The Industry’s Social Responsibilities – Support the Community.

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The Industry’s Social Responsibilities – Support the Community.

Author: Pieter-Jan Plaisier

After two years of working for HWBOT, which allowed me to follow the world of overclocking on a daily basis, what strikes me the most is The Industry’s lack of a sense of responsibility towards the overclocking community. Apart from a couple vendors here and there, the vast majority of The Industry still considers the overclocking community as a cheap marketing tool and completely disregards the fact that this community consists of real people. With this editorial, I will try to form a logical construct between the overclocking community accepting its role in marketing, HWBOT’s mission to build bridges between communities and enquire The Industry to re-think the relation with the community.

The HWBOT Project.

When people ask me about HWBOT and what we do exactly, I don’t always find the right words to paint a complete picture. Mainly, because what our operations consist of today (within the limited timeframe/budget) and the way we want to operate in the future (with more time/budget) is quite different. However, I’d say that above all HWBOT’s activities our main purpose is to connect overclockers and their communities around the world.
With HWBOT users from over 220 countries and from well over 1500 communities, I think we are doing a fine job so far. Looking at the 3DMark11 Performance 1x GPU ranking, I find 23 countries represented in the top-50; covering North and South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, Middle East, Asia … well, pretty much all the continents excluding Antarctica.

The result database, the leagues, the competitions; they are just means to serve a greater purpose. They help us connect with people from other parts of the world that share the same passion. They help form international friendships and, in general, bond as an international overclocking community.

A second key mission of this project is to improve The Industry’s respect for the overclocking community. The Industry and overclockers definitely have a love-hate relationship; on the one hand there are marketers trying to downplay the real-world significance of overclocking by pointing out raw market and revenue figures. On the other hand we have hardware vendors designing products pretty much targeted at the overclocking community featuring massive PWM designs and handy tools like bios switches and readout points. While one group tries to convince us we’re pretty much the least significant group of the market, a different group tries to meet our standards and design products just for us.

From what I’ve learned in these two years, many (if not all) hardware vendors grasp the marketing and advertisement benefits of overclocking. Companies see in overclocking an easy tool to advertise the ‘great quality’ of their product design and a way to lure gamers and other non-technical buyers into purchasing their product. Is that a problem? No. In fact, many overclockers have embraced the idea that their hobby is considered a marketing tool by The Industry. If that’s the price we have to pay for them to support our hobby, then so be it.

But, there’s a problem. Specifically, in the second part of that last sentence: The Industry doesn’t really support our hobby, do they?

Two Types of Companies

When discussing the topic of overclocking with hardware vendors, you can usually divide them into two types. Type A is the company that likes overclocking because of the marketing and advertising possibilities, but has no interest whatsoever in helping to develop and sustain the community. Type B is the company that likes the marketing and advertisement part, but is also aware of the social responsibility towards the overclocking community. At the moment, I’d say over nine out of ten companies are Type A.

The problem with Type A companies is, in contrary to what you might think, not that they lack available marketing funds for overclocking-related activities. In fact, it’s not uncommon that companies prepare budgets of well over USD $10k for overclocking marketing events; even for something as trivial as a single online competition. The fundamental issue is that marketers prefer direct ROI and exposure. Typically, this desire is translated into a standalone marketing event that should boost brand image and sales and usually requires overclockers to put (free) time, effort and money into it.

Now, I won’t argue that those standalone marketing events cannot be successful or that there shouldn’t be any competitions at all. I’m merely arguing that the budgets currently used for standalone events could be used more efficiently and more to the community’s benefit. In my opinion, any marketing event that requires the overclocking community to invest time, money or effort should also be helping to fund the development of the overclocking community rather than being a transfer from one company to the other, within the same industry.

The Industry knows how it works: they build/sell hardware; overclockers buy/test/discuss/demo that hardware and influence certain parts of the market; mass market buys hardware and provides the revenue. Much like other marketing tools, The Industry looks at overclocking as a mean to reach a bigger market. What few seem to realize is that this ‘mean’ consists of people. People who have to work for the money they spend on their hobby. Not caring about the welfare of the overclocking community (thus only caring about the marketing possibilities) is nothing short of exploiting a group of people. Which is wrong, I think.

As mentioned before, most overclockers have no problem with their activities being mainly considered marketing. But, it’s not wrong of us to expect something in return for the free effort we put in marketing and demoing The Industry’s products.

Industry: return the favor, please!

So, how can a company give something in return to support the overclocking community? Perhaps by giving out free hardware samples? Well, no. That just comes down to the same marketing-story: free samples equals free benefits. If the overclocker keeps the hardware and produces benchmark results, you have the exposure. If the overclocker sells the hardware, you have a free new customer. Not a good solution, in other words.

At this point you, the reader, probably expect me, HWBOT employee, to provide a dozen paragraphs of text containing all sorts of arguments on how an HWBOT partnership is the best way to return the favor. Well, I’m not going to do that. Of course I strongly believe that a supporting project like HWBOT is absolutely necessary (otherwise, why would I spend so much time on this?!), but it’s most definitely not the only way to support the overclocking community. Another good initiative is organizing or supporting public OC events such as, for instance, AOCM (OC ‘lan’-party organized by the Awardfabrik OC team) or host live competition events like MOA or GOOC. The key element in the ‘return-the-favor’ attitude is spending money on overclocking-related activities that do not just yield exposure to your brand or products, but that allows the overclocking community to grow. The AOCM event is a good cause to support because the event is open to all teams and brands. It also brings people together; people who usually interact only over the internet. Both MOA and GOOC are also good causes to invest money into, because it allows people to travel around the world and meet other overclockers from very different regions. Although events like AOCM are very, very much appreciated by the community and due to the open nature (no brand or team limitation) perhaps from a community perspective a better investment than MOA/GOOC, from experience we know that even with funding provided by vendors, losses for the organizers can exceed a thousand Euros easily. If a project like HWBOT would be able to dig into own budgets to support open events, perhaps it would be easier for organizers to at least be able to cover all the costs of the event.

Now that we’re on the topic of industry support, I might as well use a few lines to talk about the input of two specific companies: GIGABYTE and MSI. Mainly thanks to these two companies, the world of overclocking has evolved into what it is today. Not only with the MOA and GOOC live overclocking competitions, which evolved from closed invite-only to (almost) full qualification tournaments pushing overclockers to compete at the highest level, but they are also responsible for the support of the HWBOT site. Competitions at HWBOT such as the Country Cup, monthly HOC Challenges and a fair amount of sponsored contests would not have been organized if it wasn’t for the financial backing of these two companies. Agreed, neither of the two companies is perfect, but at least they are two large hardware vendors pushing the development of the overclocking hobby and they deserve all the credit for that. Both set an example for the rest of The Industry, no doubt about that.

Oh well, standalone events are just better for The Industry!

Perhaps we’re going a bit out of line with this section of the article, but sometimes it’s necessary to color outside the lines to make a clear point. Many marketers assume that a standalone single event will bring as much exposure as a series of event as long as 1) the results are good and 2) a lot of people know about the competition. To ‘fix’ problem #1, the hardware vendors contact overclockers and ask them to put time, effort and money into the competition in return for a free hardware sample. Nice idea in theory, but hardly fair towards the community. It’s definitely not okay to those who have to buy their own hardware and, as we’ve seen in the past, the community does not appreciate prize money being fixed for sponsored participants. Problem #2 is a difficult one to tackle. Fundamentally, yes, a competition will be more successful if more people know about it. I’d argue, though, that you also need a lot of people that care about the competition. What’s the point of throwing heaps of money at events if less than 0.01% of the people who know about the event actually cares and checks up on it?

Let’s go for a round of statistics.

We accessed the HWBOT database and extracted information on the amount of unique HWBOT users that submit results with a certain mainboard brand. We track the brand’s popularity over time, which allows us to compare the two types of companies we mentioned before. On the one hand, we have companies that provide continuous support to the community (e.g.: GIGABYE, MSI) and companies that only organize standalone events (e.g.: Asus, Foxconn, DFI and Biostar).

More useful statistical information to interpret the chart.

To understand above table you need to know two things: higher differential coefficient means an increasing amount of users; higher correlation coefficient means a more steady increase or decrease. Simply put: as a mainboard manufacturer you want a combination of a positive differential coefficient (increasing amount of overclockers using your brand) as well as a very high correlation coefficient (steady growth of overclockers, not in bursts). Looking at the scaling table, we can see that the only manufacturers pulling off this ideal combination are … GIGABYTE and MSI. All other companies are either suffering from a low correlation coefficient, which is usually due to a specific product being very popular, or a negative differential coefficient (decrease in brand usage). Turns out … it does pay off to invest in the development of the overclocking community!

Conclusive lines

Before we go to the actual conclusive lines of this editorial, let me first say that solely giving support to the overclocking community does not yield higher revenue per definition. The first and foremost concern of any hardware manufacturer should be product quality. Without the presence of quality, no amount of overclocking support will make more enthusiasts eager to test your product.

What I learned from writing this editorial is that it there is evidence that investing financially in the development of the overclocking community can bring positive results to The Industry. But, not only is there a statistical argument pro supporting the community’s development, The Industry also has a social responsibility to address when taking advantage of the overclocking community. For those who don’t know: Gigabyte has held four editions of GOOC since 2007 and partnered up with HWBOT in Q2’10. MSI has also held four editions of MOA, since 2008, and joined also partnered up with HWBOT in Q2’10. Since 2007, both companies have seen the highest increases of users as well as the most consistent increase.

So, the question every member of The Industry should ask him- or herself is: “Do we want to waste marketing budgets on standalone OC events or use them to both get the necessary marketing return and support the overclocking community?” I really hope The Industry will soon realize that cooperating with the community on a give-and-take basis is an absolute necessity.

Industry, it’s time to face your social responsibilities. It’s time to return the favor.

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