It’s an often-used phrase – many of us have heard Simon Cowell refer to it when trying to discern the very best talent from otherwise really great talent. It’s a sometimes-indescribable secret sauce that makes someone (or something) stand apart from the rest.
In the world of gaming, Limited and Collector’s Editions are created with the explicit intent to elicit this enviable “Wow Factor.” Hard core gamers love to express themselves by collecting and displaying artifacts from their favorite games – it’s part of who they are. As such, they relish the anticipation and excitement of unboxing a new CE. Gaming bloggers share these unboxing videos on social media, and their reactions set the tone for others: is this CE great? Or is it the BEST EVER? In other words, does it have the "Wow Factor?”
Game developers and publishers obviously want to not just impress their fans, but wow them. These gamers are the most vocal ambassadors of the property and have a direct impact on overall impressions. After all, special Collector’s Editions cost much more than just a new game – therefore they need to be A-MAZ-ING.
So what gives a gaming collectible or a promotional display that edge, that OMG, “I want that” reaction?
On a very basic, literal level, this happens when reality exceeds expectations – you knew something was going to be good – but not that good! In fact, you’re amazed! Or, to use an overused (but accurate) marketing cliché – you experienced surprise & delight. And this positive emotional response reinforces your love and loyalty for the game. It’s a win-win!
While this sounds easy enough, gamers have been around the block and expect a lot. They are continually inundated with licensed product at retail, online and at trade shows like Comicon. They’ve seen it all. The surprise & delight bar is set very high, my friends!
With this in mind, there are some qualities that, in the right combination, can help you leap over that bar. Here are five that we have used at Idea Planet in partnership with our wonderful clients:
Video games today provide an incredible level of realism thanks to advancements in computing and graphics hardware. Players are transported into a simulated fantasy world that looks and responds much like the real world. In other words, the action and environment deliver a dimensional, multi-sensory experience with highly detailed visuals. The player’s suspended belief and total immersion in the game create an alternate reality that makes the game exciting.
Understanding the impact and importance of realism in gaming is key to bringing those experiences to real life in both collectibles and promotional displays. If a figurine of a game character, for instance, is overly simplified, it feels fake, like a toy. Conversely, if it is made with careful texturing and minuscule decoration details, it becomes an authentic replica. And that authenticity can create a sense of awe and wonder as it emotionally brings the gamer “back into” the game experience.
Mass production of such a figurine can be challenging when it comes to this level of detail, as it often requires hundreds of “paint operations” by hand. Factory workers focus on precise areas of the figurine to add tiny features that add lifelike characteristics to an otherwise inanimate statue, such as we did for this Tom Clancy's: The Division SHD Agent Statue.
In addition to deco, the materials on the figurine must appear genuine and not simply a painted resin piece. Leather must look like leather, denim must look like denim, snow like snow, etc. Is the object new and shiny or weathered and worn? To accomplish these effects, Idea Planet utilizes various manufacturing and finishing processes.
Texture is the ticket. By adding texture to the mold, socks look more like woven cotton, hair looks full and thick and sand seems more grainy. If the molded output has the appropriate texture at the onset, then the paint ops magnify the true-to-life effect.
Finishes add the final touch. Has the warrior been in battle? Then he should be grimy and dirty. Has the serpent emerged from the sea? Then he should look wet. Dipping, smudging, dry brushing and masking sprays are all techniques of applying various topcoats to achieve the realistic look of just stepping out of the game environment. We could go on and on about this, but that’s a drill down for another day. Suffice it to say that there are many ways to “keep it real!”
When most people think of a gaming collectible, they think of a figurine of the property’s protagonist or maybe the archenemy. And character figurines are extremely popular. Another approach that’s perhaps more unexpected and likely to garner our coveted “Wow Factor” is to try something that’s never been done before. While this may make some game developers or publishers fidget
uncomfortably, the rewards are great.
When Gearbox came to Idea Planet to create a statue of their beloved Borderlands Claptrap, we suggested a working robot instead. In fact, the end result was an app controlled, one-wheeled, gyro balancing robot that could see and talk – just like in the game! Using new technology, this first-of-its-kind CE created quite the buzz on social media.
But you don’t always need cutting edge technology for an innovative idea. For instance, we brought the Call of Duty Juggernog to life in the form of a mini fridge. In game, Juggernog serves as a pseudo vending machine for protective player perks. At home, Call of Duty aficionados can store 12 cans of their favorite beverage in the Juggernog fridge, within easy reach of their controller! Plus, it lights up and makes game noises when opened. No real technological news here – just a novel way to think of Juggernog as a collectible. And a utilitarian collectible at that! Sometimes a unique mash-up is what gets you surprise & delight.
We’re not talking about baskets and colored plastic grass here. But we are referring to the thrill of the hunt and the unexpected find of an intentionally hidden joke or inside message in a video game. Because they’re secret, you never know when or where you’ll discover them. Often, they’ll keep players engaged for longer, when they’d normally move on to another level or to an entirely different game.
Taking a lesson from their in-game popularity, Easter Eggs can also be included in physical collectible items. Or if not exactly an Easter Egg, at least the element of hidden components and the excitement of search & discovery.
For the Halo Reach Limited Edition, Idea Planet produced a replica of the protagonist’s personal journal. Throughout, fans can read Dr. Catherine Halsey’s scribbled notes, decipher her sketches and discover snippets of her unknown backstory. But the real Easter Egg was a UV printed photo of Dr. Halsey on her ID badge, only visible when held under a black light. This Easter Egg was kept secret and not discovered until years later, generating a totally new wave of buzz.
Secret compartments and hidden drawers within a collectible box build a similar sense of mystery. Is the book really a book? Does that chest have a false bottom? Many times, special engineering is required to ensure both functionality and obscurity. The point, here, is that gamers love the challenge of Easter Eggs, so why not give them what they crave in your CE?
On the other hand, it’s no secret that providing your best customers perks and rewarding them for their patronage builds relationships and begets brand loyalty. Again, incorporating unexpected fan appreciation and reward into a collectible item adds a bit of “wow.”
Collectible challenge coins are no exception. On the backside of the Call of Duty Black Ops II coins we created, fans found a unique variable code which, when entered online, offered them sought-after, additional game content. Score one for Reward! By the way, this one-of-a-kind code on a mass-produced coin was also a first in the industry – so double score for Innovation!
Game developers and publishers know first hand the importance of brand engagement – gaming is, by nature, a shared experience between the player and the property. This live, one-on-one interaction can create a powerful, emotional connection. The goal is to then deepen this fervent fan relationship by extending the engagement outside the active game environment.
Limited and collectible game editions are, in and of themselves, extensions of the game experience. But let’s try to ramp that up a notch or two. What if the collectible item was a fully functional wearable the fan can use every day? And show off to friends? Tom Clancy’s The Division male sleeper agent wears a watch that glows orange – so we created an authentic, working replica, complete with an alarm and orange LEDs. Useful for cosplay, or every day.
While not at all utilitarian – but 100% fun! – The Simpsons Movie photo opp display encouraged audience participation and social sharing. Who can resist sitting next to Homer and his family on a larger-than-life living room backdrop? And then showing all your friends?
Immersion. Interaction. Involvement. Call it what you will, but the more you encourage it in your CEs, POP and displays, the more you’re likely to wow your fans.
Enough pontificating… Let’s wrap this story up with a nice big bow.
You want your game artifacts and Collectible Editions to be the BEST EVER! You need the “Wow Factor.” It’s not about finding a manufacturing vendor; it’s about finding a partner.