Holmes Report 24 Apr 2011 // 11:00PM GMT
In October and November, a new Xbox 360 game is launched on average, every single day. How could we make Fable III the game to buy? We needed to add new excitement to a familiar and hardcore RPG franchise and thus help this third installment not just beat its main RPG rivals (primarily ‘Fallout: New Vegas’, released the week before Fable); but also step up to take on the big Action Adventure games that remain Xbox’s top-sellers. After all, the Fable story was epic – you play as the despotic King’s exiled-at-birth brother, leading a revolution to overthrow him and rule your land justly. Finally, the campaign had to work across our key European markets (UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, and Netherlands) and translate accordingly – both in terms of execution and PR support.
‘Experience, not message.’ From the game’s core theme, we wanted to use our campaign to let people actually experience a revolution themselves. To build scale, we needed a way to turn those taking part in our revolution into genuine advocates - mobilizing them to spread the news for us and take it beyond traditional PR in gaming and consumer technology media. By engaging and bringing these fans and advocates on board, we could use their endorsement to drive wider awareness and engagement.
Our answer was Fable III: Kingmaker – a multiplayer mobile & web game of revolution. Think of it as a cross between Foursquare and the classic board game Risk. We set 2 factions - Royals & Rebels – to battle across the “Kingdom of Europa” which consisted of our seven key territories. The kingdom was then split into states and a series of smaller regions to be fought over day-to-day, using a GPS-based mobile app. This mechanic would be our vehicle to encouraging ambassadors to spread the message of Fables release organically within their own networks and communities.
To make the competition fair, players were randomly assigned to the Rebel or Royal factions. Planting up to 10 flags a day from their phone to claim territories for their side they could - vitally - earn Kingmaker gold. For bigger gold rewards, you had to link your Kingmaker account to your Facebook & Twitter account and notify your friends of your achievements in battle. Kingmaker gold wasn’t just for leaderboard bragging rights either – we built a unique mechanic that allowed the player to actually take their Kingmaker gold into the Fable III Xbox game, linking the mobile, physical & Xbox worlds for the first time ever.
Gathering an Army
To kick off the campaign, we had Fable franchise creator and gaming visionary Peter Molyneux, unveil Kingmaker at the Eurogamer Expo to an audience of hardcore Fable fans, encouraging them to sign up and start spreading the word immediately. Simultaneously, in the Netherlands, we had a custom built house at the First Look Expo – the biggest consumer gaming show in the country. We continued to support key gaming shows throughout the duration of the campaign – including Paris Games Festival and the Barcelona Manga Show with twitter giveaways and ‘cash bonuses’ for those attending.
A real-world video of the Kingmaker program was released – with the original video attracting over 50,000 views before being reposted by fans taking the total views past 100k. We even saw fans across Europe create their own version of the video and seeding to their own community members, completely unprompted. To keep momentum, we added special bonuses around launch including locations such as the Bank of England and had calls from one journo saying he’d missed his train home as a result of the diversion to collect more swag.
Outcome (inc. formal evaluation of results)
PR: Within a week of the game’s launch, over 600 articles has appeared in gaming & lifestyle media about Kingmaker; with the main UK games industry trade publication MCV calling it “Fable’s crown jewel” and IGN declaring “Fable III: Kingmaker is no longer just a game, it’s an obsession.” By the end of the campaign on January 1st, 2011 we had signed up over 93,000 players, over 5 million virtual flags had been planted, and more than 20m social media impressions in the first month of the game across Facebook & Twitter had been driven.
Sales: Across Europe, Fable III knocked ‘Fallout: New Vegas’ off no.1 on its opening weekend, selling more on Xbox than the same-day-released, license-backed Star Wars & WWE games combined. Fable III remains ahead of Fable II in week-by-week sales to date, confirming that we have brought new people in to the franchise to play the new game (N.B. Fable II sits approx. number 10 in all time Xbox 360 sales; it was a tough benchmark to beat)
Relation to objectives & cost effectiveness
The value of the earned media in PR that we generated paid back the total production cost of bringing the game to market; factoring in the value of the social media chatter, the ROI figure escalates further – we would estimate significantly more than double the total outlay. With the game itself reviewed at a lesser score than its predecessor Fable II (a metacritic score of 80 vs. 89), the Kingmaker campaign allowed us to engage in a dialogue with potential consumers ahead of launch, reward them for their involvement, and encourage them to share Kingmaker with friends for additional credit that could be used in the game at launch – all driving pre-order and day one sales.
The program contains a series of firsts: in approach – incentivizing people to spread the news for us through the multiplied gold payment; in support - through media partnerships and journalist challenges that lifted Fable III from the pack of competing games; and in reward - with the pre-order incentive of allowing you to spend your Kingmaker gold in the Fable III game itself.