Would you describe your role as focusing more on grassroots or do you try to stay away from that word?
Grassroots was born more out of political campaigning — grassroots campaigning. All that really means is trying to have a one to one conversation with your audience instead of talking down from a larger media pedestal; having messaging that goes out to the media, and having the media serve as the place where all the people come to. I feel like grassroots is about going more to the people, so I don't necessarily feel like that's a bad way of putting what we do.
We try to have more conversations closer to the actual customers that we're creating products for. Whether that means creating interactions or narratives, like we've done with "No Known Survivors," or just providing assets that show the game off — what we try to do is try to provide more access to the development team and create more stories that are a bit more developed and interesting rather than just telling people what the game is about, which I think is a more PR style marketing practice.
Something that jumped out to me while reading your Huffington Post piece
, is that you have an awareness about the audience that EA, and you in particular, are dealing with. It's an audience that is extremely knowledgeable and at times unforgiving, to put it bluntly. How much does that play into your crafting of a campaign like you have here with Dead Space?
I think it plays heavily. My partner, Ben Swanson, he phrased it interestingly when he said that when it comes to mostly video games and comics, but even film and TV, everything lives and dies with the audience. They build your brand or they take it apart. It's theirs to control. Whereas with something like soap, you know, it's a little harder. That's much more of a concrete product that people can like or dislike based on its value. I think when you're dealing with video games, and you're dealing with fans of video games, you do have a bit more responsibility to them, in terms of the amount of passion that's put into it, the amount of integrity that's put into what you're giving them to chew on before your product comes out.
You want to give them things that are going to foster their anticipation a bit more, and those things have to be really honest with regards to what you're trying to accomplish creatively. And it's also less about tricking them or telling them that they want something, and it's more just saying, "Here. Here is the thing that we're trying to do." And then leaving it up to them to be judged on its creative merit by that audience, and hoping that it does resonate with them. That takes away a lot of the control that corporations or people have that are marketing these products or creating these products, but I think that at the end of the day it's a better barometer for quality and it's a more democratic way of getting people involved with you.
It's an interesting development, and I want to talk more specifically about the "No Known Survivors" site, but while we're on these broader topics, one thing that occurred to me while looking at that site in particular was the question of how difficult it was, or how much back and forth it required to get EA on board with that kind of idea. From what I experienced of it, it's very deep, it's very intricate, and there's a lot of money and time that went into building it, and I wonder how hesitant [EA was] or how much trouble they had seeing the value add of this kind of campaign as compared to a more traditional campaign.
I had been here for a little bit of time and we had put together some programs, and I think people noticed that they worked differently. So we already a little trust built up there; I wouldn't say that we had a lot of trust built up there or that a lot of people knew or understood what we were doing. Some people get it, some people don't. So we went straight to the studio team, it helped that we had a great product marketing partner that really understood what it was we were trying to accomplish and why.
For EA to do a new intellectual property, especially one that was horror based, I think they realized that they needed to do stuff that was different so there was a bit more openness to new ideas rather than if this was something that was more traditionally marketable. Then we came up with just a really concept. We put a lot of time into coming up with the narrative that we wanted to build and we put a lot of thought behind it.
Once the studio team here saw what we wanted to do they got very excited because they had been bringing that same level of passion and depth already to the creation of the game. So I don't think we would have been able to have done this initially without them providing such depth — they provided almost 100 pages of back story to us to get an understanding of what this game and what this world was. And without that up front, which a lot of game teams don't provide, we wouldn't have been able to do anything.
I think it was more on the creative side, the studio side, that this project was really given its legs because of what they had already created in terms of a skeleton or structure for it. Then from there, we just injected our own excitement around what was going on and the fact that we were able to write and the fact that we were able to do something valuable. And then from there we prayed. Not literally, but in the end the organization said let's try this out.
At some points we had to reprove ourselves and recommit to it. But I think overall, because of the strength of the creative product that kept coming out of the teams that were working on it everybody kept feeling good about it. And now we're launched and it's rolling forward, and we have some great feedback and some great examples of why this is already, in my mind successful.
The buzz is strong, and I think you spoke to that specifically when you said that when you make something that is honest, and is good, that that's what people are going to latch on to, they're going to see that right away.
Marketing, I think, a lot of times you're trying to spin stuff — you're trying to make people see something, or make something seem bigger or better than it is — definitely in movies you see that type of marketing all the time. And I think people are so tired of that and so aware of that because we grew up in an age of marketing. Teenagers, even kids, are just so much more aware, and are smarter and wiser to those types for things then they ever were before, and I think that as we reform more and provide more valuable interactions and entertainment, that will separate the stuff that's successful from the stuff that's not.
There's a fear that you hear a lot of times coming from people, and you know, activist groups, that advertising — "no one's going to be able to see through it, we live in this consumerist culture," — but we're at a point where it's almost necessary to do the kinds of things that you guys are doing, to go to these lengths because people are getting savvier, they're constantly adapting to types of advertising. It's funny to see that interplay.
The interesting thing, is that you can look at it both ways, you can look at it as a tactic, or look at it as a lack of tactic. At the end of the day, the best thing that we could do is to do something good and just leave it. I mean, obviously promote it, and try to get the word out about it, but after that, our job's kind of done and it's decided in the marketplace. That's what we're trying to do.
The question that always comes up for me with these efforts — and you see it in film when you have these intricate, deeper website experiences that come out before the movie — and what I'd like to hear from a production aspect is how much concern is there about having spoilers or creating a situation where someone is going to be at a disadvantage by having not experienced this going into the game?
If you do it right, I think it's just a means to build anticipation. I don't know if you remember the "Animatrix" coming out before the Matrix Reloaded, but that was at a fever pitch for me. I don't think I've ever been more excited about a franchise or a thing in my life then when MR came out — and obviously I was extremely disappointed — but put it this way, I don't think I remember ever being that excited. I remember the "Animatrix" coming out , and the Matrix video game. The game was horrible, but I was so excited about it that just even those crappily filmed scenes of the actors in the movie — then renting the "Animatrix" was a really valuable and high quality piece — both of which, I don't think they would hinder anyone by not seeing them, but they aided my anticipation so much.
In the situation of Dead Space, we did it preemptively, before the IP even launched because we really wanted to give people something really substantial before it launched. I think that it more helps people that are already highly anticipating it, or might get some more people involved, but I don't think there's any real possibility of it hindering people's experiences. I do think the only disadvantage that the people would have is that they don't have as much an idea of the world. But I do think that maybe once people play Dead Space and they're exciting about it, they'll search the web and find that, "wow this is here for me too," or "wow, I can read the comic books or watch the animated feature."
You had mentioned earlier that this is an original horror IP. The whole idea of horror in video games is interesting to me because it is an active enterprise. You're not just sitting being scared, you're actually doing something. How much horror influence did you feel like there was in both the marketing and the game in general?
I'll start with the game... we actually did this thing called the "100 Dead Space DVD Giveaway
," based on all the movies that they watched for research. These were everything from "The Brood" to "Ichi the Killer" to the classics like "Nightmare on Elm Street" to "Friday the 13th." There's so many influences for horror and science fiction, and they both played heavily on the guys creating the game. They're deeply entrenched in all the cinematic aspects of horror.
The horror community, as in video games, can be rough at times to, do you feel like you've seen more criticism of a new concept — I don't mean, criticism exactly...
They're definitely more wary. I think that's the word. I would be the exact same way if someone brought "Dead Space" to me, but once it proves itself, I think people see that it's really amazing. We've worked with sites like yours, and so far everyone's been pretty blown away by it because the team really went to some lengths to not just do what's been done before, but also really to make a more American take on a survival horror game because most of the stuff's come out of Japan that we've been playing.
I think there's a big tradition of American horror movies that are more relevant to people than the Japanese horror movies and yet the games, the Japanese horror games, are the ones that have been dominating the market for the last 10 years. Now I think it's great that we have a more American version of that with Dead Space, and I think that's been validated by the community by and large, but once they get a chance to play it they'll get to make their final comments on it.