Last updated on August 5th, 2015
Recently, one site claimed a source told them to expect a Miyazaki-directed Dark Souls 3 at E3. Then my internet exploded.
Let’s not dwell on that though. We shouldn’t forget that Dark Souls II was “confirmed” by clickbait sites well over 6 months before its official announcement – well before anyone with credibility would be blabbing about it. On the other hand, Dark Souls II was released in March 2014 and Bloodborne was announced the following E3, so there’s a bit of a precedent. While another Souls game with Miyazaki at the head would be delightful (your mileage may vary if your mileage sucks), let’s get to the topic at hand.
Recently an employee on the marketing team at Bandai Namco was kind enough to take some time out of their day to discuss my 2-part article Overhype and 6 Ways to Market Your Video Game Without Trailers. Long-time readers will know my stance on video games marketing: overreliance on trailers that by necessity spoil content plagues the industry. Instead, interviews with the designers, concept art, easter egg hunts and other teasers are better ways to engage with the audience. For our conversation I even made a neat chart plotting the number of trailers vs unit sales of top-selling new IPs from 2008 to 2014:
So you can safely assume I’m not a fan of using more than 4 trailers for any upcoming Souls games. What else would I recommend? First let me tell you why I’m at least a little more qualified than internet rando #5,361 to tell people how to make a campaign. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know I have a passion for games and for marketing. What you don’t know is I’ve been promoted 3 times in the past 5 years; lead the rebrand of a half billion dollar company (like, told the CEO we needed to rebrand and he said yes); built a boutique web design agency from the ground up, which I then sold; built a web marketing division to 6 figures in sales in 12 months; and am currently at the marketing manager level in my career. Obviously there are lots of people who’ve done more momentous things with their careers. This isn’t a pissing contest. All I’m saying is I know more about marketing than the average bear.
So if I were to create a marketing plan for Dark Souls 3, what would it look like? Well reader, I’m glad I asked. Because if I didn’t this transition would be even more strained that it already is.
Your Mission: Communicate the Game’s Appeal.
Like many of you, I’ve been here a while. Started with Demon’s Souls. Got big into Dark Souls lore after Quelaag and ENB’s Youtube coverage. If Miyazaki is directing a game, I know it’s going to be a fair challenge. We all know that. If the rumors are true and Legendary Big M is the lead game designer/director: communicate that.
Then shut up. Boom. Just like that you’ve confirmed the challenge will be substantial and fair, like Demon’s, Dark Souls and Bloodborne. That portion of your job is done. Do not talk about the difficulty. The media will remind us a billion times between now and launch the game will be hard; you don’t have to. If someone asks, just remind them it’s being directed by Miyazaki and move on.
You know what you should talk about? Literally any other emotion a player can expect when playing the next Souls game. Here’s some lines to use in your campaign. Free of charge.
“Exploring the [vast cavern/open fields/abandoned city], I thought this is what Indiana Jones would feel like, treading on [sacred earth/uncharted territory/blasphemous ashes]. Tense exploration amid skirmishes and the feeling of panicked euphoria when looking across a chasm and seeing a [crumbling castle/tree-city/desert oasis] would fit perfectly into Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
“Souls games have always had this profound sense of history to them. You can point and say: here the black knights were incinerated trying to stop the demons; this yellow bird adjudicated the souls of heroes. Those intricate threads are present in Dark Souls 3 – tale of a knight from [place] who never learned his sacrifice for [thing/person/kingdom] was too late.”
“If ThePruld’s most recent Dark Souls video teaches us anything, it’s that darkness reminds us what light can be. The cast of characters of Dark Souls 3 exemplify that moral; some will lend a hand when you need it most, some are genuinely despicable, but all of them have reasons for their actions. Others you’ll only know from a distance, in item descriptions and dialogues. Discovering their stories and seeing the world through their eyes will be a rewarding endeavor.”
“The original Dark Souls told a tragic story of a character who was cursed not just with the burden of the Undead, but with an ultimately meaningless existence. The ending saw the character choose between sacrificing themselves to extend the light a little longer or give in to inevitable darkness. The world of Dark Souls tells the same tale: a golden world inevitably lost to time, where the efforts of Gwyn and his greatest knights ultimately meant nothing. Dark Souls 3’s characters, setting and plot revolve around similar concepts, but [plot twist/unique take/different timeline].”
Do you see how none of that was DRAGONS! GODS! DEMONS! and all that other bullshit? Because Souls games aren’t power fantasies. They’re grounded in realism. Souls has those things, but it’s not about them. It’s about putting your face in the dirt, metaphorically as much as literally, and searching for clues while you’re down there. This is why Dark Souls II’s announcement trailer featuring a fight with a dragon (that never actually showed up in the game – what the f&%k?!) could have been better. The emotions elicited by the Souls games are so much more complex than a hum-drum overdone “it’s hard, you’re an undead, look a dragon.”
You want a real set of trailers? Tell a story. I’m serious here. Let me just pop one out real quick. Again: you can have this.
Tell the story of just another undead. She passes tombs of heroes – so great and tall she could never hope to equal them. She passes bones of great monsters, slashes and impaled and crushed with the might our undead strains to comprehend. Compared to these tremendous heroes and monsters, she is nothing. Then establish the scene. She is all alone in a dying world. It’s dark, oppressive and cruel, but also has breathtaking landscapes. She finds just a few ill-fated friends willing to help. They fail. She continues. She fights terrible monsters and eventually succumbs to their attacks. She wakes up at the bonfire, frightened and her armor clanking. She’s exhausted. The bonfires embers are fading, floating into the dark sky above. Then she sees the ghost of one of her friends, and she gets up and picks up her sword. The bonfire glows red again. Camera zooms in. Then the fire flickers, you hear her armor clank, and the fire wavers. Fade to black. Logo. Directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki. Coming to PC, PS4 and XBOX One [Fall 2016/Winter 2017].
That’s how you do a cinematic trailer. We communicated a sense of hopelessness, loneliness, exploration, cooperation and frustration all in one simple trailer. Players know what to expect, fans get hyped, everyone’s happy. How many bosses did we spoil? 0.
If we really will see a Dark Souls 3 trailer at E3, which I’m still suspicious of, then you’re probably aiming for a Fall 2016/Winter 2017 release. I know this because Bandai Namco gave themselves about 15 months from the first Dark Souls II trailer to its release – 15 months from this June is September 2016. Also, fall and winter fit best with Souls games. I don’t think a 15-month marketing timeline is ideal, but whatever. No matter what you do, make sure you give out more information within 2 months (ideally 1 month) after the first trailer. Hype has a half-life. Release a trailer out into the wild without any followup and you’ll find fans are going to lose interest and barely remember by the time you get around to revealing more information.
After you’ve presented the E3 trailer, release a followup trailer with in-engine combat along with more coverage of the gameplay with game industry news people who are good at talking about the things you can’t communicate in trailers. Maybe we bring out 1 boss and a few enemies for this one. The knightess from the cinematic trailer should be the subject. No more than 90 seconds.
At this point you start doing more interviews and press releases, because fans will be well-informed enough to have educated opinions and good questions.
Then a story trailer. Who is this knightess? Where did she come from? What is the world like now? Are any story elements from Dark Souls or Dark Souls II still in place (please say no)? Use dialogue and visual cues to communicate. You get 1 more boss reveal; better make it important to the story. It doesn’t need to be as long.
Answer questions. Give an in-depth interview/preview with someone who didn’t fully endorse Dark Souls II (Edge may not be the best choice). Why? All fans loved Dark Souls, but some fans weren’t impressed with Dark Souls II – and became jaded with the media that praised it. Also, make sure you’re answering the questions fans are asking. Give the Souls Youtubers something to do.
Then the final long-form trailer combining all the info released thus far. You can go all in here. 3 or 4 new rank-and-file enemies, maybe 2 more bosses we haven’t seen yet. Do it big. Release this one a couple of weeks before the game.
There you go. Your guide for marketing Dark Souls 3 with 4 trailers. What do you think, readers?