Killer Instinct

The bestselling new IP of all time returns next month – with Assassin’s Creed II pitched to wow consumers and retailers once again. MCV spoke to publisher Ubisoft to find out what makes the sequel so special…

If someone told you that one of this generation’s best selling games would turn out to be a political thriller set in the ancient Middle East that touched on sensitive issues about religion and history, you’d have laughed.

But in 2007, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed introduced a mix of the familiar and unexpected, debuted to strong reviews, and an even more powerful consumer reaction.

The game combined developer Ubisoft Montreal’s talents in action-adventure (it’s also responsible for Splinter Cell and Prince of Persia) with an original story that took players both back in time and to the high-tech future, and an open-world combat that mixed the best of GTA with acrobatics and adventure.

That combination clearly has mass appeal: with over eight millions copies now sold since November ‘07, Assassin’s Creed II carried the biggest sales momentum of any original title. Ever. No pressure for the sequel, then.

Assassin’s Creed II arrives in the UK on November 20th. As you can imagine, the launch of a sequel to one of the biggest games ever isn’t being taken lightly. Ubisoft has planned a wide-reaching marketing campaign with all the expected bells and whistles.

But more on that campaign in a bit – the starting point for any launch is the game itself. And in the move to Assassin’s Creed II the publisher and its studio acknowledged that there was still room for improvement over the first game.

Despite earning an enviable Metacritic score of over 80 the first time around, Ubisoft has moved to up the ante for the second outing.

The development team has methodically reacted to all of the feedback from the original Assassin’s Creed and we’re confident that review scores will reflect this,” says James O’Reilly, group brand manager.

The production studio in Montreal says the game features more variety to its missions, and the new setting – players are now running around 15th Century Venice instead of 12th Century Jerusalem – promises to make the title even more gripping.

All of which should help Assassin’s Creed II as it makes the transition from new IP to established franchise. When the first game arrived, Ubisoft had the luxury of boasting the season’s most unique and original game; this year the marketing and promotional effort will focus on explaining how much it has developed in the two years since.

O’Reilly explains there are both challenges and advantages to bringing this kind of sequel to market:

The challenge is in showing that Assassin’s Creed II is a true sequel and a genuine development on the first iteration. Our marketing campaign is focused on highlighting these developments and ensuring that both retail and consumer confidence is high in what Assassin’s Creed II will deliver as a gameplay experience.

The main advantage is that people know and have confidence in the Assassin’s brand.”

Building anticipation for the sequel, however, has seen Ubisoft go above and beyond a usual game launch. Promotion of the game started early – back in May, in fact, before a big showing at E3 where it hogged the limelight during Sony’s press conference.

Our objective was to create real buzz for Assassin’s Creed II,” says Jan Sanghera, the game’s brand manager.

We used PR and digital to kick start awareness and supported this with tactical advertising spots on TV and online around key events and content releases. Pre-order initiatives were also set up earlier to help build demand.”

And as the release nears the marketing machine will go into overdrive, she adds.

Premium position advertising in specialist and mainstream magazines has been running from the start of this month and will continue until launch. That will be joined by online activity amongst specialist sites from the end of October up to launch, with mainstream websites hit during launch week.

A big TV push is planned too, including a teaser campaign running in conjunction with Five’s The Gadget Show, and on Virgin and Sky throughout this month – followed by an extensive TV launch campaign on terrestrial and digital/satellite, running from early November right through to December.

Ubisoft is also renewing its deal for sponsorship of Lovefilm envelopes during launch week. The publisher pioneered the approach when the postal rental and online retailer decided to target the gaming audience back in November 2007.

Ubisoft’s plan is to ensure all marketing channels are covered when the game arrives.

Explains O’Reilly: All areas are equally as important as they form part of our 360-degree engagement strategy. We’ve spent a lot of time on both the TV strategy and the creative execution as it is the best way we can inform and engage a mainstream audience.”

The marketing message centres on lead character Ezio and all the unique things about the franchise, says O’Reilly: We’re pushing everything that makes Assassin’s Creed II unique – the engaging narrative driven storyline, the Renaissance period, the beautiful gameplay and stylish combat. Ezio embodies many of these qualities so naturally the focus is on him.”

Of course, you can’t really talk about one of November’s biggest games without acknowledging the other juggernaut title sat on shelves alongside it for the Christmas season.

Yet Ubisoft is more than confident that Assassin’s Creed II can compete with all-comers, Modern Warfare or not. In fact, the game’s mix of compelling story, varied gameplay and overall scope make it a perfect foil to any other title out there, claims Ubisoft.

Assassin’s Creed was the fastest selling new IP in video game history,” says Sanghera. We’ve established a brand that is strong and unique and the demand is there for a sequel. Assassin’s Creed II has all the qualities needed to be a stand out game regardless of the competitive landscape.”

Adds O’Reilly: Both [Modern Warfare and Assassin’s Creed II] are very different games and offer contrasting experiences. Assassin’s Creed II offers the opportunity to explore cities such as Venice and Florence during the Renaissance period. This environment and depth of experience is something quite unique for a video game.”

And remember, the first Assassin’s Creed arrived in one of the most jammed release quarters of all time. The period saw the release of games that were certain to secure core fanbases: Call of Duty 4, Halo 3, Uncharted, The Orange Box, Super Mario Galaxy, and the yearly stalwarts FIFA, PES, Need For Speed… and yet Assassin’s Creed took them all on and established a place for itself in the market.

Even with fewer top-tier games out there this year, Ubisoft says it has worked hard to ensure Assassin’s Creed II goes beyond its predecessor.

Says O’Reilly: There are certainly fewer triple-A games than last year. The market won’t be as saturated this year, but the competition is still fierce and if anything the quality of the titles being released seem to be higher than ever. That said we are confident that the quality of the game and the level of marketing support will cut through.”

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