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  SXSWi 2008 Notes:  Stories, Games and Your Brand  
Posted 2008-03-09 by Tony Walsh
Liveblogged from SXSWi in Austin, my rough notes from the panel "SXSW 2008 Notes: Stories, Games, and Your Brand."

Dan Hon case study: Cloverfield.
-- More people heard of the marketing than saw the movie (based on informal audience survey)

Rachel Clarke case study: Honda.
-- Puzzles built into posters, web site, game play engages viewers, every time you play the game it takes you closer to the brand

Roo Reynolds case study: Perplex City.
-- PC had a nice collecting element, but a great backstory, bits of everything in it... in my work in virtual worlds, I've been disappointed to not experience this level of depth (although VWs are good at turning people into participants)...

Jeremy Ettinghausen- Why might brands be interested in games and stories?
-- previous marketing efforts were interruptive, had brief engagement periods... games provide a munch longer, in-depth interaction between brand and consumer... that's why more and more brands are interested in games

Moderator: Where have some of the efforts gone badly?

Rachel- Alleve drug campaign is similar to ARG play, but everything along the whole way is highly controlled, it's not interactive [subtext: why bother?]

Jeremy- We made a game at Penguin, puzzle solving for a book, it was very popular but didn't sell any books... what worked better was traditional marketing

Dan- With Cloverfield, there's an existing audience interested in ARG play, but Cloverfield wasn't a game at all, like Easter eggs on a DVD, it was more traditional broadcast style marketing... your audience has expectations, look at what happened with Lonely Girl, where the creators embraced ARG play based on fan input... marketers need to be able to respond appropriately to audience input.

Rachel- understand there are a lot of differently-abled players out there [content can be eaten too fast, puzzles solved too quickly]

Dan- You can try to prevent this from happening, but it's really up to how you roll with it

Roo- In terms of huge train-wrecks, I think in the next few years I think we'll see some.

Dan- everyone in ARGs is trying to increase and broaden the appeal to address casual and hardcore players... there's a way to satisfy these separate needs... what we're building for Penguin is totally different than Perplex City

Rachel- Guinness was a big brand, and would attract very mainstream users... you can't expect people to have hardcore interest in this

Dan- There's a distinction online between Hardcore and Casual users, no one ever talks about the Hardcore television audience, the kind of people that are really into LOST or a soap... the level of involvement crosses media--the people who watch LOST and Heroes are doing stuff online...

Jeremy- We can introduce games to non-gamers as well. There's an audience who've never heard of I Love Bees. We can bring games into other places where people might be looking [such as bookstores]

Moderator- Money for these projects is typically held in the marketing departments, probably there are not many marketers who are educated about these new game forms.

Jeremy- The money at Penguin didn't come from marketing, it came from an innovations fund. The reason we're doing this is as a proof of concept and as a marketing exercise. Is there an audience for cross-media stories? We hope to increase awareness of our authors, explore the future of the story.

Dan- Elan Lee gave an interesting talk about eTalk, where his measure of success was the number of people who got married as a result of one of his campaigns [cross-reference with MMO weddings, interesting to think about]. About 4 couples got married following The Beast, and about 3 following I Love Bees.

Rachel- I asked Honda how clients get sold on a puzzle game concept. They said that it related to the brand of solving environmental problems.

Dan- Broadcasters and educators are interested in this stuff. If broadcasters have an education mandate, it's traditional to feature educational shows--but you can't evaluate learning. When cross-media is involved, it's easier to track educational outcomes.

Moderator- How does this development money go beyond R&D, Jeremy?

Jeremy- Penguin is a brand that has a value just as a brand. If people are talking about us that's a good thing. Certainly we want to sell books, it pays our wages. We are thinking about what happens after this project, do we create a book from the game--productize it--can we use what we learned in the future? Can we go to a phone manufacturer for sponsored digital writing projects? If it doesn't work, we will learn by failing.

Moderator- Games and puzzles have been used successfully in the past, what are the key characteristics that make your type of games better than a game on the back of a cereal packet.

Rachel- Collaboration. It's one of the biggest changes the Web has brought.

Dan- The social web, community, encouraging sharing. With the net we have a much more direct interaction with our audience.

Rachel- Someone brought up the "Dancing Elves" campaign, which took 2 years to reach popularity. The web makes distribution much more effective. The game publisher put out 20 games as a test, the Dancing Elves got popular the following year after being tweaked based on player feedback.

Dan- ARGs typically run, stop, and die. That's very confusing, you've just created a passionate audience, and then killed the thing they love.

Roo- LOST Experience was repeated in the UK after US [sidenote: Regenesis was also re-deployed in EU]

Mod- What's a humane way to kill an ARG?

Dan- [is stymied]

Rachel- Jamie Kane is replayable... there are multiple ways to keep a game alive

Dan- Is there a humane way of killing off a soap?

Roo- The idea of putting 20 small games out there to see what sticks is interesting.

Rachel- There's nothing worse than a reskinned Flash advergame that has nothing to do with the brand. Wrigleys actually made a Flash game portal, it's all branded.

Jeremy- Games and stories have always had a powerful role in culture and education... they will always be around regardless of form (maybe ARGs won't always be around), as marketers we are always looking for new ways to interact with consumers

Mod- I wonder how many people actually play Wrigley's games?

Rachel- [seems to have been fairly successful]

Mod- Does this work for any kind of brand? What are the brand values that are not applicable?

Dan- We've turned down quite a few clients because it's not obvious that they understand what we do or why we would do it. You must tailor the campaign to the brand.

Jeremy- Last year we were all talking about Second Life, CEOs were asking "What is our SL strategy?"... maybe this year it will be "What is our ARG strategy," there are certainly companies that shouldn't be involved in ventures like this.

Roo- The brands who've done something well in SL have given something back to the community.


Q: How would you prioritize storytelling versus puzzles?

Dan- Personally I wouldn't prioritize, depending on your intended audience. Think about who you're trying to target.

Q: How do you sell "games" if "game" is a bad word?

Roo- There's a danger in making the value of play seem trivial... there's scope for using games as tools without scaring stakeholders off. I think the intersection with the web and not requiring a download will be something we'll see more of this year.

Dan- There's definitely a bad societal framing of games in the UK. But we can point to specific examples of what games can teach, it's getting harder for stakeholders to ignore that evidence. It's real. It's undeniable.

Rachel- Showing stakeholders the true demographics can help (i.e. large % of casual game players are women).

Q: What happens when players figure everything out--how do we scale the experience?

Roo- None of that is really different from the web...

Dan- I would suggest going to the O'Reilly web conference in June...

Q: How do you create a game when your resources are limited and you are living on the goodwill of fans?

Dan- Solicit help from your fans. Go to, ask for help. It's easy to publish and produce content on the web now, the hard part is the creativity. Players won't judge the experience by how many servers you have, they'll judge it by the game experience.

Q: How do I get games and learning together? There's no money in learning for game developers...

Roo- Get help. Find other people doing what you're doing.
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