I’mma break it down for you, bro.
Don’t make Overkill’s mistake.
The first thing to understand about the difference between the John Wick and Hotline Miami 2 promotions is that they were presented under very different circumstances. Hotline Miami has an existing fan base with a lot of overlap with PAYDAY and Hotline Miami 2 was eagerly anticipated by people in that overlap. John Wick, on the other hand, was a release that hardly anyone had ever heard of up until the crossover content was released and which sounded laughably banal when summarized. (Though I reiterate that John Wick turned out to be a decent, if decidedly B, movie). Some players were sold on it just because it had Keanu Reeves, but that was because they preciously assumed that he would be voicing his character in the game. Imagine their surprise at Wick’s actual bad-impression-of-Reeves-circa-Point Break voice acting.
The biggest difference, though, is the way in which Wick and Jacket were introduced. As I said over and over again in the series, timing is crucial. When you release something has as much to do with its success as what it is.
Unfortunately for John Wick, Overkill chose to try and release this cheesy cross-promo as a “reward” during the Crimefest event. Trying to pass the Wick stuff off as a reward when the players were expecting promised content was a slap in the face. It was like being told you won a free vacation, only to be forced to attend a timeshare presentation once you arrived, with the added bonus that you had roped all your friends (and thousands of bot accounts) into attending it too. It was bait and switch. Overkill traded their playerbase out to make a cheap buck (or so it seemed at the time).
The Hotline Miami 2 promotion, by contrast, was released during the “work” phase of the Hypetrain event. Midway through, when the fuel increases were trailing off, Overkill announced that preorders of Hotline Miami 2 would contribute to the Hype Fuel count. Additionally, people who preordered the game would receive Jacket as a playable character, his perk deck, and a bunch of other content for free. Granted, many saw this is the ploy that it was: to reinvigorate positive interest after the Infamy 2.0 fiasco.
It would have been pretty underwhelming if they hadn’t reached the end of the Hypetrain line, wouldn’t it?
Too, the Hotline Miami 2 promotion also benefited from the fact that it was a “favor down”.
I saw this best explained in How SHOULD You Pitch to Bloggers? (Followup to “How Not to Pitch: Barnard President Debora Spar’s Team Pisses Off Feminists En Masse”) from Jen Druiza’s Get Bullish so I’m just going to quote:
There is a hierarchy in the world of who has the resources. If you are asking a favor of someone with more resources, it would certainly help your cause to offer a mutual benefit — for example, you could offer to put an organization’s logo on your project as a sponsor in exchange for the publicity — but it’s also fine to just go ahead and ask, beg, plead, etc. But if you are asking down, you should offer some kind of reciprocity in proportion to the differential in resources (privilege, money, power, etc.) Otherwise, it is rude and presumptuous.
In offering free Hotline Miami 2 content and counting those sales in the Hype Fuel count to entice players to preorder, Overkill was doing a favor down to Denneton Games, a much smaller company with fewer resources than them. It came off well because it benefited the players by allowing them to increase the free content they were getting and it benefited Denneton by selling a lot of their game. All it really did for Overkill was make them look like pretty cool dudes. Being known for pretty-cool-dudeism is a great way to garner loyalty from fans though.
The opposite situation happened with John Wick, precisely because Overkill didn’t appear to have received any benefit from their favor up. Lions Gate has far more resources than Overkill has. They can afford to offer some benefit for cross-promotion, but apparently got the lion share: free copies of PAYDAY 2 to were given to those that ordered tickets to the movie from Fandango and the protagonist of their film is a permanent advertisement in the game.
There was talk of a PAYDAY movie deal, obviously, but that is at present just speculation. What matters is that all that the players could see was that Overkill did all of this for a company that has the means to compensate them, but they were still squeezing the players for every penny despite the supposed influx of cash Overkill should have gotten. At the time, everyone felt betrayed. They’d been lured there under the pretense of celebrating the robbing of banks, but instead they were being forcefed shitty tie-in crap.
Later, because so many people were giving them hell about the way they abuse their customers’ attention, Overkill admitted that they actually recieved no money for the promotion. Instead of making them look better, though, this admission made them look like a bunch of chumps. It embarrassed the players for them, especially in light of how willing Overkill is to bleed them dry of money and attention. A company as thirsty as Overkill absolutely should have gotten something for producing and enduring such a disaster as the Wick promo.
This all went to show that Overkill cares more about selling real estate in their game to whoever will buy (or at least attempting to just give it away to one in the hopes that others will buy later). The fact that Overkill doesn’t care about the integrity of their own IP, nor about those they cross-promote with, makes the prospect of more such promos an iffy proposition.
Real estate is actually a very apt way to put it. I once heard Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe make a similar comparison on his radio show. When people ask him to clear “Girls, Girls, Girls” for movies and such, he decides based on the quality of other stuff they’ve cleared. He doesn’t want his mansion in a bad neighborhood. He wants his music to be in good company. Doing quality work is the way to increase your real estate value. You can’t get movie stars to build mansions in your game until you prove your part of town is classy.
Almir also admitted that the development team hadn’t actually watched John Wick before they began trying to integrate it in the game. This accounts for the wide deviation in Wick’s supposed “trademarks” that are never seen the film like his sunglasses instead of a mask and his black gloves. Or his shitty voice acting. If Overkill didn’t have any regard for being faithful to John Wick, why would they show any for anyone else’s IP?
With Hotline Miami 2, they were more or less accurate to the game. The tape recorder is a pretty wide artistic liberty, sure, but it’s a creative addition to Jacket’s character to allow him speech without, you know, having him speak. The mask’s more cartoony appearance than in his home game, but they already have the Richard mask from the original Hotline Miami event. Showing his face at all seems wrong, but at least you can tell there was some actual communication with Denneton about where this was going. It’s still a shaky meld if you ask me, but it’s a fuck of a lot more solid than the Wick crossover is. If you want people to be excited about crossover material, it needs to be both true to the source and but also feel in-place with your content.
In sum, to cross-promote effectively, you need to respect your players’ time and attention above all else, because they’re who cough up the money with which you pay your bills (or pay back your investors, should you be so foolish). You must also be respectful to both the IP you’re crossing with and your own work. None of that “John Wick is SOOOO BADASS, he wears various styles of sunglasses (that he killed famous movie characters for, no less) instead of a clown mask, even though clowns are doing him a favor down” shit. Don’t debase yourself, don’t misrepresent others. And for fuck’s sake, if you’re crossing with someone who has more resources than you, get SOMETHING for your trouble. Don’t get taken advantage of.