Last month, Square Enix ran an extended promotional campaign on streaming platform Twitch to get the word out about Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. And the best way to do that, as Andre Vu, global executive brand director for Deus Ex at Eidos Montreal, told GamesIndustry, was with a three-day livestream that didn't actually mention the game at all; it wasn't until the conclusion of the "Project CKP" livestream that viewers would be linked to the YouTube trailer announcing Mankind Divided's existence.
"The experience was told through what was, at first, seemingly an innocent prisoner being interrogated," Vu explained. "In the end, it was revealed that he was, in fact, a mechanically augmented terrorist, and those who were interrogating him were actually cops, who left no stone unturned in their attempts to get to the truth. The world of Deus Ex is not black and white, and this is the type of messaging we tried to push to the forefront throughout the Twitch campaign."
Promoting a game by not telling people what it is might sound counterintuitive, but Vu said that was key to the campaign's primary objective of reaching gamers beyond the existing Deus Ex fanbase. That was actually why the campaign was conducted under the Square Enix banner rather than Eidos Montreal, the studio known for Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
"I do believe that, in general, the exposure of a game announcement shouldn't be limited to its core audience," Vu said. "Deus Ex: Mankind Divided's themes (transhumanism, technological progress, world conspiracies etc.) are universal, and I do believe that it can touch a wider audience, even moving beyond gamers themselves. Ultimately, we feel we made the right decision, as the Project CKP campaign was picked up by both mainstream and enthusiast press as they speculated on what game was about to be announced. As a result, the game has now become more widely known amongst both gamers and non-gamers alike, something that we are very proud and excited about."
Vu said the campaign exceeded the team's rosiest expectations, with more than 1.7 million views from more than 1 million unique users, and more Twitch followers in 48 hours than unspecified "AAA competitors" had managed in the lifetime of their channels.
"We were also pleasantly surprised to see other major brands, such as Old Spice, deciding to run a similar campaign only one week after us," Vu said. "This proved that we were right to follow this innovative approach, and that sometimes taking risks can definitely pay off!"
Even if audiences didn't know exactly what game they were seeing promoted, Vu said it was still critical that the marketing campaign echo the franchise's thematic pillars. The entire marketing and brand strategy is intended to echo everything about the franchise, including the in-game content and themes.
"We wanted the audience to experience the current state of the world in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, which is referred to as the Mechanical Apartheid," Vu said. "What was also important to us was that one of the core parts of the Deus Ex experience, choice and consequence, was reflected throughout the Twitch stream. This was done through the use of interactive votes, where players could decide which path would be taken by the characters within the Twitch stream, and view the direct consequence of their choice. "
Eidos Montreal went with Twitch for the plan for more than just the streaming service's trendiness (although the awareness and growth of the platform were definitely factors). The audience interactivity capable through Twitch made it a good fit for the nature of the campaign, and having an audience specific to gamers also ensured a higher engagement rate than might have been achieved elsewhere.
Unfortunately, things don't always go to plan. A Russian website leaked the first details about the game partway through the Twitch stream, including the name, platforms, plot details, and some screenshots.
"I can't enter into the details regarding the leak, but even after it happened, we decided to continue pushing forward with our Twitch campaign," Vu said. "Like I said previously, we were not only aiming to create a marketing stunt... Obviously, this leak was unfortunate, but our fans, who spoke out against the leak and pushed for it to be removed due to it containing spoilers, were happy that we stuck to our initial vision. Overall, we definitely feel that the project concluded on a very positive note. "
Though Vu acknowledged a debt to partners like Twitch, Goldtooth Creative Agency, digital marketing firm Work @ Play, and other Square Enix teams who helped bring Project CKP to life, he was particularly proud that the campaign was conceived in-house.
"In the past, I've often seen that creativity was dependent entirely upon a third party, and I really wanted to give my team, who understand the core DNA of the Deus Ex franchise better than anyone, the freedom to express themselves and be the leading force behind the creative process," Vu said.
He went on to thank the Project CKP team by name for their efforts: Brand manager Rodney Lelu, marketing coordinator Jean-Philippe Chicoine, marketing coordinator Paul Gordon, community manager Sacha Ramtohul, and web content manager John Tsoupanarias.