By Meelad Sadat
Talk to a game marketer and they’re bound to remember the original Dead Island cinematic trailer. The game was announced at E3 2006 but went into virtual hiding for nearly five years as developer Techland, best known for its Call of Juarez games, plugged away at it. Then Deep Silver released the cinematic trailer at GDC 2011, and suddenly the gaming world was waiting for this first-person zombie melee-shooter as if George Romero was behind it. And it was for good reason. The trailer managed to pack into three minutes the normal-to-terror story arc and emotionally charged moments of personal survival that are pretty much staples of the zombie genre. Plus it was brilliantly edited.
Dead Island released to mostly positive critical reception and was by all accounts a surprise hit. That gave publisher Deep Silver a lot more to work with for the follow up, Dead Island Riptide. The new game hits shelves today, and it’s not a sequel, according to Deep Silver director of marketing Aubrey Norris.
“We consider it the next installment in the series and not necessarily a sequel, since at Deep Silver we have our own philosophy on what a number two of a series is and what just a next installment is,” says Norris. “Dead Island Riptide continues the story of the original Dead Island. It’s basically taking all of the things that fans requested on Dead Island and they wanted more of and kind of ramping it up to twelve.”
After talking with Norris, it’s clear that the ‘service to fans’ mentality was the foundation for the second game, and it went beyond marketing. We caught up with her to get deeper insight into what it took to get the original game on everyone’s radar, and now try to lure fans back.
[a]list: You mentioned marketing on Riptide is very different than the first Dead Island. What’s different?
Norris: Marketing new IP is really difficult because it seems like – it’s almost like being in the cool kid’s club in high school. Once you’re into it, you’re in, but it’s hard to get into it. Launching new IP is a difficult thing and I think that first trailer helped us just to get the name out there, and get the interest out there. But the thing that really carried our first step Dead Island campaign was that we followed it up relatively quickly with game play. We only saw increases when game play was shown. I think there’s a lot of people who look at Dead Island and go, ‘you know that game, that only sold because of the trailer’. Well not actually at all. I’d say not even one percent of our pre-orders came between the trailer and our first game play showing. It was all based off of game play – people are still buying Dead Island based off of how much fun they’re having with their friends in co-op. We continue to engage our community. We’re almost two years later and we still, every day, we engage our community. I think that’s helping Dead Island keep going strong. We’re still moving really huge numbers every week.
As far as Dead Island Riptide, this time since we’re not a new IP anymore it’s more about embracing our community and doing things for them. We look at ourselves as, we’re in service to them. We’re there to make their lives more fun. We’re there to give them what they want. We’re not there to tell them what they want.
For example, when we were coming up with the North American collector’s edition, we said, 'We don’t want to just guess what people want in the collector’s edition – why don’t we just ask them what they want and let them vote on it?' So we put our survey on the web, and we put a ton if ideas on there, and we said ‘hey guys, what would you like in a Dead Island collector’s edition?’ So we actually let the fans decide the Rigor Mortis Edition for Riptide. That’s an example of how we’re letting the fans tell us how they want this to go.
[a]list: What about the Zombie Bait ‘bloody bust’ pre-order bonus that raised some hackles, can you talk about that a little bit?
Norris: The UK did that. I was definitely surprised. I wouldn’t do that for North America, that was never an option because we have our fan-generated collector’s edition.
[a]list: Do you think it was a bit of misunderstood British humor?
Norris: It might be.
[a]list: Do you have other examples of fan sourcing?
Norris: The fans have told us they want videos, they want game play, that’s what they’re all about. So we’re focusing on video. Everything we do in our campaign for Riptide is either video, or social, or both. If it doesn’t fall into those areas, we don’t want to do it. They’re not the things that our fans want, they’re not the things that our fans are asking for. Quite frankly, they’re a lot of things outside of those realms that are more traditional stuff, like your home page takeovers and that kind of thing, and that’s just not working any more. I think a lot of marketers are really hesitant to move away from that because they’re so used to doing it, because it’s the way it’s always been done. But that’s not how people want to be talked to. They’re not even receptive to that anymore in certain generations. We’re all about serving the community.
[a]list: Seems like the way you’re embracing the community is similar to a MMO game or free-to-play game. Tell me more about what you’re doing on social.
Norris: When you have an IP and you really believe in it, and you really love it as a company, you need to stick with it. You can’t just ship the game and then, while you have DLC coming out, engage your community and that’s it. We have never stopped tweeting with our fans, we’ve never stopped doing Facebook stuff. We play with them, we’ll do random play-throughs, and this is two years after the original Dead Island came out. If you care about an IP in the long term, you can’t just let it go waiting for the next one to come, you’ve got to keep it going. You really have to invest in it almost personally.
I carry my iPhone with me everywhere I go – I have every single Twitter account right here. I love talking to the fans, absolutely love that. I love following fans with our official Twitter account and seeing their reaction, they get so excited about it. You really have to be addicted to making them happy and doing stuff with them that really gets them stoked. Just keep it going – if you really care about your communities, you’ll do that. That should be an automatic thing.
[a]list: Are you doing any TV for Riptide?
Norris: Yes, absolutely.
[a]list: Any plans for a live action spot?
Norris: I’ve never seen people get more amped about a game because of a live action TV spot, to be honest. When I asked our community about TV spots and see the chatter that happens there, it’s usually just like ‘hey I saw the commercial for X game but they didn’t show me anything’. They get pissed off actually if you don’t show them the game. For us it’s just important to keep it simple and show them the game play and give them an idea of what they can expect. I think when a lot of companies invest in really expensive live action TV spots, I’m like, that’s great man but people just want to see the game and decide by looking at the game.
It’s fun if you’re in the middle of the campaign and you make some cool live action videos just to celebrate the IP and the characters. When you get down to, like, this is your TV ad and it’s your shot, you have 30 seconds to sell the game to somebody watching you on SyFy or whatever, show me the game. It’s about the game.