One of the highly anticipated titles destined for next-gen is The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt by CD Projekt Red, coming in the near future for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. The product has already gathered quite a lot of buzz with its showing at Gamescom and the compelling videos. This promises to be the defining open-world RPG for the next-gen that’s first to launch, and it could be one of the top titles for 2014. The [a]list daily spoke with CD Projekt Red’s Michal Platkow-Gilewski, head of marketing and PR and Tracy Muniz Williams, head of marketing for North and South America, about the marketing plans.
Namco Bandai is distributing The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt in Europe, while Warner Bros. Interactive is distributing the game in North America. With the launch drawing near, marketing planning is well under way. “We just had the guys from Warner at the studios, and they presented to us a bunch of ideas for what they think we should do for the North American market,” said Williams. “They’ll pitch a suggested budget, put together a forecast estimate of what they think they’re going to move, and based on that it’s a financial exercise. We determine what kind of marketing and trade dollars we’ll support to make that team successful.”
The marketing team is mostly based in Warsaw, we three people working as art designers, one of them the game’s former lead concept artist. “They’re poaching some people from the dev team to help with the marketing side,” said Williams. “It keeps the quality high, it keeps the look and feel of all the consumer facing items just as high quality.” It’s an advantage for other reasons, too. “They know the product first-hand,” added Platkow-Gilewski. “They are connecting us with the devs even more strongly, which makes accessing the assets easier.”
Williams is not alone when it comes to marketing in the Americas. “We have support from Warner with marketing people on their side, and access to their in-house PR resources, their press list, their distribution,” noted Williams. “There are a lot of conveniences they bring to the table, but I also have myself and we’ll have our own small office in the US which will oversee all our products for North and South America.”
The PC version of The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt is launching alongside the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions. It’s all next-gen in terms of the graphics and horsepower required, not current generation, and that is important in the publisher’s view.. “As you can see right now with games that ship on both current-gen and next-gen, there has to be some kind of compromise,” said Platkow-Gilewski. “With our game there are no compromises. All of the hardware is finally supporting the quality the studio has always had, and now consumers will finally be getting that quality benchmark that PC gamers have had for a little while.”
The response to the game has been much better than CD Projekt Red had anticipated, according to Williams. Right now the response is mostly from the press because that’s where the focus has been for marketing efforts, but the anticipation is building among consumers as well. “We have focused 100 percent on trade and media, but it’s so amazing that we’ve also won some fan awards,” said Williams. “It’s really encouraging that what we’re doing is resonating really well with everybody.”
That enthusiasm comes with a price, though. “What we’ve shown them so far has pumped their expectations to the maximum,” said Platkow-Gilewski. “Now we have to match it. The buzz is quite good, and I can’t wait until we show the game to everyone. So far we’ve won 84 awards without any single hands-on yet. I hope we double or triple that when we release the game.” The exact release date has not yet been announced but clearly the team is looking to be one of the most important games of 2014.
The marketing strategy sees hands-on as an important element. “The biggest thing that we’re doing is participating in more activities,” said Williams. “We’re going to be in more places we haven’t been to before, showing the game to more people, whether it’s more retail opportunities, whether it’s more trade shows, or more consumer activation. I think we have a real opportunity with all three SKUs shipping at the same time. There’s a lot more that we can do with this game from a marketing perspective.”
As the marketing plans are being formed, part of the issue is to make a larger audience aware of the Witcher brand. “The first game as PC only, and the second game was PC and then a year later it came out on Xbox,” noted Williams. “The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt is going to be the first game with all three SKUs releasing simultaneously. We have a little bit of an education challenge because we have different platform consumers that are at different stages of education and awareness about the brand.”
Part of that awareness-building will come from licensed products. Dark Horse is creating a Witcher comic book, and there’s a board game in the planning stages as well from a partner that has the same quality standards. “Our idea for the business is that we will never do low-quality anything,” said Platkow-Gilewski.
Of course, a collector’s edition is something to be considered for any major game release these days. “We know a lot of our fans love collectible stuff,” said Williams, “and where it makes sense we want to give them collectible items. We do offer quite a bit in the base game itself. We do like to have something special for the hard-core fans, but we haven’t decided what that’s going to be right now. Most likely we’ll have some bonuses for the hard-core Witcher fans.” So there will be a collector’s edition, which Platkow-Gilewski teases “It will be one of the best collector’s edition ever made.” It’s a big challenge considering some of the amazing collector’s editions that have come out, but CD Projekt Red is dedicated to high quality.
The challenge is not just to produce a marketing plan for the launch of the game, but to keep interest up for the long term. “We’re at the point in this business, especially with these console games that are expensive to make, you’ve got to think of it as life-cycle management,” said Williams. “Regardless of whether your coming now or later, how are you going to keep that game top of mind, what additional things are you going to offer to the consumer to allow them to engage, whether it’s free content or paid content. We have to think about all of those things in advance. We want people in every possible form of entertainment to experience our brands.”