Unity and Brand Awareness

When we talk about games we occasionally tend to talk about the graphics, the audio, gameplay, but we rarely think about what’s behind all of that: the engine. We hear about Frostbite, EA’s proprietary engine that’s been largely advertised and is responsible for most of their projects, Unreal, behind a lot of some of the biggest AAA releases, and the CryEngine, known for being the driving force behind Crysis.

 

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Battlefield 1 is an example of the power of Frostbite

 

But last week, a controversy surrounding Unity brought to the discussion the image of these engines. A consumer on steam claimed that he wouldn’t buy a game specifically because it was built using Unity. And many wondered why would anybody give up playing a title simply because of the engine used. The answer is brand awareness.

Every decision a company makes, from the color of the product, specs, sounds it does, to the strategy used to advertise it, all of that aims at brand awareness. That basically consists of the image that a company or a product has on the market. The sound the Xbox does when it boots wasn’t chosen by accident, after all, they use at E3, in trailers, all to create a connection with consumers, an identity, a sound that becomes synonymous with the brand, that it doesn’t matter where you are, you recognize it.

Apple is a master at that, from the aspect of the stores, with a clean look mainly composed of glass and a minimalistic approach to its layout, to the box, that according to Steve Jobs should be an experience when opened. The design of their products, focusing on round shapes, the OS that has a friendlier user experience, the integration of the systems, to create the idea of an ecosystem that works perfectly in conjunction. All of that to change or create the perception of the consumer.

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A clean and sophisticated design, a characteristic that Apple cherishes

And when it comes to brand awareness, Unity has a very negative reputation. In part because of poor decisions from management, but mainly because of the games that use the engine. The simplest of the most famous, Unity has made their name as the easiest to use, allowing a user without much game development experience to create a game with less technical hurdles than Unreal and CryEngine.

However, an irresponsible use of assets by developers and an association with low-quality early access games have tarnished the image of not only the engine, as well as the company.

The abusive use of assets from their store has also been responsible for their image problem, with many cases in which we can see the same models and problems in various different games that use Unity.

Developers have used them indiscriminately, with a lot of them using the free license, that requires users to attach their logo to the game, so whenever you start a horrible, poorly designed game and you see their main source of recognition in the splash screen, you relate it to a bad experience.

Many of these titles proliferated through Steam Early Access, and even though we can find many using CryEngine and Unreal, Unity has been the most linked to them.

Another factor is that whereas the other engines appear to be used mainly on AAA games, we rarely see that happening with Unity. The most high-profile project using it is Hearthstone, that is not the kind of game that feels like AAA. Just look at some famous games powered by these engines.

Hearthstone
Unity
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CryEngine
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Unreal

 

From what we’ve seen, this situation apparently won’t change that quickly, as the company doesn’t appear to be all that bothered about it. And that could quickly result in a bad ending for them, particularly after the backlash it has suffered recently.

If they are responsible, working on a rebranding focused on attaching their product with quality games, looking to sway the notion gamers have of them, everything can change quickly. If no action is taken, they can either accept that they will never be among the best engines or even worse, become another company that died due to irresponsible management, that didn’t take the market’s viewpoint seriously.

Branding and Games: When Marketing Deceives

Whether we like it or not, marketing is the driving force behind not only games, but also movies, music, entertainment in general. Even though producers, designers, talk about the craft and art into making a game, a lot of decisions, like the main character, come from marketing. Life is Strange had a hard time finding a publisher because the game had a female protagonist, for example.

Its main motivation is to bring awareness to a product, service, or a person, after all, it doesn’t matter if you created the most revolutionary game ever, if nobody knows about it. And unfortunately, sometimes campaigns are built around lies, and information that are way out of proportion or greatly enhanced, with a famous example being the infamous Watch Dogs Reveal.

Being announced as the first next-gen title, it had jaw-dropping graphics, unlike anything we’ve seen before on console. A vivid and heavily populated world, infinite gameplay possibilities, touted as a revolution in open-world games. And it really looked like a dream, you playing an action game in one of the biggest cities in the world, serving as a playground so you could hack everything.

And as we all know now, the final result was far from what it was demoed, unimpressive graphics, a Chicago that felt lifeless, and very limited hacking. Now we see the damage it has caused the brand, affecting its sequel, Watch Dogs 2, sales. With low pre-order numbers, its first week of sales being 80% smaller in the UK, and a general perception that it doesn’t matter how great it is, with rave reviews, consumers still feel betrayed and are waiting before any purchase decision. Something that can harm the future of the franchise, all because of a poorly planned strategy, that may have its brand damaged permanently.

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No Man’s Sky was this year example of how an unexperienced studio can destroy its reputation with overblown remarks. Revealed at the VGX Awards in 2013, it became known as the future of games, with beautiful, unexplored worlds that would be procedurally generated. No planet would be like the other, with species to discover, minerals to retrieve, trade, traveling through uncharted galaxies in your ship, it would be ground-breaking, or so we thought.

And what happened? A Molyneux level of exaggerations. Worlds that had nothing to do with what was displayed in various events, that after visiting a few you felt like you’ve seen everything. Repeated textures, that would only change color from planet to planet, empty spaces without the lush vegetation and fauna that was promised. An uninspired game, that felt bland, with a boring soundtrack and trips that would take hours in real life, filled with bugs that affected the experience.

The damage was huge to the game, its brand, and the studio as well. With a huge backlash, gamers around the world feeling deceived, terrible reviews, and a level of hate towards a title like we rarely see. Hello Games has been radio-silent about its problems, with a “hack” (we’re not sure yet) showing a message of Sean Murray claiming it was a mistake. And the consequence of it all is that this franchise is as good as dead, and a studio and a creator that may never have a chance to release another title.

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Mass Effect 3 was one of the most expected titles of 2012, the finale of this amazing trilogy, the last moments of your journey with Shepard. All your choices would directly influence the ending of great story, that captivated gamers around the world. And despite being a great title, that had everything to be an unforgettable experience, ended up infuriating players.

Endings that didn’t feel different, with a simple change of color depending on your last choice, with them being very similar, no matter how you played the first 2 games. An uproar of disappointed fans erupted around the internet, reaching such massive proportions, that Bioware later released a free DLC expanding the endings. But the damage was done, and a series that had to be amongst the greats, until this day has a stain, that has created a careful approach to what gamers are expecting of Mass Effect Andromeda.

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Last but not least, Dead Island, a game who had such an emotional and impactful trailer, that everybody felt that it would change the face of zombie-themed experiences. For a moment, it felt that it would bring games to a whole new level. A narrative that would treat the zombie apocalypse with a much more complex, sophisticated style, showing how it altered society, how it destroyed families.

As it turns out, Dead Island really was just another shallow game, without any of the impact expected, lackluster characters, a thin story, and a brand that never reached the level of respect and success expected. All due to a deceiving trailer that didn’t reflect the final product in any way whatsoever.

Marketing is a wonderful tool, it can introduce us to things we would never know otherwise, bands, movies, games, books, but we have to be very careful about it, so we won’t fall into the trap of a well-designed lie. And companies too, given that consumers are becoming more conscious every day, with pre-order sales decreasing every year, franchises having a hard time continuing after they felt misled. Showing signs that they won’t accept everything that’s thrown at them, no matter how beautiful or incredible it looks.

Branding and games: The Unique Rockstar Case

Quality is a word that’s thrown around in any chance a marketing team has to talk about their “revolutionary new project”, but as we all know, it often doesn’t reflect the final product. In the past months, we saw a special example of how much this word really is important to the market, with the internet going insane over 2 images that Rockstar uploaded to their social networks.

The first, their logo in a color scheme that reminds those of Red Dead Redemption, the second, the one at the top, in which 7 cowboys are walking with a beautiful sunset behind them, and a question remains, why does that happen with Rockstar? How can get they create so much expectation with so little?

They don’t announce anything at E3, gaming’s biggest stage, when other companies fight for attention, instead they manage to do their own thing, revealing their games whenever they want, in the way they desire. Without releasing several trailers, the first few minutes, and offering as little information as possible, they create a level of excitement, hype, and a positive reaction that is practically unrivaled in the business, showing an incredible brand awareness.

And the main reason behind it is the focus that they put on quality, with a strategy of releasing games only when they’re ready, instead of making their franchises annual, they only start advertising them a few months prior to release. Each title usually has some innovation, like GTA V, and its multiple leading characters, they use unusual settings, like schools or the Wild West.

Red Dead Redemption was a perfect example, having its debut trailer in December 2009, being released in May 2010, after several years of development. Receiving rave reviews, being regarded by many as the best game of the generation, and one of the best ever, being recognized for its story, stunning world and memorable characters in a genre that flirted with irrelevance, not only in the games industry but in movies as well.

John Marston, Trevor Phillips, became some of the most prominent figures in the games industry, as a display of the power of the studio and how it has mastered storytelling. The way they handle open-world games is impressive, creating lively environments, being their most famous trait, telling stories that bring different perspectives, maintaining a high level of quality throughout their library.

By creating franchises like Red Dead, GTA, just to name a few, they achieved a level of liberty that few have in the entertainment history as a whole, spending hundreds of millions on their projects whilst breaking records with every GTA sequel. All with a marketing strategy that no other studio would be able to pull off, due to the image they’ve accrued after releasing game of the year contenders, selling tens of millions of copies, achieving both critical and commercial success.

The fuss that has been going on about Red Dead Redemption 2 is a statement to how unique they are as a company in the games industry. People are losing their minds over a sequel of RDR, that was a sequel itself, without nobody caring about the continuity of the franchise, or possessing any concrete information regarding it.

Consumers are creating a huge level of hype on the promise of the product, that because of the studio behind it, they are sure that it will be an amazing experience. Rockstar through careful quality control, a focus on innovation, and an ability to create compelling characters and remarkable stories, reached a position that most companies only dream of, being able to advertise their product only relying on the power of their brand.