As we enter the blockbuster period for the video game industry, ahead of the festive season, it’s almost impossible not to acknowledge the extensive evolution the gaming market has seen from the last generation of consoles and even in the past 18 months.
Reflecting upon the launches of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One that were met with the familiar fever-pitch of demand for consoles from fans, it’s difficult not to feel nostalgic for the simpler days of midnight queues and in-store purchases to ensure you were able to get your hands on a coveted console. Today, the difficulty level of purchasing a console has increased to a near quest-like experience that Uncharted’s Nathan Drake would have trouble with. You might be lucky enough to get your hands on a console from a bricks and mortar store, but more likely you - like many fans – are left frantically refreshing pre-order registration pages or are now at the whim of supply chains as global stocks are snapped up by bot users looking to flip and resell the consoles on the secondary market at overinflated prices.
The growing use of bots in the technology space has been met with great disdain and frustration, a sentiment long shared by streetwear aficionados as they look to cop the latest must-have sneakers and brand collaborations, only to be pipped to the post by those using software to hoard items for themselves. The situation is so dire that there are even calls for the UK government to ban the use of automated bots for such launches as it did with event tickets in 2018.
Not only has the environment for console purchasing changed, but the way in which gamers play and new content is delivered has evolved dramatically. The shift from physical games to the convenience of digital downloads and on-demand subscriptions such as Xbox Game Pass (which has now allegedly garnered between 25 and 30 million subscribers) has allowed gamers to pre-load content and start playing as soon as launch day hits rather than being forced to install and face day-one updates. This phenomenon and the push from developers for users to purchase directly from them through their own clients such as Battle.net, Epic Games launcher, and Ubisoft Connect marks a greater opportunity for developers to keep gamers interested in their product.
The recent launch of Call of Duty: Vanguard saw a star studded red, or rather, camouflage carpet at the global premiere and corresponding market launches around the world. The sheer scale and experience incorporated into these launches mirrors that seen in the film industry. However, where the two mediums differ is in their ongoing support and longevity. While a film may build to a premier, wide release and then follow-up on streaming platforms or physical mediums, games have now shifted to a more long-term delivery of content following their initial launch with numerous updates or episodic ‘seasons’ lasting the lifetime of the title. Both Epic’s Fortnite and Activision’s Call of Duty: Warzone have shown a masterclass in this content delivery as their battle royale gameplay and seasons have consistently brought players back aboard the Battle Bus and to Verdansk time and time again.
What if the same episodic style format was applied to these season launches as well, and why shouldn’t they be granted with a similar gravitas? After all, we’ve seen huge partnerships take place within them with the likes of Jordan Brand, Travis Scott, John Wick and Marvel all partnering with Fortnite. While the action may be digital, games have a tradition of bringing some of the most memorable titles to life in the real world. Who can forget the visceral Wesker and Son human butcher shop that launched Resident Evil 6 here in the UK. Or Forza Horizon 4 being brought to life at Goodwood, complete with Ken Block and friends recreating the game’s unreal stunts and races in a fleet of one off and exotic cars – talk about petrolhead pornography.
Larger episodic campaigns that mirror the titles they support have the opportunity to not only reinvigorate existing players but also inspire those new to the franchise by tapping into their imagination and physically bringing games and their worlds to life. For an industry that thrives upon our creative nature and imagination is it time take it to the next level?
Mark Byford, account director at Prettygreen.