Billboard is a trade magazine for the entertainment industry which reports on the production and marketing side of films, television shows, music and others. In 1996, that included the burgeoning CD-ROM industry. We've found an interesting story in the February 3rd, 1996 issue about the marketing plans for Wing Commander IV... which include some things we'd never heard of, like print ads in American Airlines' in-flight magazine! It's a fascinating look at how Origin was preparing to sell a game that, frankly, didn't need to be marketed to us at all!
"Wing Commander IV' Set To Take Flight
Movie Game To Get Theatrical -Film Promotion
BY DOUGLAS REECE
LOS ANGELES -
ORIGIN Systems is hoping to shrink the gap between film and game with its upcoming release, "Wing Commander IV: The Price Of Freedom." The interactive movie game, which will be shipped worldwide the first week of February, will be promoted much like a theatrical movie.
According to Galen Svanas, product marketing manager at ORIGIN, the company has made a nationwide buy in General Cinema theaters to run a one-minute movie trailer that pictures live-action sequences from the game. At the end of the "preview," the camera pulls back to a shot of a game player manipulating the characters at his computer.
"Motion pictures are a very comfortable medium for the general public, and now what we're trying to do is get them interested in the product where they see it as a movie," says Svanas. "Then we bridge into telling them that this is an interactive movie for your computer. It's not a [deceptive] marketing strategy. We are trying to position the product in a light that's very recognizable and amenable to the consumer."
As part of ORIGIN's effort to draw a wider, nongaming audience and position the product as a movie, the game player controls, 6 -foot standees of star Mark Hamill, and posters will be distributed to both theaters and stores.
General Cinema will be contributing to the theatrical effort by selling the game at concession stands in 13 of its locations.
Though ORIGIN only recently put the finishing touches on German and French versions of "Wing Commander IV" game designer /director Chris Roberts is already plotting to further involve the franchise with films. He is negotiating with studios for a film version of the game, which will be produced side by side with "Wing Commander V"
According to Roberts, this would economize the project's budget and simplify marketing and promotional efforts.
"It just seems to make sense for the kind of game it is to do a joint production where we film scenes for the movie and game at same time, then launch them simultaneously and have both feed off each other's marketing," says Roberts.
Another unusual aspect in the "Wing Commander IV" marketing campaign is the running of print ads in American Airlines' in-flight publication, American Way.
Svanas says the higher-income demographics of flight passengers are ideal for the wider audience ORIGIN is targeting.
"We are trying to expose people to something they might not know about. We could run twice as many ads in the computer gaming world, but what are you accomplishing ?" asks Svanas. "The 'Wing' franchise is so well known in the gaming industry that it really doesn't make sense to focus all of our marketing there."
In order to make "Wing Commander IV" more cinematic, ORIGIN has made a significant investment in the production quality of the game.
Says Roberts, "'For [the game's predecessor] 'Wing Commander III,' we had to build the engine from scratch. So for 'Wing Commander IV,' it was, 'OK, we have our engine; let's spend our time and effort on production value and game play value.'
"'Wing IV' is less about developing new technology and more about exploiting and using the system we built for 'Wing III' to its fullest."
Though ORIGIN was able to save some money on the multimillion-dollar production by incorporating some of the technology already developed for "Wing Commander III" into the game, increased production costs ultimately made "Wing Commander IV" more expensive to create.
Roberts says that "Wing Commander IV" cost approximately 2 1/2 times more than its predecessor, or as much as a "well-financed independent movie," mainly due to its 43 -day shoot on 37 different sets.
Hamill and Malcolm McDowell reprise their roles from "Wing Commander III" for the ambitious movie/game, which follows the duo in a new battle over the fate of the "Border Worlds."
"Wing Commander IV" which has taken 14 months to complete, was originally scheduled to ship in time for the Christmas buying season.
According to Roberts, the delay was not due to a lack of effort. "If you look at most software projects, to do one under 18 months is an exceptional task, so we all knew going into it that we would have to try and get this one out quickly.
"But when push came to shove, we decided we'd rather not squeeze it out for Christmas and [instead] take the extra time to polish things and get them just right."
Apparently, the glitch in ORIGIN's release schedule has not stifled anticipation at retail.
"It's definitly going to be one of the, if not the, hottest titles in 1996," says a buyer for a major retail software chain. "From what I've seen so far, it's going to offer a lot more to the player than earlier versions. The enhanced graphics, game play, and way it's put together is far superior to anything I've seen so far."