CASSIES Gold: Ubisoft hacks a successful launch plan

"Watch_Dogs Live" saw unprecedented engagement for a free app, and drove significant game sales.

This story appears in the February/March 2015 issue of strategy

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Situation Analysis: The gaming world is competitive, and investment is focused on launching a few big titles every year. In 2013, Ubisoft’s big bet was Watch_Dogs, a game where players control a highly skilled hacker who uses his mobile phone to hack into a central operating system that manages the hyper-connected city of Chicago. Watch_Dogs was launched at Electronic Entertainment Expo in June 2013, but release was set for March 2014. The task was to keep the game top-of-mind among gamers for 10 months before release while driving pre-orders.

Insight & Strategy: Maintaining interest among the core target – hardcore gamers – would require ongoing engagement rather than just awareness. Every day, the target was gaming across multiple platforms and being exposed to new game franchises, new apps and a raft of digital innovation. They were always looking for the new, always looking to be the first, and often cynical about game-launch marketing. Rather than just being told about Watch_Dogs, they needed to experience the game in real life. The communication strategy was to create a mobile application, “Watch_Dogs Live,” that could keep the core target challenged and engaged, allowing interest to be sustained by continually delivering news to app users.

Execution: “Watch_Dogs Live” turned phones into “hacking” devices, with each player using geolocation to “hack” thousands of targets such as ATMs, nightclubs and airports. Once downloaded, the app became a dedicated communication channel in the form of weekly challenges, live streams and mission videos. Branded mobile and digital content was pushed via the app and Ubisoft’s social media channels. Part of Ubisoft’s media budget was used to drive game awareness on sites and networks such as AOL and, while the majority of the budget was focused on promoting and driving downloads. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were also used.

Results: “Watch_Dogs Live” saw 202,093 downloads from the App Store and Google Play – double the original goal – and was ranked among the top five games in the App Store within weeks of release. At the end of the campaign period, 141,738 players remained logged in, and more than 8.8 million locations had been hacked, translating to an 80% engagement level – an unprecedented achievement for a free app. Watch_Dogs pre-sales were five times the industry norm for a new franchise, and, in the month of release, it was a best-seller in Canada across multiple platforms (PS4, XB1, Xbox 360 and PS3), making Watch_Dogs the best-selling new title in Ubisoft Canada’s history.

Cause & Effect: Watch_Dogs was a new product with no promotional support other than the app, investment being proportionately on par with prior releases and with no unusual price discounting. Engagement with “Watch_Dogs Live” grew over time, and it received over 10 million unpaid media impressions.

Client: Ubisoft
GM: Olivier Ernst
Sr. director, marketing and communication: Lucile Bousquet
Sr. shopper marketing manager: Adam Climan
PR manager: Jeyson Acevedo
Event and promotions specialist – marketing & communications: Mona Menassa
Media & creative specialist: Marie-Claude Gagné
Agency: Publicis Montreal
Media agency: ZenithOptimedia
PR agency: North Strategic