- [In the first of a new series, GameSetWatch contacted a couple of our friends in game marketing and PR with a potentially explosive notion we've been mulling over.

Valve's 'The Orange Box' is an amazing package, but we still didn't 'get' why it was called that. Does it do the games any favors with a less informed mainstream audience to be released under that name?

One of the people we contacted, Reflexive marketing director Russell Carroll (Wik, Ricochet series) had some strong, similar personal opinions about it - so we're happy to let him rip in this guest opinion piece.]

"First off I'll disqualify myself by saying that Reflexive doesn't make FPS games or even 3rd-person shooters. I don't have any experience with that specific genre or in trying to reach that segment of the market.

That said, The Orange Box was a critical darling from a popular genre whose sales (at least in the US) are struggling to match the rave reviews. (NPD for October had the game at 6th with ~240,000 units, around 200,000 less units than Halo 3 second month of sales and 1000 units behind Wii Play) [EDIT: To be clear, Russell is referencing the Xbox 360 version here, not the PC retail/digital sales or the PlayStation 3 version.]

It's a marketer's job to make the connection between the product and the audience and it would seem that The Orange Box is a fantastic package struggling to find its audience.

I think the biggest issue with The Orange Box, the number of included games, is also its biggest strength. I think that the problem with the package is that it lacks any strong identity. It's a mash-up of different brands that instead of trying to take advantage of the strength of any one of those brands creates a new brand without any value at all.

The game doesn't come across like 'The White Album' - it comes across as a confusion of messages without any one central point. While it is great show of confidence for Portal to get equal billing (the middle 1/3 of the box cover) with Half-Life, what does that say to gamers about what Valve thinks of the included Half-Life 2 content? (Which, notably, is 60% of the package)

The confusion fire is further stoked by the compilation aspect. Compilation discs are reserved for budget software that is bundled together because none is good enough to stand on its own. The Orange Box is certainly not budget and doesn't fit into the mold created, which means that a mental shift has to be made in the mind of the consumer. Valve has to redefine how people perceive a compilation of games from budget to blockbuster. Redefining long-standing perceptions isn't something to be taken lightly. The question could be posed "Does calling it 'The Orange Box' help to do this?"

I don't think so.

In hindsight, if I were involved I'd have focused on the existing brand strength of Half-Life and built off of that. Ideally I think the package needed to be broken down into multiple packages. With all the games together, it's hard to get past the natural feeling that none of them could stand on their own. It would have been very interesting to release all the games on XBLA as separate downloadable games that together added up to $60. Though we wouldn't have had any NPD numbers to discuss that way, I think the individual sales would have trumped the sales seen from the compilation.

If the opportunity to break it up into two-three different packages weren't available and I had to put all my eggs into one box, I'd call it after the strongest brand available. In this case that brand is certainly Half-Life. I'm not sure exactly what I'd call it, perhaps something like:

Half-Life: Uncut. Unleashed.

My goal would be to focus on a core of the package and try to get a strong message out to buyers about a single brand and let the additional content feel like amazing extras. I'd want the audience to know that this package is hard-core and that everything previous to it was somehow deficient.

While The Orange Box title does give the consumer a single message, I think it lacks identity and devalues the Half-Life brand through both bundling and avoiding use of the Half-Life name."