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Sunset Overdrive: The Overlooked Exclusive Part 3 – After The Release October 24, 2016

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Sunset Overdrive: The Overlooked Exclusive.
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The following is the third of a three-part series detailing the announcement, marketing and release of the Xbox One game Sunset Overdrive.  You can read part one here and you can read part two here.

Sunset Overdrive was one of the biggest exclusive titles released on the Xbox One in October 2014. Microsoft had sunk millions of dollars into marketing the new property, but after it launched it unfortunately just wasn’t selling.  As I said in the previous part, slightly over one hundred thousand copies of the game sold at retail in its first week, and the few stores who chose to host midnight releases for the game found their events overwhelmingly underattended.

Press for the game during its development was quite positive, early reviews were mostly positive and Insomniac Games has a decent following of loyal supporters, so why wasn’t the game selling better?  Was the game’s premise just that unappealing to the majority of the gaming public or was something else going on?

I mentioned earlier in this series that the install base of the Xbox One platform was in second place behind the PS4 at this time, but that’s not enough information to paint a full picture about the state of gaming in 2014. The truth is, the Xbox One was in second place because gamers were very angry at Microsoft.  They still resented the Kinect as an expensive gimmick, despite the fact it was no longer being bundled with every new console.  They were also resentful Microsoft was buying so many third-party exclusive games that they preferred would get released on the PS4.  In short, Sunset Overdrive was released on the Xbox One at the worst possible time.

With so much negativity still directed towards the Xbox One platform, if Sunset Overdrive was going to sell, they needed to make it appeal to current Xbox One owners. So what could Microsoft do to convince Xbox gamers to buy Sunset Overdrive?  If the game was getting good reviews, could giving players the chance to play the game for themselves bring up sales?  Unfortunately that was a bit of an issue since Sunset Overdrive had no demo and without a demo, there wasn’t an easy way to get a small piece of the game into gamers’ hands.

Microsoft would need to come up with a new idea to get gamers to try the game and they did.  One month after it was released, Microsoft made the decision to offer Sunset Overdrive as part of an Xbox One Free Weekend.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with an Xbox One Free Weekend, it basically works like a free rental.  During an Xbox One Free Weekend, Microsoft allows anyone with an Xbox One and an internet connection the chance to play a promoted game for a limited time. While this time limit may sound restrictive, there are no restrictions on gameplay and as long as the game was played during the free promotion period you could earn achievements in it.  Heck, once the Free Weekend ends, your savegame could be brought into the full game if you decided to buy it.

The Free Weekend was a moderate success, not only for Sunset Overdrive, but for the Xbox One’s image.  In fact I remember buying the full retail version of the game shortly after the Free Weekend promotion wrapped up.

Insomniac Games continued support for the game throughout the first half of 2015.  These free updates included not only bug fixes and optimizations, they also added entirely new achievements players could unlock without paying for any new content.  On the paid side, they were working on two new DLC expansion packs which would be offered to anyone who bought the game’s Season Pass.  One of the first pieces of content offered with the game’s Season Pass was an exclusive set of four weapons.

The weapons were a lot of fun to mess around with, but they didn’t add that much to the game’s universe. Players hoping to see new single-player game content wouldn’t have to wait much longer. The first DLC expansion was released just in time for Christmas called The Mystery of the Mooil Rig.

The Mystery of the Mooil Rig was a great expansion I recommend playing immediately after completing the game’s main story, although it could be played at any point once it is installed.  It included a huge expansion to the game’s open world environment, all new side missions, and a hilarious story.

The second Sunset Overdrive DLC mission was titled Dawn of the Rise of the Fallen Machines and it added an all-new environment that was teased throughout the main game, the Fizzco Robot Factory.

Shortly after the release of the second DLC expansion pack, Sunset TV wrapped up its production.

The final two-part episode was pretty funny, although if you ask me the series got the best possible sendoff in Dawn of the Rise of the Fallen Machines‘s finale.

A month or two after the release of Dawn of the Rise of the Fallen Machines, Microsoft did something really nice for the game’s players, they gave away download codes for the game’s Loyalty Pack to anyone who had played the game before that time.  The Loyalty Pack included costume pieces that were previously only available through retail and digital preorders.  It was a really nice gesture for players, and it convinced me to pick up the game’s Season Pass.

As someone who has played through the game, I thought it was great and I’m shocked Sunset Overdrive isn’t better remembered over a year since it was released. It was addictive as hell to explore the game’s environment searching for collectibles and completing missions. It had a hilarious sense of humor and an art style that set itself apart from every other game on the market.  In short, it is totally worth picking up.

Sunset Overdrive is out now exclusively on the Xbox One.

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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.

Sunset Overdrive: The Overlooked Exclusive Part 1 – History and Announcement October 7, 2016

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Sunset Overdrive: The Overlooked Exclusive.
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If you’re a long-time PlayStation fan you’ve probably heard of the name Insominac Games.  Over the past twenty years they’ve developed some of the finest games avalible for Sony’s game consoles including Spyro The Dragon and Ratchet and Clank.  With each game, Insomniac has always been able to deliver solid gameplay sprinkled with a quirky sense of humor.

I first became aware of Insominac Games right around the time of the PlayStation 3’s release. A cover feature in Game Developer Magazine which has sadly not been re-published online as of the time of this article talked about the development of a PS3 launch game called Resistance: Fall of Man. After reading the postmortem, I did some of my own research on the game and by the time I eventually bought a PS3 in summer 2007 I made sure to pick up a copy of Resistance: Fall of Man with it. I wasn’t disappointed because it was without a doubt the best launch game for the fledgling PlayStation 3. In fact, I stand by the statement that until Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was released, Resistance: Fall of Man was the best game on the PS3, and it would remain the best PS3 multiplayer game for quite some time after that.

Since playing Resistance: Fall of Man, I became a die-hard Insomniac fan and began to pay close attention to their work. I would even regularly listen to the official Insomniac podcast, The Full Moon Show, for news about their upcoming games.  Years passed and Insomniac released two more Resistance games which I greatly enjoyed.

In early 2013 Sony announced their next console would be the PlayStation 4, and Microsoft announced their next console would be the Xbox One.  Months later, at E3 2013 Microsoft made it clear to consumers they were going to release as many exclusive new games on the Xbox One as they could.  Third party publishers and independent developers were lining up to produce exclusive games for Microsoft including Dead Rising 3, Titanfall, Quantum Break, and D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die.  However, I think everyone was most surprised when Microsoft revealed this trailer brandishing the Insomniac Games logo.

That’s right, you’re seeing the teaser video for a colorful open-world action game with a sick sense of humor, and it was only coming to the Xbox One.  Turns out that was a big problem.  When it was first announced, the Xbox One held a $100 price premium over the Sony PS4.  Microsoft planned to force anti-consumer policies in the Xbox One’s operating system, although they were keeping hush about the details unless the gaming media directly questioned them about it.  Then there was the fact that a new Kinect was going to be included with each Xbox One, fueling every wild conspiracy theory you could imagine, and probably some you couldn’t.

Microsoft would go on to reverse the anti-consumer policies they had planned before the Xbox One launched, enabling players to trade and resell their Xbox One game discs, but consumers didn’t trust Microsoft would not reinstate their policies later on.  The Xbox One launched in late 2013 and languished on shelves.  Even with all the great exclusives, gamers were overwhelmingly choosing the PS4 for its lower price and improved performance for multiplatform games.

Months passed and the third party publishers who developed Xbox One exclusive games were not happy. The console was not selling as well as the PS4 and gamers were not buying the Xbox One’s exclusive games regardless of their quality. To make up for lost sales, some publishers ported their Xbox One exclusive games to the PC, but they could not bring their games to the PS4, which had a commanding market share. Things were not looking good, Sunset Overdrive was still a year away from release and there was no way to tell if it could compete as an Xbox One exclusive.

Stay tuned for next time as we continue talking about this overlooked gem!  Sunset Overdrive is out now exclusively on the Xbox One.