Leading up to the launch of Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs: Legion, the creative team at Fire Without Smoke, a London-based studio owned by Keywords Studios, was tasked with a unique approach to the game’s marketing.
The entire creative approach was different to industry standard – focusing on an idea and feeling – gaming as a lifestyle, as opposed to your typical game trailers, focusing on gameplay and features. To find out more about the creative direction for the game’s marketing, and about the ‘Reclaim your Future’ trailer, we spoke with Sam Passmore, creative director of Fire Without Smoke.
What was the creative concept for Watch Dogs: Legion?
The TV ad for Watch Dogs: Legion had to be something different. We’d already made the majority of trailers for Watch Dogs: Legion by this stage of the campaign—and while they were successful (and we are very proud of them)—we knew this one had to stand apart. When discussing the brief, Ubisoft were very clear that they wanted this asset to feel less like a ‘trailer’ and more like a ‘commercial’. One of our key references was Nike’s “Nothing Beats a Londoner” ad from a few years ago. We all really loved the tone, the style and the feeling this commercial gave us and wanted to find a way to capture that in our WDL ad.
First though, we needed to break down what is meant by ‘commercial’ vs ‘trailer’. What is the feeling you get when watching a commercial for Nike or Adidas? What are they actually selling? Clearly, it’s not just sportswear. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a sense of identity. This was the starting point for us in terms of the core creative concept. We needed to invoke the idea that this isn’t just a video game, you’re not just ‘playing as’ a resistance fighter. You are being shown this mad, brilliant, dangerous way of life and you’re invited to join.
Why is it effective to frame video games as a lifestyle?
Video game advertising is always at its most daring when it embraces the notion of lifestyle, rather than just entertainment like movies or TV shows. Think back to those crazy PlayStation commercials in the 90s like “Double Life”. They weren’t selling you on the idea of owning a grey plastic entertainment box. It was about identity, the human experience. You don’t play games, you are a gamer, and that can mean a million different things.
When talking about individual games, positioning them as a lifestyle brand becomes difficult because the premise is often much narrower in scope. If you play Halo, you are the Master Chief, you save the world. That’s it. But then you have commercials like “Believe” for Halo 3, and suddenly it’s not about the specific game mechanics. It’s not about the cool guns or alien planets. The experience is distilled into a basic powerful emotion. You’re not selling it as entertainment, but as identity. For Watch Dogs: Legion, that identity is an empowered freedom fighter.
How did you draw out that feeling of empowerment in the Reclaim Your Future trailer?
Resistance and disruption is at the core of the Watch Dogs: Legion experience. Empowerment in the game comes from standing up for yourself, your teammates and your city. You have to take back control of London from this authoritarian, very “ordered” regime – and the way to fight order is with disorder. That spirit of rebellion could be communicated through the cinematography and edit, and through music and voiceover.
Visually, we wanted to get across this agitated feeling. The camera is never still – it’s zooming in and out, whipping left and right, crashing and using strange angles. The lens is dirty, the camera shakes. There’s a DIY feeling to the graphic overlays. We wanted it to feel like it’s been filmed by the resistance team themselves. The edit helps this aesthetic too. It’s so quick, it has this vicious hacked together feeling. You’re not meant to cleanly see and understand every shot – it’s more about using the visuals to create a mood. Then we have the music: fast-paced and rebellious, but fun and inviting too. A short, snappy voiceover was the final piece of the puzzle, holding it all together and giving us just enough context. It goes back to that sense of identity and belonging– “we are the ones who refuse, the ones who defy”. We’re then invited to join.
How does this distinguish Watch Dogs: Legion from a typical game trailer?
Typically, game trailers are very specific in terms of the features they are trying to show off. Players are meant to watch a trailer and come away thinking “this has a large open world” or “this is very hack and slash”. Each trailer is usually labelled according to its focus such as “Story Trailer”. “Gameplay Trailer”, etc. These videos are a vital part of engaging your fanbase and showing the very best features of a game to your audience, but we wanted to do something a little different.
We wanted to take the core pillars of Watch Dogs: Legion and explore the raw emotional aspects of them. We had the luxury of needing to appeal to a much wider audience—as we knew it would be on TV rather than just online—so those emotional pillars had to be bold and identifiable.
That’s why we didn’t focus on features like “you can hack anything” or “massive open world”—or even the key gameplay innovation “you can play as anyone”—because ultimately that’s not going to connect with viewers in a 30 second advert at half time on Sky Sports. We instead wanted people to finish watching and think… That’s me. I’m defiant, I’m a rebel.
Why does this style suit Watch Dogs: Legion as a game?
The heart of the Watch Dogs: Legion experience is building your own ragtag band of resistance fighters to take back London. It’s about finding like-minded Londoners and recruiting them to your team, bringing people together with a common cause. However, it’s also about a sense of identity. A feeling of belonging. In the world of WDL, being a resistance fighter is not a political standpoint or a job description. It’s a lifestyle choice. That’s what we wanted to capture. Our TV ad for Watch Dogs: Legion is not just a trailer for a cool game where you shoot people and drive around, but rather as a statement of identity.
Like an aspirational sportswear commercial, or those crazy PlayStation ads, we aren’t selling you a product. Instead, we’re showing you a lifestyle and inviting you to be a part of it.