We sat down with marketing and production experts Psyop, and spoke to founder Todd Mueller and VP of Games Mick Morris, to discuss why there is simply no point in glossy trailers if there aren’t any true hooks for community engagement.
Alongside your work in the cinematics space, you’re famous for more in-depth and unique marketing executions. Can you give us a few examples?
Mick Morris: Certainly! We have made hundreds of trailers and films over the past 22 years at Psyop but in 2019, something weird and wonderful was born. We created I Love you Colonel Sanders for Weiden + Kennedy and KFC. This Finger Licken' Good Dating Sim was incredibly well received by the fans who recognised the love we poured into the writing, the music and the art. The free to play game has had over 800,000 downloads on Steam and has overwhelmingly positive reviews. Three years later it is still being played and streamed and has a huge fanbase.
If your ‘work on a t-shirt’ is passing the cultural test then what about the tattoos, fan-art, and cosplay? The game really connected with the fans who totally realized this was no gimmick. When your work ends up on a whole range of streetwear and accessories then you know you are doing something right.
And that led to more work in the Interactive Storytelling space?
Morris: Yes, we followed this with an intriguing interactive visual novel for Ghostwire Tokyo then Hooked On You for Dead By Daylight. Behaviour Interactive got in touch after having polled the fans about what genre they would like to explore. They overwhelmingly voted for a dating sim.
Hooked on You is a choice-based interactive experience that gives fans a completely fresh, fun way to interact with the world and characters of Dead by Daylight outside of the main game and canon. It went straight to the top of Steam on launch day.
Most recently Blizzard came calling asking if we could make something similar for Valentines Day 2023. A very close collaboration with the Overwatch team resulted in an interactive experience which the fans absolutely adored. Even though Loverwatch only existed for two weeks.
The beauty of the non-canonical nature of Loverwatch means that the gamer is free to explore without being bound to the lore or even logic of the full game itself. This has ended up being a delightfully exciting experience for the fans who have spent seven years getting to know the characters in the game
These only work with an incredible amount of detail - great writing, immaculate artistry, and a very deep knowledge and understanding of the community. Being on the other side of the fence and actually developing games - localisation, testing and submission to platforms gives us insights that most creative production studios have never experienced.
What makes these more effective than the more traditional campaigns out there?
"For the same budget as a really nice trailer, you can have something completely original for the fans to explore"
Morris: For the same budget as a really nice trailer, you can have something completely original for the fans to explore. A unique experience with a long tail, with real depth and longevity. It can sit alongside the main title without danger of upsetting fans. This type of experience can help drive presales if rebooting an older IP or launching a sequel. Or it can simply be a love letter to the fans allowing them to interact and relate to characters in a way that they haven't been able to before, within the confines of a particular genre.
Giving the fans a number of different characters to engage with and a variety of different paths and endings makes for something genuinely unforgettable. Clearly different from the static, passive game trailer experience which may or not connect with them on a personal level.
Despite there being some savagery associated with the Killers in Hooked on You, the fans found it to be a surprisingly chilled affair. It was aimed at gamers who play Dead By Daylight, but it was possible for anyone to get involved. I mean I've never played Overwatch but had a fun time playing Loverwatch. Consider this a new way to attract fans who have been hovering by the poolside. They might just finally jump in.
Todd Mueller: Again, it all comes back to story, in my opinion. The glossiest, clothiest, most flowing hair simmyness will never captivate as much as a well told story with compelling characters in lush unique worlds.
This is also very apparent in our work over the last 10-plus years with Supercell. They trusted us with their IP to develop the characters and tell their stories and we were able to level those up in a way that resulted in billions of eyeballs and a very happy fan base.
In what way can these campaigns deepen relationships with communities? Why is that important?
Mueller: Firstly, as we all know, gamers are a very unique audience. Speaking as a gamer myself, we want to interact with our media. We like commenting, reviewing, mashing up, fan fictioning, and making art with the media we consume. We are not a passive audience, we are a community. As such games that reach out and interact with their communities in a genuine way will always do better.
Morris: It's about meeting the fans where they are of course. And it works best when you ask them what they want. Engage early and let the fans tell you what they'd like to see in this new experience you are building. It won't be possible to satisfy everyone. That's impossible. But you can get them involved with polls and surveys. When is the last time anyone asked the fans what they'd like to see in a game trailer?
In an age that sometimes seems to be more divided and polarised than ever, these types of experiences unite fans new and old, and as importantly they help make community more crucial than ever.
What advice would you give to studios trying to plan their campaigns?
Mueller: Hmmm, not sure if we want to give away any ingredients of our secret sauce but, if now that you twisted my finger, here’s what we focus on with all our clients: invest in your characters, simplify the story, hone your goals, sweat every detail, and make sure what you're making is authentic, as fun as possible or cool as hell.
What would you love to see in the games marketing space that hasn’t yet been explored?
Mueller: It’s no secret that we love creating fun, weird, and engaging branching stories, but there is so much more we can do with the general idea of interactive storytelling. “Inscryption” by Daniel Mullins, is a mind blowing example of how a narrative can be interwoven into a game. Or even just fun, light-hearted, unexpected, interactive crossovers. Warioware meets Call of Duty, Murder Mystery dinner party in Fortnite… Rather than just assuming that you need a game cinematic, just consider that the format of the experience can be part of the creative delivery.
"We work with developers and publishers of every size and pride ourselves on finding creative solutions to challenging budgets"
Morris: We have created some interesting crossovers and collaborations with non-endemic brands. These campaigns have to be as authentic as they are beautiful. I think we will be seeing some very interesting uses of AI in the not too distant future, which improves the intimacy of the interactive experience.
For my part, I’d say be as brave with your marketing as you are with your development efforts. It goes without saying that the work needs to have real meaning and purpose but be bold, don’t be afraid to take risks, make it count.
You have some pretty big clients. But what about smaller publishers and developers? Do you work with them?
Morris: We work with developers and publishers of every size and pride ourselves on finding creative solutions to challenging budgets. Briefs can be super detailed and we do love those but sometimes publishers and developers simply say “Here’s $150k. Now just go and make us something fucking cool.”
Psyop is a creative production studio with over 22 years of experience working with game studios to bring their campaigns and stories to life.The team are not your traditional ‘executional’ partners, they are endlessly passionate about the gaming industry and more importantly, its communities.
Whether it’s digging into niche anime references, trawling reddit threads or researching the most unlikely celebrity players, Psyop are driven by the desire to dig deeper. They visualize brands, build worlds and tell impactful stories, all for the fans.
For more information contact: Mick.Morris@Psyop.tv