How did Blizzard sell 7M units in 9 days?

A summary of the marketing tactics employed in the launch of Overwatch

Overwatch is a multiplayer first-person shooter (FPS) game launched by Activism-Blizzard. It‘s closed beta launched in October 2015, followed by an open beta which involved 9.7M players and successfully built up the hype for a full launch in May 2016. In just 9 days since launch, it has sold 7M copies across PS4, Xbox One and PC (yes, no Mac), making it one of the most successful IP launches, ever.

Overwatch Game Trailer

As a lately-converted player and a marketer myself, I’m curious how Blizzard built such a successful launch campaign, and what we can all learn from it.

Listen to your audience for product improvement

Blizzard has an awesome track record in making popular games, but it has also proven itself as a leader in surfacing the voice and feedback of it’s community and acting on what they learn. In the gaming industry, there has been a lot of conversation about gender equality and diversity, including in the context of some of Blizzard’s design choices, made in Overwatch. Responding to criticism from the beta, Blizzard created a new character to set things right.

New character Zarya — Russian Soldier

Here is the official response:

We’ve been hearing a lot of discussion among players about the need for diversity in video games. That means a lot of things. They want to see gender diversity, they want to see racial diversity, they want to see diversity along the lines of what country people are from. There is also talk about diversity in different body types in that not everybody wants to have the exact same body type always represented. And we just want you to know that we’re listening and we’re trying hard and we hope Zarya is a step in the right direction.

Partnerships (and lots of them)

Blizzard has taken strategic partnerships to the next level. For example, gaming merchandise is usually a focus once a game has been launched, succeeded and there is a clear ROI-positive business case, based on reliable sales forecasts.

For the launch of Overwatch, Blizzard had the release of merchandise coincide with the game’s public launch, under the assumption that the game was going to be a massive hit. This included the standard figurines and apparel, but also partnering with Razer to develop an Overwatch-themed themed headset, mouse and keyboard. This move not only makes more money for Blizzard, but also amplifies the hype of and visibility of the launch.

Another big move? Influencer marketing; but not just any standard eSports partnerships. Check out the videos below from Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien, I can’t imagine what small fortune Blizzard spent for this coverage. But it’s a bold move and one that has successfully brought Overwatch into the mainstream, non-gaming conversation.

Jimmy Kimmel with giant figure and cosplay
Conan with Peter Dinklage & Lena Headey aka Tyrion & Cersei Lannister

There are also some organic endorsement from celebrities like Elon Musk and Steve Aoki.

Blizzard as a Twitch client, has somehow managed to get Twitch to host a creative contest, which encourages streamers to use their creative power to create drawings, cosplay items and many others to win a prize. This is something outside the traditional launch playbook but obviously helps to build even more awareness and hype within an already engaged community.

Content-wise, Blizzard has created an amazing series of animated shorts. They tell great stories of each individual characters, and I’m sure there are more to come in the coming weeks. (And potentially even a movie, like Warcraft). One last thing to mention is Blizzard’s partnership with Facebook, an integration that will allow players to use FB to login and stream their Overwatch plays live on FB Live. This has the potential to give Overwatch unprecedented exposure to billions of FB users.

No doubt Blizzard has a huge budget to spend on traditional advertising and performance marketing on big and small (gaming) publications. It has been very interesting to see all the innovative campaigns they’ve put into this launch. It has obviously been successful in making the huge splash they had hoped for.

In addition to these marketing tactics, there’re still many more opportunities to drive sustained growth. There are still tonnes of in-game features we can talk about which can drive further growth. For example, progression and reward — a progress bar to track user progress through a range of the game’s features to help onboard and ensure players access the full functionality of the product, and perhaps reward them with a preview of advanced features to compel them to upgrade.

eSports is one of the key drivers in the growth of gaming industry, and many players are now excited to see when, and how, Blizzard will organise its tournament for a prize money.

Feel free to let me know what you think about the game launch!

Hit me up in the game and let’s fight the watch! 
- rudemaster #11806

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