Having made a name for itself in Japan, the Sword Art Online (SAO) franchise—which includes novels, comics, games and an anime TV series—is ready to grow its fandom in the US. All companies that work with the SAO license are coming together in a unified effort to promote the brand as a whole.
Earlier this year, Bandai Namco launched Sword Art Online: Memory Defrag, the first mobile game based on the franchise, in coordination with the launch of the animated film Sword Art Online The Movie – Ordinal Scale. The co-launch with the movie and tie-ins may satisfy existing fans, but its long-term goal is to bring in new audiences. Product manager Haruki Watanabe, who spoke to AListDaily through a translator, explained that the side-scrolling role-playing games are designed to appeal to casual gaming audiences to introduce them to the IP, as it features scenes lifted from both the movie and the TV series.
“The game came out at the same time as the movie, so people who watched the film can come to this game and enjoy the anime stories too,” said Watanabe. “This could be people’s first experience with the anime and then go watch the show.”
To promote the game, Bandai Namco coordinated its marketing with Aniplex, which holds the SAO license. Aniplex is also part of the Anime Consortium Japan, which Bandai Namco bought out in March for 2.1 billion yen ($18.5 million US). Watanabe explained that Aniplex promoted the game whenever it made new announcements concerning new movies or the third season of the show, mostly cross promoting on Facebook and other social media channels.
“There isn’t really a big difference in doing the promotion between the US and Japan, but there are little differences,” said Watanabe. “Our creatives on Facebook are a little different. In Japan, our text emphasizes what players get when they sign up, but we don’t do it as much in the US, relying mostly on the picture.”
“The strategy is that we’re not trying sell each business by business—having each company sell whatever they have,” said Wataru Nakasuji, Sword Art Online: Memory Defrag’s promotional manager for US and Europe. “Our strategy is to sell Sword Art Online, and we’re doing business with the IP. All companies that are working under SAO are helping each other. So, we’re doing the promotion for the movies and they (Aniplex) are doing promotion for the games—we’re cross-promoting with each other to maximize SAO’s IP value.”
In addition to cross promotion across social channels, Bandai Namco is putting increased focus on attending public events such as the New York Comic Con last October to engage with fans directly and grow SAO’s audience.
“We’re going to have a new anime season next spring, which will be huge,” said Watanabe. “So, we’re going to have offline events, meaning that we’ll host fully dedicated events to promote both the anime and the game. That’s when we’ll engage with new fans in the US. There also might be a new movie coming out next year, so we’ll come up with promotional ideas to engage with fans around that if it happens.”
“The entire SAO community is tied together in the media mix—the figurines, the comics, novels and anime are all intertwined so that they do the marketing together,” added Nakasuji. “That’s the strength SAO has compared to other IPs because they’re all doing it as one big push.”
The main driver for the game will be existing fans of the anime series, but Nakasuji reiterated that the game is just one aspect that will grow the entire franchise.
“At the end of the day, we’re promoting the IP as a whole,” said Nakasuji. “So, even if you don’t know the SAO brand or its content, if you’re enjoying the game, it becomes a gateway to the other products in the IP.”
Watanabe added that even if players aren’t familiar with the IP, they may be attracted to the game’s graphics and action, making the mobile title a kind of introduction to its complex universe—the same way other types of media and products will introduce audiences to the game. Ultimately, if the IP doesn’t help the game stand out on the mobile market, then it’s casual gameplay might.