Q&A with Ubisoft group brand manager, Sam Saliba
Game of the Week
Splinter Cell Double Agent—Xbox 360
Developer: Ubisoft Shanghai
Release Date: 10/17/06
With Splinter Cell Double Agent, Ubisoft is giving the straight-up image of protagonist Sam Fisher a darker makeover. Because of the new look and feel of SCDA, Ubisoft’s marketing crew had to take a fresh approach in hyping up the game when compared to the efforts of previous installments.
Sam Saliba, group brand manager at Ubisoft North America, outlines the nuts and bolts of SCDA’s marketing campaign. In sum, pre-order numbers are higher than Splinter Cell Chaos Theory (the previous game in the series), online metrics have indicated that SCDA is one of the most anticipated Xbox 360 games of Q4 and the game has seen five cover stories in North America. The marketing of this game has been anything but a covert op.
What are some particular challenges you encountered with Double Agent's promotional and marketing campaign?
Saliba: We encountered two major challenges in the marketing of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Double Agent. Because Splinter Cell Double Agent is the fourth title in the franchise, we had to remain true to the theme of the franchise while making it fresh for gamers with a new feel – to make the game more intriguing. We also faced the challenge of broadening the audience beyond the core group of dedicated fans that have followed Splinter Cell from the beginning.
We countered these challenges by drastically changing the visual look and feel of Splinter Cell’s creative identity as people knew it. We took big risks and stepped away from some of the hallmark signature looks associated with the series like the green goggles, hi-tech cat suit and dark close-quarter interior environments. We believed it was important to develop Sam Fisher’s character to take on more human characteristics.
We also changed up our ways of reaching a new audience. From the beginning, we chose to innovate in every form of our marketing communication, whether this was in tried and true ways of reaching our gamer fan base or adopting new non-traditional methods for reaching out to our audience. Throughout the campaign, we used a multi-phased integrated campaign across events, PR, Web, direct e-mail response, text messaging and mobile voice messaging to reach out to our community to draw them further into the world of Splinter Cell.
Have you utilized game demos, either online or on discs?
We released two game demos. The first one highlights the new single-player experience showing Sam Fisher in an open daylight environment in the midst of a full-scale African civil war. The second demo released highlights the accessibility and great fun of our new Spy vs. Mercenary multi-player mode. These demos are available for the Xbox 360 on Xbox Live Marketplace or on PC via online distribution.
We believe game demos are extremely important to share the actual game play so the fans can experience first hand the innovations we’ve introduced into this installment of Splinter Cell.
Did you utilize a pre-order program for Double Agent?
Although we did not offer a pre-order incentive program with major retailers, Splinter Cell Double Agent was still able to achieve high pre-order numbers thanks to early retail efforts, online efforts and strong buzz from the enthusiast press. We also focused on encouraging customers to get their hands on the Xbox 360 limited collector’s edition as it’s destined to sell out.
How did you split up your ad dollars between print, online, retail and/or other means?
Our goal was to broaden the audience for Double Agent, so we split our ad dollars to reach a much wider audience. A large portion of the budget went to TV advertising with a multi-million dollar campaign spanning network, cable and satellite. The television campaign will run multiple spots during the first three weeks after the game release. There will be 90 second trailers running several times along with different 30 second spots and a strong 15 second spots. In addition, there will be some fun sponsorships and integrated media promotions that will appear on television as well.
We also allocated resources for print and retail efforts. We used online advertising strategically to complement our print and TV advertising. We also carved out a portion of our ad dollars toward some non-traditional methods of reaching customers like viral efforts, mobile marketing and community-based programs.
What is the target number of hits for online ads? What kind of ads are you utilizing online?
We are taking a heavy awareness approach with our online ads to target gamers. We’re using rich media in a groundbreaking ways on the large gaming sites. We have secured mega-roadblock placements which we are taking over with expandable streaming video. The overall impression leaves Web visitors with a strong immersive impression of the game while driving home awareness of the title during our launch window. We worked closely with IGN to create these new never-been-done-before custom units for Splinter Cell and we’re also expanding that idea to other gaming and non-gaming sites.
What are some significant milestones you recorded as the game's launch approached?
Some of the significant milestones that we have surpassed as the game’s launch neared is the online buzz metrics which have consistently placed Splinter Cell Double Agent in the top three Xbox 360 games for the fourth quarter. We have also secured more than five magazine covers in North America alone since the game’s campaign began.
Pre-orders for the game are also incredibly strong surpassing that of Splinter Cell Chaos Theory.
Which online and print publications did you target, both gaming and non-gaming? Which specificpublications were your primary focus?
For gaming print publications, we targeted Electronic Gaming Monthly, Game Informer, Official Playstation Magazine, Official Xbox Magazine, PSM, GamePro, Computer Gaming World and PC Gamer. Beyond the gaming magazines we focused on a strong presence in men’s lifestyle publications. On the non-gaming side, we targeted consumer publications such as ESPN, Maxim, FHM, Blender, Playboy, Giant, Complex and Marvel Comics for Adults. This wide-reaching print campaign complemented our already strong PR efforts in all these same. For online, we followed a similar strategy but concentrated even more on the gaming side including sites like IGN, Gamespot, UGO, and networks of other gaming Web sites. On the non-gaming side we targeted Web sites like WWE and FHM.
What have you done as far as press tours for the Double Agent?
We conducted several press tours and events in New York, Shanghai, Montreal and San Francisco. The press tour in Shanghai was to show not only where the next-gen single player game was created but to also compare the authenticity of the in game Shanghai level. We conducted a tour in Montreal to get a glimpse of the current gen single player game and finally we conducted a few press events in San Francisco individually highlighting the multiplayer and single player games. Our worldwide teams conducted press events simultaneously around the world.
Has Ubisoft done many developer interviews or allowed many hands-on previews?
We’ve kept our developers busy with multiple interviews for both print and online sources. In addition to the standard Q&As, our developers have also engaged in blogs, podcasts, forum involvement and video walkthroughs. But the real key was allowing hands-on access to our game early and often. Again, we are real believers in the quality of our product and we wanted to share that with others as much as possible. While there were plenty of next gen games shown at E3, Splinter Cell Double Agent was one of the very few games at the show that allowed a hands on experience for attendees and we’ve continued that access ever since.
Has Double Agent been featured on any magazine covers? Which magazines?
Splinter Cell Double Agent has been featured on more than five covers in North America, one in Mexico and more than 30 throughout Europe. The North America and Mexico covers include: Game Informer, PlayStation Magazine, Computer Gaming World, GamePro, Official Xbox Magazine and Gamers, the number one video game magazine in Mexico.
What review scores are you expecting for Double Agent?
From its inception, the Splinter Cell franchise has always enjoyed a rich legacy as one of the highest and consistently rated brands of all time including the highest ever Xbox review score from OXM (9.9) for Splinter Cell Chaos Theory. We fully expect to continue this legacy with Splinter Cell Double Agent.
How has response been to your ads?
The response to our ads has been great. Since they debuted people have been talking about them and the innovative use of CGI. We’ve heard a lot of discussion about “is it real?”, “is it a game?” We wanted to blur the lines between game and reality in order to really engage viewers in a way that’s never-been-done.
The creative theme for our campaign is “game-meets-reality”. For instance, in our TV campaign we’ve combined the use of a fully 3D rendered version of Sam Fisher interacting in a live-action real world environment; we’ve taken this same approach to our print ads which feature a digital Sam Fisher character super-imposed into a real live-action world.
What is/are the major selling point(s) of the game that you are pushing?
The major selling point of the game is the emotional journey. In playing as a double agent for the first time, we are introducing an entirely new concept. The player makes difficult choices throughout the game which will have an effect on the outcome of the game leading to branching storylines and multiple endings.
Have you utilized Live tournaments or community contests?
We have a major tournament that we’re running with Best Buy in which the first place winner will win a 2007 Chrysler 300C. This tournament is being promoted at Best Buy stores and nationwide with a full page circular ad. We also have a community rewards program through our Splinter Cell Fan Club where we reward member participation with prizes.
Have you utilized direct e-mail blasts?
Ubisoft maintains a strong CRM program which enables us to pinpoint target email blasts and communicate to our customers in a way that matters to them. We began using email blasts before we even announced the game and were able to increase the number of registered Splinter Cell community members by double digits. More recently we’re using several different targeted emails with customized messaging to specific console owners and online players emphasizing both pre-orders and launch availability.
Does the game have an official website?
Yes. Before we announced Double Agent, we’ve had a Web site dedicated to the game (www.bewaresamfisher.com). A few months later, we launched the official Website around E3 (www.splintercell.com). More recently we’ve launched a tongue-in-cheek viral-type site www.myfifthfreedom.com.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Splinter Cell was one of the first games to incorporate product placement and in game advertising. In addition to the strong marketing push that Ubisoft is coordinating, we have some blue-chip promotional partners that are helping to co-market the game with us. For example we have partnered with Chrysler for two promotional contests with car giveaways. One is the Best Buy Tournament where the 1st place winner wins a new car. The other is an instant win contest where we’ve packed in decoder cards into our game packaging so in fact every customer has a potential to win prizes and one lucky winner will drive away in a brand new Chrysler 300 series car. This promotion is also being advertised online with a significant campaign running throughout Yahoo Games.