Innovation & Design

Gears of Success


Microsoft's Raja Subramoni on the enduring, soaring success of Gears of War

Even before the game released, Gears of War was expected to be the system seller for the Xbox 360 this holiday season, a 'killer app' as it were. With no new Halo or GTA game, the sky was clear for a new hit title to shine. However, no one really predicted, not even Microsoft, quite how well it would do.

It's hard to say exactly what the appeal of Gears of War is to so many people. Perhaps it's the want for a hot shooter title with Halo currently MIA. Maybe it's because of the extensive multiplayer options, both cooperative and competitive. Or there's the chance that the game is just really good.

GameDaily BIZ caught up with Raja Subramoni, Group Product Manager for Microsoft Game Studios, and talked about how selling Gears of War is going off like clockwork.

Gears Go Double Platinum

According to the NPD, Gears of War was far and away the best seller in the gaming industry for November, with over a million units sold during the month. This meant over $61.5 million gross sales during that period. Microsoft also announced this past week that Gears of War has gone on to sell over 2 million copies worldwide.

"We are ecstatic over the results of Gears of War to date. And yes, in some ways its global success has exceeded our expectations. It was evident to us from the outset that our partnership with Epic Games would result in some truly breakthrough experiences on the Xbox 360. So, suffice it to say that we were very confident that the team at Epic in conjunction with our Microsoft Game Studios publishing team would create a truly revolutionary gaming experience with Gears of War on Xbox 360. And, we were confident that our Global Marketing team would create the necessary buzz and demand to make our game a true blockbuster. But even then, the results we have seen are still phenomenal!" said a pumped Subramoni, adding, "Gears of War has become the fastest selling title on Xbox 360 and the fastest selling initial release of an IP on either Xbox or Xbox 360."

"The purpose of the Collector's Edition was to provide the most core of the Gears of War fan base (which we have been building over the past two years) a deeper insight into the Gears of War world," he continued. "In fact, our intent was to produce a limited number of Collector's editions, to provide a more 'exclusive' set of content for the franchise's most ardent supporters."

The game, in addition to being a best seller, Gears of War has been a critical darling, sporting a 94% on GameRankings.com. When asked about this, Subramoni responded, "This is a tremendous achievement, no doubt about it. As said before, our expectations for the game were always high but to have achieved a review score of this magnitude is just, well, outstanding! Again, our high expectations have been validated."

Gears Roll Through the Internet's Tubes

Gears of War was built from the ground up to take advantage of all of the Xbox 360's capabilities, and that includes Xbox Live. This attention to detail showed immediately, with an 80 percent spike in the number of Xbox Live users across the nations. With a variety of well done multiplayer competitive modes and the option to play through the game co-operatively online, the game is a great demonstration of Xbox Live.

"This achievement is a tribute once again to Epic Games. They have always had a strong history in creating compelling multiplayer content, so in some ways it comes as no surprise that one of the strengths of Gears comes in the form of multiplayer. It's hard to pick one feature per se, but an overall comment on Multiplayer. In Gears, what sets Multiplayer apart is that that it really asks gamers to think before they act. In other words, it's not just simply a fast-paced, action shoot-'em up with random firing - do that and you'll likely not succeed; rather, it actually forces gamers to think, for example, about things like when and how to take cover while moving at breakneck speed. In a Versus mode team deathmatch, gamers need to plan out their attack and then think throughout the encounter, all the while dealing with fast and furious action," ventured Subramoni. "What's also worth noting about online play in Gears is the fact that you can play through Campaign mode co-operatively, as both Marcus and Dom. So, after you finish single player campaign mode by yourself, partner with a friend and test your mettle on Insane mode."

He then teased us about downloadable content, saying, "Without getting into lots of details, the teams at Epic and Microsoft Game Studios have a robust plan for downloadable content in the coming weeks and months. Let's just say that the already ardent Gears fan base will not be disappointed."

Geared Up for Sequels?

In trying to make Gears of War a success, Microsoft spared no expense in its ad campaign. The game had its own elaborate microsite which provided back-story on the game's protagonist Marcus Fenix and set the stage for the situation on planet Sera. Finally, the marketing campaign was punctuated by a TV ad that features a surprisingly lugubrious music choice in Mad World, but it's hard to argue with the result.

"One of the great things about the Gears effort was that it was a fully integrated marketing effort," explained Subramoni. "Advertising, PR, Promotions, CRM, sponsorships, etc. were all carefully orchestrated over the past two years on a global basis by John Dongelmans, the Global Product Manager. It's hard to pinpoint the specific contribution of any one area of the marketing mix, but in totality, they all contributed immensely to the success that the title has achieved to date. Specific to advertising, the two areas that stand out are the online efforts and the television ad.

"The former, specifically the microsite which was developed by AKQA Interactive, was in many ways a breakthrough piece of work, providing an immersive experience into the world of Sera (through the eyes of Marcus Phoenix) without actually being the game. It does enough to attract existing and potential Gears users, but then has a multitude of hooks that enable a significant degree of engagement and interaction (including large amounts of repeat visits to the site). The latter (TV), developed by McCann-Erickson San Francisco, in many ways has set the bar in terms of TV advertising, not just in the video games space but at a broader level. 'Mad World' truly provides viewers a glimpse into the destroyed beauty that is the world of Sera, through the eyes of Marcus Fenix. What sets the spot apart from so many others is the story that it tells in such a short time, all the while drawing viewers into a reason to want to participate in the world that is Gears of War.

Having already outed the fact that Gears of War will be part of a trilogy (or maybe more) in a previous Ad Watch, we had to ask what could be revealed about the franchise's future. Subramoni was unsurprisingly coy, saying, "Hehe, that's one of those questions that I'll have to refrain from answering. Let's just say that the team at Epic has many tricks up their sleeve and that in due time, some of them will be revealed."


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