The Orange Box, a game collection by Valve which to be honest I didnít know much about until launch day. I walked into my local games store and saw it sitting there. I had vaguely heard of it but didnít know the release date until I happened to see it on the shelf.
So you might be questioning why Iím calling it marketing genius when I didnít even know it was coming ? Thatís because of what it actually did. Firstly I bought it despite owning Half life 2 on xbox because it contained the PC Expansions in the form of Episode One and Episode Two. Secondly because it was £25 here in the UK on launch day, most games in the UK get a £39.99 tag on launch day unless its COD which can top £55. I saw it as a bargain so I picked it up as to me it was £25 for two expansions, the original game and two other games Iíd never heard of called Team Fortress 2 and Portal.
Now it sounds very silly to be saying Team Fortress 2 and Portal were unknown games, but they were, Portal arguably more so than Team Fortress 2. So it now brings up the question of how the hell did it go from unknown title to the phenomena that spawned a full retail sequel in the form of Portal 2. That is the magic of The Orange Box, its true marketing genius. You see what I did and what many other people did was first buy it for Half Life 2 and its expansions / sequels all collected in one spot.
hhhhhmmmmm whats this, a game called Portal, Heavy may try it
Having finished those I then played a bit of Team Fortress 2 because hey multiplayer, then I finally got curious as to this weird game called Portal and decided to boot it up, a few hours later I had finished it and thought it was amazing. I told a few friends about Portal, they picked up The Orange Box because they too thought ďHey Portal is meant to be good, even if itís not itís still a good price for a console version of Half Life 2, Episode 1 and Episode 2. Valve themselves admitted Portal was put out to test the waters, almost an extended demo to see if the concept could be made into a full game.
The reason this experiment worked was due to a number of things: the cost of the game itself was low on release which got people to buy it over other new releases; it sold on the name of Half Life 2 and brought some new content to the table with Episode One and Episode Two, so people had a reason to buy it, and it then threw in two pretty new franchises. With Team Fortress 2 they were putting out a cartoony sequel to what used to be a fairly serious Militaristic FPS mod. At the time I heard of people in the original Team Fortress community denouncing the games art style and claiming theyíd never play nor would it even be a hit. Portal similarly was by developers new to Valve bringing a new puzzle game style out which was untested.
Iíve questioned before if gaming development was becoming too bloated and costly, others have asked why new IP isnít looked at much and publishers are less willing to fund its development. Valve found a way into the market and honestly hit marketing gold with this concept as it allows the linking of an existing IP to a new franchise in such a way that fans donít become alienated such as the Xcom FPS. Capcom did a similar sort of test with Dead Rising 2 Case Zero to test the market and see potential sales, a smaller taste of the game for people to decide if they want to buy the larger game. The important thing is it wasnít just a demo it was a game in its own right.
With companies forever seemingly doing HD remakes and collections of their previous titles, itís now almost a perfect time for many of them to try The Orange Box approach and with the HD collections and remake, slip in a smaller game, a new IP a small version of the potentially larger project. Think of it like slipping in say the first episode of an episodic game in with something else. Make sure the game can stand on its own as such and the sequel can follow on and then release it testing the waters before as a publisher they go and dive in head first. If the game becomes a hit youíve managed to prove it worth making and are getting more sales of the HD collection from people just wanting to play this specific game you put on it. The cost can be considerably smaller and the risk far less as if the game turns out to be hated, you wonít get the huge waves of hate because ďhey it was just something we threw in with the HD collectionĒ, people will have gone and bought the game because of the HD collection / remakes with it. This even solves part of the marketing problem and expenses around that as you simply market the HD collection and if the publisher / developer wants, they just mention the other game as being included or at the end of the advert. The model has been proved to work with Crackdown famously having the Halo 3 Beta with it and other games selling with the Betas for future games included with them. Customers arenít up in arms about the association of one games name with another this way because to them they see it as getting something extra.
It shocks me in the present age that more companies arenít trying this as for the cost of one full new AAA IP you could put out what maybe 5 budget taster games or more. The risk being far smaller as you are testing the market with far less investment required and far less resting on the game being a hit.
My question is, why donít more publishers do this ?
It seems a pretty easy thing to maybe bundle a new IP with a similar old one in a taster form along with HD remakes etc. Companies are very much about the ďOh you liked this, you might also like thisĒ. However this is a step further which actually benefits customers as they get new IP and something else with their HD collection, whilst benefitting publishers and developers by lowering risks and allowing the trial of new IPs for a lower cost and potentially generated more sales of old IP due to adding in something new with it.