Quantum Break is a game I’ve spent more time thinking about than any lately, and I haven’t yet seen or played it. It’s been long in development, having been announced almost three years before it’s release tomorrow, and likely started pre-production not long after Alan Wake’s release six years ago. From a traditional, “hardcore gamer” perspective, it’s hard not to be excited by the prospect of the next game from the Finnish developer behind the Max Payne and Alan Wake series and yet, that’s the least exciting aspect of Quantum Break for me.
After seeing Thomas Puha’s tweets on its retail strategy, I thought I would lay out some of my thoughts on the campaign so far as a whole.
Quantum Break was announced by Phil Spencer at the Xbox One reveal event and, despite an underwhelming reveal trailer, promised that Remedy was tackling something incredibly interesting.
“They have created a revolutionary entertainment experience that weaves a cinematic action of intense gameplay with the tension and drama of scripted television, creating a world where each has a direct impact on the other. The actions you take and the choices you make shape your experience as the story unfolds.” – Phil Spencer
The Xbox One reveal was big on messaging that Microsoft intended the expansion of the Xbox brand to be more than just video games, and Quantum Break seems like the perfect game to do that. It’s early messaging was about creating a new type of entertainment experience that was both a TV show and a video game, and also something more than the sum of its parts. It wasn’t just the next game from Remedy, and also wasn’t just a show from Nancy Tellem’s, at the time, recently announced Xbox entertainment studio.
If there was one developer to try something like this with, Remedy is at the top of the list. They have a proven track record of successful new IP, developed with reasonable production budgets, reasonable sales, TV influence, and have been moving toward this direction with extended in-game cinematics over the past few games, especially with the Night Spring series in Alan Wake. Fans of Remedy games would appear to be primed for something like this and the low production values of the announcement trailer could easily fit into the unabashed Twin Peaks-esq cheese that Remedy was known for.
Marketing a new entertainment medium, like that which Quantum Break promised, is fraught with challenges and filled with opportunities. There are few, if any, reference points that can be drawn upon to signal to consumers and set expectations properly, and those reference points that are available are less ideal than one would like. Do you signal that it’s a game, or a TV show? Do you promote Remedy front and center, or as part of a partnership? How do you educate consumers, and what constitutes a consumer of a medium that hasn’t really been attempted yet? This on top of the already admitted challenges of marketing next-gen experiences. The opportunities are similarly huge. It offers a freedom from the typical marketing strategies of each separate medium, and the ability to try new new approaches.
“If you think about the original Xbox to Xbox 360, it was SD to HD. You saw those differences. I do think you’re seeing visuals now that are remarkably different, but yeah, in your mind’s eye you might think they look similar…” – Phil Spencer
Some of the first bits of messaging of the game were based on three core threads: storytelling, new experiences, and the consumer as director. In terms of differentiation, these threads are standard for most video game marketing strategies, and while seem to be especially true for Quantum Break, didn’t make it stand out as much as it should have. In contrast, most television boilerplate strategies involve messaging the talent and the typical emotion involved, and neither were present. The first gameplay reveal a year later at Gamescom 2014 emphasizes this even further by showing none of the acting talent and exclusively gameplay.
The changing of the box art and in-game assets to reflect the star power brought into the game is clearly reflective of the struggles inherent in developing and marketing a product that has multiple production components. It’s hard enough to develop a great game, but to also develop a great TV show that is intended to do more than accompany it is a monumental task, especially as the arm developing that TV show is shuttered mid-development.
It’s only until the cast reveal in 2015 that Quantum Break begins to be promoted as a TV product as well. Shawn Ashmore is added to the box art and in-game assets, and the familiar faces of Aidan Gillen, Dominic Monaghan, and Lance Reddick are shown. The talent aspect of the cast is motioned at and the story is played up more than the gameplay mechanics which are now well known. Lastly, and most typically, the on-screen talent is brought through a press tour to provide focus to the message and assuage fears. It’s at this point that I think Quantum Break’s campaign really comes into it’s own and really hits its stride. The trailers and commercials are live action, and show the emotion that consumers can expect like a traditional TV show.
I’ve been really impressed with the Quantum Break campaign and I think it has been largely successful in setting and managing expectations. The promotion to include copies of Alan Wake with the pre-order help set the closest game expectations for players who might not have had that reference point, and helps signal the realm of what to expect. Similar to the Fallout 3 inclusion with a Fallout 4 pre-order, I think this helps set the tone for the jump in experience consumers will experience, bringing in new and value-oriented consumers.
Additionally, the campaign has focused less on the game or TV aspects individually, and as a collective experience. The Quantum Burger pop-up at Queen/Spadina help give the experiential aspect of the product and broaden the appeal. This is even stressed in the title cards, where it would typically say “A Remedy Game”, now states “A Remedy Experience”. Even the Facebook posts on the Xbox Canada page are effective at signaling that there’s a Canada outside of major Canadian cities and that the previous Remedy games are important reference points for Quantum Break.
From everything that I’ve heard about the game on Rebel FM, the Bombcast, and the Beastcast, I can’t wait to see how it all comes together.