Behind the work: How EE used Unreal Engine to become the UK’s new gaming destination
LBB’s Alex Reeves speaks to EE, Saatchi & Saatchi, Digitas and Collective to find out why real-time 3D was the best approach for the new multi-million-pound campaign which positions EE as the UK’s new gaming destination.
Chris Shadrick
Interim Managing Director

EE has officially announced its new online Game Store and launched a multi-million-pound cross-channel campaign inspired by the iconic visual worlds of the UK’s most loved video games.

In a bid to become the UK’s number one gaming destination, EE collaborated with Saatchi & Saatchi and Digitas to launch the ATL campaign, featuring four unforgettable 3D gaming worlds built in Unreal Engine. Following the launch earlier this year, the campaign film drove gamers nationwide to the EE Game Store by showcasing the breadth of the network’s gaming propositions – from a trade-in of old consoles for money off, to cloud gaming and exclusive gaming bundles.

The campaign film follows a hero’s journey from everyday office life into the colourful and dynamic world of gaming. On his journey, the main character suddenly stumbles on a mirage of an island floating amongst the clouds, with a glowing EE pin above it. Following the beacon, the character experiences the world around him slowly evolving into a mixed reality universe, with his own reflection morphing into a series of avatars and his otherwise normal moves changing into video-game-like ones.

Interrupting the film as the hero stands beneath the EE Game Store pin, after his epic journey towards the finish line, Kevin Bacon’s voice is heard: “Your new destination for gaming. The EE Game Store, all the games, all the gear, and it’s now open for everyone.”

LBB’s Alex Reeves speaks to EE’s managing director of marketing Christian Thrane, Digitas’ creative director ​​Björn Conradi, executive production director at Saatchi & Saatchi Rachel Solomon and Collective’s executive creative director Stephen Barnes to find out more about the making of the campaign and EE’s positioning.

LBB> What was the goal of this campaign and what were the key things you wanted to communicate about the new store?

Christian> The EE Game Store is the next step in our ambition to become the UK’s number one destination for gaming, so it was crucial that this campaign let gamers across the country, regardless of their network, know that the EE Game Store was now open for them to get ahold of the latest gear.

​​Björn> This campaign marks EE’s arrival as the new destination in gaming. It’s important that customers understand that their new Game Store is open to players from all networks, not just those who are with EE already. That’s why we wanted to make a campaign that felt relevant to all types, shapes and sizes of gamers across the UK.

LBB> At what point did the option of building so much of it in Unreal Engine come into the idea?

Christian> The concept of using Unreal Engine to build the ads stemmed from our agency brief for the EE Game Store campaign to show up completely differently. The brief was to create something new, exciting and credible that demonstrates that EE understands gaming culture and audiences. We wanted the creative to speak to gamers in their language, on their terms and take visual cues from the gaming worlds that they love.

​​Björn> We started work shortly after Epic Games’ announcement of its new Unreal editor for Fortnite (or ‘Creative 2.0’) which we used to build a custom EE Game Store in Fortnite for our ‘Capture the Store’ activation. At the same time, the ‘Vistas’ OOH concept was taking shape. It felt appropriate to announce EE’s arrival in gaming by building a campaign using the same software so many of the world’s biggest games are made with.

Rachel> We initially explored creating this work in a more traditional CGI approach but found challenges financially, within our timings and also creatively. When speaking to Collective it became clear quite quickly that they could produce incredible vistas which were fully interactive and could be updated in real-time while on a call at a fraction of the time of traditional CGI builds.

LBB> Why was real-time 3D design the right way to go for this concept?

Stephen> Unreal 3D wasn’t just the right way, it was the only way. Due to the time constraints and the scale of the challenge, being able to work in real time allowed us to truncate all of the feedback loops and work live with the creatives at Saatchi & Saatchi.

This created a much more dynamic and fluid workflow that not only allowed us to realise Saatchi’s and EE’s vision, but turned a very challenging and potentially highly stressful timeline into a collaborative, creative and overall enjoyably fun experience.

Leaning into the Unreal marketplace also opened up a wealth of opportunities in terms of assets we could utilise to build the worlds, further reducing production times and costs.

LBB> What was most exciting about working this way?

​​Björn> At one point we joined a live session to review a version of the floating island. It looked absolutely fantastic, but the colour palette was too close to some of the other executions and had to change drastically. This is obviously a tonne of work when you have just built an entire world. I tried my best to deliver the feedback as delicately as possible. Still, before I could finish my sentence, they changed some parameters on the time of day and position of the sun, and it was done immediately. Working in Unreal is not so much 3D design as it is being a god in a world of your own making.

Stephen> The first session we had with Saatchi & Saatchi was a joy. When we saw their team begin to realise the opportunities and capabilities of the software, what was organised as a formal feedback session became an interactive, collaborative and enjoyable exploration of what could be achieved. In the space of an hour, we’d arrived at a pretty much fully finished scene. This then became the MO for all future sessions.

It’s always so satisfying and inspiring when you see people (especially creatives) getting their heads around new technology. You can literally see their expressions change when they realise how it can not only totally change the work that can be delivered, but that real-time 3D also brings the playfulness back to the creative process, where there is the time and opportunity for experimentation and happy accidents to happen – all in real-time.

LBB> Speed, cost-effectiveness and sustainability are clearly advantages of working this way. What was most impressive in those regards?

​​Björn> Personally I thought the whole ‘being a god’ thing was pretty good.

LBB> Beyond that, creatively, what was brilliant about using this tech?

Stephen> The ability to push the creative boundaries by taking the shackles off of the process. By doing this, it really felt like we were able to go to places that we wouldn’t have been able to had we have used traditional production methodologies.

​​Björn> We already knew of Unreal Engine as technology that powers the world’s most stunning game graphics. Our ‘Capture the Store’ activation in Fortnite is a great example. Making the OOH campaign with Collective has now opened our eyes to its incredible potential as a design/production tool for traditional channels. We’re already thinking about what to do next…

LBB> How will this project affect the way you approach future campaigns?

Christian> We identified gaming as a focus area for EE following extensive customer insights research looking at the current and future needs of our audiences. This data has been crucial in prioritising the products and services we choose to focus on and when we decide to shout about them. By focusing on the needs of our customers and building products and services to address these needs, we are able to evolve the business from having a share of the market to earning a right to solve more problems for our customers, and play a bigger role in their lives.

This campaign is a great example of our targeted, channel-specific approach to above-the-line campaigns created to address these new focus areas. In this day and age, it’s pointless shooting an ad for TV and then expecting cut-downs of the same creative to land well on other channels like social media.

Building bespoke creative executions for each channel, and carefully considering the specific audience that execution is targeted at is crucial for an integrated campaign like this to have an impact. What’s interesting about the EE Game Store campaign is that by using the tools that gaming developers use, we created something that spoke to this audience on their terms; we will be continuing to challenge ourselves creatively to find interesting new ways to do this for all our work.

This article was first published on LBB.