Overwatch, developed and published by Blizzard, was released May 2016. It became one of the biggest hype trains of all time and in very little time as well! It has been a huge success since release and has reached over 10 million copies sold. But this success doesn’t just come down to them releasing a well polished and streamlined game. So how did Blizzard do it?
The One Event To Rule Them All
The train left the hype platform at BlizzCon way back in November 2014. With it, we saw the first release of the initial six minute teaser trailer. It was followed by a tumultuous applause. The trailer brought out the inner kid of everyone watching. Instantly, we wanted to see and play more alongside these amazing heroes. I distinctly remember getting goose bumps and smiling from ear to ear while watching that initial trailer for the first time. This first Overwatch trailer was so well received that it went instantly viral on YouTube. Then, it spread across the various social media sites like wildfire. Blizzard followed this teaser trailer later the same day with a full six minute cinematic trailer.
Blizzard could have played it safe like many other developers. They could have first released the teaser trailer and let social media do the work. Instead what they did was let every person in attendance at BlizzCon play the Overwatch alpha soon after the conference had finished. This wasn’t just a small demo of the game with one or two playable characters. They showed fourteen heroes in their gameplay trailers and they were all playable. They showed three maps and they were all playable too. 6v6 unbridled PvP action for everyone at BlizzCon. The play-test was the fuel for the hype train that followed.
Meet The Overwatch Family
A month later Blizzard released character bios of the heroes shown at BlizzCon on their PlayOverwatch YouTube channel. These broke down the heroes one by one showing off each of their skill sets and play styles. In May of 2015, the YouTube channel started releasing bi-weekly videos. These were designed to show in-depth gameplay of the characters announced, and match footage. They were followed up by character announcements and new map reveals. These videos kept casual players interested. They also gave more high level players an in-depth view of the strategies and matchups that could happen. Especially since Blizzard had already stated that they intended Overwatch to become an E-sport.
In the following October, a media and press beta for a hundred or so players was released for the PC. This quickly became the talk of the gaming world. This small beta sparked such a huge response from media and fans alike. Which stood as massive testament to the PR team at Blizzard thus far in their marketing campaign. The limited beta was given to mainly large press outlets and big online gaming personalities from Twitch and YouTube.
This was a wonderful display of how to give your game free advertising, as thousands of people were watching the streams daily pushing Overwatch to the top three on Twitch. The limited beta was upgraded to an official closed beta in the coming months for a few thousand people. Which promptly sparked online forums and social media outlets getting flooded with discussions about Overwatch and how to increase your odds of getting the golden ticket of a beta invite.
Two Birds One Stone
As well as Blizzard giving out a select few of these beta invites, they further increased demand for more by producing official developer updates on the PlayOverwatch Youtube channel. These updates addressed the concerns raised by the developers and beta testers alike. The updates showed they weren’t afraid scrap bad ideas and change fundamental parts of the game and its mechanics. This made beta players feel like their voices were heard and proved to potential players that they would matter too. It only increased their desire to play.
A few months later in Spring 2016, Battle.net (the PC platform supporting all Blizzard games) started releasing animated shorts showing some of the lore behind a few of the heroes. Each of the four released shorts had studio CG similar to that of the original teaser. The shorts showed off Blizzard’s desire to not only produce a great game, but to create a rich and diverse world in which the heroes live. They were quickly followed by digital comics which showed off the rest of the heroes that would be available on release. Each of the heroes had been given a deep personality with motivations on why they were part of Overwatch or against it.
Let The Overwatch Countdown Conclude
In the final weeks before Overwatch’s long awaited release, Blizzard teamed up with Taco Bell to give out free copies of the game. And it didn’t feel like a cheap way to promote Overwatch as Blizzard had already been so transparent with the game right from the start. Soon after, giant action figures showed up on display in Hollywood, Paris and Busan. By this point, Overwatch was in the minds of gamers around the globe. When the multi-platform open beta was finally released over 9.7 million people played it across all platforms, making it the most successful open beta of all time. The popularity of the beta came as no surprise after the masterful display of marketing the Blizzard PR team had put on for the preceeding year and a half.