ZeniMax Media's software publisher Bethesda Softworks may not be a familiar name to the non-gamers among you, but if you've looked at a billboard or a subway poster in the last year or so, you've seen ads for Rage, Skyrim and Dishonored, the company's most recent major releases. The gaming company has also managed to land some unique cable TV integrations, notably long sequences in a couple of Breaking Bad episodes in which the conflicted Jesse plays the company's first-person shooter Rage while flashing back to a murder he committed.
Now, Bethesda's Dishonored is getting a first-of-its-kind integration on Syfy's Face Off, a competition series that pits FX makeup artists against each other. The show has had various themed episodes, including one on the Universal Studios back lot with a Wizard of Oz motif and another requiring contestants to zombify Alice in Wonderland characters, but the Dishonored integration requires the competing makeup artists to use the game's digital designs as a springboard for their own practical effects. The game's exaggerated figures and steampunk setting seem ideal for the show, but it's the first video game to make the leap to the Face Off set.
"The producers really got it—they even picked a steampunk location in that was the essence of the game," said Cara Scharf, president of Fearless Media, who came up with the integration and brokered the deal between her client (Bethesda) and the network. "All the stars have to align for these things. Producers are artists who don't like you messing with the script."
Bethesda is Fearless's only video game client—Scharf (who also created the Breaking Bad deal, among others) took them with her when she struck out on her own three years ago from the firm Tangible Media. Scharf says she won't take on any other gaming clients. "I just felt as though this company was on fire and I could do a much better job for them if I solely concentrated on launching their titles," she said.
The game publisher needs that kind of help with Dishonored. It drew praise at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, but it's also original intellectual property and has a natural handicap when competing with the fall's major releases—Resident Evil 6, Assassin's Creed III (the fifth game in the series, believe it or not), Halo 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops II. There's hardly a game in sight without a subtitle, a number or a Roman numeral attached to it.
With established fan bases, those games have less to prove, but Bethesda's vp of marketing and public relations, Pete Hines, said that Dishonored is easier to market to a wider variety of people, since folks don't already think they know everything about it. "When you say, 'Oh, we're doing something around Skyrim,' people say, 'I know what that is!' It's a little harder to get your foot in the door with Dishonored, but we know the game better than anyone else."
Much of Bethesda's marketing for the game is creative fan service—a free Fruit Ninja-style iPod/iPad game; a masquerade party at a gaming expo that mimics one of the game's levels; a contest to remix one of the game's songs. Traditional media buys include ESPN on college game days (likely to interest young men with disposable income), Syfy, Comedy Central, FX and other networks with equal or greater male-to-female ratios, which are harder and harder to find these days.
Syfy's vp of network advertising sales, Chris Czarkowski, said that the network's unscripted slate (which has grown in recent years) opened doors to deep integrations in a way that scripted programming makes more difficult, if it doesn't prohibit them altogether. Ghost Hunters had a successful integration with Dodge and Face Off will have a live event at the end of October that Czarowski says is tailored to provide opportunities for deep integration (it'll also be that much more attractive to traditional advertisers, given the incentive to tune in live). And video games are a good market for the network generally.
"The category for Syfy is one of our largest," said Czarkowski. "When, in the fourth quarter and the first quarter, they're pushing their games, we tend to get a large portion of that marketplace. We've seen it grow."