Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon series is built on ‘what if?’ scenarios. For example, what if Russia was taken over by nationalist extremists who wanted to rebuild the Soviet Union? What if those same nationalists then wanted to team up with an Ethiopian colonel to invade Eritrea?
Those were the questions posed by the very first Ghost Recon titles, but now, after a five-year hiatus from mainstream consoles, the latest entry in Ubisoft’s tactical shooter franchise is about to take players into the highlands of South America, where a Mexican drug cartel has turned Bolivia into its very own narco state.
“It’s that sort of ‘what if’ question and the opportunity to answer it that makes Ghost Recon Wildlands so compelling,” says Ubisoft’s UK senior brand manager Alex Friend (below).
“With Ghost Recon Wildlands, we’re taking a fresh and exciting new direction by bringing the intense tactical action of the original Ghost Recon games to the next level, with total freedom of choice in a massive, dangerous and responsive open world.”
With the game landing on shelves next week, however, Ubisoft faces its own kind of ‘what if’ situation when it comes to getting the game in players’ hands. After all, if your game’s launching in the same week as high profile releases such as Horizon Zero Dawn, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the Nintendo Switch, just how do you get gamers to sit up and take notice?
“Ghost Recon Wildlands offers a unique gameplay experience from its launch window competition,” Friend argues. “In returning after a five-year break, we believe the appetite for this sort of story is strong, with fans really excited to once more delve into the classic ‘what if’ scenario that Ghost Recon has always been famous for.”
Indeed, Ubisoft’s UK marketing director Mark Slaughter (below) says that the public demand for tales surrounding the drug trade has never been higher.
“The war on drugs is an ever-present topic in popular culture, with numerous TV shows and theatrical releases, such as Narcos and Sicario, continuing to explore and highlight the issues of drug trafficking,” he says.
It’s so strong, in fact, that Ubisoft’s made an entire documentary film to accompany the game’s release, giving the publisher another tool to help it stand out come launch day. Simply entitled Wildlands, the film was initially commissioned to help raise awareness for the game and educate consumers about Wildlands’ backstory. However, it quickly evolved into something much more substantial.
“The Wildlands companion documentary was born out of a desire to delve further into the game’s fictitious narrative and its connections to South America and the drug trade,” Slaughter explains.
“During our initial research, we came across the New York Times best-selling book, Marching Powder. We found Rusty Young’s story of reformed drug trafficker, Thomas McFadden, and his time in Bolivia’s San Pedro prison to be a fascinating insight into the drug trade. This became the launching point for the final documentary.
“Once in pre-production, we realised that there was a much more expansive story to tell about the on-going war on drugs, which led the team to widen the pool of real-life characters and further develop the ultimate aim of the documentary. The end result is an original and fascinating documentary, which can stand alongside other feature length documentaries, but which also serves as the perfect companion to the world of [the game].”
Tie-in films aren’t that unusual in video games these days, and Ubisoft’s even formed its own film studio to further its goal of expanding its popular franchises into new forms of entertainment, including TV, film and theme parks.
However, while this year’s Assassin’s Creed film is the first of many feature films to be released by Ubisoft Motion Pictures, this is the first time Ubisoft’s chosen to make an accompanying documentary tie-in, and Slaughter says the decision to make it was primarily in response to the shifting viewing habits of its core audience.
“The games industry is continually evolving, and the viewing habits of our audience is changing just as fast,” he says. “[As a result] how we engage as brands also needs to change, and our marketing should reflect that. We are always looking for new ways to engage with our audience, both through the familiar gaming channels and through less traditional methods.
“The documentary will hopefully appeal to long-time fans of the series as well as newcomers to Ghost Recon Wildlands, leveraging current trends in popular culture, as well as appealing to a more mainstream audience, who may not be familiar with the game.”
Slaughter’s lined up an impressive list of distributors, too, to help get the documentary out to the widest possible audience.
“For the launch of the documentary we have secured a number of great distribution partners which will help ensure as many people as possible will be able to access the documentary, alongside our brand alignment messaging,” he says. “The platforms hosting the documentary across EMEA include Amazon Prime, iTunes, and Google Play.”
The documentary isn’t the only tool Ubisoft’s using to market the game, either. “Ghost Recon Wildlands has an extensive campaign planned for launch,” says Friend. “The campaign encompasses an extensive TV and VOD campaign in which we are planning our spend across key moments in sport, entertainment and comedy and using impactful gameplay creative.
“Our cinema campaign also gives us the opportunity to utilise our long form live-action creative in releases such as John Wick 2 and Logan. We’ve driven cinema impact even further with a nationwide, in-foyer digital outdoor campaign to really reinforce that immersive message.
“Our digital campaign has stretched from open beta to launch across key specialist and lifestyle media. Together with a rich and highly targeted social media campaign we are confident that Ghost Recon Wildlands has the support it deserves.”
As for whether documentaries will continue to form a part of Ubisoft’s marketing campaigns, Slaughter says it will be highly dependant on the title in question.
“In terms of any future marketing plans, we very much approach each title as a unique proposition and constantly look to evolve as a team – in terms of our approach and the final product. The future of our approach will be very much determined by our audience.”
Ghost Recon Wildlands has plenty of ammo to help win over gamers, then, and it seems Ubisoft’s laid down some extensive groundwork to help weather the game’s busy launch window. We’ll have to wait and see how its own ‘what if’ scenario plays out next week, but both Friend and Slaughter are optimistic that Wildlands will be able to smuggle its way ahead of the competition come launch day.
Friend concludes: “Our ambition is to give players total freedom of choice. Unexpected opportunities and threats can arise from any situation, and that is what makes Ghost Recon Wildlands such a compelling proposition for gamers.”