Bethesda Game Studios (BGS) are arguably the masters of generating hype, despite only having developed two major game series in-house: Fallout & The Elder Scrolls (aka Skyrim). Their parent publishing company Bethesda Softworks is the marketing and distributing powerhouse behind many other successful titles, such as Doom, Dishonored and The Evil Within.
Combined, the companies have an exceptionally loyal following which could, in part, contribute to the mass hysteria surrounding their newly publicised content. However, their methods of exciting fans in the lead up to release, particularly on their social channels, encourages their growing success and really sets them apart from many others in the industry. Bethesda’s carefully considered marketing strategies put their fans’ expectations first and even manage to trap very casual gamers, like myself, in the ensuing frenzy.
Their latest offering, Fallout: 76, is the newest instalment of the franchise set in Earth’s post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland and was announced recently on May 30th (much to everyone’s delight).
The power of a single image
It all began on the morning of Tuesday 29th May, when a graphic depicting the words ‘Please Stand By’ was posted to BGS’ official Twitter feed. Chaos ensued.
— Bethesda Game Studios (@BethesdaStudios) May 29, 2018
The graphic been used as a continuous part of the title sequence throughout each game in the Fallout series, and is also famously shared by the creators to indicate an upcoming announcement on their social channels. The post has 146,000 likes and 60,000 retweets to date and conversation exploded all over social; with ‘Bethesda’ remaining in the top 10 trending topics on Twitter for several hours afterwards.
Keep ’em waiting
If this was the reaction to a single image on Twitter, you can imagine the excitement when Bethesda’s official Twitch account began livestreaming shortly afterwards. Even if it was just a static Vault Boy bobblehead (Fallout’s character mascot).
Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of viewers tuned in to watch, waiting eagerly for a big reveal. Even I was one of those, despite not being a die-hard fan of the series.
And wait we did… for nearly 24 hours. You can watch a mere 7 hours of it here (you’re welcome).
Initially, there was no indication of how long the livestream was going to take, or indeed when an announcement would be made. Instead, those working at the studio’s headquarters enjoyed teasing viewers by intermittently appearing onscreen next to the bobblehead, sharing a drink with it, wearing creepy masks, and even playing with a Vault Boy finger puppet. By the time American viewers were ready to go to bed, one man even walked into shot and tucked the bobblehead in for the night before switching the lights off.
Polygon.com have compiled some of the best moments, which are worth watching for comic relief alone. If that’s not your thing, this is my favourite:
Even once the time of the announcement was revealed with the help of a Fallout branded watch, viewers were still kept waiting for several minutes before anything happened.
As the livestream was coming to a close it was revealed by Director/Exec. Producer Todd Howard that over 2 million unique viewers had tuned in for at least part of the stream, with over 100,000 viewers watching simultaneously for the majority of the broadcast.
What better way of bringing loyal and casual Fallout players together in one virtual space? And what better opportunity to advertise official branded merchandise to fans that obviously have all this time on their hands? Not only was this a huge promotion opportunity, but having people walk in and out of shot was a fantastic method of peaking attention during an otherwise uneventful 24-hour broadcast, preventing viewers from dropping off out of disinterest. Indeed, the longer one watched, the more imminent the announcement seemed to become.
Although livestreams are becoming more commonplace as a method of announcing new games, such as Ubisoft’s Farcry Primal campaign, Bethesda’s comedic approach and incredible viewing figures speak for themselves.
Limited edition, limited access
2015’s Fallout 4 set the bar high when it comes to limited edition merchandising, and Bethesda have once again outdone themselves with the Fallout: 76 Power Armor Edition (amongst others). Of course, offering limited edition merchandise as an incentive for pre-ordering isn’t really anything new, but their attention to detail is something I have to admire. Not many other video game publishers come close to their ability to predict what makes their customers tick, which is probably why they sell out in an instant. In particular, I’m referring to their wearable merchandise, which brings elements of the game into reality and bridges the gap between the digital and physical game experience.
Enter: the T-51 Power Armor Helmet with functioning headlamp.
Alongside the helmet, this limited-edition pre-order also comes with a glow-in-the-dark map, branded duffel bag, 24 collectable figurines, a steelcase and exclusive in-game content. All for a reasonable $199.99!
Aside from this obviously very well-designed kit, customers are also given the opportunity to access the B.E.T.A version of the game, meaning they’ll be able to play and test out its capabilities before general release.
Offering a combination of physical and digital pre-order perks increases the appeal of a game, creating a sense of higher production value. Bethesda’s obvious core consideration for its fans here not only benefits the popularity of the franchise, but improves the overall estimation of the company that created it. Other video game publishers are habitually lazy in this respect, often simply adding basic in-game incentives such as special weapons or novelty skins, rather than thinking outside of the box. Not overly persuasive or inspiring.
Timing is everything
The final Fallout: 76 announcement came just two weeks before the Los Angeles Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3): one of the biggest platforms creators use to announce new titles and provide glimpses of gameplay.
Bethesda ensured that speculation on social would increase over this short time as the event drew ever nearer. Had this period been significantly longer, anyone other than their die-hard fan base would become tired of waiting and simply move on to the next big trend. A ‘drip-feed’ style marketing campaign divided into short segments is an effective way of holding interest and conversation, as your target audience are provided with new content to discuss every few weeks. Evidently, Nintendo had the same idea, coincidentally announcing their new Pokémon game on social the very same day; also revealing new content at E3 two weeks later.
Fallout 76 is due to be released just 5 months after the initial announcement was made, in a similar vein to its predecessor Fallout 4, which was announced on June 2nd and released on November 10th 2015. By gaming standards, this is pretty speedy. Whilst allowing enough time for developers to repair any outstanding glitches brought to light by the B.E.T.A gamers, it keeps fans expectant and eager. Although a little patience never hurt anybody, the last thing marketers want is to render their followers impatient, weary and downright annoyed (looking at you again, Nintendo).