2016 was a tough year.
Not least for us at Splash Damage. Our long standing hardcore free-to-play team-shooter Dirty Bomb spent a good part of the year struggling. With a year's focus almost entirely on feature development our bug count was racking up at an alarming rate, and players were noticing. Further restricted in our ability to size-up development, the team was a mere fraction of the size of competitors, the one thing keeping our heads above water was the sheer quality of Dirty Bomb's core gameplay. But new content? Not so much. With new levels, characters and features being released at a turtle's pace, the community was restless (and sweary - very sweary) we had to double down and focus exclusively on fixing bugs.
With a tiny in-house brand team and a non-existent marketing budget, we needed a way to promote our modest game updates in a most immodest fashion. We wanted to cause as big a splash as possible while lifting the spirits of those frustrated at the lack of content.
The answer was swearing us in the face.
The 'Jackal Commander' - the in-game announcer who directs, assists, and sometimes lambasts our players as they run missions, was an in-house resource. We began to use his voice to sell our updates in internally-produced videos.
Some players were upset at his tendency to swear at them in difficult moments of the game. Rather than back off, we embraced this in update videos, fleshing him out as a crotchety cockney geezer who was furious at a lack of player progress (a sly nod to our development cycle), and bemused by certain aspects of gamer culture.
For our three biggest updates in 2016, we produced videos for YouTube and Facebook.
In each, the Commander seemingly spent more time poking fun at the game and players than selling the game.
- "Use explosives instead of standing around like a muppet waiting for the C4 to blow"
- "We finally got rid of those fake-arse onscreen filters. You are not a cyclops with 3D f%&king glasses"
- "Brand new weapon audio, gameplay fixes, and loads more s%&t I'm probably forgetting"
Finally, to cap off the year, we released a fan-pleasing 'Commander Community Voice Lines' video, that incorporated voice lines submitted by the players themselves.
The Jackal Commander's player-baiting style was an immediate success, resonating with an audience that needed some light relief and a change from the squeaky-clean promotion of other shooter titles.
Our MOFO update in November netted 38,000+ views across social channels without paid promotion, and 2100+ Likes (up 300% from our biggest update video in 2016).
All videos consistently out-performed 2016's in player sentiment - Likes and comments more than doubled - despite total views shrinking due to a lack of content.
Most importantly, players were laughing, despite the pains of a slow development speed.
The comments they left spoke for themselves. Here's a very small sample -
- "Might be the best update video i have ever watched."
- "Kek, might be the best trailer for an update I've ever seen. Or at least the best written one."
- "THIS TRAILER IS SO EPIC"
- "This is the best update video of this generation"
- "Honestly one of the funniest things I've seen all year :P Great jobs guys"
- "that... was... beautiful"
- "BEST TRAILER IVE SEEN"
- "This is golden. I swear to god, someone in PR should get a bloody promotion."
There's more light at the end of the tunnel - We've now bought back exclusive rights to publish the game, which puts us in a position to finally scale up the team and deliver more content to our players.
We get a feeling that our foul-mouthed Commander is going to be shouting at a whole lot more players by the next Shorty awards...