Issue #
Diablo sends Halsey and Megan Fox to hell

As the developer and publisher of games such as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Activision Blizzard has plenty of experience using licensing partnerships and branded collaborations to amplify its releases. Its latest release, Diablo IV, has been a masterclass in brand collaborations and partnerships. 

Partnerships with Halsey, Panasonic, KFC and Jackson Guitars helped it to break $666m in sales in just five days, making it Activision’s fastest-selling launch. We explore why these partnerships have proven such a hit with players, and how they perfectly capture the Hellish brilliance of the game. 

Elsewhere, we take a look at how video game studios celebrated Pride in June and the lessons we can learn from in-game Pride events and collaborations for more inclusive and engaging CSR campaigns and initiatives. You’ll also find our top picks for video game licensing deals, collaborations and partnerships from the last month.

Diablo IV: A Masterclass in branded video game collaborations.

The release of Diablo IV was impossible to miss, even if you were never a fan of Blizzard’s action RPG dungeon-crawler series. Brand collaborators and partners were counting down to the day of its big release from as far back as December last year, when Halsey took to the stage at The Game Awards 2022 and performed her Diablo IV anthem, ‘Lilith’, to an audience of 103 million people. 

Over in Japan, the Diablo IV countdown kicked off with a Diablo-themed burger at Burger King, which eventually made its way to other parts of the world. Not content with one fast food chain, Activision partnered with KFC to drive engagement for its beta release by giving away early access codes with KFC meals. Months later, another collaboration offered customers exclusive in-game rewards with the purchase of any chicken sandwiches.

Things only got weirder from there. There have been plenty of collaborations and licensing deals between the fashion world and video games, but we never imagined a top-down dungeon crawler set in Hell appearing on the runway at Milan Fashion Week. A collaboration with Copenhagen-based Han Kjøbenhavn proved us wrong, with three outfits “inspired by the dark side and complimentary conflict” of Diablo IV. And for those that couldn’t make it to Milan Fashion Week, Blizzard also worked with London-based designer Charlie Cohen on a Diablo capsule collection, which culminated in a pop-up event at Selfridges’ Oxford Street store. 

Speaking of shopping, we’re convinced that Diablo fans shopping for a new TV to play the game won’t have taken much convincing to pick up the Panasonic and Diablo OLED, promoted as the best way to see Sanctuary in all of its dark and gloomy glory. 

So, that’s the fashion, food, music and audiovisual markets ticked off… anything else we’ve missed? Of course, how could we forget about the campaign with Megan Fox? The one encouraging players to share videos of their in-game deaths to be in with a chance of the American actress reading you a eulogy. As far as celebrity endorsements go, it doesn’t get much better than that. 

Sure, all of these collaborations and partnerships were conceived with the ultimate goal of shifting more copies of Diablo IV. But what’s noteworthy is the care and attention that Blizzard has paid to the Diablo brand to ensure that players genuinely engage with these campaigns and don’t just see them as marketing. As the highest-rated comment from a Diablo fan on the Megan Fox video says: “Wow, haven't seen good marketing actually aimed at a real company's target audience like this in a minute.” 

In the case of Diablo IV’s marketing, Blizzard has proven that if you keep the needs of your target audience front and center, there’s a way of making collaborations in any sector work, as long as you’re creative enough. Licensors should bear that in mind when they’re looking for video games to integrate with.

Lessons on inclusive gaming partnerships from Pride

You won’t struggle to find examples of massive corporations capitalizing on Pride celebrations out of shameless self-interest. Pride-themed product releases and promotions fall flat when there’s no credible display of diversity initiatives at other times of the year, especially when any money donated to charities pales compared to the revenues they’re generating.  

LGBTQ+ representation in video games has never been great, but things are improving as diversity and inclusion becomes an increasingly important topic in the gaming industry. Microsoft, Bungie, Crystal Dynamics, Blizzard, PlayStation and a massive selection of independent video games all hosted campaigns as part of this year’s Pride, promoting inclusivity while supporting the work of LGBTQI+ charities.

It isn’t unusual for live-service video games to release new cosmetic items alongside major calendar dates. Now, a growing number of video game companies are using Pride to release Pride-themed cosmetic items, which are typically given away for free or sold with 100% of the proceeds going to LGBTQI+ charities. 

Overwatch 2, the hero-based shooter from Blizzard, received its first Pride-themed update this year, with proceeds from the sale of Pride-themed items going to the National Center for Transgender Equality. The company also released a short story confirming two of its characters are part of the LGBTQI+ community, a notable act considering most game studios avoid depicting the sexual orientation of characters if they aren’t perceived as straight. 

Bungie, the studio responsible for developing Destiny, is a proud supporter of the LGBTQI+ community through its nonprofit organization The Bungie Foundation. On its blog, it announced several initiatives for this year’s Pride and reiterated its support for the LGBTQI+ community. 

Over in the world of mobile games, Subway Surfers ran its biggest activation yet for Pride, with a multi-channel campaign and long-term partnerships with organizations such as It Gets Better and Gay Gaming Pros. A new map and a non-binary character were also added to the popular mobile game. 

All of these events and campaigns have been positively received by the LGBTQI+ community, and there are lessons here to be learned from organizing inclusive events that make a genuine impact.

First, seek to inspire notable long-term change. Adding new permanent characters and cosmetic items ensures that inclusivity remains an important topic all year round, not just for a month. The second is simply putting your money where your mouth is. Match charitable donations and give away 100% of the proceeds where the items you sell are Pride-themed.

Finally, make sure you’re actively engaging and listening to members of your gaming and IP communities that identify as LGBTQI+. It’s not unusual for fans and players to form strong connections with characters from video games and IPs they identify with, so be mindful that some characters may already have a strong reputation with certain members of LGBTQI+ communities. You’ll need to respect that in any campaigns of your own. 

Make sure you test before you launch, too. Warner Bros. Games had to issue a public apology after it issued a Pride Month challenge where players had to unite and beat up Poison Ivy, a queer DC comics character. There are plenty of things that could and should have prevented that campaign from ever launching the way it did.

In Brief

Here are some of our other favourite brand collaborations, licensing deals and partnerships from the last month.

And in other news…