How NVE Experience Agency Brought Dungeons & Dragons to Life
- October 20, 2022
The magical fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons is coming to the big screen. It’s a noteworthy cinematic experience that demands an engaging presence. Paramount Pictures, the studio behind the cinematic film, chose SDCC–a well-attended event, to kick off a year-long pre-release campaign.
Paramount Pictures partnered with NVE, the type of marketing agency that has depths of experience bridging the gap between real-world engagements and digital reach with a flair for engagement. Together, they created an in-person, 4D cinematic activation to bring the D&D world to life. The campaign was awarded “Best Line Management” by SDCC blog and reached a global audience with:
The world of D&D garnered plenty of attention by pairing high-quality creatives with thorough management practices to create an experience that was stimulating and satisfying. Let’s take a closer look at how NVE achieved success within the D&D universe.
Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a table-top role-playing game set in a mythical fantasy world. Since its release in 1974, D&D has been the leading tabletop game drawing more than 50 million players–today it’s a whole franchise.
While the game continues to engage millions in long-winded, intensely detailed gameplay scenarios, the franchise found a new way to level up the experience. A full, feature-length film: Honor Among Thieves was created to bring the mythical D&D characters to the big screen.
Dungeons & Dragons already had a large–and growing fan base. But if Hollywood has learned anything from fantasy genre cinema, it’s that a loyal fan base only goes so far. To ensure the success of the film, they needed to reach D&D fans on the same level of engagement that they see in the game. Anyone who has played the game knows–that’s a big ask.
For the fantasy-genre cinematic activation, we needed a big build up. With the film slated for a 2023 release, Paramount Pictures wanted to create a fully immersive experience that would bring fans into the D&D world. An experiential marketing agency and the right technology offered a blank slate of opportunity to create the in-world engagement that would draw a crowd at SDCC.
The project’s creative director, Nick Garritano said “as we developed this experience, we wanted all that joined us to not just be guests of the D&D universe, but to join us in the tavern wherever they are in their journey within the realm–as if they are an adventurer themselves. All have traveled far to be there, physically and emotionally, and we wanted to welcome them with open arms!”
NVE had a big task at hand–complicated by the noise of an already engaging Comic-Con event. They need to stand out from the crowd while still maintaining a delicate balance between authentic character representation to earn the respect of loyal fans as well as a welcoming presence that attracts new fans.
It was building up to be a high-stakes, high-reward activation at one of the busiest events in the film industry. The team at NVE had to get every detail exactly right.
When Paramount Pictures partnered with NVE, the bar was set high. The loyal, engaged D&D fan base is accustomed to immersive experiences. They spend vast amounts of time engaged in gameplay, tapping into their own streams of creativity. They’re skilled in following storylines–each one keenly aware of the smallest details.
One mis-step and the entire activation would fall flat of the fans expectations–and subsequently flat of the studio’s expectations. NVE knew that they needed a ‘no-holds-barred’ immersive experience.
That meant, they would be creating the kind of experience that combined a full set to transform a physical location enhanced by digital technologies to add character interactions to create an engagement that is layered and engaging beyond cosplay.
There were two big shoes to fill: audience expectations and efficient throughput for a smooth experience. These two things are essential in creating a positive, memorable in-person engagement.
NVE also understood that D&D’s audience is global. SDCC draws a large crowd with attendees coming from all over, but the engagement needed a viral element that would reach beyond the event. This social amplification is exactly the ‘little something extra’ that NVE’s experiential campaigns offer.
NVE put an entire team to work, designing a rich creative experience supported by efficient management that would ensure a seamless flow for a high-traffic event. The work began with countless hours of guest flow research. Ultimately, NVE adopted theme park management tactics including a reservation system to manage wait times and ensure a good user experience.
Once we knew how we can provide an in-person activation at scale, NVE dove into the creative elements. We transformed a dark nightclub into a glowing, mystical tavern. To delight the creative expectations of the gaming community, no detail was missed. The tavern was outfitted with film props, monsters, hidden experiences, and complimentary dragon’s brew beverages (alcoholic or non-alcoholic).
The tavern would set the scene, transporting attendees to the D&D world inside a physical touchpoint. But the big bang that would seal the deal on a buzzworthy launch event was a showstopping surprise. During the activation, the tavern would be attacked by a Black Dragon.
This touchpoint added technology elements to deepen the immersive experience. We worked with some of the world’s most renowned content creators and animators to bring the film’s dragon to life. We would place a 35-foot wide by 9-foot tall LED “window” in the tavern to display the Black Dragon attack, paired with 4D elements like rumbling walls, shaking chandeliers, CO2 canisters, and a total blackout to captivate the audience.
According to Account Director, Carlie Richman, the immersive experience allowed guests to forget what was going on just outside the tavern walls at the SDCC event, truly transporting them to the fantasy D&D world to create a genuine cinematic adventure.
SDCC is a massive event with endless competition and the D&D franchise is a big draw so we knew that a priority in designing an activation for the event would need to solve the common problem of a long wait time for an experience that was far too short.
The plan was to go full-scale, bringing the fantasy world to life with the tavern and Black Dragon character experience. However, the level of detail required to match the D&D fan base expectations would require top talent. This meant that maximizing return on investment (ROI) was also a big priority. In terms of numbers, the SDCC activation needed to reach an in-person throughput of 10,000 people.
NVE managed both the ‘long lines’ problem and the ROI needs with front-end investments in managing foot traffic. Our team was endlessly invested in figuring out how to keep lines manageable. We explored what the big theme parks were using in terms of reservation systems and line policies and we adopted a lot of those practices for our single event attraction.
The end result was success. NVE exceeded the goal of 10,000 people, reaching 11,400 at SDCC. The reservation system sold out within 3 hours and the event was awarded “Best Line Management” by SDCC blog. Not only did NVE help Paramount Pictures make a big splash at SDCC, but we also helped them capitalize on that buzz with a viral social reach of 17M users across platforms like TikTok and Instagram.
The bottom line on creating an effective experiential marketing campaign is really in breaking down what ‘experience’ means. Of course, studio elements like scene sets and 4D animations are the ‘experiences’ that get the most attention. But it’s equally important to balance the creative effort with good housekeeping measures. That means not only providing an engaging moment, but a delightful one as well. With the D&D activation, NVE spent a lot of time and detail planning out how more than 10,000 people would flow through the event to keep lines short and visitors happy.