Warhammer 40,000 is one of the most celebrated universes for table-top roleplaying, but it’s also become known as the setting of the popular Dawn of War series of real-time strategy games. Created by venerable RTS developer Relic Entertainment, the first Dawn of War saw three expansions, and it’s sequel recently saw its second expansion in Warhammer 40,000: Dawn Of War II – Retribution. The release of Retribution, promoted online with the help of Ayzenberg, saw some notable changes for a franchise. We talked to Relic Entertainment Producer Jeff Lydell and THQ Director of Global Brand Management Georgina Verdon about the new content and the exclusive switchover to Steam.

[a]list: How important was it to emphasize the fact that Warhammer 40,000: Dawn Of War II – Retribution was a standalone expansion, not requiring the original game.

Georgina Verdon: These days most expansion packs are stand alone, so it wasn’t a key message that we were concerned with driving. More important to us was driving the message that this expansion pack had a hell of a lot of good content in it with 6 playable factions, a solid single player campaign story adapted for each  and a solid multiplayer offering.  Hours upon hours of gameplay at an extremely good price.

[a]list: Talk to me about the beta for the game and how that helped build the hype for the game?

Georgina Verdon: The multiplayer beta was incredibly successful.  Our goals were three fold.  First and foremost we obviously wanted to use it to balance the game and test the matchmaking.  Secondly we wanted to drive awareness for the game and grow our community and thirdly we wanted to encourage other RTS players to try the game. One of our key marketing strategies was to get Starcraft fans to try Dawn of War so this was the perfect opportunity.  The games are very similar in many ways.  We rolled out the beta in multiple stages, giving our core community early access.  The caveat was that you couldn’t take part in the beta unless you had signed up to the Dawn of War community first so we had a great deal of hype and forum activity surrounding that.  By the end of the beta we had doubled our community members.

The Collectors Edition.

Going exclusive through Steam helped drive awareness with their millions of users by way of banners and message support so by the time we opened the beta up to all Steam customers, we had a huge number of people playing. At the very tail end of the beta we partnered with Justin.TV and some of their top Starcraft players, who held several live streaming broadcasts of the Retribution MP beta and single player campaign mode to a receptive Starcraft fan base.  This hype and activity helped us exceed our digital pre-order forecast by 129 percent.

[a]list: How important was the switchover to Steam for the game?

Jeff Lydell: The content of the game wasn’t dependent on the online service provider. However, one of our goals when making expansions to our games is to address problems in the original. The combination of requiring both a Steam account and a Games for Windows Live account had been a source of frustration for many of our players, so we took the necessary steps to fix that. We also got to take full advantage of the Steamworks SDK features like cloud saving.

[a]list: Have the new multiplayer modes been well received, along with the additions that Steamworks brings to the game?

Jeff Lydell: The new online matchmaking experience is definitely a step up in many player’s eyes. The new skill rating system gives better granularity on ladder standings, and makes it easier to see the changes in rating after a match. The Steam community features for organizing friends lists are all frequently used, and there are many groups with active users, as well the in-game chat lobby is always active with players.

There was a lot of concern the move away from our previous expansion strategy would fragment the community. Looking at the numbers, it’s clear most active players have moved over to Retribution, and the total hasn’t gone down.

[a]list: What sort of reception was given to the inclusion of the Imperial Guard and Inquisition in the game?

Jeff Lydell: We put a lot of effort into bringing the Imperial Guard to life. We pulled in as many of the cool elements of the IG faction as we could possibly fit, and overall the reception has been strong. The Imperial Guard definitely pull off the feeling of a powerful Imperial army especially as they move past the infantry into the heavy vehicles. The Inquisitor was an important character for us to include since she brings an air of mystery and intrigue to the new faction. Gameplay wise she is able to wield some potent psychic (magic) abilities, so she has a unique element there as well.

[a]list: Are you happy with the reception to the story mode, which featured a campaign for all six races?

Jeff Lydell: Overall yes. Our goal with the story was to provide players a chance to play with their favorite 40k faction, and provide more options than the Blood Ravens. We’ve added several memorable new characters, including Lord General Castor and of course the Ork Freebooter Kaptin Bluddflagg. These are both new fan favorites, and our team is very proud of them.

We likely took a small critical hit by going after six races playing through a single campaign, although the sales of Retribution do show we had a bigger audience come and play over the last expansion. We would have liked to provide more unique content for each faction, but given our restrictions that ultimately would have resulted in fewer than 6 playable factions, and that was not a sacrifice we wanted to make.

[a]list: Talk to me about the ad campaign online, both with the destination site and banners ads?

Georgina Verdon: Given that this second expansion pack was packed full of features and content, our challenge with the online creative was how to get the message across about player choice without making the message or creative too complicated.  Ayzenberg came up with a simple but effective solution that worked extremely well across each of the six individual races in the game.  These six creative banners were set in rotation to keep the creative fresh and traffic was driven to our Dawn of War II site to pre-order/buy the game.

[a]list: Was the pre-order content and Dawn of War II: Retribution Collector’s Edition retail box well received?

Georgina Verdon: The pre-order content of additional  race pack content was very well received by customers because it was targeted to the Dawn of War fan, the majority of which are very passionate and vocal Warhammer 40,000 table top fans. They all have their favorite units and races and were able to express their allegiance in multiplayer games.  The collector’s edition also did very well even though it was only offered on the THQ.com store due to declining shelf space at retail.  That too exceeded expectations.

[a]list: Thanks Georgina and Jeff.

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