Showcasing Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen

Showcasing Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen

For anyone following the development of Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, it goes without saying that the view behind the curtain is anything but ordinary in game development. As a crowdfunded MMORPG, the dedication to showing development and work in progress is important to us at Visionary Realms. At the same time there is a desire to keep from spoiling discovery before players can venture forth in Terminus. While crowdfunding isn’t altogether new, seldom has such an inside look been given to the development of an MMORPG like this.

Luckily the challenges associated with planning and marketing Pantheon sits on the plate of Project Producer, and Director of Communications, Ben Dean and his team. We discuss when the right time is to grow Pantheon’s reach, what methods can be used in modern day marketing in the industry, and more.

With the experience you’ve had in the development of other projects in the industry, what has stood out to you most about the uniqueness of marketing Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen?

We knew from the get-go it was going to be anything but ordinary. We knew it was going to be a long development cycle and when you couple that with crowdfunding as one of your main sources of funding, it’s a unique challenge. We knew we’d have to show, more than tell, and that we’d have to communicate regularly and for a long time. We’d have to find things to keep our audience engaged for years before the product would be able to ship. That’s no small task, and very unique to this era of gaming. Even more with MMORPGs that have always taken many years to develop with much larger teams.

When Visionary Realms formed, the marketing landscape was going through huge changes too. It’s mapped out more now, but going back 10 or 15 years when I was working on other projects, video game content was just plainly different. Traditional marketing at that time was largely focused on banner ads, written articles and tradeshows. Fast forward to today and the standards are not the same. Banner ads are being dropped in favor of social media ads; written articles are far fewer, replaced by independent video content; and even tradeshows are attended by fewer and fewer studios who opt to instead communicate directly through social media or their own in-person or virtual events.

Can you take us back to some of the original marketing plans associated with Pantheon and how you view their success looking back?

During the Kickstarter, we knew the kind of game we were making, but the concept was incredibly difficult to explain to people who had never played an MMO like Pantheon before. We had a hard time communicating in mainstream terms what kind of game we were aiming for. We had concept documents but little art and even less gameplay to show at the time of the Kickstarter. We went “heads down” in design during this time, so it ended up as a rolling reveal – new classes were being announced, new mechanics, and so forth. That’s a traditional way to market a game as it approaches launch, but a Kickstarter is a different beast. We would have benefited from having all this stuff ready for display at the time of crowdfunding launch, not during.

We also realized that some early marketing was focused on the “hardcore oldschool gamer.” While our tenets haven’t changed it didn’t take long to realize we needed to be less exclusive in our wording and presentation. Yes, we aim for challenging content, and yes, we will continue to practice and respect some of the foundations that made MMORPGs so revolutionary, but you can do that without being prohibitive. When you paint the picture that it’s a hard game for older gamers, the only thing that happens is that you get a following of hardcore oldschool gamers. Everyone else who doesn’t feel they fit into that category dismisses the game, thinking it won’t have anything for them. Nothing could be further from the truth since Pantheon is an incredibly deep and wonderful experience. We wanted to show these ideals to the newer generations of gamers so they could enjoy them too. We needed to adjust our language and not exclude potential players who would enjoy Pantheon as much as the next. We didn’t need to change the game, just change the way we were talking about the game.

How does being crowdfunded adjust the goals for marketing and communication? What challenges does it present?

Transparency is critical in a crowdfunded game. We’ve always taken this approach but we are always finding ways to improve. This is one of the areas our community helps us a great deal. They often make recommendations on ways to improve, many of which we hadn’t thought of ourselves.

It can be challenging to walk the line between transparency and development. As a basic, but probably the most practical example, announcing milestone dates is a huge challenge. Most who have been following us for some time understand that our internal dates change for a variety of reasons including funding rate and unforeseen complications. When we have a surge in crowdfunding or a new investor joins, we are able to accelerate production. Conversely, when unforeseen complications arise, it pushes dates out. Sharing these target dates could potentially be wildly different after even just 3 months. So we have to be careful about what we reveal and when. We want our information to be accurate. It’s similar to a problem that challenges media in general: do you report quickly or do you report accurately?

Does the involvement of investors, or potential investors, change how we market Pantheon?

Yes, but only in how much we market. We don’t spend a lot of money on marketing currently because it’s more important for us to invest more in the development of the game right now than marketing it. When new investors come in, sometimes we might earmark some of that for marketing purposes, but apart from that we try to focus more on earned and owned media than paid media.

On the first “Parting the Veil” Creative Director Chris Perkins discussed that Pantheon is not just a niche game being designed for only a specific player type within the genre. From a marketing standpoint, what is the playerbase you believe Pantheon should be marketed to?

We’ve approached this in stages. We knew the development cycle would be a long one, so we first wanted to tell the people who would be the most interested. We deliberately paced ourselves because the average gamer isn’t going to follow a game for that long so we didn’t want to get too big too fast and then experience a massive exodus while we were in development.

So, in the beginning our target audience was the experienced MMO gamer who was looking for revitalization of some lost tenets. As we progress through the stages of development we are expanding the target audience. Alpha, for example, will be very much targeted at the social gamer to join our growing community. Later phases will include even broader audiences, like coop and dungeon crawler fans. It doesn’t change the design of Pantheon in any way, but it does determine when we start promoting the game to other segments.

The original MMORPGs that the genre was built on didn’t have to deal with the impact of social media. How has this evolved the process of making large announcements or showing various aspects of development?

Social media needs consideration now when it wasn’t even a thing in 1999. But on top of that, each platform has a different audience. They may overlap, but generally speaking, Twitter is a different audience than Facebook. Instagram is different from YouTube. With major announcements like the recent funding announcement, we ran the campaign for two separate audiences: the gamer and the industry. Journalists and general interest venues were sent the press release using specific language to communicate clearly. Social media was articulated differently and briefly. Our Producer’s Letter contained much more detail than any of the other formats because that was written for a deeply committed audience.

Social media has to be used. It’s where you can communicate directly with your audience and that was a hard thing to do in years passed. The impact of that is huge. You can also see in real time the response and reception of those communications. If it’s something agreeable, you’ll notice. If it’s something your audience isn’t vibing with, you’ll notice that pretty quickly too.

Speaking of the impact of social media, Pantheon has had the privilege of forming a positive relationship with one of the most influential streamers on Twitch, CohhCarnage. How did this relationship develop, and can we expect more influencers like CohhCarnage to be part of showcasing Pantheon to a wider audience?

Cohh reached out to us several years ago on Twitter. He saw the game and it struck a chord with him. I responded to him personally and our relationship grew from there. Right from the start, he wanted to help in any way he could. His support has been instrumental in getting the word out and we were very fortunate to have met.

And yes, absolutely we will be working with more influencers in the future. I can’t say for sure that the relationships will all be the same as they have been with Cohh – every content creator is different and have varying levels of interest and different ideas for how they wish to approach creating content about the game.

Currently, what is the focus, or goals, for communication and marketing with the current state of development?

Right now we’re focusing on two stages of communication: awareness and consideration. We are reaching out to a larger audience through streams and third party content, and we are working to improve our streamlining of game information through our owned content like the website, newsletter and video archive.

Our goals are to communicate more regularly and more effectively leading all the way up to Alpha. Beyond that too, but focusing first on this phase of development. Alpha is going to be a big deal but we still have a way to go, so we don’t want to go too fast or too hard. It’s a ramp up, not a wall. We have to stay very conscious of the pace of development and measure our communication efforts around that.

What are the key goals we need to hit internally to take that next step in pushing a stronger media presence and showing the game on a larger scale and how impactful is executing correctly on these moments?

We’ve had these discussions a lot internally. The bottom line is when we present the game to a larger audience and they play it, we have to have our best foot forward. Alpha needs to play well, be stable and look good. A lot of people will be playing it, and we hope to lighten the NDA too, so a lot of people will be sharing it. It’s going to be a critical time where Pantheon is going to get more exposure than ever before, to exponential levels.

Gamers can be forgiving when it comes to playing Alpha and Beta versions of games, but the reality of it is that we have to show them something that they will want to share with their friends. So it has to be fun and ready to be consumed by the average gamer. Few things are as annoying as getting into a game, really enjoying it, and then being abruptly interrupted by a server outage, for example.

Producer’s Letter Monthly Recap Showcasing Pantheon:Rise of the Fallen Community Feature
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