Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Wolf Pack Memology: A Quick Intro

This is meme stuff. You can skip it if you're not interested. All numbers are totally fictional.

Wolf pack memology is actually pretty simple. The basic idea is the same as wolves.

A wolf hunts. It brings down a certain amount of meat per week. Lets say ten pounds of edible meat. Ten pounds of rabbit, lame deer, and small children. However, of that ten pounds, it only consumes say, five pounds. This is due to (A) the fact that it can only eat so much at a time and (B) scavengers pushing their way into the feast. So a lone wolf has to hunt small game. Game it can eat before the scavengers break in, and eat in entirety.

This is like most memes. Like, say, a character in a movie. The character is exposed to (brings down) a certain amount of audience. However, it character only draws (consumes) a small portion of that audience, because other characters in other movies draw that portion of the audience better. They "scavenge" those people away from the "wolf". This is true whether it's a character, an advertising campaign, a money-laundering scheme: anything with competition for an audience.

Now, a wolf pack also brings down meat per week. It actually brings down less meat per wolf than a lone wolf does - say, eight pounds. However, the pack consumes nearly all of that meat - say, seven pounds. So, while the pack brings down less meat than each wolf hunting alone, it actually consumes more per wolf. The wolves are better fed. (Also, they can hunt bigger game, meaning a bigger audience.)

This can be applied very well to any meme group. For example, in a movie you can have multiple characters, each one of which attacks a slightly different audience. This means that any given audience member is more likely to see a character they like, and to be lured into enjoying the movie.

Before you start to take this to its 'logical' conclusion, this analogy keeps going:

A wolf pack is size-limited because the amount of game it can bring down in its patrols is also limited. They bring down eight pounds per week per wolf if they have the right balance of wolves-to-meat. However, if they have too many wolves, this starts dropping and keeps dropping, until it's way less than the amount the wolves could bring in on their own. Essentially, the wolf pack 'starves'.

This is true in memes, too. If there are too many memes in the pack, audiences' eyes glaze over, and they see "a bunch of characters" or "a mishmash of ads". You'll still bring in the audience, but there is a deep inefficiency. It's better to have a number of distinct characters which can each be clearly perceived, each crafted to target a specific sub-audience.

Also, and I don't know how I can tie this in with the wolves, but if you're thinking about using this methodology, remember that a wolf-pack-meme-member needs to be effective to be effective. IE: If the audience sees a cool dude with guns, that's great. But that cool dude is only going to 'kill' the audience if he performs as the audience hopes he will. Otherwise, you'll end up with Star Wars Episode I, and your brand and franchise will be shut down.

Which is another reason to not have too many 'wolves' in the 'pack': it's awfully hard to make fifty different characters (or advertisements) work together effectively and distinctly.

People use this all the time. You can see it in targetted ads, for example, although that's a marginal case: wolf packs usually hunt together. Games like to include between five and a dozen solid characters, each with a unique attraction (he's the tough guy, he's the spiritual guy, she's the healer, she's the amazon war-queen). This is not just to make the character interactions interesting (because they usually aren't), it's to make characters which the parts of the audience which aren't having a lot of fun at the moment will like.

Think about it: when your favorite character steps onto the scene in a 15+ hour game, don't you feel happier?

Of course, the problem here is in picking your wolves. My example of Quina from FFIX is an example of picking the wrong wolf. Unless you've got an adaptive wolf pack, picking incredibly bad wolves will cause you to lose the "meat". Which brings me to ask: why does every Japanese game, movie, series, and comic book have at least one unbearably... uh... unbearable... character?

Too many unbearables...

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