The original APB had a troubled birth, releasing after a long development period and not gaining enough traction to survive two months after its release. The game now has a new lease on life, thanks to GamersFirst and [a]list games. It’s momentous and fortuitous for both companies; [a]list games believes that APB: Reloaded is a reflection of the future of free-to-play and likely represents what future collaborations for the company will be like. We talked with Steve Fowler, [a]list games general manager, about the broad and ambitious marketing campaign underway for the game.
Give an overview of the APB: Reloaded project.
[a]list games is an offshoot company of Ayzenberg Group and is designed to partner with digital publishers and developers. Ayzenberg is a full service marketing agency, and they’ve been in the games business for 18 years. Their clients, for the most part, are bigger publishers. More recently they’ve partnered with digital publishers, though still bigger players in the space like Nexon and NC Soft. While servicing these clients and the types of games they make, we were exposed to the digital game space and began to recognize the potential for the free-to-play category to take hold here in the West. We also saw growth in the number of smaller digital game companies, and especially indie developers rapidly entering the space, with great products but very little if any marketing infrastructure and resources. That was the basis for establishing [a]list games, where we created this model where game companies can partner with someone who will invest in and execute on their products’ marketing campaigns, do it based on revenue share, and not ask for the kind of exclusive or IP ownership deals that bigger companies require.
One of our first games is APB: Reloaded with GamersFirst. We were a big fans of Real Time Worlds and the original APB and were kind of let down with what happened. There were three areas where we think the original vision for the game screwed the pooch. One, they priced it incorrectly as a subscription MMO, charging $50 for a boxed product and another $10 a month. Gamers didn’t understand that, they were like, “I could pay $60 for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 or any other packaged game and play that online for as long as I want.” Secondly, it got forced out early to meet financial deadlines and the critical response was disappointing ““ APB is a game about driving and shooting, and both mechanics were clunky and that brought the review scores down. They didn’t focus their marketing on strong features such as the customization in the game, from clothing to the tattoos… just a ridiculous amount of customization overall. When GamersFirst picked it up, they reassembled the core members of Real Time Worlds, worked on the game balance and the controls and the driving. They’re a F2P publisher and they switched the game over to that model. We liked all of that stuff, and we liked the game and where it was headed.
Our push now is with banner ads and incentivized sharing along with the live action trailer backed by a big PR push. The campaign is being funded by us, using our marketing resources and implemented with our money. As for the direction we’re going with it, we see “Freemium” as a unique category where, while companies like Activision are releasing big budget sequels, this mid-level market is going online, and in many cases free-to-play. The game quality is on par with what players expect in package games. In the case of APB: Reloaded, so is the development budget. So we see ourselves setting a foundation for how these high quality f2p games should be marketed, and taking the first step for that with a AAA marketing campaign built around this digital title that we think has blockbuster potential. You look at the quality of our live action trailer – that’s something with production values up there with the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 live action ad.
It seems that APB: Reloaded is part of a growing wave of free-to-play titles in the West . . .
As a marketer and business person, I believe that free-to-play offers what is called “perfect pricing.” It lets players pay as much as they want. Take the biggest subscription game success of all time, World of Warcraft. For all of the money it’s making, it’s hard to believe it’s not leaving some on the table when casual players are paying the exact same amount to play as hardcore ones. For marketing, the model has a whole other upside, putting many tools at our disposal to try and leverage that we just don’t have with a box product. What we’re doing with [a]list games is financially responsible marketing; it is basing our spending on analytics that we gather over a longer period of time than just the launch window, as you would do in a traditional retail model. A traditional release is like a blockbuster movie – you spend a lot of money over a short period of time then you have the publisher come back to you later and tell you whether or not it worked.
Talk to me a little bit about this marketing model.
We’re running multiple pieces of ad creative for APB: Reloaded. There will be three different banner campaigns, each with a unique virtual good offering and message. We’re like a direct response campaign in that we place the ads in media outlets where the low hanging fruit may be, and we get data on how it does at various sites; it’s a great partnership with GamersFirst. It’s different from when the Ayzenberg Group does paid work for a traditional client, where they hire us and tell us what to make, and they send it out and we don’t have access to the data. Now, we can see what’s working and not working, where high quality users are coming from. For instance, we can spend on IGN and Kotaku; with Ayzenberg I know what click-through I have, but with [a]list games you can look deeper and see which ones are monetizing well. Maybe there’s more people clicking on IGN but the people on Kotaku are spending more; that sort of data allows us to be much more performance oriented in our game marketing. It allows us to do more with our marketing spend.
CliffyB of Epic Games remarked this year that the middle class of games was going away. While I think there’s some truth to that, I think the real situation is that it’s relocating.
It’s going digital, it’s not that it’s disappeared. At retail, they’ve effectively squeezed out the middle market. When you put a game on the shelf that cost $8 million to make next to a game that cost $150 million to make, the consumer is going to go, “This game has more value! It has more features and polish etc.” That’s the only way it works out for that pricing model. There are too many people with their hands out to make it viable for mid-level projects. Digital can make it reasonable. If you’re doing a unique niche Japanese RPG or a cutting edge shooter akin to Call of Duty there are consumers for all of that, but the best way to them isn’t necessarily at Best Buy or GameStop.
The live action trailer — tell me about the ideas behind it with the YouTube celebrities.
I think it’s an exciting, interesting marketing point. We’re always trying to innovate and we wanted to drive gamers through a funnel to register the game. TV is viewed less by our audience, print is dead, and we’re already doing as much with web banner ads as we can. There are these YouTube celebrities who have massive video views on their channels and instead of paying them $20K to make videos for the game, we decided on something different: “What if we can leverage the YouTube community “ Each of them has similar components; they’re all gamers and they have these engaged fan communities. We wrote this script for the live action ad and asked them to be a part of it. In the piece, each is an extra on the set, and we let them video blog their experience. We created a custom tattoo for them that all of their fans could use in APB: Reloaded. You can put the tattoo on your car or character . . . it’s really more like a decal. We made up a custom landing page for users where we track their ability to attract users.
They’re allowed to promote anyway they want. We gave them creative freedom and said, “We want you to do this video and promote yourself however you like.” Turned out to be a cool thing, but even before the main video released, they put up videos documenting their experience, and from just from those “talking heads” videos they got over a million views. They showcase themselves in the trailer and promote it in their own way. It ensured its distribution. It’s a perfect example of more responsible marketing because it’s entirely performance driven.
Tell me about some of the specifics of filming that live action spot.
The director is someone we’ve used before and have usually used for smaller projects, and he’s usually disgruntled while he’s doing Hannah Montana spots. We did this all in one day and he was excited to do all of these dynamic action scenes. I It let him stretch his wings. Everything was filmed under the 4th Street bridge near downtown LA, and we used every bit of daylight!
The song “Be All You Can’t Be” was also a nice touch.
That was written from scratch for this spot. We found this artist Chaundon and he worked directly with the editor of the piece who would make requests like, “We need a pause here.” It uses the same title as the spot itself, and it just went live on iTunes. It was fortuitous to get him on board, and I think everyone here is proud of the results of the video.
Doing something like this allows for a fairly frictionless approach to attracting users, whereas on TV they’d have to watch something than go to their computer and type in a website.
The places we’re getting the trailer played, including the YouTube creators’ channels, they’re cable channels as far as I’m concerned. Some get more viewers than some of the big cable networks out there! So we treat them like that and include them as part of the distribution plan.
Talk to me about three week ad campaign that’s been planned for APB: Reloaded.
It’s a pretty big push. We have online banners that are pushing people towards these landing pages and they each have unique offers. There are three different offers, a mask, a gun, and a limited time premium account for the game. The live action video is the tent pole. The trailer premiered on X-Play then it was picked up in multiple outlets from big sites such as GameTrailers and GameSpot to Kotaku, and for MMOs a lot of sites like Ten Ton Hammer and Massively. If you go to APB: Reloaded‘s Facebook, it features an incentive sharing programing where users can share their comments or likes and invite some friends and unlock some rewards in the game. The virtual items incentivizing promotion along with our banner campaign will last two weeks. The first batch of content driving the sharing program is the live action trailer and some banner ads, and next week we will release a behind-the-scenes trailer to share. It all let’s the community share their experiences, and of-course there’s a grand prize we’re giving out to the top sharers. Then we go into this user generated content promotion that lets fans share their own in-game content, such as videos or stills, and vote on others. This first phase mobilizes and bolsters the fanbase, and then it’s going to be a completely fan driven campaign.
Talk about what this means for [a]list games.
We officially became partners with GamersFirst in July, so basically from then until now we’ve been planning this campaign. It’s actually pretty cool that we were able to partner with a title that has this much awareness. We thought at first [that [a]list games would] focus on indie or Facebook titles and less on big budget games. But we see as great an opportunity in these high profile digital games. We’ve been able to produce an original campaign, and I think it’s going to add a lot of stature to APB: Reloaded. The game is in a pretty cool genre and has a GTA-like tonality, and it was great to have the ability to do this live action piece that we probably wouldn’t do for something like a small puzzle title.
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