|Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):||June 2013 - March 2014|
|Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: ||June 2013|
|Base Period as a Benchmark: ||n/a|
The gaming world is notoriously competitive. As gaming has moved from niche to mainstream, fewer and fewer producers battle for market share, each investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the development of newer and ever-bigger franchises. Marketing investment is focused on a few big titles every year, and focus is on launch – because, like a Hollywood blockbuster, successful launch translates to sale.
But months – not weeks – can pass between launch and release. In 2013, Ubisoft’s big bet was Watch_Dogs, an open world action-adventure video game played from a third-person perspective. Players control Aiden Pearce, a highly skilled hacker who uses his mobile phone to hack into a central operating system which manages the hyper-connected city of Chicago.
PR was already bubbling by the time the game was formally announced at Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in June 2013 - but release was set for March 2014. Bearing in mind the number of noisy, big-spending competitive franchises in market competing for the attention of a demanding audience with a (very) short attention-span, our challenge was to keep the game top-of-mind for the full ten months between launch and release.
Overall success measures were:
- Keep the game top-of-mind amongst gamers for a full ten months before launch;
- Drive pre-orders, meeting industry standard pre-order levels.
To do this, we needed to create engagement in the truest sense of the word: a relationship between consumer and brand that could be sustained over time – translating to pre-orders (and, ultimately, sales).
$1 - $2 million
Our target - hardcore gamers – were, unsurprisingly, digital natives. Every day they were exposed to new game franchises, new apps, and a raft of digital innovation. Many were gaming across multiple platforms. They were always looking for the new, always looking to be the first – and, despite being passionate about gaming, were often cynical about the breast-beating and marketing noise around game launches. Surprising them was going to be tough, maintaining their interest tougher.
Ultimately, the only thing they wanted to do was play the game itself. This was our opportunity: what if, rather than just telling consumers about Watch_Dogs, we allowed them to experience the game in real life?
Our strategy was to create a mobile application, Watch_Dogs Live, around which we would build a community that we could keep challenged and engaged in the 10 months leading to the game release.
This would maintain the momentum created at E3, keep their attention in a competitive and highly vocal environment and, most importantly, keep brand awareness high. Importantly, it would also allow us to continually deliver new news to app users – because it was in this way that we could sustain their interest.
First and foremost, Watch_Dogs Live brought to life the game itself, putting our consumer at the heart of the action. Watch_Dogs Live turned every phone into a hacking device, with each user creating a profile and using geolocation to hack thousands of targets, including ATMs, nightclubs, airports and more. With each successful hack, participants moved up the leaderboard.
Once downloaded, the app became a dedicated communications channel that allowed us to communicate with our target via in-app push messages in the form of weekly challenges, live-streams and mission videos.
Once gamers were hooked on the app, we offered them the chance to move up the leaderboard in exchange for pre-ordering the game, turning the app into an effective promotion platform which:
- Gave consumers weekly challenges that both leveraged partnerships (e.g., win Sennheiser headphones) and gave new reasons to stay engaged ;
- Allowed players to earn data and money to rank up and get a chance to win a car;
- Enabled pre-order push at EB Games.
Finally, we developed branded mobile and digital content. This content was pushed via the app and Ubisoft's social media channels.
One of our performance measures therefore shifted slightly: whilst the pre-order target remained constant, campaign success would now be measured not just by application downloads (target: 100,000), but by sustained engagement with Watch_Dogs Live over the 10-month campaign period.
A proportion of Ubisoft’s media budget during the campaign period was used to drive awareness of the game on key media sites. The majority of the budget was focused on promoting and driving downloads of the application.
The media plan was built to talk to our consumer on the platforms and sites they most frequented, using standard and rich bannners and video placements on sites such as Break.com, and high impact formats and networks such as Loud Mouth, AOL and Native Touch.
Social media placements on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were used alongside RTB and SEM to increase impressions and ensure the highest possible reach.
The campaign brought the game’s storylines to life in the physical world and inserted the consumer right in the middle.
Participants were recruited via a video issued by Dedsec, a fictitious hacker group.
Once downloaded, the the app could be used to create profiles and hack thousands of surrounding targets, including ATMs, hospitals, police stations and airports. With each successful hack, participants took control of targets, gained experience and moved up the leaderboard.
Each week, Dedsec issued new challenges to participants who had to complete them to prove their loyalty to the cause and be rewarded with partner-supported prizes for their hacks.
Additionally, Dedsec launched four real-world missions to help bring down the media mogul - the key fictional 'enemy'. Each mission was suppored by a pre-mission video,, a live-stream of the mission in progress and a recap video to maintain momentum after the event - and lead straight to the next mission.
In their first mission, users used Watch_Dogs Live to hack an ATM, taking the media mogul's cash and distributing thousands of dollars to an unsuspecting crowd of shoppers.
The the second mission, hackers used their phones to increase the pressure of a gas main, blowing up the villain's Mercedes that contained a bribe for a local politician.
A third mission saw hackers take control of a live broadcast of a popular sports talk show in an unprecedented partership with TSN/RDS, Canada's leading sport broadcaster.
In their final mission, the community redirected a plan - dropping our villain's illegally obtained cargo on Toronto.
(Please refer to attached video file for creative overview.)
The majority of our paid media focused on driving downloads of, and engagement with, the Watch_Dogs Live app. Crucially, budget was not invested in traditional launch media (TV, print), but deployed and invested in app development and drive-to-app to ensure that we cut through with our world-weary target.
We achieved 202,093 downloads from the App Store and Google Play – double our original objective. Watch_Dogs Live was ranked in the Top 5 games in the App Store within weeks of release.
Engagement increased over the campaign period. Players remained logged in because they were still using the app – and the number of hacks confirmed that story. At the end of the campaign period, 141,738 players remained logged in, and over 8.8m locations were hacked. This translated to an 80% engagement level - an unprecedented achievement for a free App.
Watch_Dogs pre-sales were five times the industry norm for a new franchise.
Watch_Dogs has been the best-selling new title in Ubisoft Canada’s history. In the month of release, it was the best-selling brand in Canada across multiple platforms (PS4, XB1, X360 & PS3).
Our data clearly demonstrates that engagement in Watch_Dogs Live was not just sustained over time: it grew. The game, app and supporting activity were designed to encourage exactly this behaviour, with rolling promotions, challenges and stunts to keep gamers interested and engaged.
Much of the pre-sale success story can be attributed to the campaign, as promotional elements of Watch_Dogs Live were specifically created to drive pre-orders.
It is worth noting that Watch_Dogs Live received a high level of PR and media coverage, resulting in 10,480,000 unpaid media impressions – all of which would have contributed to the campaign’s momentum and success.
Investment was prortionately on par with previous releases.
There was no unusual price discounting.
There were no distribution changes.
Unusual Promotional Activity:
There was not any unusual promotional activity - apart from case we have presented.
Other Potential Causes:
No other potential causes have been identified.