If you don't know who Alan Wake is, you're probably not a Gamer. Alan Wake is a videogame for Xbox 360. The traditional blueprint for launching a video game tends to involve posters everywhere and a lot of TV. This might seem inefficient, but an EMEA TV campaign can reach 150 million people and a big gaming title will sell upwards of a million copies. Broadcast media works, but it is expensive.
To put gaming budgets in perspective, a blockbuster videogame can have a media spend of £2.5m in the UK; Alan Wake had to achieve blockbuster results with a similar budget covering the whole of Europe. Alan Wake was launched in May 2010, after a considerable delay, a full five years after its initial announcement. This delay afforded the title a degree of notoriety among Gamers - the hardcore young males who live and breathe gaming. The general public may not have heard of Alan Wake, but informed gamers were intrigued, and informed Gamers buy games.
The Alan Wake team chose to use this situation to their advantage. Their idea was to build on this intrigue and create genuine anticipation. Instead of taking a simple message to a wide audience, their idea was to deliver a rich experience to a small, core group and elevate the mythic status of Alan Wake.
Research showed that gamers were big fans of the high profile American TV , such as Heroes and 24. These shows often attract a cult status, and gamers are among their most vocal fans. Alan Wake planned to create the same sense of anticipation around it launch that these shows foster. As a game, Alan Wake is a 'Psychological Thriller' and borrows heavily in theme from cult shows like Lost and Twin Peaks. It is even structured by 'episode' instead of the more traditional 'level'.
Today's TV dramas use a series of techniques to ramp up the tension and leave the audience wanting more - Cliff-hanger. Fade to black. Tune in next week to find out what happens. Alan Wake's strategy was to mimic this trick. Knowing that gamers are happy to download content, an online TV series prequel to Alan Wake was developed. The show would tell the tale of the mysterious town of Bright Falls, the town in which the action of the game takes place. These episodes were released in the weeks preceding launch, with the final film ending at the starting point of the game. Buy the Alan Wake game to find out what happens next.
Gaming communities were sought out to spread content, effectively sending the content viral within the gaming community.
The program premiered on Xbox.com and Xbox Live and the initiative was seeded online with gaming blogs. A multi-market deal was established with Facebook hyper-targeting a Bright Falls trailer to self identified gamers - those who claimed Xbox key words in their Facebook registration. Gamers could like or share the news and their actions would appear on their profile and their friends streams, this was important as gamers typically stick together in online communities. Events automatically appeared in their calendars alerting release of new episodes. The episodes were hosted on machininma.com. Machinima is a Youtube channel and leading community for gaming videos. Machinima offered the perfect environment, and via the partnership, promoted Alan Wake content in unique ways including lights failing in Machinima's programs, and Machinima's Gamer presenters losing it in the real Bright Falls (both central themes of Alan Wake / Bright Falls). Machinima delivered gamers with online clout spreading the message to gamers at home.
The New York Times covered "Bright Falls" lending the show true global gravitas. Fans started a page on IMDB (user rating currently 9.6 / 10) and organised forum chats with the actors involved just like with real TV shows. Websites sprung up discussing the themes of Bright Falls and some fans even started an online petition to commission the show for full-scale TV.
Multi-market media deals achieved a 25% discount versus best local rates, and the Facebook strategy achieved 100m highly targeted impressions; Machinima attracted over 11m impacts against the core gamer audience. To date, the 5 minute episodes have been viewed 3.8 million times. During launch week on Xbox Alan Wake outsold the Official FIFA 2010 World Cup game and went straight to No. 1 in the best-seller charts.