Brandon Doerrer
Aug 16, 2023

Case study: How Final Fantasy reached new players on its 16th game

The 35-year-old video game series used athletes to bring new players around the world into the fold.

Photo: PlayStation / Sony Interactive.
Photo: PlayStation / Sony Interactive.

Final Fantasy, a Japanese role-playing video game series, had a challenge on its hands ahead of its 16th release on June 22. 

Despite featuring a standalone story and requiring minimal knowledge of the last 15 games in the series to understand how to play it, outsiders might see the numerals at the end of Final Fantasy XVI and assume there’s no way they could jump into the series so far in.

And while Final Fantasy XV sold more than 10 million copies by May 2022, making it the second-best-selling game in the series almost six years after its release, its producer, Sony Interactive, wanted to take its marketing in a different direction by appealing to casual gamers.

So, how could it attract newcomers to the 16th game in a 35-year-old franchise?

When agency Rebel Ventures received that challenge in its brief, it decided to combine the two worlds it knows best: gaming and sports. 

It recruited athletes from across six global sports leagues, including San Francisco 49er’s tight end George Kittle, LSU Women’s Basketball player Angel Reese, WWE star Austin Creed, Olympic gymnast Suni Lee, F1 racer Pierre Gasly, Arsenal women’s player Alessia Russo, men’s player Garbiel Martinelli and Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies, for a spot welcoming new players.

While the connection between sports and gaming may seem tenuous to those unfamiliar with one or both fandoms, Rebel based its decision on a core insight: out of 86 million action role-playing game players, three out of five are sports fans.

The approach worked: the spot reached over 30 million views while garnering 278,000 likes and 3,000 shares across the official Final Fantasy XIV account and athletes’ accounts across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, X and Facebook. Athletes drove 6,000 users to Final Fantasy XIV’s Instagram account.

Publisher and developer Square Enix also reported a strong start by selling over three million copies of the game within one week of its release date, though it’s difficult to determine how much of that success can be attributed to the athlete campaign, said Craig Howe, Rebel Ventures CEO.

The momentum for the game appears to have slowed considerably, though its marketing approach isn’t to blame, according to Square Enix. The developer reported operating profit loss of 79% in its last earnings report, largely citing Final Fantasy XIV sale drop off due to the slow adoption of PlayStation 5, the console that the game is exclusively available on.

How Rebel picked its athletes

Seasoned gamers may not be surprised to see the WWE’s Austin Creed, who has a popular gaming channel UpUpDownDown, participate in the campaign. While his gaming experience was a boon, it wasn’t the only thing Rebel sought in its athletes.

Rebel’s primary goal was to capture a global audience by featuring athletes from a variety of sports that could appeal to specific audiences Sony and Square Enix identified as having a high demand for the game. Creed, Reese, Lee and Kittle appealed to U.S. audiences, while Gasly, Russo, Martinelli and Davies hit various parts of Europe and South America 

“The campaign was truly global,” Howe said. “The thing that I’m most proud of, and why I think this campaign did well, is it’s a true diversity of…really unexpected voices.”

While Rebel was going for unexpected, it still vetted the athletes by having them play the game to get a feel for their reactions before shooting. It also kept the script loose to give each athlete room to lean into their personalities, big or small.

“My biggest piece of learning is that you need a good blend of really engaged, charismatic talent that can act and a blend of people that have a really large following,” Howe said, adding that campaigns often rely too heavily on the latter. “Going forward, that’s a lesson we’re going to push for when we work with clients. You may not know this person that well, but trust us — their moment is coming.”

Howe stated that Reese drew the highest engagement of all the participating athletes.

Rebel shot the spot in around three weeks. Howe declined to disclose the campaign’s budget for publication but did state that the firm surpassed its campaign goals in terms of return on investment.


Campaign US

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