Vote first, play second.
That's the message that Halo 4 developers 343 Industries have been sending through their website, Twitter and now a full-blown marketing plan most recently seen at New York Comic Con this past weekend.
Halo 4 kicks off a new series of games in the popular Halo franchise. The original trilogy of titles wrapped up in 2007 with Halo 3. Now, five years later, gamers get a chance to return to the space marine gunplay of the Halo universe.
But the game comes out on Election Day.
News of the November 6th release date spurred discussions among some gaming communities about whether fans of the series planned to vote or play Halo 4.
But the team behind the game are working hard to ensure that gamers don't view the release date as a choice between voting for the next President of the United States and playing Halo 4.
"We set our launch date early in the year and I started thinking about it right away," said Alison Stroll, senior producer at 343. "I wanted to sort of make it part of the national conversation. I really just hoped that people would care a little bit, if our people cared a little bit about the election."
Stroll said that the Election Day release date was selected because it happened to coincide with when the game was going to be complete and when the title could make a strong appearance at retailers.
The potential issues surrounding releasing on Election Day "(were) discussed, but there are only a handful of dates that would have worked and there are production realities and retail realities," she said.
While Stroll said the team isn't worried about Election Day impacting their game's sales, they were worried that some voters, already perhaps disinclined to vote, would use the game's release to not participate in the election. So the team built up a marketing campaign around the civic responsibility to vote.
The campaign kicked off this summer in Texas during the Rooster Teeth Expo, where Halo fans were given a chance to play Halo 4, and register to vote.
"I had Rock the Vote come out to the festival for every day of the event and sign up kids to vote while they stood in line," Stroll said.
The next step of the Halo 4 voting campaign included creating a new iconic image, a picture of the game's Master Chief standing in front of the American flag with the words "Make Your Voice Heard VOTE" emblazoned at the bottom. The image is being used on posters, stickers and t-shirts. The shirts, only 600 of which were made, were given out over the weekend to people playing Halo 4 at New York Comic Con. More than 100,000 stickers and posters are being sent to college campuses and about 7,000 stores in the U.S., Stroll said.
"It's all to make sure that people have their voice heard," she said.
The team also devised an interesting way to get gamers to watch the debates leading up to the election. This year Microsoft launched an Election hub on the Xbox 360 which offered news, polls and livestreams of the debates.
Those who watched at least three of the four debates through the free service were awarded with special animated golden armor from the game for use within Xbox Live on a person's avatar.
The reaction to making people watch a political debate to earn a free piece of art from the game was interesting, Stroll said.
On the one hand, some people were happy to be given the reward, but others seemed upset that they were being forced to watch the debates. A third group, who lived outside the United States, seemed annoyed that while they wanted to watch the debates, they couldn't receive the free virtual armor.
"It's shocking how upset people were that they had to participate in the political process in order to get this gold Spartan armor for free," Stroll said. "I was surprised that in some cases there were Europeans saying that they were going to watch the debates whether they got the armor or not and then there were Americans saying that they needed the armor in order to watch the debates.
"It was really an interesting statement ... and a sad one."
Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.
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