them. There was, for almost a decade, a very trusting relationship between fans and company.

That is, until 2015.

Read Part 2