Battleborn. Yes I can hear the collective sighs of indifference. There has not been a lot of love given for this game. The patron robo savior of Destructoid, Chris Carter, in his review gave the game a 6.0 citing that matches went on too long, a feeling of lack of character (says the robot), and that overall:
“I‘m not sold on Battleborn‘s commitment to the MOBA genre but there’s something fun there underneath all of it. I’ll probably hop on occasionally to play Capture throughout its lifetime while the bulk of my efforts are spent on more polished shooters.”
Fair enough and to each their own as to how they feel about the game. To me it is an entertaining romp and while some modes are a bit long in the tooth, it is kinda charming and can be pretty fun. What isn’t charming is the advertising that happened for this game. There were just so many missed opportunities and even though I’m aware that hindsight is 50/50, this can serve as a possible warning to those trying to market a new intellectual property (IP).
Some believed this game was doomed from the start since it is a Gearbox game and to that they valid points. Let’s not kid ourselves here, besides Borderlands most of the other things Gearbox has made/had involvement with kinda… well… failed harder than MC Hammer trying to do gangsta rap. The only other well performing developed game that Gearbox has besides Borderlands is Brothers in Arms and that’s not even their own IP. The debacle that was Duke Nukem Forever and Aliens: Colonial Marines vertical slice and outsourcing controversies have not garnered good faith between the customer base and the company. The problem is that the level of public relations (PR) work necessary to turn this around would be massive and still possibly ineffective. There are some people that just out and out do not want to have any dealings with a Gearbox Software game because of it being a Gearbox game.
Then there is Randy Pitchford. He, as the head of the studio, takes a lot of the blame for the on goings of the company and it is warranted. I can respect his zeal for his company and the efforts that they do, he has a really to be just a bit more tactful in what he says to the PR department. He has to gain back the goodwill of the people who still feel burned from the two previously mentioned events. That and when you have an internal email from a SEGA PR manager that says they he’s “Doing whatever the fuck he likes” that does not breed good faith. It is a good move that he is able and active on twitter and generally he keeps things rather positive and doesn’t get involved in too many fights.
On the subject of Pitchford being on twitter, he sent out this tweet in relation to and describing Battleborn:
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Battleborn is: FPS; hobby-grade coop campaign; genre-blended, multi-mode competitive e-sports; meta-growth, choice + epic Battleborn Heroes!</p>— Randy Pitchford (@DuvalMagic) <a href=”https://twitter.com/DuvalMagic/status/486550022910005248″>July 8, 2014</a></blockquote>
Right… what is that supposed to mean? Yes, it is definitely a hype builder and does a lot to make people interested in the game but not in the best of ways. If anything, you would get a comical tilted head expression from the people who have read that thinking “Wut?” The only way that the person would understand what he is getting at is if they either did research to see what the game actually is or if they previously followed the game which is something people do not really enjoy doing unless they are hooked by the advertising. This tweet sums up what most of the advertising for the game has been, frustratingly enough.
Simplicity is very important when advertising a new IP and making sure the customer has a good idea of what they are getting when they see the item you are trying to sell. You can come up with all the flashy logos, trailers with good music choices and cool looking action, and catchy slogans you want but if the customer has no idea what they are looking at, there is a distinct failure for what you are trying to accomplish and, more importantly, you are selling your new IP short of itself and its potential.
There has to be an understanding between the creators and the customer for what they are getting out of this. Sometimes you can say the most with just saying what a product is: “Battleborn is a MOBA style game with a massively varied list of characters and multiple modes of play. You want to play splitscreen on a console? Go nuts. You want to play solo? You can always play with and/or by yourself. With a selection of 25 unique characters, you will have more than enough options of whatever Badass you want to be.” Some variant of that would have helped out so much in the early goings of advertising this product.
Having to consumer understand what they are getting becomes more poignant when you are faced with competition. Battleborn had the unfortunate timing of going against Overwatch even though it was released a few weeks earlier. Now the advertising for Overwatch did exactly what it was supposed to, it was riding a tsunami sized amount of hype from the fans of Blizzard, and word of mouth due to the beta drove its popularity home. Now keep in mind that these are two different styles of games. Battleborn is FPS MOBA while Overwatch is a team shooter with hero characters similar to Team Fortress 2 when you distill both to their most basic elements. So even as there is some overlap, with similarities in looks and character archetypes, they are fundamentally two different games. This is where the aforementioned problem with the really comes in; you would not be able to tell what the differences are with the way that the two have been advertised. Battleborn was left dead in the water, in a sense, due to this and has really been almost a burial for the game.
While on the subject of burials, there is a eulogy that needs to be said for the early adapters of the game. Why? Someone in the marketing department thought it was a good idea to drop the game by $20 to compete with Overwatch during its release week. Those who got the game when it came out to support those strong early sales kinda got burned in extraordinary fashion as that could have been the price for the season pass. Which warrants the question, why even have it if that is the case? To the ones that haven’t purchased the game it is fine but not really huge driving force to do so and for everyone else, it is a move that seems kind of desperate. When you can ask your marketing team “But why?” and no one can come up with a legitimate answer other than competition, it makes about as much sense as Budweiser renaming their beer “America”
Even as I would not call the game’s advertisement “mismanaged” I would say that it was misaimed. Explaining what the game is clearly at almost any point during the adverting really would have helped. Almost all of the advertisements I saw for it were entertaining, the adult swim sessions being more of the fun ones, but they still marketed more as a first person shooter. The closest we got to extolling the features of the game was the GameStop TV in store ad for it being on sale. There was too much of a focus on making the game look quirky and cool and not enough stating what the game is from the get go. It may seem like harping but it is really important that for a new IP those things are made apparent and obvious to the consumer. Call of Duty this is not, you have to prove yourself.
I heard a lot over the time that this game was being made the line “This should be a Free to Play title” or something to that affect and I disagree greatly. As easy of a market they would have had for a F2P title, the possibility of flopping, just in my opinion, would have been higher as people would not want to pay for characters and that selling style is getting old quickly even if the gains are massive currently. The irony is that people still complain about having unfinished games and while, from a marketing and producing standpoint, even as it is great that you have a money generation machine and more time to make things (characters, skins, modes, etcetera) for the consumer it is a bit more of a raw deal and the single player content would be purchasable separately if there at all. In addition, there is figuring out a pricing scheme that would not enrage people any more than they would be already about microtransactions in game. I will give credit where it is due, having a season pass that is only $20 with no other in game purchases (so far, these things are always subject to change) is pretty wicked and you do get a good variety of characters and play types for your money.
When I look at Battleborn from this perspective, I just see a lot of missed opportunity. While a fair game in its own right, the advertisement undersold what it is. Minus the required internet factor, many of the features that people complain about not being in modern gaming is there. Single player story which is pretty lengthy, multiplayer, splitscreen for the consoles, and continuing content but no one on the customer side really knew unless they played the beta or really kept up with it beforehand. We are at a time where we can have community managers and PR managers in touch with people and able to gauge things easier than ever before. We are in an era of hashtags, memes, and free flowing data so looking at more of these sources is a must and modifying your marketing technique on the fly is possible. Unless you have a massive augmented reality game or a plan for a viral mystery to build hype for a game, clarity is key in marketing and that is where Battleborn missed the mark.
Picture sourcing: http://i.imgur.com/3E5MWgt.gif, http://static1.gamespot.com/uploads/screen_kubrick/1179/11799911/3022694-battleborn.jpg, https://downloads.2kgames.com/battleborn/blog/Battleborn_StartScreen_HeroArt.jpg, https://downloads.2kgames.com/battleborn/blog/Battleborn_Tap_logo.jpg, http://www.fandomfollowing.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Tracer_waving_header.jpg, http://b.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/inline-large/inline/2016/05/3059681-inline-s-1-budweiser-renames-its-beer-america.jpg, http://blogs-images.forbes.com/insertcoin/files/2016/05/Call-of-Duty-Infinite-Warfare_5-WM-1200×668.jpg, http://www.gamingnexus.com/Images/News/dekszv37496/screenshot.jpg, https://downloads.2kgames.com/battleborn/blog/2K_Battleborn_SeasonPass2.jpg.