Sell What?: X-COM

September 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

Welcome to ‘Sell What?’, the first in what will hopefully become a series of articles examining potential advertising strategies for upcoming games, focussing on style and innovation rather than bombarding customers with screenshots and heavily scripted PR developer interviews.

This time it’s the turn of 2k Game’s ‘X-COM’, a reboot of MicroProse’s classic UFO: Enemy Unknown (also known as X-COM: UFO Defence in the US) released in 1993. More of a re-imagining than a re-boot, X-COM eschews the turn based strategy of its ancestors, in favour of a more action-oriented shooter experience.

Launching any new franchise into as competitive a marketplace as the first-person shooter genre is difficult for any publisher, especially this late into a console’s lifecycle. 2K have ostensibly side-stepped this issue by acquiring possession of an existing property, but their choice really begs the question; “How many (especially younger) people have actually heard of X-COM?”

We could argue for days about X-COM’s brand recognition, but we’re really not going to get a very representative sample of the population from the users of this site. The claim here is not that “No one has heard of X-COM” but simply that its audience was not as broad as the market for games today.

The most obvious solution of how to market a modern day X-COM game then, is to remind people of how awesome UFO: Enemy Unknown is to this day. To coincide with the release of its big, modern brother, 2k games should produce a true-to-its-roots remake of the turn-based strategy game that started it all.

The idea of making an appetizer for an upcoming larger release is something Capcom has pioneered. With both Bionic Commando: Rearmed and Dead Rising: Case Zero, they showed that the profits gained from a smaller downloadable release can be large, even if the jury’s still out on whether these can actually help the sales of the title it’s supposed to promote. Bionic Commando sold badly primarily because it was a genuinely bad game, and Dead Rising 2 has of course not yet been released.

UFO: Enemy Unknown has great potential for this format because of how little work 2k need to do on the design front. The game’s structure is endlessly appealing, and to this day many still spend hours building up the ultimate earth defence network.

It also helps that UFO’s UI is already so flexible. Unlike many PC strategy games like Civilization or Command and Conquer, there aren’t any complicated keyboard shortcuts to deal with when porting the game to a console, and the fact that the original was designed to be played on the early 90’s low resolution monitor’s means that its HUD need not be compromised when making it work on a TV.

Additionally the turn-based nature of UFO means that it would be ideally suited for a PSP or DS appearance, although such a move may not be as wise since XCOM is after all not receiving a portable release.

There’s a risk involved with this strategy as with any release of course, but the costs involved shouldn’t be particularly high. After all, so long as the original design formula is adhered to, there really shouldn’t be much work to undertake from a design standpoint, merely a technical one.

Producing a remake of UFO: Enemy Unknown would produce numerous benefits for 2k Games. It would re-introduce the brand into the minds of gamers who may have long forgotten about it, as well as introducing it to younger gamers who may never have otherwise heard of it. Such a remake would also be very beneficial to gaming as a whole, ensuring that one of its classics doesn’t disappear into the mists of space and time. Of course, there’s also the distinct possibility that 2k might actually make a profit on the release, which I’m sure no one would want to complain with.

So would a remake of one of the best strategy games of all time interest you, or do you think that its entire potential audience can already get their fix from DoxBox and an old copy of the original?

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