Don’t Make Overkill’s Mistake: Promotional Content as “Rewards”

Day 8 of the Spring Break Event announcement brings us a fuck-up that Overkill has committed before. And curiously, it seems that they’d learned enough from the past to know people won’t like it, but not enough to know why.

Yesterday’s Spring Break “reward” is a collaboration with the developers of SpeedRunners, tinyBuild and DoubleDutch Games. For Overkill’s part, they are offering four masks to players who buy SpeedRunners. Players who own both games will also get Dallas, Wolf, Hoxton, and the Cloaker as playable characters in SpeedRunners.

This is all fine and well except that they’ve released this content during their Spring Break event, when one reward the players earned during Hypetrain event is to be released each day. This content is not one of the unlocked rewards and you have to make a purchase to obtain it.

Don’t make Overkill’s mistake.

If you’ve run an update like the Crimefest or Hypetrain events, where players perform tasks in order to unlock rewards and then the rewards are released one day at a time, you cannot sub out any day’s content for promotional material in lieu of a reward. There is just no way that a straight trade of promised free content for paid promotional content is going to work out in your favor.

However, Overkill is mistaken in thinking that the money is the thing here. The two questions in their preemptive strike of a FAQ both have to do with money. The latter of these seems to suggest that Overkill thinks their community doesn’t like them to make money from promotional crossovers, period. Most players are, however, quite happy that Overkill makes money and helps other developers do so as well. They just want them to do it with a modicum of integrity and some respect for their fans’ position in this equation.

The real problem here is that they’ve supplanted this content in place of what was supposed to be one of the rewards for basically giving them several million dollars. Overkill tries to sidestep this by claiming that the promotional content is “bonus” material. However, in only releasing the promo content for that day, when a proper reward of unlocked content was promised and expected, they effectively replaced an actual reward with a commercial.

This is almost exactly the same mistake they made with the John Wick content during Crimefest, only you didn’t have to pay to get that shill shit. And what’s especially unfortunate is that this tactic actually soured many people on John Wick. Having our game forcefed content from another IP was a cheap way to advertise the movie and consequently, many people thought the movie would be cheap shit too. (The movie is actually decent, though.)

There are two ways to do this more effectively for the benefit for you, the group you’re cross-promoting with, and your playerbase.

The first is releasing this content in addition to one of the unlocked rewards. The word “bonus” necessarily implies that it is extra, beyond what is expected. To release it with the expected content of that day makes it feel much less like an advertisement and much more like optional surprise content.

However, it’s best not to release it with something very large in people’s expectations, like the Hoxton Revenge heist that was expected this day. This would cause the bonus content to be eclipsed by the thing everyone has been anticipating for the last year. Instead, you want to release it with an unlocked reward that is of equal or lesser value than the your collaborative material.

A good day to have done this would have been Day 1 when they released the Train Heist and Cookoff standalone jobs or Day 2’s release of daily sidejobs. These are both okay rewards, but they’re content that the players have already seen and are acknowledging as the chips and salsa you get at Chili’s before your ribs arrive. Giving them this SpeedRunners content on one of these days would be like telling them the manager has arbitrarily decided to give them free mozzarella sticks too. To include it on a day like the Hoxton Revenge Heist release, however, would be like giving them those cheesesticks after they’re already full.

The second way to approach bonus promotional material would be to release it before or after the reward release event.

In the case of Hypetrain, it would have gone off well either way. Releasing the Hotline Miami 2 collaboration during the event and counting its purchases as contributions of Hype Fuel was a really brilliant move, something I absolutely advocate doing. It not only gave people immense motivation to buy Hotline Miami 2, but it was a gesture of good will. This was a motion that benefited Denneton Games and the PAYDAY 2 community in tangible ways, but benefited Overkill only by making them look like pretty cool dudes. Which, to be sure, should not be underestimated.

Releasing such content after the rewards phase is over has its benefits too.

A final surprise release is going to be received much better than one in the middle of a period during which your fans are feeling . If you were to wait a while after the “high” of constant updating has worn off a little, a week or so maybe, then it’s even more effective because people are less numb to the addition of new content. Even if it’s paid content, it comes off a lot better than it does in the midst of an event where everything is supposed to be free.

And it’s a lot easier for everyone than trying to argue that only this content was advertised as being free and that content, being a surprise, is not bound by that understanding. There’s no reason to go out of your way to flout the non-verbal agreement that you have with your players about what’s gonna go down.

Too, it’s probably not a problem for most companies, particularly indies, but for those that monetize literally fucking everything they can like Overkill, to throw in paid content when your players are expecting only free shit is mentally distressing. It’s a betrayal of trust. The community was expecting a mere week-long reprieve from the constant shilling and Overkill threw in yet another thing they want you to buy.

Releasing outside of the reward phase prevents this consumer shock. It puts you as the developer in a position to over-deliver as opposed to shill. It negates the need to explain why you’re releasing this content at a time when you can apparently predict that it will be poorly received if released during the reward phase. And perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t sour the player on the thing you’re cross-promoting with. There is everything to gain from releasing outside the reward phase and nothing by doing so within it.

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September 2020