I’d like to discuss how not to promote a new video game by taking a look at what Overkill Software, a subsidiary of Starbreeze Studios, did with their newly announced game, OVERKILL’s The Walking Dead. Let’s begin with a bit of context for the uninitiated. Overkill Software is known for its Payday franchise which consists of Payday: The Heist, released in 2011, and Payday 2, released in 2013. The Payday series consists of four player co-op missions conducted in first person wherein players attempt to commit various heists by sneaking or shooting their way through security, lockboxes, and vaults. I came to enjoy Payday 2 quite a bit as of the most recent Steam sale.
Fast forward to July 9, 2014. Almir Listo, a producer at Starbreeze Studios, creates an event for Payday 2 on Steam titled simply “Tomorrow.” Cryptic. What could it mean? The various Payday 2 communities could only speculate. When tomorrow finally came, Almir posts a new event titled “Now” which linked to http://overkillsoftware.com/whatsnext/. The plot thickens! The What’s Next site, as it was called among the community, had a timer which counted down to August 13, 2014. So, “Now” apparently meant “wait another 35 days.” I question the purpose of the “Tomorrow” event, as it seems altogether unnecessarily, but that would be only the first of many questionable marketing decisions exhibited by the Overkill team. Each new day on the What’s Next site brought a new audio clip that played in the background which portrayed conversations among unknown people. There was also something special about August 13. It represented the one year anniversary from the release of Payday 2. I know for certain that the Reddit community, http://www.reddit.com/r/paydaytheheist/, had daily threads analyzing the daily audio for clues to figure out what the big announcement was going to be. New DLC? Another entry to the Payday series? It could have been anything. And anything it was, because as it turned out, the countdown signified the announcement of a new game titled OVERKILL’s The Walking Dead, which as you may have guessed, has nothing to do with the Payday series. This new game will apparently be a first person co-op shooter that takes place in The Walking Dead universe. Okay, so what’s wrong with this picture? Well, as a fan of the Payday series, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed and, to some extent, mislead about this whole ordeal. It’s not that I have an issue with the countdown hype, or that I’m not looking forward to the newly announced game. I’m simply upset with Starbreeze and Overkill because they chose to promote OVERKILL’s The Walking Dead in a way that caused reasonable people to expect an announcement related to the Payday franchise. In short, I feel that Almir’s decision to initiate the hype through the Payday 2 group on Steam, coupled with the countdown ending on Payday 2’s anniversary, were two big mistakes when the announcement was only tangentially related to Payday 2. I say that because there is technically a little bit of crossover between the announcement and Payday 2. Evidently owners of Payday 2 will have some sort of ability to delve into a series crossover with this new Walking Dead game. More immediately however, players of Payday 2 have been given a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire as a new weapon. Who can complain about a free melee weapon for Payday 2?!
And that brings me to the heated argument now taking place between fans of the franchise. On the one hand, many like myself feel that they were mislead and that poor marketing decisions were made. Others argue nothing was done wrong, the community had no reason to expect the announcement was Payday related and no one was entitled to anything in the first place. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but at the end of the day I still feel like that poor decisions were made. It was not unreasonable for fans to think that the August 13, 2014 announcement was related to the Payday series. I think it’s probable that the decision to hype the game through Payday 2’s community was done purposefully to take advantage of the existing fanbase. I can only speak for myself, but the manner in which this announcement came hurt my opinion of the studio and the new game, of which I barely know anything about. I’m not suggesting I’ll boycott it in protest, but what would have otherwise been a well-done ad campaign has been tainted with something that should never have been an issue in the first place. This entire thing could have been avoided if Almir had said anything to indicate the announcement wasn’t Payday related. What’s next for OVERKILL Software? Bam! Now I know “What’s Next” doesn’t necessarily mean what’s next for Payday. I’m left with the impression that the deception was intentional to generate as much hype as possible, and whether that’s true or not, it’s an impression that could’ve easily been avoided.