When Ontario, CA-based Torn Banner Studios released the PC version of their medieval combat game, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, in 2012, they expected to sell about 100,000 copies. They already had a big following from their game Half-Life 2 Mod, Age of Chivalry, so this target seemed ambitious but reasonable. Chivalry blew the top off these initial expectations. Four years later, 3.5 million copies have been sold and it continues to have a strong following.
We caught up with Alex Hayter, Senior Brand Manager at Torn Banner, to talk about the secrets of the game’s success. Read on to discover how they kept the momentum going, how they’re incorporating what they learned into their next product, and more—all while staying true to their mission of creating games they like to play.
Torn Banner’s Story
In many ways, Torn Banner’s path to success is a game developer’s dream come true. What started as a collaboration between students and hobbyists all over the world evolved into a game that everyone in the company was truly passionate about.
“We wanted do justice to the awesome medieval combat that we’ve seen in Hollywood movies, like Braveheart or Gladiator,” Alex explained.
There were other medieval games on the market, but none of them offered the kind of intense control that they were imagining, akin to what they were seeing in multiplayer shooter games with futuristic or modern storylines.
Like many new game developers, Torn Banner didn’t create a marketing plan or do market validation early in the process. From their experience creating the Half-Life 2 Mod, they knew there were people out there just like them, who loved these movies and would love to be able to jump into the melee with realistic weaponry and intense control. They had high internal standards for what this game should look and feel like—and operated under the assumption that if they felt the game was awesome, their customers would too. It was a risk that paid off.
Torn Banner priced Chivalry at USD 25 on Steam, which was in the same range as other games of the same quality on the market at that time. It was a price that felt like a fair reflection of the game’s value—but also enabled them to offer deep discounts during Steam’s many sales.
Although Torn Banner did not do a lot of pre-release market validation, after launch they paid close attention to what was helping Chivalry reach a broader audience and were nimble about building on these successes. Here are some of the things that helped the game really take off:
Made to Be Seen
YouTube was just emerging as a gaming video platform around the time that Chivalry came out. With its highly visual, historically accurate world, over-the-top violence, and the ability of players to get creative with swords, bows and arrows and other medieval weaponry in melee combat, and the game lent itself particularly well to the new medium. Add in player commentary (in period-perfect lingo, of course) and the ability for players to shout custom voice commands during battle and you had gaming videos that were as entertaining to watch as the game was to play. This had a huge viral effect and generated tons of new interest in the game.
5 Seconds of Gore
Another tactic that has worked well for Chivalry was the 5-second GIF. In fact, Hayter explained that the 5-second GIF became a sort of litmus test for how communicable a game is. “We knew what we were doing from the beginning in terms of tone and player fantasy,” Alex said. “In five seconds with Chivalry, it can be someone chopping off someone’s head with a sword and then the blood spurting out. Just by watching it you get the adrenaline rush and you can see how appealing that can be to a lot of different game players.”
Extend the World, Extend the Fun
One of the great things about Chivalry is that its popularity has continued long after its release. Torn Banner has been able to extend the fun and gain new customers through cross-promotions with other games on the same platform. For instance, they might include an item in Chivalry that players will recognize from another game, and vice versa. The catch? Players need to have both games to unlock the item.
Community is more than a buzzword for Torn Banner team. They know that the Chivalry community is full of dedicated players who like medieval warfare as much as they do. Torn Banner has worked to actively nurture this community since the release by holding contests and community initiatives, and participating in discussions on social media, within the Steam community, and on their own website. These discussions have allowed them to get to know their customers better so they can make sure to keep creating games the community will love.
Nurturing organic marketing, such as gaming videos and discussion boards, is a great way for a small studio to reach a lot of people with limited resources. For Torn Banner, one limit is that they only have one dedicated marketing person—it’s Alex! While larger organizations might be able to produce new media assets regularly, Torn Banner wasn’t able to do so.
Enter Torn Banner’s engagement with Intel. Intel took notice of the excitement around Chivalry and approached Torn Banner with a partnership opportunity.
“Torn Banner Studios’ game Chivalry: Medieval Warfare grabbed our attention: they were an indie company developing and publishing a game with an inspired take on first-person, multiplayer gameplay in a very competitive genre—yet doing well,” said Patrick DeFreitas, Software Partner Marketing Manager at Intel.
“This engagement was an opportunity to enable their title for Intel® Iris™ graphics on the latest Intel® Core based platforms and help them continue to expand both their brand and game to new players and more millennials.”
One of the things that attracted Torn Banner to the Intel partnership was that Intel made it really easy to work with them. “It’s been nice that Intel hasn’t required us to put a ton of effort into creating new assets,” Hayter said.
Torn Banner engaged with Intel on two campaigns in 2015:
- Holiday Contest. During the holiday season, Torn Banner partnered with Intel on a fun contest that helped increase Torn Banner’s exposure and drive traffic to the Chivalry page on the Intel® App Showcase. The holiday contest was a huge success, with Torn Banner receiving more than 4,300 entries (219% above goal!); more than 7M impressions; and 1,353 new Facebook followers in just six and a half days!
- Twitch Trailer Promo. In this promotion, an Intel gaming specialist helped create a video trailer for Twitch TV that highlighted a few awesome gaming apps that run on Intel® architecture, including Chivalry. Another big success, this campaign drew 205,000 video views and resulted in a more than 2.25% click through rate to Torn Banner’s product page!
In keeping with their mission to make games they love to play and the high value they place on nurturing creativity, Torn Banner decided to focus next on a new game, rather than a sequel. Mirage: Arcane Warfare, comes out this fall and the team will be using many of the same go-to-market strategies that worked well for Chivalry, a little more formally this time. Specific plans include:
- Getting early feedback through play testing
- Releasing a beta to get even more feedback
- Focusing on highly visual marketing assets, such as trailers, as well as making behind-the-scenes videos
- Working to create hype for the game at events before launch
- Listening to customer feedback but still staying focused on making the game they want to play
Ingredients for Success
Torn Banner has grown from a collaboration of mod developers into a thriving studio on the brink of launching its second game. They credit their success to four key ingredients:
- Make a really great game. The developers never faltered in their mission to create the game they wanted to play. The result was a highly visual, super fun game unlike any other on the market.
- Embrace ambassadors. YouTube and other video content traders were instrumental in spreading the word about Chivalry. Chivalry was a great candidate for this then-new form of entertainment—it’s highly visual and the gameplay and medieval world lent itself well to amusing commentary.
- Continue to improve. Once the game was released, Torn Banner actively supported with 46 patches to date, tons of free post-launch content, and an active presence in the community.
- Value creativity within the organization. A critical part of the culture at Torn Banner is at that everyone’s opinion matters. All team members—from marketing, to QA, to programming, to art—are valued for their creativity and have a voice in the games they make.
“Don’t try to latch onto a successful game idea. Truly commit to your own thing, follow your passion.”