This blog post will cover the Launch Awareness I conducted for Brut@l from July 19th (Date Announcement) to August 13th (Just after release). The goal of this blog post is to outline what content we shared, as well as why and any lessons I feel I have learned from this approach.
Brut@l was developed by Stormcloud Games, a small independent studio from Dundee, Scotland. All marketing activity for Brut@l was done in-house.
On July 19th we announced Brut@l’s launch date. This announcement coincided with the PLAY 2016 announcement, PlayStation’s yearly showcase of four top indie titles. The concept behind PLAY is that every week, for four weeks total, a new title is launched, with 20% off if you pre-order. Brut@l was the third title in the list.
To promote this announcement, we went down several avenues. Firstly, the official PlayStation blog announced the 2016 campaign, this was shared across all PlayStation territory social media accounts. In addition, a promo video for the campaign was created for YouTube / Social.
Our gameplay, for some reason, looked a little washed out in their mash up, something we didn’t experience with our own releases. However, being shared across all PlayStation channels was a huge boost for Brut@l, helping us get eye balls on the game. We of course announced the release across all our channels as well, changing our social media headers and messaging to “Available for Pre-Order Now!”
In hindsight, now looking at this asset, I realize it should have had a PlayStation logo of some kind on it. The accompanying tweet / FB / blog text mentioned this, but if I was to go back I would edit this to include a call to action “Available for Pre-Order on PlayStation 4 NOW!”.
We didn’t send out a press release on the 20th as PlayStation was doing this regardless. Our main goal was to answer questions within the blog post / social / YouTube comments, updating and sharing our own messaging and in general being active in the PLAY2016 searches (as well as our standard Brut@l / Stormcloud searches).
In terms of relationship management, I feel we did a very good job as a studio of interfacing with PlayStation. We kept them up to speed with assets, updates and the overall flow of Brut@l. Because of this communication, transparency and willingness to go to any and all events we had several champions of Brut@l embedded within PlayStation, no doubt this was the reason we were featured within PLAY2016.
On July 20th I began contacting members of the press. I had created a spreadsheet of contacts over the last few months and reached out / spoken to most in advance. This list was well more than 1000 people and I set a goal of creating personalized emails for each person I reached out to. This was a pretty mammoth task, however as a small studio with a niche title I felt this would give the best results. To maximize impact, I split all the members of the press (including influencers) into “Gold, Silver and Bronze” categories. This was done based on both audience size AND how likely they were to be interested in Brut@l. So, while IGN was in the gold category, so were several YouTubers with less than 3,000 subscribers. The goal was coverage of course, but impactful coverage was key.
On the 20th a press release was sent out to the games press service highlighting the fact you could now Pre-Order Brut@l, doing so would give you 20% off as well as some exclusive pre-order bonuses. We also made sure to highlight the fact we were part of the PLAY program, something only 4 games a year are part of. The latter I felt was important as it added weight / credibility to our announcement (especially if you’d never heard of Brut@l or Stormcloud Games!)
As this press release was propagating I began emailing all the Gold and Silver tier press / influencers. This was a personal email that called out why I thought they would like Brut@l as well as some key selling points, this email also included a key for the game as well as the embargo date, which was VERY important for us…
As you can see from the above image, August 9th was already a pretty busy day for gamers as No Man’s Sky was launching. This was particularly difficult for me as it was one of the few games that year I wanted to avoid, if possible. Alas it was not possible and the PLAY program would still give us more exposure on the 9th of August than if we had launched on our own on a different date. (No data to prove this, but I think it’s a very safe assumption).
This ties us back into the embargo date and why it was so important. I knew from listening to various podcasts no one had received No Man’s Sky yet, and in-fact, it was looking very likely it would be given to them the day of launch to review. This gave me a very specific goal, get the game to the press right away and set the embargo to be BEFORE launch. This raised a few eyebrows, however from speaking to members of the press it was received very well, and in truth, I was very honest.
In all my correspondence I called out the fact we were launching on the same day as No Man’s Sky and, because of this, I knew a lot of the reviewer / influencers time would be dedicated to covering this hyped release. Our hope, and this was plainly said in the email, was that by giving them Brut@l on the 20th, in advance of the launch date, and setting an embargo date of August 2nd, we would encourage reviewers / influencers to cover the game and share content BEFORE all channels were blanked with No Man’s Sky.
And while not everyone covered Brut@l, we honestly had a lot of success with this approach. Giant Bomb being the most notable to appreciate and latch onto our strategy – thanks guys! 😊
July 21st – 22nd:
It should be noted, every day of this launch period saw me doing relevant hashtag searches on twitter, replying to questions on all YouTube videos as well as being present in any relevant community discussion (reddit etc). This took up a large portion of my day, the rest of the 21st – 22nd was spent emailing the rest of our press / influencer list. This process took days, but again I think it was worthwhile.
During this period, and throughout this window we posted Pre-Order reminders across all platforms.
July 23rd to 31st:
During the 23rd to 31st of July we regularly posted reminders about the Pre-Order campaign, using different art work (so players did not get used to seeing the same thing), messaging and times to capture as big an audience as possible. We also continued to interact with all relevant hashtags and mentions to maintain our momentum.
From the 23rd to the 31st I wanted to re-share a piece of Brut@l content every other day tied to our key features, to remind users of what to expect and be excited for. The goal here was to capture new users who heard about the game via the PLAY campaign as well as push why Brut@l would be fun and rewarding to pick up, especially with 20% off!
To achieve this, I re-shared key content that was received well, for example our Co-Op Trailer.
We also created a new Let’s Play as our previous was quite successful (11k views).
This content, coupled with us being very active in mentions, replies, comments and hashtags kept us engaged with gamers for the full week. We were very careful not to overshare in this week, although in hindsight perhaps we could have done more. My goal for the 23rd to 31st was to have a piece of content go out one day, the next a pre-order reminder and back and forth until our embargo lift push began on August 1st.
August 1st to 5th:
August 1st was the day prior to the embargo lifting and this was, in my eyes, our most pivotal week. No Man’s Sky previews could drop at any time and I felt this was the week to push players to Brut@l. Our CTA was a bit weaker, we were asking people to Pre-Order and not buy, however not being lost in the No Man’s Sky hype was important.
From August 1st to August 5th we ran a PlayStation Influencer ASCII campaign. Each day we released a piece of key art from our favorite PlayStation websites and ASCII-afied (word?) them. What this meant was I was looking at very specific communities who had supported us to date, had a very strong PlayStation fan base and who, in truth, I wanted to collaborate with in some way. The goal with this campaign was simple, celebrate our favorite PlayStation content creators by making Brut@l versions of their logo / work and sharing it on social media.
Of course, this did have the added benefit of promoting Brut@l within their communities, which of course was a big win for us. That said, I would like to point out that I was interacting with these communities for months and the collaboration therefore felt very natural. For example, I was a frequent poster in the Kinda Funny forums, I collaborated with a bunch of the Beyond, Kinda Funny and Knerds community members to make content for their channels and, in general, tried to be a voice in the community. This point is very crucial in my opinion, while I of course wanted to promote Brut@l to these communities, I was doing so from within the community and as such I feel it came across very well and not, well, scummy :P
All of this finalized in the release of our Kinda Brut@l cross over, a short video taking the Kinda Funny trio of Greg, Colin and Kevin and having them duke it out ASCII representations of themselves.
I was immensely happy to see the three guys pick it up and share it, however more importantly the response from the Kinda Funny community was incredibly positive and more than I hoped for.
August 1st to 5th Continued:
The ASCII campaign was a large community focus for that week, however as the embargo was lifted on the 2nd of August we also had to really drive home pre-orders. This is something I think I could have improved upon in hindsight. With the embargo lifted I began sharing the great reviews we were receiving from various websites / publications. The key goal here is that the people who read these sites think Brut@l is interesting enough to pre-order, the secondary goal is to share the review with our audience and show to them that Brut@l IS quality and, if they’ve not, they should pre-order it today!
I looked to share the websites / sources that carried weight, and that would make you stop to read / listen if you were scrolling through your timeline. The area I think I could have improved upon, looking back, was better connecting the dots between “Hey, this site likes Brut@l!” and “Wow, I should pre-order right now to get the 20% discount!”. A lot of my re-tweets or shares were aimed at showcasing Brut@l was being well received but didn’t quite have a clear CTA of “Get it NOW!”.
That isn’t to say we were not doing serious “Pre-Order Now” pushes, we had daily reminders going out at this stage, however, I think saying “Hey, Kotaku like this, maybe you would? Pre-Order Now to get 20% off!” is stronger for some people than “Hey, we like this, maybe you would?”.
As a side note, during this period I made a lot of podcast and YouTube appearances. These ranged from some channels with 30 subscribers to 5,000+. I was happy to go on any podcast or show about gaming / pop culture to chat about Brut@l and the industry in general. A lot of these channels may not have had large audiences but I felt it was critical to my growth, improving the message of Brut@l and giving back to people who were giving to us.
August 7th and 8th:
The calm before the release storm. At this stage I was still sharing third party content, including a very exciting appearance on Rocket Beans! I had reminders going out that this was the last chance to get your 20% discount as well as a continued push to interact with everyone and anyone 😊
August 9th. The day of excitement, of coffee, of uncertainty and a lot of coffee, which I mentioned already, but trust me, coffee.
We trickled out onto stores on August 9th for users around the world. To coincide with this launch I worked with the global PlayStation teams to push the game on official blog channels
Normally when you do a standalone blog post you focus on something new, a new hook or piece of content. We had created a new trailer (more on that soon), however we wanted the focus to be on informing new users, or reminding people, what Brut@l was and why they should buy it today. We used striking visuals, re-shared our original trailer and tried to explain the game in the most exciting and “Wow, I want that now!” way. We also used GIFs in the blog post, which sounds obvious, however no one else was using them, or if they were, it was very rare. Brut@l looks so much better in motion than static, if you do a blog post on the PlayStation site, use GIFs!
That said, we did create a new trailer for the launch, this time focussing on the Dungeon Creator that came with the game. The Dungeon Creator allowed users to make their own levels, share them online and then let other people play them. This style of feature added depth as even if you yourself didn’t feel creative you could play levels from other people. The Dungeon Creator campaign was “Build It, Play It, Kill It”
We of course also sent out a press release via the expected channels. Press releases are interesting to me, it feels like a spam email you send out to everyone on the hopes they open and cover it. While we did get coverage from our press releases it was always from smaller sites, where as our best big site / influencer content came from more meaningful interactions and correspondence. This isn’t a surprising statement, it’s just me mulling over the fact press releases are spam and we should (can?) do better.
August 11th to 13th:
August 11th to the 13th is, in my eyes, the end of our “launch” window. While we of course continued to promote the game and its features after this date, in my eyes this moved us into the post-launch promotion phase versus the launch window.
From August 11th to the 13th we continued to push key content beats from press and influencers. I split it across each day to separate the style of content in our feed. By this I mean on the 11th I shared a review, the 12th a piece of video content and the 13th a review, and so on and so forth for a small period. I felt this broke up our self-promotion a little, the review would be a click through, whereas the video could be watched directly in your social media feed of choice.
We also ensured to push our key USP beats, for example re-sharing our Co-Op trailer (Play Together, Die Together!) as well as doing a continued push to appear on podcasts and YouTube shows (7 in that week alone!).
Overall the goal in these days was to push the great reception Brut@l had from reviewers and influencers alike, looking to latch onto these communities to drive sales and interest in our ASCII inspired rogue-like.
Overall, I was very happy with the launch awareness content we pushed out at the launch of Brut@l. I feel the content was varied and covered our goal of promoting our own content as well as that of others, showcasing Brut@l’s unique look and feel as well as the opinions of those that had played it.
My two take away’s for items I could improve are:
In terms of what I feel we did right:
And that is that! Thanks for reading my breakdown of our Brut@l launch content.
Until next time.
Richard “RetroCrumpet” Wood.