Resident Evil is going through an identity crisis.
Resident Evil 4 remains the series' critical high point. Atmospheric and creepy, it was Capcom at its finest and was worshiped by critics (Metacritic score: 96) and fans alike. Resident Evil 5, on the other hand, played down the horror in favour of action set-pieces and co-op gameplay. Still very good, but not exactly what fans had come to expect (its Metacritic was 84).
So what exactly is Resident Evil 6? A survival horror? An action shooter? Or something new entirely?
Well, actually, it is all three.
When we looked at Resident Evil 5, we reached a great number of sales but there were comments from fans that said it was too action based, they wanted a return to the old Resident Evil,” says Michael Pattison, Capcom's SVP marketing North America and Europe.
I think the developer took a lot of that to heart. When we went into the RE6 planning, we did a very deep post-mortem on RE5. We obviously want Resident Evil to reach the maximum number of consumers, but we're never going to take out the heart of Resident Evil.
It's important that we retain that fan base because they are the core of the sales. They define what that product is. We look to just tick as many boxes as possible and I sat down with a checklist from a marketing perspective on where we should go and the developers came back with exact same list. They've almost over-delivered in that respect where you've got the three different storylines each offering something unique to different types of fans and newcomers to the franchise.”
Resident Evil 6 launches on October 2nd and features three separate (although interlinking) stories. The first, featuring Leon S Kennedy of Resident Evil 2 and 4, is the traditional survival horror that fans have been calling out for. Chris Redfield's story (of Resident Evil, RE:?Code Veronica and RE5) is more action packed, with lots of hiding behind cover and shooting. Meanwhile a third storyline, starring new hero Jake Muller, is something entirely different, with intense chases, dramatic set-pieces (akin to Uncharted) and melee-based combat.
And then there's various multiplayer options, a Mercenaries mode, the chance to play as the monsters and a fourth story – starring femme fatale Ada Wong – that can be unlocked when the game is finished. It is probably the biggest and most ambitious shooter out this Christmas.
It's a way to try to satisfy everyone,” adds Pattison. You can be concerned sometimes when you go out to try and satisfy everyone that you end up satisfying no one. But I truly believe that we're going to satisfy the largest audience than we ever have with this franchise.”
Retail clearly agrees. Last week MCV asked our Retail Advisory Board to pick their top games for Q4, and aside from the obvious Call of Duty and FIFA, Resident Evil 6 was the only game to be picked by every respondent – High Street specialists, online retailers and supermarkets. And these are the companies that will play a crucial role in how big Resident Evil 6 becomes.
Pattison adds: The environment is tough, particularly at retail. I think we're in an interesting phase between retail and digital. I don't think the world is ready for complete download takeover. We absolutely still need retail. And looking at the line-ups, not just from Capcom, there's some bloody good games coming. You can't all be doom and gloom.”
The reveal of Resident Evil 6 was notable for being unlike anything that Capcom has done before. Rather than revealed on stage at E3 or Gamescom, the game was first teased with a viral campaign before a trailer – depicting an almost finished game – was shown to the public in January. Capcom even announced a released date. This was more akin to an Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty announcement.
Historically we've been wedded to physical events,” says Pattison. We've got a lot of good marketers at Capcom who understand social media and can use those tools to reach a large audience. It took a while to convince our Japanese colleagues that we didn't need somebody on stage, standing up in front of all the press making an announcement, that we could actually do this via YouTube and via the social networks and spend some money around it.
Recently, we've seen that people are trending more towards fewer, bigger hits rather than long campaigns. That's something we really took on board with RE6, to have something engaging to say and we want to do that every time we say something about the product.”
In fact, Pattison feels that long-running campaigns can be off-putting. If you're just on repeat, showing the same things all the time, people get weary, particularly if it's a long protracted campaign. People have shorter attention spans these days so you've got to go in hard and have something exciting to say.”
It is a big year for Resident Evil. RE6 is the third new Resident Evil game out this year following January's 3DS release – Resident Evil Revelations, and the co-op action spin-off game Resident Evil:?Operation Raccoon City. Meanwhile, the smash hit Resident Evil movie franchise also returns for a fifth outing this September.
The movies' storylines are separate from the video games. Yet surely there are marketing tie-up opportunities between the two?
Pattison continues: There's obviously overlap of fans who will watch Resident Evil and will play Resident Evil.
We want to cross-pollinate, which is a great buzzword. People have arrived at the Resident Evil franchise through different doors and whether they feel they sit together well is a different matter but it's still part of the overall universe. We like to try and get people to buy into Resident Evil as a brand, not just as a video game.”
And this is where Resident Evil's mixed personalities can actually be its strength. It is a massively successful action/horror movie franchise, an acclaimed survival horror video game and probably the most successful action series to come from Japan. If Resident Evil 6 can really please all of these fans – which is clearly its aim – then it is potentially the most lucrative game in the series to-date.