If You Can Believe it: Evony Is Back, This Time on Mobile
Evony is once again back in the media spotlight with its recent Superbowl TV ad, and credit where credit is due with it's big production values and A list celebrities they crafted a very impressive and epic piece of advertising. With stars like Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead), Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight Returns), Fan Bingbing (X-Men: Days Of Future Past) bringing recognisable faces to the campaign. With the average $5 million price tag just for a 30 second ad during the Superbowl and the multi million dollar production which is planned to span a further 11 episodes throughout the year, the developers Top Games US are certainly putting their all into "The Battle of Evony" ad campaign.
Having popular celebrities endorse a product is nothing new in advertising but you don't often see ads with as big a scale as this and pulling in reputable very well known actors couldn't have been cheap. It's a respectable ad that while a bit over the top, references the themes and the eras you will be participating in during your time with the game. If you go back just six years the prospect of respectable advertising and Evony being in the same sentence would have been considered absolutely laughable.
Evony LLC's Sleazy Advertising
The company behind Evony gained a reputation as one of the most hated in the industry with allegations of stealing content like images or text that look like it was copied and pasted from Civilization. What really got everyone's attention though was the choice of adverts with scantily clad big busted ladies that they used to spam peoples browsers and social media pages. The original ad campaign for Evony started out quite innocently enough with normal generic medieval knights it wasn't anything too eye catching like this one:
It's quite possible the developers felt that ads like this weren't going to cut it and in fairness it is quite bland. So someone in their marketing team decided a shake up was needed in order to get their game noticed. The answer for them was to get a bit more risque with ads like the ones below.
As you can see they got progressively worse even to go as far as using images like the one above with the two blonde models from the DVD cover of a pornographic film.
There was a lot to hate about these adverts, they inappropriately resembled something you would see on an adult website. Perhaps more inappropriately for some customers the game itself contains absolutely zero in the way of half naked women. It's a strategy game with more in common with games like farmville or a small scale Age Of Empires rather than a videogame that contains busty maidens in need of rescuing. It was a strange ploy to get new customers and the fact that it used misleading adverts to dupe potential customers into signing up to their game should have failed spectacularly -- It was a deliberate attempt create a massive controversial viral marketing campaign -- Sales data has shown that with enough controversy a game has better chance of selling, and using sex to sell a product is about as controversial but at the same time as common as it gets.
The games developers were villainized in the gaming community and industry alike and the original games lead producer Darold Higa doesn't regret a thing. In an interview with Kotaku he said:
"The whole idea with a browser-based free-to-play game like Evony is to put it in front of a large an audience as possible and say ‘Here you go, try it for yourself'. That was the end message: ‘Look at this'."
With 33 million registered users reported in 2016 the campaign clearly worked in what is a massively crowded market. As of right now there's no sales figures but with the multimillion dollar advert they've just launched and more on the way with some big name stars involved, they're definitely not short of a few dollars. A campaign that many expected (and wanted) to blow up in their faces helped them hit the ground running.
Controversy Continues To Create Cash
Even though Evony dropped its line of the soft porn marketing once it established a strong enough install base to be taken seriously, it didn't and probably never will stop other developers using similar methods to sell their game.
In a $40 million dollar ad campaign developers Machine Zone, hired Kate Upton to be the face of Game Of War: Fire Age in another Super Bowl ad back in 2015. Unlike Evony though she is actually an avatar in the game as the Greek Goddess Athena. That's not a particularly great compliment though. As her sole purpose for being in the game is to use her assets to encourage a certain demographic of male gamers to spend money on microtransactions to gain more success in the game.
Just like Evony the game was met with a lot of criticism from the gaming community and the media in general. Yet, just like Evony's clickbait banners worked for them, Kate Upton's invitations to "come play with me" worked, because their sales figures doubled to pulling in a million dollars a day according to the data figures on Think Gaming. Surpassing Clash Of Clans to reach the top spot -- It is still the number one seller on mobile devices at the time of writing -- It is definitely safe to say that Machine Games ROI (Return on Investment) in marketing this game was definitely a successful one.
There is clearly billions to be made from mobile gaming industry, which was something that seemed unlikely a few years ago. Yet now we see more ads for mobile gaming apps on the television than we see AAA games. These adverts are on all year round rather than just at launch and again with more A-list celebrity endorsements like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Machine Zones other mobile gaming success story Mobile Strike -- that is currently sitting at number 2 on Think Gaming.
One has to wonder if either Evony LLC or Machine Zone would have reached the same level of success without the questionable marketing? We'll never know for sure, but I doubt it. If you back to 1997 there was a little top down 2D crime game called Grand Theft Auto. Which was a fun game but there is no way it would have reached the level of success it did, had it not capitalised on the negative media campaign that rallied against it trying to get the game banned. Going as far as labelling it as a "murder simulator" and throwing around ridiculous statements saying the game shows children a "step by step guide on how steal cars". It worked brilliantly in the developer's favor, because its intended audience bought the game in defiance and it sold millions as a result -- The rest as they say is history.
It's through investing in big budget productions and celebrity endorsements like the ones seen in "The Battle For Evony" adverts, that the developers are hoping to reach a new platform by breaking the mobile gaming market but it was their original campaign that afforded them the luxury of such deep pockets. So in spite of the questionable way they got their success, other small upstart developers have to be looking at ways of replicating that success for themselves. So in all likelihood the use of sex appeal with cheap marketing techniques to sell a game like this is bound to happen again. For Evony it was a quick fix to get the game noticed without investing too much cash in a massive advertising campaign, it developed a large install base and gained some free marketing as a result of the controversy and like it or not, it paid off for them in a big way.