Talking Saints Row marketing and trolling with Deep Silver's Aubrey Norris
Grand Theft Auto 5 might have been one of the biggest game releases this year, but that didn't stop Deep Silver from poking some fun at the game's launch. Especially since Saints Row originally started as a Grand Theft Auto clone so to speak, though over the years has shaped its own wild and crazy persona.
We decided to pick the brain of Deep Silver's PR extraordinaire, Aubrey Norris, and ask her what it's been like for them and the release of GTA 5, as well as their seemingly successful trolling strategies.
Matt Liebl: I just wanted to pick your brain a little bit about some of the crazy stuff out of Deep Silver with Saints Row IV, particularly the GAT V thing, which I think was really genius. Who's idea was that?
Aubrey Norris: Well it comes from a couple of different places. The idea for the GAT V DLC was from Jim Boone, Volition's Senior Producer. So he came up with the idea of doing the DLC and release it the same day as Grand Theft Auto, and then as a marketing person, we thought it was an awesome idea to try to capitalize on that, and put some troll action into it, do a promoted trend that day. So we locked down that 9/17 date like months ago. And on top of that, we decided to have some fun with them since there is no GTA V on PC, and there is Saints Row IV on PC, so we decided to make the GAT V pack free on Steam for a day, to kind of have more fun with them that way.
ML: So did you hear any response from Rockstar? Did they embrace the ribbing? Did they take it in stride? How do they react to this sort of thing?
AN: I have no idea, I don't know anyone there.
ML: It seems the overall reception for it has been pretty positive, lots of tweets reacting to it. From a fan's perspective it simply nailed it.
AN: It was all fun and silliness, and it was meant to be fun and lighthearted, like a tease.
ML: GTA vs. Saints Row, these two have been compared a lot. Open sandbox, do whatever you want in both games. From a marketing perspective, what challenges have you faced, getting the message out there, basically saying "Hey, we are our own type of game, there is a space in the industry for both of us, come try us!"
AN: I think the challenge is getting people to understand that it's not a one or the other situation, it's really both. One of the underlying reasons for us to do our Promoted Trend yesterday (9/17) is really just to troll those people who don't see, that there is room for both games in people's lives. For some people it's like a black or white situation, you're either a GTA fan or a Saints Row fan and you can't be both, and we don't really see why not. Especially nowadays, they're so different. It's not like the early days of Saints Row where there were a lot of similarities, it has its own identity now, and I think there are still people that can't get beyond that.
ML: I totally get what you're saying. Playing the two, they are vastly different from each other, outside of being a Sandbox game.
AN: And think about it this way, when we were coming up with the Key Art for Saints Row IV, I think the way you communicate a game, has to really bring its innate essence along with it, so we didn't want our artwork to look like it 'could be a GTA'. We didn't want to look like a me too GTA. If you look at a lot of our pieces of art, aliens are invading, and the spaceships, and they're killing a giant can with arms and legs. We wanted elements of craziness to go into the art, to kind of illustrate what makes the game different. Being crazy and over-the-top is part of the DNA of Saints Row.
ML: I feel like that's also the DNA for Deep Silver, even with Dead Island and the limbless torso collector's edition, and Saints Row has the dubstep gun, and the Million Dollar Edition. Is this sort of the identity of Deep Silver, go big or go home?
AN: I wouldn't necessarily say that it's that, because when it comes to spending money for marketing, we'd rather be clever and spend less money, rather than throw money at a problem. I think that a lot of companies can fall prey to the notion that the more money you put into marketing, the more successful it's going to be, which is not necessarily true, but we prefer to outmaneuver the competition by doing silly, fun, whacky things. We just like to have fun, we're in video games, not the Red Cross (laughs). We like to come up with fun ideas and make them a reality. Focus on that, and have fun with it, more than just doing stuff that's big for the sake of it being big. It may turn out that what we do is big, like the Million Dollar Edition, but in that particular case it was kind of like, let's just do the biggest take on Collector's Editions there could ever be.
ML: Did anyone actually buy that?
AN: There have been inquiries. Actually a lot more inquiries than I thought.
ML: Back in August, it was announced that Saints Row IV had sold over one million units in its first week, have sales continued that success?
AN: I can't say what I our cumulative sales are, but they have continued to be very strong. We're really happy.
ML: Outside of the smaller DLCs, you're also working on Enter the Dominatrix right?
AN: Yep, Enter the Dominatrix is the first mission pack for Saints Row IV.
ML: Any release date for that yet?
AN: We don't have a release date yet, but it will be this Fall. Enter the Dominatrix has quite a history in terms of the Saints Row franchise, so we'll definitely do some fun promotions around that.
ML: Now shifting away from Saints Row a little bit, the mainstream media is taking this violence due to video games perspective. From a marketing perspective, how do you address that?
AN: I think that that's their opinion. I can't stop somebody from having that opinion, but there are studies that prove it wrong. If they want to feel that way, I don't think it's my place to use a product to make a point. I kind of just want to market my game for what it is (laughs). I don't think we're looking to change anyone's mind based on studies or what they've heard. I don't think that's somewhere we really want to go.
ML: So it really doesn't affect your guys' decision how you're going to market a game?
AN: No not really. There's obviously standards that we have to adhere to for marketing responsibility, like excessive violence and gore on things that could be seen by kids. So we have to be sensitive if we're going to make a piece of art or an ad, like who's going to see it. And we try to adhere to the ESRB standards for advertising. You have a responsibility. It's sort of like a juggling of responsibility that you're marketing the product ethically, and you're not exposing kids unwittingly to like, somebody with their guts spilling out. But then you also have the responsibility to market your game for what it is. So there is a balancing act that you have to do between the two, which can be interesting.
ML: So I have to ask, are you already thinking about Saints Row V?
AN: No habla, I don't speak English anymore!
ML: What about the Dead Island and Saints Row crossover?
AN: NO HABLA INGLES! Although, spoiler alert, after you rescue Keith David and he's in your ship, go up to him at a certain point and he'll say to you "I was 11 hours into Dead Island when the Zin attacked, I'll never forgive them for that."
Also, if you go into the Image By Design plastic surgery shops, there is Dead Island artwork on the walls. So there's some fun little references.