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The key to  Dead Island 's success? It wasn't that trailer
The key to Dead Island's success? It wasn't that trailer
August 13, 2012 | By Christian Nutt

August 13, 2012 | By Christian Nutt
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    27 comments
More: Console/PC, Production, Business/Marketing, GDC Europe



Most of the video game Twitterverse will remember the slow motion, reverse teaser trailer for Dead Island, Deep Silver and Techland's open world zombie game. It was the toast of Twitter and drove the game from total obscurity to most-wanted for a huge number of players.

It wasn't the key to the game's success, however, argues executive producer Guido Eickmeyer, who works at publisher Deep Silver.

"Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way," he says. You can't rely on a great trailer and expect success.

In the end, the game sold 4 million units -- and it didn't sell them "in one month, which is not really possible," he said. "We sold them over a long time. It was a continuous sales curve."

In fact, he says, there was a crucial point in Dead Island's development where the team sat down with the game in progress, and tried to figure out how to turn it into a success.

"We found it wasn't heading in the right direction, so internally, we as team sat down and thought about what we can deliver. How can we make something out of this game?"

At that juncture, Dead Island had "some very good ideas, and some ideas at that point which were not really great." The key was to figure out which were which and head toward the good ideas that were actually achievable.

For example, he kept hearing "nowadays, story is the thing -- story and characters. People were insisting we have to go on that direction -- we have to have a game like the trailer," says Eickmeyer.



The problem, however, was that "doing scripted story games requires a ton of money," he says -- something Techland didn't have. "Our answer was, well, no. We don't have to, because our resources can't do it," says Eickmeyer. "We can't do a game like the trailer."

Instead, the team evaluated what worked about the game in progress and what skills the team at Techland had, and decided to emphasize the co-op gameplay. This, Eickmeyer believes, is what drove the ultimate success of the game and its long sales curve.

"This is why people are buying it months later; this is why people love the game; this is why we have great reviews from users," he says. "It is the most exciting co-op experience that is on the market."

According to Eickmeyer, players of Dead Island have racked up 6,500 years of co-op play so far. "This game was co-op, totally co-op dedicated," he says. "We found we need to focus totally, and this is what we focused on.

"You work on the things you are very good at and improve them," he says. When the team sat down to evaluate the game, "what we had at this point was already a sound multiplayer system," which dictated how to move forward.

"We won against competition with huge budgets," says Eickmeyer. "We beat the guys with the big money and with a lot of experience."

"If you have some talents, work on those talents -- don't try to put them in a direction or a system they don't flourish in," he says. He believes that if he had pushed Techland toward making a story-driven game, Dead Island would never have worked -- because what story is there is "cheesy," and the multiplayer expertise of the developer was brought to the fore instead.

"Take what you have as resources, and try to make something like that, rather than trying to have some overarching idea that you're not going to make anything with," he says.

Gamasutra is in Cologne, Germany this week covering GDC Europe. For more GDC Europe coverage, visit our official event page. (UBM TechWeb is parent to both Gamasutra and GDC events.)


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Comments


John McMahon
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I disagree, I have a very hard time getting back into Dead Island. I have one character and never finished her. I loved the beach setting and then boom we're in a gritty city environment...yawn.

The special infected were not that interesting (What's with the ram guy?).

Oh and if they knew their success was tied with the co-op, then why release DLC which is strictly single-player? That doesn't line up with what he is saying.

Michael G
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"What's with the ram guy?"

Is that the big guy you could just strafe round, lopping off his arms till he looked like a totem pole? Almost damaged a skin cell on that one.

Marvin Papin
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There's no need to write so much for so little. Players don't wanna spend 60 for a trailer. Instead : coop + zombie (a mass effect shooter (mainly ennemies) not zombies especially but that fit well to make it breathable on a mechanic side) + off-peak period.

David Navarro
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Interestingly, I enjoyed Dead Island *in spite of*, not because of the emphasis in co-op play.

Tom Welch
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I would disagree with Eickmeyer completely but can only do so anecdotally. The only thing that made Dead Island appear to be worth anyone's time was the trailer. It presented the game as though it contained an emotional narrative, morality driven decision making gameplay, and intense theatrics. In the end, the publisher only delivered yet-another-zombie-shooter. Honestly, for anyone to talk about the game being a success comes as a surprise to me. After all the pre-release hype it faded into obscurity immediately upon arrival.

Christian Nutt
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Given that he presents the data that it sold 4 million copies and had a long sales curve, as well as metrics about its co-op sessions logged, that seems to suggest that it didn't.

Granted, I don't have an apples-to-apples co-op statistic comparison to hand, nor specific data about what constitutes that sales curve, so maybe that's all not as meaningful as he suggested it was. All the same, the data to some greater or lesser extent does speak to your argument.

I find it somewhat odd that people are coming into this story and saying, "no, dude is wrong" when he's the one with the data.

Michael G
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It also made it appear that the zombies weren't going to wait in a queue to attack you like a Glaswegian bus stop.

Michael Lynn
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The key to their success certainly was not their stable engine or their tech support.

Ron Dippold
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"It is the most exciting co-op experience that is on the market." Noooooo. Not to be too negative, but be honest here. Dead Island isn't even in the same league as Left 4 Dead, or even Diablo III, for sweaty palm co-op.

Jeffrey Woodward
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I've played Dead Island all the way through twice on one character and have yet to really return to the game since the second play through. I enjoyed the game greatly, especially while playing through Steam and having a friend pop in on a random occasion now and then. The co op made it more enjoyable, certainly had a lot more laughs and fun in such regard, but when it comes to why DI was so successful? I would have to honestly say the trailer sparked interest, having a small sandbox to run around in made it more appealing than L4D, and the multitude of weapons and enhancements made it "creative." I wouldn't go as far as to say any of these things made it popular alone, as all these game play mechanics as well as advertisements work together cohesively and saying otherwise is just bull headed and foolish.

Sure it sold X amount of copies over X amount of time, gaining the interest of players over time rather than right away in a huge mass. But in truth that could be said of just about any game in general. I am willing to bet copies sold spiked on release and when incorporated with Steam or any other site/program.

Ramon Carroll
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Yes and no. A few things:

The trailer came out long after the game was feature-complete. There was no chance that they could "make it like the trailer." The idea that the team looked at the trailer, and then decided "we can't make that kind of game" doesn't sound believable. By the time that the trailers start rolling out, most of the major features of a game are already implemented.

I admit that I enjoyed some parts of the game, mainly due to its novelty, but a) I didn't finish it, because I got bored about 1/3 into it, and b) I couldn't shake the feeling that I wished the game had more resembled the trailer, because it felt much more compelling. I was happy that I had only rent the game.

The trailer and its music moved me. I imagined the game eliciting a sense of desperation, sadness, fear, despair, and the struggle to survive in the face of extremely dire circumstances. I was just as disappointed as the rest of the community when we started to get details about the actual game itself. I still tried it out though.

While its true that the game sold well, its reviews weren't all that amazing. I'm also a bit curious to see how many of those "4 million" actually finished it too.

Having said all of that, I still look forward to its sequel, because the actual game concept was still interesting and I had some fun for a short period of it. I'm hoping that they can really polish it so that the second one doesn't lose its luster so quickly, like the first one did.

Jonathan Jennings
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I will go on the record as being one of the people who did rent / consider purchasing dead island solely on the trailer. the game was fun and definitely a slight change from the norm but what drew my initial interest was that heart-wrenching trailer

Jose Striedinger
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it's been a long time since we had an actually zombie game which plays with our minds and puts fear and desparation in our hearts. Dead Island was NOTHING special. Period. I'm happy that it sold well because, it is not really a bad game is just "meh" and I can't blame them, Techland and Silver aren't as wealthy as, say, Capcom and I DO know that narrative and story in a game is something extremely expensive.

The trailer help them, help them a LOT actually. And there's nothing wrong with, in fact it was a great marketing strategy. When I watched the trailer and I realized I was now interested in the game I was like "wow...this guys are good". It's a pity the trailer and the game don't have any sort of relation but, that trailer was te best game trailer I've seen in a long time, they nailed it. Is no reason to be embarrassed.

Anyway...another-zombie-shooter-game, it seems we're like in a NEED for zombies and/or vampires again in entertainment (not only games) and it's getting annoying. Zombie AAA games should be about fear, despair and lonliness...just like the good ol' days.

Ramon Carroll
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@ Jose

I agree with you for the most part except this:

"I'm happy that it sold well because, it is not really a bad game is just "meh" and I can't blame them, Techland and Silver aren't as wealthy as, say, Capcom and I DO know that narrative and story in a game is something extremely expensive."

I'd say that trying to tell a story with high production values (hyper-realistic graphics, long and detailed cinematics, movie-style soundtracks by big time composers like Hanz Zimmer, using only well known actors to do the voice-overs, ect. ect. ect.,) is expensive. Look up Brenda Brathwaite's "Train". You can make a game with a compelling story without spending the equivalent of small country's budget.

Eric Geer
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I generally prefer games with no-name actors, hell even many movies. Most current actors when they show up on the screen you know what you are about to get--it's like the golden arches of the world of food.

I don't think compelling story/narrative go hand in hand with overblown budgets. But that is the way many studios see it and so they go in that direction.

Christopher Thigpen
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The trailer was the reason to look into the game and decide if it was worth purchasing. That being said, it did not deliver the expectation that were aligned with the trailer.

The Co-op was great, but some of their business decisions led to me just shelving the game. People really need to invest a long time researching DLC and what value it may bring. As said up top...the single player DLC was ridiculously obtuse.

Also...breaking weapons was just too much to overcome in the joy department. oh nice..i found a crowbar...oh...the crowbar broke..after...ten hits? who made this crowbar....Krusty the Clown?!?!


common sense goes a long way.

Maria Jayne
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I paid attention to the dead island release and development specificly because I saw the trailer.

The game, was a significant sidestep from the trailer, I didn't feel cheated by this but perhaps that was because I had seen gameplay trailers before I purchased it. However I had no hope at all they could capture the emotion from the trailer within a game which had 4 player coop and damage numbers floating above enemy heads.

Was a decent game, if rather lacking on PC functionality. I remember having to thank some PC modders for the option of disabling bloom in-game. I can't handle bloom, just makes the screen look like a smear to me.

Glenn Sturgeon
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I can only give my account of the game & it had nothing to do with the trailer. In fact today here was the first time i ever saw the trailer. I got the game becouse its a sandbox, FP, zombie survival game with some rpg elements. Contrary to many here saying "its just another zombie fps", i very seldom have used guns in the game (only on the zombies that explode on you). I guess the game is whatever you play it as.
I'd like to check out the co-op but i don't know anyone else who owns the game.
Its a unique franchies start and IMO a no brainer evolution of the Zombie craze into the FP, real time, sand box space. I'm glad it has sold well and look forward to a sequal. So to sum it up no it wasn't the trailer or the MP that sold me on the game.

Joshua Hawkins
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Great marketing + a great product = success... who knew?

I hope Eickmeyer understands that Dead Island wouldn't of done nearly as well w/out that trailer. Hell I don't even think they could of got the funding to finish the game w/out that trailer. I was really glad Dead Island wasn't a flop. Sure it was nothing like the trailer, but if you're buying things based on advertisments prepare for disapointment.

One thing I think they missed in their analysis is that they hit a lull in the 4 player co-op market. Left 4 Dead didn't release a new title, and borderlands 2 was still a ways away. I think the only real co-op competition it had was gears 3 which seems like a different market.

Darcy Nelson
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"We can't do a game like the trailer."

But they might next time. Kind of exciting, right?

Alex Nichiporchik
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If the game wasn't fun, it'd sell 500k units and die off - after the reviews came in.

What the trailer did is drew attention to the game, made the press excited about it. So it only helped. Thing is if the game is not fun, no matter how much marketing money you pour on it, it won't have a good long-tail in sales. And Dead Island has a very good long tail, simply because the game is fun.

I totally agree that the team has to focus on what they're good at vs trying to do what everyone else is doing. Dead Island is such an enjoyable experience because of that.

Remember when they were showing tech demos on how the meat flies off the bones at E3 or something? That was dull. That wasn't coverable. But the trailer put it on the map, it showed the vision behind the game and then delivered a really fun experience which kept the sales coming in.

Kenneth Blaney
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Ha! No. The key to Dead Island's long tail (and eventual success) is the community that surrounds it and the generalized skinner box behavior of the game's reward mechanics. That is, you explore the landscape that scales to your chanracter level finding ever increasing weapons. You like finding these better weapons because it allows you to kill more zombies and thus get more weapons. The appeal, in that sense, is the similarity to Diablo and lack of a Diablo 3 to compete with at the time. It probably helps a whole lot that the setting is dissimilar enough from Diablo to prevent anyone from drawing direct comparisons too quickly.

John McMahon
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I will say I didn't see the trailer and I never have. I got the game because a bunch of friends were playing it and I only had single-player games on my plate.

Caleb Garner
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i bought it when it was heavily discounted on steam.. and mostly because i liked the trailer.. however now that i own it.. i haven't had time to get to the first checkpoint.. I had no connection with any of characters i got to choose from.. let me play that dad in the trailer..

Steven Christian
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This was true for me also.
Also, my friends had bought it on steam and whilst I was playing Civ V it constantly popped up that they were playing, and they kept inviting me to games, so yeah I bought it and they stopped playing..

Caleb Garner
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"You can't rely on a great trailer and expect success..."

expect it, no.. but i believe that the in their case, it was a big factor and for some reason he's not wanting to admit it. I feel like he's missing the point.. sure the game is good, but the trailer is what made this game stand out.

If he thinks this game would have sold just as well without the trailer going viral like it did, he's kidding himself. Would it have have still succeeded? I'm sure, but i'd be willing to bet money it wouldn't have been 4,000,000 copies in the same amount of time.

Markus Schaefer
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I keep hearing that DI is "just another zombie shooter". Which games exactly are almost the same? I can't really think of any quite like DI. L4D may have zombies and coop but pacing and game mechanics are totally different.
Until DI I never had never found but always wanted a sandbox RPG zombie game (I wasn't even that interested in coop and played through the game solo first).


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