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PlayStation 3 celebrates gamers in new blockbuster commercial

Deutsch, Los Angeles creative director Jason Elm talks about the making of "To Michael."

Video games have been around long enough that it now has a significant creative history. A new blockbuster commercial for the PlayStation 3 taps into that—far from your Grandma’s Wii bowling—to celebrate the legacy of the hardcore gamer.

Created by ad agency Deutsch, Los Angeles, and directed by award-winning lensman Simon McQuoid, no stranger to big-time game ads, the commercial follows two WWII soldiers into a Mos Eisley-like cantina where an eclectic group of customers begin to toast an unseen hero. It quickly becomes clear to anyone who’s played a PlayStation over the last 17 years that these are game characters in live-action. Featured are 20 different characters from 15 different developers including Ubisoft, EA, Activision, Konami and more. The guest list includes Ezio from Assassin’s Creed, Athena from God of War 2, Infamous‘ Cole MacGrath, Sweet Tooth from Twisted Metal, Sackboy from Little Big Planet, among many others.

While it is a live-action spot, more than 3,000 hours of visual effects were used to create it and they even brought in many of the original voice actors to intone for each character.

The spot garnered more than 9.5 million YouTube hits in its first week, and joins a breed of gaming spots—arguably launched with this 2006 Gears of War ad—that have aimed to reflect the emotional connection between gamer and game. I spoke to Jason Elm, one of the creative directors and copywriters behind the spot, about where the idea came from, how it was made and more.

Where did the idea come from?

Jason Elm: We just wanted to show that we know what it’s like to be a gamer and exemplify what that means. That’s what the tagline “long live play” is about. It’s about PlayStation as a champion of gaming, and I mean that as a verb not a noun. We wanted this spot to serve as a thank you to all the gamers over the years but also as an invitation to new gamers just starting out.

What inspired the setting and mood of the spot?

JE: We wanted a place that was timeless and didn’t belong to any single game or piece of tech. We could’ve easily put them all inside the console. Like, zoom out and they’re inside the PS3. But we really wanted that timeless aspect. It was really important for us to do it in live action but when we first brought this idea to the table, there was a lot of question as to whether it was even possible because we’d need the approval of all these different developers.

Each of these characters are some of the biggest heroes in the gaming world, so it was almost like getting together 20 A-list Hollywood celebrities to be in a commercial together, in terms of the logistics and organization. Gamers are a very cynical and passionate group, particularly online, so we knew we had to absolutely nail it or it could backfire on us.

How did you decide which characters to use?

JE: We started off with the obvious ones you can only play on PlayStation. It was about looking at legacy heroes who have spanned consoles, the biggest ones right now. Then we looked for some diversity. We didn’t want it to look like a space bar or just a bunch of shooters. We got Hitman, some athletes like the USC football player, and there’s an alien from Resistance 3. We wanted it to be this otherworldy, futuristic yet historical setting, and as the seconds ticked by we wanted each new shot to give the viewer a surprise. When you first follow these soldiers in, you’re not sure where they are. Is it a commercial for a war movie? We wanted viewers to be asking themselves, “Where is this going?”

Spots like this, or that first Gears of War spot and the Halo stuff from a few years ago, really tap into the emotion and story of games. What does that say about the evolving role of games and how does that translate into the marketing?

JE: Games have come out of the basement. One thing we try to do is take that emotion and reward gamers get from playing games, and both reflect and celebrate that.

Gamers aren’t just these kids who sit in front of the TV all day. We do a lot of research and talk to a lot of teens, for example, and most of them lead very balanced lives. They play sports, go to the movies, play music and video games is just a part of that mix.

There have been spots before that reflect what it means to be a gamer, there’s the Xbox “Jump In” campaign that really showed what it was like to play multiplayer. Our spot had a lot going for it, amazing production values, the characters, but at the end of the day it’s about getting the reaction from gamers, “That’s how I feel.”

What’s up next in the campaign?

JE: Gamers love to share, so we’re working on a lot of social media things that will be rolled out over the next few weeks that allow them to put their own signature on stuff and spread it around with some fun tools to follow this up.