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Sunset Overdrive: The Overlooked Exclusive Part 2 – The Road to Release October 14, 2016

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Sunset Overdrive: The Overlooked Exclusive.
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This is the second of a three-part article discussing the marketing and release of the game Sunset Overdrive. If you missed part one, you can read it here.

It was early 2014 and it was clear to gamers and publishers that the Xbox One was not selling anywhere near the numbers it should have been. Even with solid hardware and tons of great exclusive launch games, the PS4 was outselling the Xbox One by huge numbers.  However, Microsoft was in for the long game and they still had some new cards to play. About a month before E3 2014, they released this preview for Sunset Overdrive.

If any Xbox One exclusive games had a chance to sell, Microsoft needed to rethink their strategy to increase their console sales. Two things were clear to anyone with a passing familiarity with the new console war, the Xbox One was $100 more expensive than the better selling PS4, and it came with a peripheral that a majority of consumers just didn’t want.  At E3 2014, without notifying their Xbox One developers in advance, Microsoft announced they were no longer bundling the Kinect sensor with all Xbox One consoles. That meant that new Xbox One consoles unbundled with Kinect sensors would sell at the same price as the PlayStation 4, and while gamers would still be able to buy the Kinect separately, many gamers just didn’t want to due to privacy concerns.

But just hardware and price changes aren’t enough to sell a console, you need to show great games and Microsoft was ready to do that.  Ted Price’s Sunset Overdrive gameplay demo would later be reported as one of the highlights of E3 2014.

Microsoft rarely throws advertisement money behind a new intellectual property if they don’t own it, but Sunset Overdrive was going to get their full support. I mean, just look at what Microsoft did to promote the game at E3.

After E3 concluded, the hype train for Sunset Overdrive officially kicked off.  Things were looking better for Microsoft. They re-priced their hardware to better compete in the console war and they had a unique exclusive game that was getting ready for release the holiday season.  Tons of plans were being discussed on how to promote the new IP.  Everything from T-Shirts, a viral marketing campaign, branded energy drinks, to a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade were being discussed.

Meanwhile, Insomniac started their weekly Sunset TV webseries.  Like their Full Moon Show Podcast, Sunset TV would keep players up to date with the latest Sunset Overdrive news and updates. In fact, new episodes of Sunset TV could be broadcast in-game.

As the months passed, Sunset Overdrive was gearing up for release and Microsoft was putting a lot of money into promotion for this game.  Just take a look at this live-action commercial.  You can see the high production values on it from a mile away.

That’s not even my favorite trailer for the game. After discovering they couldn’t get a balloon in the Thanksgiving Parade, they invited gamers to pretend it was.

This kind of interactive marketing really works for me, and Sunset Overdrive was certainly on my radar as the game lead up to launch.

By October 2014 the game was ramping up for launch.  There was even going to be a coveted Day One edition of the game, offering exclusive DLC to anyone who got one of the first copies.  Here’s the game’s official launch trailer:

Sunset Overdrive launched at midnight on October 28th, 2014 and things were not looking well at first. Only five Microsoft stores across the US participated in the Sunset Overdrive midnight release and based on the reports I’ve heard, the ones who had were mostly empty.  Initial retail sales estimates for the game’s first week range at about 138K in the US.

Was Sunset Overdrive destined to fall into obscurity after being such a promising new title?  Was the Xbox One’s low sales to blame?  Could Sunset Overdrive come back?  This story isn’t over, so stay tuned for Part 3 where we will discuss the game’s postlaunch promotions, its DLC expansions, and the unique content it inspired.

Sunset Overdrive is out now exclusively on Xbox One.

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