Coinciding with the return of EA’s beloved ‘Dead Space’ franchise, Nightcap, the team behind the new tie-in social campaign @TheBench, chatted with us about introducing the world of Dead Space to new audiences while connecting with a long-dormant—but dedicated—community. EA and Nightcap wanted to create a campaign that matched how gamers interact and share content organically, inspired by the Dead Space ethos: a compelling story told in a progression of puzzles. This led the team to build a series of immersive and collaborative content experiences, tailored to the way audiences discover content across multiple platforms and devices.

An Organic Approach To The Campaign—A Focus On Community Building

Leveraging technology to support community building was key to engaging new audiences and long-time Dead Space fans. According to research from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), most people game at least once a week and are motivated by a desire for a sense of community, in addition to the entertainment value games provide. According to a recent report from the ESA, 83 percent of players state that video games create a feeling of community, and playing games “can introduce people to new friends and relationships.”

In addition, the ESA states that gamers reported playing video games helped them develop cognitive skills (88 percent) as well as creative skills (86 percent) and collaboration abilities (86 percent).

Knowing this, Nightcap developed a campaign tailored to gamers, connecting their interests in immersive storytelling with their aptitude for collaborative, fast-paced problem-solving.

How The Campaign Began

A screenshot of a computer

Description automatically generated with low confidence

“EA came to us to develop a social media program and corresponding rollout strategy for the remake of Dead Space that would allow our core franchise fans to participate in digital actions to earn rewards and attract the gaming community’s attention,” said Miranda Feneberger, Senior Strategist at Nightcap. According to Feneberger, EA let Nightcap take the reins to develop a unique approach to reintroducing the franchise to a new generation of gamers.

Expanding the Dead Space universe via immersive reveals over time is integral to the series’ marketing legacy, beginning with No Known Survivors in 2008. The original website promoted the first Dead Space release by introducing viewers to a playable immersive experience that unfolded over nine weeks, delivering two four-chapter stories that established the Dead Space world. Comprised of audio logs, video, and interactive 3D components, the two-story sequence, “Misplaced Affection” and “13,” launched with users clicking on one of nine floating body parts, which landed them in the Ishimura’s (the starship setting for Dead Space) Organ Replacement Lab. From there, users could explore the character profiles of workers on the Ishimura through audio logs and undergo a risk assessment test to assess their chances of survival.

For the new Dead Space release, EA and Nightcap reimagined the campaign’s interactive storytelling to leverage social media’s collaborative nature in a way that made world-building more immersive and connected to game lore. Cryptic messages began appearing on Twitter to invite fans to solve a QR-code-based puzzle. As fans collaborated to solve the puzzle, they shared their results on Twitter, Instagram, Discord, and Reddit. When solved, fans were rewarded with a link to an unlisted YouTube video showing footage from inside the Ishimura, and clues to access additional content, eventually unveiling the date of the gameplay reveal.

“EA gave us the gift of creative freedom, allowing us to design a program with a unique narrative that existed in the periphery of game canon,” said Alex Tafet, Creative Director at Nightcap. “We took this baton and sprinted with it, investing the creative time and energy into defining a compelling, unique narrative that existed within the larger world of Dead Space.”

Per Tafet, the campaign is an “Apocryphal Prequel” to the main game, existing alongside the larger story of the game, adding detail and nuance but not directly impacting the events the players will experience. Nightcap proposed a central protagonist for the journey, and EA provided a name: Chief Engineer Ariel Rousseau. 

“Rousseau is a character who exists in the game by way of audio logs, which are discoverable lore-builders that can be found throughout the game,” Tafet stated. “We were given the keys to the Rousseau kingdom and fleshed out a compelling backstory for the character, which defined the thematic and creative direction for our program.”

Rousseau’s story unfurls through a series of chapters published on the game’s official in-world Instagram account, @TheBench. Players who follow @TheBench receive urgent messages and cryptic clues from Chief Engineer Rousseau aboard the USG Ishimura.

Players then become members of the Comms Relay Crew to solve puzzles, decode data, and uncover hidden information to save Rousseau, the ship, and humanity. 

According to Tafet, the creative experience of The Bench was named after the player customization workbench in the game and is derived from Dead Space’s node map mechanic. In the game, Nodes are collectible items that can be exchanged for upgrades at the workbench. The Nightcap team used the Node Map design to inform the structure for the advocacy program’s visual language and functionality.

Fan response has been enthusiastic to the trailer, released in November, garnering 2.5 million views on the Official Dead Space YouTube channel and launching numerous sidebars on Reddit.

From super fans displaying new tattoos acquired in honor of the upcoming release to first-time players posting about their new interest in the game, the campaign stoked engagement through direct replies to posts and clues shared across multiple platforms.

Dead Space will launch on January 27. Watch the official trailer here.