The video gaming industry now generates more than $150 million per year and it continues to grow with at an impressive pace. Monolithic publishing houses armed with huge marketing budgets dominate this competitive sector, and they invest heavily in promoting their latest games.
Ad campaigns, marketing stunts and high-profile events often work gamers up into a frenzy in the build-up to a big launch. Social media will be abuzz with excitement, reviews will start to appear and people will even take time off work to get their hands on a new release. These are the top video game releases that got everyone talking:
Grand Theft Auto V
The fifth release in Rockstar Games’ wildly popular GTA series broke new ground for the video gaming industry. It enjoyed the strongest opening weekend in entertainment history. That includes films, books, music and any other entertainment medium imaginable.
It sold 12 million units on the day of its release and that brought in a cool $800 million. Sales topped $1 billion in its opening three days after it shifted 16.5 million units. By contrast, Disney’s Avengers: Infinity War had the best opening weekend in movie history, but it made just $625 million.
The GTA series had built up a strong, loyal and passionate community by 2013, thanks to the strength of previous releases in the series. GTA V was always going to be a big deal, but Rockstar deserves enormous credit for a savvy marketing campaign in the run up to its release.
Its magnificent performance was largely down to a spine-tingling trailer it released, featuring moody synth music, atmospheric cinematography, a compelling narrative and a strong sense of the gameplay.
Two years previously, Rockstar sent a nonchalant Tweet linking to an official GTA V website. A series of trailers then appeared, along with murals in Manhattan, strategically placed billboards and posters and multi-channel ads, sparking an absolute frenzy by the time the game was actually released.
Red Dead Redemption 2
The sequel to Rockstar Games’ popular open world Wild West game, Red Dead Redemption, grossed $725 million worldwide in its opening three days. That makes it the second biggest entertainment launch of all time, behind only GTA V.
The team followed a similar marketing strategy to the one that proved so effective on GTA V. Estimates suggested that Rockstar spent as much as $200 million on hyping the game via dazzling TV, online and outdoor ads.
People were building giant billboards in Hollywood, sticking posters to buses in Australia and even putting them on mudflaps in Thailand. It proved extremely effective once again – shares in Rockstar’s parent company, Take-Two Interactive, increased 11% on the back of the news – and Rockstar is still responsible for the two biggest launches ever.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II
This enthusiastically reviewed first-person shooter from Activision and Treyarch enjoyed the highest opening weekend for a video game before GTA V came along. It grossed $500 million in its first 24 hours, which is an exceptional performance, and it remains the best performing game in the entire Call of Duty series.
It hit shelves in November 2012, when hype surrounding Call of Duty was at its zenith, and fans were excited by the prospect of alternate endings and storylines driven by player choice. Social media channels and forum pages went into overdrive with the release of each new trailer, and the game managed to rack up record pre-orders.
Fortunately, Call of Duty: Black Ops II lived up to the hype, which is not something you can say about every game in the series.
Blizzard’s team-based FPS enjoyed the sort of pre-launch attention rarely seen for a video game. An open beta attracted an impressive 9.7 million players and generated huge media coverage, while talk of its exciting gameplay spread like wildfire across cyberspace.
Overwatch received universally positive acclaim upon its release. Critics queued up to heap praise upon it and gamers were even more evangelical. They lauded its polished gameplay, brilliant artwork, its blend of strategy and reflex and the sheer fun it provided.
It became an enormous success. Within a week it had seven million players, with a combined 119 million hours of game time between them. The game was released in May 2016 and by mid-June it had 10 million players, a figure that increased to 50 million by November.
By 2017 revenue had gone past the $1 billion mark and in July 2019 in-game spending alone topped $1 billion. It is now one of the top five esports in the world, replete with a thriving professional league, an elite class of top players and a prominent place in esports betting markets. Activision Blizzard invested a reasonable amount of money promoting Overwatch, but its early success was largely down to word of mouth.
It has not yet been released, but Cyberpunk 2077 could break records when it finally hits shelves in April 2020. Developer CD Projekt Red first teased details of the game all the way back in 2012 and hype has been steadily mounting ever since.
The Polish studio had to complete The Witcher 3, which was released in 2015, and it has been all hands on deck with Cyberpunk 2077 for the past four years. It looks absolutely stunning and its potential is vast, so it was always going to cause a great deal of excitement among the gaming community.
Yet it received the greatest boost imaginable when Hollywood superstar Keanu Reeves took to the stage at E3 2019 to promote the game. The Matrix star plays Rockerboy Johnny Silverhand in Cyberpunk 2077, and he delighted visitors to E3 by telling them” You’re all breathtaking!”
It became a meme, it generated phenomenal media coverage across the world, it was trending on every social media channel imaginable, and it showed how a publicity stunt can unexpectedly become even bigger than initially planned thanks to the charisma of a star.
It may now be difficult for CD Projekt to fully justify the hype, but if it comes close then it will have a sensational game on its hands.