Extreme sports titles were a regular feature of turn-of-the-millennium gaming.
Alongside the likes of Tony Hawk's Skateboarding and Dave Mirra's BMX, there sat snowboarding titles such as Amped, 1080 and, of course, SSX. EA returned to the latter franchise in 2012 but the genre has seen little activity of late.
Now, Ubisoft is bringing the genre bang up-to-date with a new IP: Steep. We talked to Steep's Arnaud Ragot, game director (pictured, far right), and Ollie Coe (pictured, right), brand manager.
There may have been many winter sports games before, but Steep looks to traverse fresh powder, figuratively and literally. Coe describes the game as an open-world action sports game set across a massive representation of the Alps, with further areas to be added post-launch.”
We wanted to add more to the genre with Steep. There is an exploration dimension never before seen, taking players on a voyage in the Mont Blanc or Matterhorn. We really wanted to give players a sense of freedom, to let them express their creativity. It's not only about tricks or speed anymore,” explains Ragot.
Gone then are the usual tightly-designed tracks, along with it a single-sport focus, in preference for a plethora of downhill sports. Skis, wingsuit, snowboard and paragliders all feature in the initial game, but these will be expanded upon with planned DLC including winter sledging and base jumping.
It's a truly modern new IP then, a game with a wide initial scope, that will extend over time well beyond what's included with the initial boxed launch. Coe explains: Players will be able to instantly switch between [sports] as they go solo or drop in side-by-side with other players. They will also be able to record and share their most insane stunts and epic wipeouts, then challenge friends to try out their custom lines on the mountain.”
Open-world and Ubisoft have become somewhat synonymous over recent years, so we wondered if Steep was following some kind of master plan?
Actually, part of the reasons why we decided to pitch Steep to our management is seeing an early demo of Ghost Recon Wildlands,” Ragot says. The terrain tech really showed a huge environment with a level of detail around the player that was really exciting. For the first time, we had that feeling of being immersed in a massive landscape, and, when looking around us, we could see awesome terrain opportunities for us to go and experience while riding.”
Recording and sharing looks to be at the heart of Steep, after all, modern enthusiasm for downhill sports has largely sprung from YouTube clips of daredevil antics. This has therefore informed both the design and marketing of the title.
Ragot says: Content sharing is one of the key features in Steep – through live performance sharing and community videos. Sharing and making videos are two very important elements, giving players the means to
free their creative spirit using video editing tools. They can re-watch their latest rides, juggle different camera angles and
apply numerous effects - slow motion, for example. These videos can be shared on various social networks.”
Steep was designed with ‘sharing' in mind, so, for sure, we're hoping riders will play for long-lasting hours of fun and show their best moves to the world. We had a lot of players testing the game during our beta phase, and we have been so impressed by the creativity they've expressed when it came to sharing.”
"December 2nd is a fantastic opportunity to appeal to present buyers.
It's also the start of the ski season."
Ollie Coe, Ubisoft
Publicity for the game goes well beyond YouTube though, as Coe describes: As well as working with prominent gaming YouTubers, we've also been able to work closely with partners and influencers from the action sports world, including Red Bull, GoPro, North Face and a plethora of professional athletes, which has allowed us to speak with authenticity to an engaged action sports audience.”
One of the main focal points of the marketing campaign was the open beta, which kicked off between the 18th and 21st November. Betas offer a great opportunity for a large number of players to try out a generous chunk of the game ahead of launch, so we supported this with a heavy investment on digital display, first party dash[board presence] and paid social to encourage players to suit-up and jump in.
To support the launch, we have another strong push across digital display, a substantial VOD plan, and a media and content partnership with Factory Media - all geared towards targeting action sports and videogames fans.”
In terms of real-world marketing activity in the UK, Coe says: We were one of the key sponsors for the Telegraph Ski & Snowboard Show, which allowed us to bring the game to a large snow sports audience and the feedback we had was really positive. We have some key activations planned on the PR side of the campaign, but you will have to look out for these on the week of launch.”
Such partners aren't just there to push the title at retail though: Our synergies with the real brands are here to immerse players even more in this universe. It could be gear, participating in real-life inspired events or using Go-Pro cameras like in real life. Together, we made sure to nail the details to make everything feel legitimate, and to understand the culture and codes of these communities,” adds Ragot.
Day One sales on established franchises have been difficult in recent weeks, as has been widely reported. To succeed these days games need staying power, they need to build community, becoming evolving online experiences for consumers, what Ubisoft calls ‘live' games.
Ragot says in response: We, of course, want our players to enjoy Steep for a long time with a comprehensive live program, and to build a strong and enthusiastic community. We will listen to players and adapt our future plans to what they love, enjoy and need. We already disclosed some details about our upcoming Season Pass content, including new sports, such as sled or rocket wings. We also have future plans for exciting new regular content to keep all our community entertained going forward.”
Community is at the heart of success every live game, Ragot agrees: You know, it's part of the DNA of the team, our culture and our inspiration. Mountain and sports are generally better when shared together. The universe depicted in Steep is highly social in real life, which has inspired us from the beginning.”
Ragot is upbeat about the game's potential: We really feel players have been waiting for this kind of game for a long time, and the feedback we received from our announcement at E3 until now has proved us right. We are convinced there's still an audience for this genre. Whether you are a fan of action sports or simply enjoy the adrenaline of video games, Steep offers a brand new experience with unique gameplay opportunities.”
With the game arriving on December 2nd, it will avoid the pile-up of big titles in November. Coe comments on