What's In The Box

Taking the surge of GDC coverage hitting the internet this week, let’s take a look at an interesting panel that came out of South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin last week. During the interactive media segment of a largely film and music festival, a panel was held to discuss the marketing tactic of spreading out one IP across a broad range of media. The panalists were the creative minds behind spreading out EA’s Deadspace across multiple entertainment format, including the game’s Senior Producer, Chuck Beaver, EA online marketing manager, Andrew Green, the comic creator Ben Templesmith, and the CEO of Deep Focus marketing firm, Ian Schafer. Wired’s Frank Rose had an interesting article prior to the event.

The current state of the art is represented by games like Electronic Arts’ Dead Space, which came with a seven-month media barrage — first a series of comics, then an interactive web experience and finally an animated movie on DVD.

Dead Space marked a turning point for EA on two counts. It was one of several games the company released last year that were based on a fresh idea rather than a long-established franchise or a Hollywood licensing deal. More importantly, it was the first example of a new strategy CEO John Riccitiello calls "IP cubed": Games with rich story lines that can be extended into other media, giving fans the opportunity to delve in as deeply as they want.

As Rose points out, this isn’t the first time a crossover marketing strategy has succeeded, citing the ilovebees alternate-reality game runup to Halo 2. Though covering a different storyline, Resident Evil: Degeneration was released prior to the RE5 launch to bolster sales as well. Though I’m a fan of viral marketing, and respect PR innovation, I am hesitant to support this strategy of marketing a brand rather than singular gaming experience.

Mirror’s Edge also released with a comic book series, and a paltry addition to what I considered a mediocre storyline, Bioshock 2 viral marketing has already begun with somethinginthesea, and the film adaptation of the videogame adaptation of EA’s Dante’s Inferno was announced even before the game was! Now I am all for spreading a good story to consumers through different mediums, but this is usually after the game’s release. This "IP cubed" strategy is different from videogame novels, this is a marketing ploy that blurs the line between products.

Perhaps my hesitancy comes from a lack of understanding the relationship between products during the development process. Understandably, EA’s team was intimately involved in the comic book creation so as to maintain tone and continuity. But what about signing product contract agreements before a game is even finished? Should we be so deliberately spreading IPs across entirelly different industries? Will constraints on one product hinder a developers creative license on another? I would like to say no, but I’m not entirely confident in the ability for publishers, eager to reach a wider audience during this economic downturn, to maintain policies for a healthy development atmosphere.

Then again, branching an IP out into other mediums may be the sign of a game worthy of such strategy. If a publisher really stands behind a strong product, what better way to bring in a new audience and satisfy fans hungry for more content, whether or not it is a game. The occasional franchise may lend itself well to this type of publicity, allowing artists outside the videogame industry to expand on game lore. This optional dip into storytelling is what draws me, albeit hypocritical, to viral marketing stunts, as this What’s in the Box video (some suggest Half-Life 3). Regardless of what’s in the box or in the sea, what we have right now is an marketing strategy that blurs the difference between a game and a brand, and it’s becoming increasingly popular.


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Author: Jorge Albor View all posts by

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