Whether you're a hard-core gamer, or just a passive observer of the latest marketing trends, you may have come across this little thing called Final Fantasy XV making some waves over the past couple of months. And not just because of the child like glee emanating from pockets of the internet, but for the brilliant marketing that has preceded this titan of the video game world. If you haven't, then you're in for a bit of a treat.
What is Final Fantasy?
No longer the preserve of sunlight averse teenagers, video games have shaken off their once niche appeal and are now firmly part mainstream popular culture. And while many of us know games like Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog, the multitude of games from the Final Fantasy series over the last 27 years haven't seen much recognition outside of the gaming community. Until now.
Final Fantasy's trade mark is complex and deep characters, scripts that rival a Shakespearean play, and creative new worlds that make Hogwarts look as interesting as the corner shop. Therefore, the marketing behind the latest instalment of the series, Final Fantasy XV, needed to match. Poor reviews of previous titles, ever increasing development times, and a £50 price tag (for the standard edition of the game) meant the pressure was on the publisher - Square Enix - to deliver.
So, how did they do it?
Jaime Oliver's "Fifteen" restaurant take over
Final Fantasy games have a tradition of repeating the number of their game, in the game. Plus, one of the features of Final Fantasy XV is stopping off at restaurants on your road trip with your in game friends (like in the image above). Therefore it made complete sense for them to take over the restaurant of world famous TV chef, Jaime Oliver, "Fifteen" for a week and serve some Final Fantasy XV themed grub.
They served actual meals available in the game from themed menus. An invited group of VIP fans were asked to dine first and then the experience was opened up to the public for a limited time after a short social media campaign. They even replaced all the artwork in the restaurant with in game artwork to create a completely immersive experience, check out the images below:
— Final Fantasy XV (@FFXVEN) November 21, 2016
— Final Fantasy XV (@FFXVEN) November 27, 2016
— FIFTEEN LONDON (@JamiesFifteen) November 29, 2016
Final Fantasy XV Kingsglaive film
Kingsglaive is a full feature length cinematic experience that takes place in parallel to the story of Final Fantasy XV. It had a star-studded English voice cast, including Sean Bean, Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) and Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad). Released at cinemas shortly before the launch of the game, customers that went to the cinema to see the film were all given a free goodie bag before they went in - including a bag of themed popcorn for that extra level of immersion.
Live character meet and greets
Chocobos are a well-loved, fan favourite - they feature in every Final Fantasy game and they're kind of like a mix between a chicken and an ostrich that you can ride. At EGX 2016, real life 7 foot chocobos made their live event debut.
With room inside for a performer to walk around in the costume (think Walking With Dinosaurs and War Horse), they also blinked, opened and closed their mouths, and made noises. Visitors could interact with the performers in a fully recreated 'chocobo ranch', get pictures and bump into the chocobos randomly trotting around the event.
Themed Uber rides
Staying with the Chocobo theme, Square Enix teamed up with Uber during the PAX West gaming convention in Seattle. Anyone who was attending the event could see Chocobo themed Mini Coopers buzzing around the city. Also, attendees who were lucky enough to catch a ride in a "ChocoGO" car (using a special option in the Uber app) were entered into a competition to win Final Fantasy XV themed merchandise and lanyards. Check out a detailed account of the experience here.
IGN live stream
On November 22nd, a week before the launch, Square Enix teamed up with IGN - one of the gaming industry's' most read online publications - and The Field creative agency for a live stream event held in London. Guests were invited to see a live stream of never before seen footage of the game, a Q&A session with the game's director, and a showing of the Kingsglaive movie we covered above.
What made the experience extra special however is that IGN recreated a small sample of the world in real life, right on the streets of London. They recreated a diner from in game - which served themed food and drink, a campsite and a market place. At the market, there were stalls that offered guests a chance to mix their own ‘potions’ to create a personalised vial necklace for the fan to take away. There were also actors based on characters that interacted with the fans throughout the event as well.
Chris Dawson, founder of creative agency The Field, said;
"I do not believe in linear "conveyor belt" experiences. If you allow human beings to be human beings and to find what appeals to them, they will connect far deeper with the experience."
-You can read a full article on the experience in Event Magazine right here.
Abbey Road Studios - FFXV Orchestra
These days, video games have soundtracks just as complex as any Hollywood Blockbuster. On the 7th September 2016, Square Enix took over the iconic Abbey Road Studios in London to deliver a live performance of the soundtrack featuring the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Some fans and key journalists were invited to enjoy the performance live, but the majority were invited to view a live stream of the event through the Final Fantasy YouTube channel – it was even covered by Classic FM.
One visitor said of the event: “Overall, a unique affair that I was honoured to attend and I certainly left Abbey Road feeling hyped about XV’s release… A momentous evening!” You can read the full article here, which just goes to show the power of inviting the right people to your events.
Titan replica street scene
In a similar vein to the Marshmallow man that took over Waterloo station for the release of the Ghostbusters movie (and Jurassic World at the same station), Square Enix recreated this stunning scene in the Hollywood & Highland centre in California, dubbed #FFXVTITAN takeover. Visitors could take pictures and have themselves superimposed into a ‘Warp Strike’ experience, check out an example here.
— Final Fantasy XV (@FFXVEN) December 5, 2016
— Final Fantasy XV (@FFXVEN) December 3, 2016
Sharing the adventure
As a final nudge to get customers engaging with the game post launch, the game has a heavy social media side. Throughout your game play, the system is actually taking pictures of what you’re doing that you can view at the end of every “day”. From selfies with your comrades at important locations, to snaps of the most intense parts of your battles, the game allows you to share your moments with your friends directly from the game through a simple linking of game and social accounts. This gives the game longevity, long after the launch day – plus, Square Enix are running competitions for the best images through their social channels. Presumably until a point when they feel like they’ve reached full saturation.
To break even on this game, including development and marketing, Square Enix need to sell 10 million copies. According to Forbes, Square Enix have managed to sell 5 million copies on the first day – making it the fastest selling game in the series. And as of 10th January, sales are around the 6 million mark.
There’s still a long way to go, according to gamesindustry.biz “Square Enix's challenge will be to maintain Final Fantasy XV's early performance. The game has an avid hard-core fan base, and typically titles of this type tend to do well in their debut week, but fall away quickly after that. As a means of comparison, unit sales of Final Fantasy XIII fell by 80 percent in its second week back in March 2010”.
Time will tell whether Final Fantasy XV can be considered a success or not, but the early signs seem to indicated that the horizon is looking good. What we can say is that the marketing campaign around the launch was spectacular and we, as event professionals, can learn a lot from the techniques used to create engagement. Themed environments and VIP treatment can go a long way to building reliable brand advocates.