How Diablo IV’s marketing fanned the flames of fandom after a 10-year hiatus
Blizzard Entertainment and 72andSunny tell all about the marketing push behind the company’s best-selling video game.
Still from Diablo IV's Launch Live Action Trailer / Credit: Blizzard Entertainment
From painting a gothic cathedral in France to filming a live-action trailer in Budapest, the marketing team behind Diablo IV likely went through hell and back to rally global excitement around the video game’s June 6 launch.
In fact, Blizzard Entertainment’s hellish dungeon crawler series necessitated it. The team – comprising Blizzard and ad agency 72andSunny – was tasked with appealing to Diablo’s 20 years of fandom and attracting newcomers to the franchise. To make the stakes even higher, it had been a decade since the last game, Diablo III, came out.
“Diablo has a very distinct tone, voice, world and ethos. Knowing that we were reinvigorating the franchise with Diablo IV after many years, we worked with 72andSunny on a positioning exercise to understand at the root, ‘What is Diablo and what does it stand for?’” explained Kaleb Ruel, vice-president of marketing at Blizzard. “This became the runway for the marketing work of Diablo IV.”
Embedding this long-running franchise into modern culture culminated in painting Diablo IV scenes on to the vaults of a French gothic cathedral, bringing the game’s monsters to life in a Chloé Zhao-directed, live-action trailer, getting a scantily-clad Megan Fox to read eulogies and concocting a demonic milkshake, among many other activations around the globe. The campaign’s budget remains undisclosed.
Since its release, Diablo IV has become Blizzard’s fastest-selling video game of all time, crossing $666m sell-through in five days. It also became America’s best-selling video game in June and the third-best-selling video game released in 2023 thus far, per data from industry-tracking firm Circana. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at Blizzard IV’s massive marketing undertaking.
Unleashing hell on Earth
According to Blizzard’s Ruel, each bit of creative aimed to elevate Diablo IV from just a gaming property to a pop culture phenomenon and the preeminent entertainment source of the year. This strategy would lean into Diablo’s roots as the original gothic gaming franchise.
Tim Wolfe, group creative director at 72andSunny, added: “The big thing for us was, ‘How do we bring this world to life ... for people who don’t know the product and people who do?’ There is a legion of fans who love this thing and who know it’s coming, and there are others who have let it fall off their radar.”
The first critical element launched during the game’s beta phase: ‘Cathedral of Diablo,’ which transformed the interior of a 17th-century cathedral in Cambrai, France, with a 160-foot-long Baroque-inspired mural.
Adam Miller, the project’s lead painter, worked tirelessly, sometimes 16-hour days, directing a team of six artists to paint panels by hand. A breakthrough technique blending spray paint and acrylic paint helped the team complete the enormous project in record time. The artists worked in the middle of winter, with average temperatures ranging between 24 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit inside.
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The scale of the project and the frigid conditions weren’t the only challenges. “One of the biggest hurdles we had, from a creative direction standpoint, was finding the church,” noted Wolfe. “It was a very arduous process. One week we’re going to Italy, then Spain, then New Orleans. We saw dozens and dozens of churches.”
Still, the fruits of their labor paid off. Cathedral of Diablo not only won a Cannes Lions Bronze and two Cubes at the ADC Awards, but it was also the location of the music video for Halsey and SUGA’s dark pop single, Lilith.
“The beauty of the church is [that] we were always hunting for a space that Diablo can own and no one else can,” added Ruel. “The dark, gritty tone of Diablo’s art style allowed us to really own that in a meaningful way. No other game can pull off that style or craft, and being able to do that in the real world was special for us.”
The cinematic future of video game marketing
Both Ruel and Wolfe believe Diablo IV’s dramatic promotion underscores a larger shift in the gaming industry overall: as video games become more popular, the demand for higher-quality marketing also increases.
“Back in the day, you used to ship a game and then go on vacation. That was it. The CD being printed was the end of the game [and] the marketing team moves on to the next thing,“ said Ruel. “Nowadays, gaming is moving into a live service. The beginning of the game is the beginning of the marketing ... Positioning the launch as a way to expand the Diablo universe and build the next steps for our marketing is a very different challenge.“
Take the live-action trailer, ‘Saviors Wanted,’ for example, which 72andSunny employed Oscar winner Chloé Zhao to direct. Similar to Cathedral of Diablo, the spot brings the game’s universe into reality, as desperate townspeople beg players to “deliver [them] from evil.“ The commercial was also filmed in Budapest in the heart of winter.
Wolfe echoes Ruel’s sentiments: “At 72andSunny, we take a big entertainment outlook ... We see a lot of similarities with movies; in fact, gaming is bigger than film. It’s an industry that is massive, with huge trailers ... As the media landscape has changed ... you need a more 360 approach to finding people in different ways, from influencers to musicians ... It’s a different world now than when it was when I first started doing video game advertising. There was a time when you would put out a 15-second trailer for a niche market ... Slowly and steadily, as gaming itself became more mainstream, its communications became more mainstream, advanced and crafted.“