Engagement: BRINK

A week or so ago, while en route to see X-Men: Class, I happened upon this piece of advertising for BRINK.

Brink

I don’t know what it is about this image that is so striking (or in fact what it actually says about my brain’s stimulus/response mechanism), but for some reason it makes me want to find out more. Of Brink, at the time, I knew nothing. Further exploration has uncovered that it’s a new first-person-shooter (FPS) and that actually, apparently, it’s not very good. Translated: I asked a fellow gamer and he said – “Well, it’s alright.”

The image above has stayed with me. If there was a demo, I’d download it –  as a hook, it got me.

However what has yet to happen to my nascent advocacy is any kind of pick up.

Advertising like this is crying out for integration. And by that I’m not just talking about having print, TV and outdoor all matching, I mean having a demo available, having monitoring tools in place picking to pick up any mention online, some kind of a social presence/activation/engagement strategy – something, anything that is there ready to spot that I have an interest.

As it stands, my gaming schedule(!) currently consists of re-visiting Modern Warfare 2, playing to the end of Red Dead Redemption and slowly getting drawn into the world of L.A. Noire. Room for another game in my life, there is not.

But Brink really does have me thinking; both about the advertising campaign around it and of course, the game itself.

 

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Incidentally, sometimes it works the other way around – this piece of engagement for Bulletstorm for instance fell on deaf ears. I had no idea who or what Bulletstorm was or is and found myself googling it to try and find out more. Frustrating really; I loved the asset, but the whole thing lacked any kind of personalisation. It did actually drive me to download the demo mind, but still – it left me feeling somewhat empty.

Paging Zuners

If that’s what you’re called.
I got this today:

Here’s a question: what do you think of Zune?

I’m going to make a few assumptions (and do please, correct me if I’m wrong); if you’re a Zune user – aka ‘a Zuner’ – you’re probably American and you may’ve even bought, and perhaps even still use, the original Zune machine handheld thing that was never launched over here in the UK.

However, you may also be a Windows Phone (WP) user and/or an Xbox owner. All of these things I expect to influence your response to this following, secondary question:

Is it actually any good?

Now please. Before you move forward with your answer (either in the comments field below or in fact perhaps, with your own blogged repost) please take into account that your opinion may bias towards the positive as you’ve made such a chunky investment (especially you original Zune hardware owners). So please, give full and valid responses – warts an’ all, if you will.

Why am I asking this question? Well, I am an Xbox Live Gold subscriber, soon-to-be Windows-Phoner and avid Spotify fan. The latter of the three costs £9.99pcm and allows me all sorts of awesome music-based fantasticness. Treats such as:

  • Access to an almost infinite amount of music
  • Downloadable content that I can play offline, both on my desktop and on my mobile
  • Sharable cross-platform playlists of awesomeness (that can be locked down or collaborative)
  • Thanks to the marvelous integration on both Spotify and Xbox Live, I can stream my most listened to tracks through my Xbox using the Last.fm application available through Live Gold
  • Bonus feature, said music can be controlled BY VOICE thanks to my Kinect

Understand that your answers will help inform my decision on whether or not to drop Spotify for Zune (when WP finally launches on Nokia’s devices). As it stands, I’m reliably informed that Spotify is coming to WP with the next software update (aka ‘Mango), but because I like things to just work – I’m tempted to move for the full Zune offering.

Friends, Zuners, fellow tech-heads and audiophiles – it’s over to you.

Kinect me up, baby

Recently, I decided to treat myself to the technological wonder that is the Xbox Kinect. But, before we crack on, let me make one thing absolutely clear –

The Xbox Kinect is, without doubt, the most exciting piece of technology I have ever brought into my house (by a clear country mile) and, quite possibly, the most amazing thing I have ever bought. Ever. Full stop.

It really is that good.

What’s worrying, however, is that for a short while I didn’t even realise it.

Xbox Kinect

Returning from my parents this past Christmas (I believe it was Dec 27th), I stopped off in town to pick up the Johnny-5 head-shaped bad boy and left him by the TV for a couple of days, before breaking it open just before New Year and cracking on.

“This’ll be fun” I thought “I’ll give it a whirl”

See, as you may know, I am a gaming geek (some would argue more so than a mobile geek), and so getting my hands on the latest awesome periphery for my current console of choice was fairly high up on my list of priorities.

“Gaming is going be awesome with this…”

Honestly? It’s been over a month now and I’ve hardly played the games at all. Don’t get me wrong, Kinect Adventures IS fun and I’m informed that the yet-to-be-opened Dance Central is pretty damn good also. However, the Kinect has changed something so significant, so utterly mind-blowing that most of the time, I switch it on just so I can play with IT.

Why?

It’s all about the interface. Things that live on my Xbox (aside from the games) include (but are not exclusive to) Last.fm, Sky TV, Twitter, Facebook and – thanks to a handy piece of software called Connect360 (no relation) – my entire music, photo and video collection that resides on my Mac.

[Nearly] everything is available to Kinect with… and it rocks.

Introducing such a fundamental step-change into the way I interact with my main media channel has, perhaps unsurprisingly to some, drastically shifted my usage patterns along with it. Last.fm, formally an Xbox Gold ‘nice to have’ extra that I only used on occasion is now the main reason for switching the Xbox on in the morning/afternoon/evening…

Forget the wavey-roundy, gesture sensitive motion capture stuff (although that’s quite cool also) the Kinect, for me at least, is all about the voice activation.

Let me show you:
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I can be in the shower in the next room and be yelling out my instructions AND IT STILL HEARS ME! Music, is everything…

In the same way that nobody knew they needed an iPad (and yet now suddenly they now wonder how they ever did without them), the Xbox Kinect slips into your day to day life like the smoothest of gloves onto a well-worn hand. Within a couple of days you catch yourself wondering why on Earth everything in your household doesn’t run in the same way.

“Kettle? Boil.” or “Shower? On.” and of course, Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. are suddenly so desperately close to hand but also, in the same breath, achingly far away. The Xbox Kinect really is the technology of the future boys and girls and believe it when I tell you; we’ve not even scratched the surface.

Microsoft have already said that they expect to double the resolution of the on-board camera within the next 6-12mths and the face tracking technology they demo’d at CES recently was again, an equally fascinating glimpse into the very near future.

Maybe it’s the hours upon hours that we spent back in my SpinVox days talking about the future of speech technologies that has got me so excited about all this, maybe it’s because at heart, I’m a massive Star Trek fan and being able to talk to my computer is a pipe dream I’ve lusted after ever since I first saw Jean-Luc do the exact same thing all those years ago… or maybe, just maybe it’s just because that deep down, I am a geek – through and through – and I just love new technology.

In closing:

Got an Xbox? Get a Kinect. It’s that simple.

The Purchasing Journey: Split/Second

Sometime ago now, some friends of mine asked if it was OK to film a short interview piece discussing the future of the shopping experience – aka – the purchasing journey.

I don’t know what happened to the footage (if I find out I’ll see if I can upload it later), but what I do know is that the thoughts from that day still rattle around my head like it was only yesterday:

In today’s super-connected society, how can any one activity (be that marketing, advertising or PR) truly claim to be the sole driver behind product sales?

Let’s take a look. Using the analysis of one of my own purchasing journeys; Split/Second, a new racing game for the Xbox360.

The first part, the very beginning, was when I saw a tweet from a trusted friend saying “This looks awesome!” with a link to a game trailer. It was so long ago now that I forget who it was, it might’ve been Kev or Joe but I’m not sure. Anyway, like I said, that tweet led me to YouTube, where I watched the trailer. Then I watched it again. In HD.

It was a Saturday morning, the girlfriend and I were getting ready to go out and I stopped her to watch it with me. It was that good. Excitement. I am a fan of Burnout, a similar arcade-style racer. I’ve finished both Burnout 1 & 2 for the Gamecube and I’m very close to finishing Burnout: Paradise City on the 360. Split/Second is very similar (but in the same breath very different), so this game spoke to me.

Interesting.

Next, came the research phase. When was it out? What could I do to find out more? My Firefox history tells me that it was May 1st when I saw the video above. At that point, I was in game-buying mode. I tweeted:

A few things came back, but nothing that really grabbed me. I waited. A week later I saw this tweet from Nik Butler:

Nik played it. He liked it. I went to bed thinking about it and, the following morning, I wake up and download the demo. It’s one car, one track, one race. But I like it.

A few days after that it’s holiday time. Dubai. Beautiful, relaxing, sunny Dubai. I buy Edge; the thinking man’s games mag. What’s inside? A review of you guessed it, Split/Second.

They said:

Ultimately, much like a summer movie blockbuster, Split Second offers thrills galore, but there’s a hint of glossy superficiality to it, too. Large-scale explosions distract from a lack of tactical depth for a while, but the game’s lifespan would have been improved, particularly as far as multiplayer is concerned, with a more comprehensively involving strategic element. Yet there are few games in the genre that create quite so many sharp intakes of breath and instances of unintentionally barked profanity as this one, and sometimes that’s what racing gaming is all about.

That quote there, that last sentence even, was what finally clinched it for me. The journey was long but on May 31st, a full month from my first encounter, I bought the game.

It started with a tweet, then a trailer, then trusted referrals, a demo of the game and finally an official games review (in print no less).

The purchasing journey can be long and winding with many different touch-points. I hear conversations about acquisitions, downloads and click-throughs and I despair. The modern day ROI model cannot be put down to just one thing. There are many routes to my wallet and none of them are exclusive. They live and breathe around each other and, it’s only through that understanding will we ever really make an impact.

Points of interest:

Modern technology helped my map the data; Firefox history with viewing the trailer, my Xbox Live account with my demo downloads and of course Twitter, time-stamping my progress. This stuff can be mapped, it’s just knowing where to look.

Also, massive thanks to the cool cats at Edge who, after I managed to lose the copy of their magazine that I wanted to quote from (see above,) kindly emailed me a PDF of the original article I needed. Rockstars.

Expanding the Universe

Or ‘How we can expect developers to make games more social into 2010 and beyond

Some time ago now I spoke at an event in Marlow called ‘Six Degrees of Social Media’ – I talked through couple of social media for business case studies (mainly those of my own), and made it clear to the attendees that if there was a place for an online outreach programme within their business, then they should do it.
Obviously, the explanation was a bit more detailed than that, but you get the idea.

Anyway, after the talk (and subsequent Q&A), I remember getting into a lengthy conversation about how you could use hidden elements within video games to drive the gamer’s experience further into other mediums. The result of which would, in turn, either unlock further gameplay features or maybe, just simply expand the online world within which you’re playing.

Which brings me to Batman: Arkham Asylum

Arguably one of the best games to be released this year, Arkham Asylum is not some lame attempt at a movie tie-in, oh no. Instead what we have here is a well thought out action adventure game set inside Gotham’s very own institute for the criminally insane. With an original (and remarkably well-written) story, Arkham is a game that stretches across many different genres taking inspiration from such games as the Grand Theft Auto series, Ultimate Spider-Man and even Eternal Darkness.

One of the best parts of the game is that of the character of The Joker. Maniacal, murderous and just plain hilarious, the clown-faced villain is always with you – – he’s taken over the asylum you see, and as such has access to both the asylum tannoy and video screens. At one point, towards the end of the game during one of the Scarecrow sequences, a Joker ventriloquist dummy appears on screen and happens to mention a very specific URL.

The script is from a cut scene and as such, I can’t go back and replay it. But I think it goes something like this:

“If you think you’re going crazy and are in need help, then why not try www.ithinkimgoingcrazyanddressedlikeabat.com/idiot – BAH HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!”

See that URL?
Yes. That one.

The puppet says it so quickly (and so quietly), that if you’re not paying attention, you miss it. In fact, I did miss it the first time I played that section, but thanks to a rather unfortunate turn of events, I was forced to play through a second time.

Miss it again, I did not.

Leaning over to my Mac (I was 2screening, as usual), I typed the URL in from memory quick and was suddenly whisked away to quite possibly the most awesome website I have ever visited…

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is – believe it or not – a user-generated ‘Easter Egg’. Possibly even the first ever UGC easter egg at that! In the website-owner’s own words:

“Many of you have written to say hello, and many more of you have written a few encouraging words… all the emails I’ve gotten have been positive and friendly. You’re a wonderful bunch of crazy bats!

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The number one question seems to be, “Are you affiliated with Rocksteady or Eidos?” The answer is “no.” I’m just a fan who found this URL like any of you, except that when I went looking, the domain was still unregistered.

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The number two question is, “How come Rocksteady or Eidos did not register it first?” The answer is, “I have no idea!” But I’m glad they didn’t, as it’s given me a chance to virtually meet and greet a lot of great people!”

Amazing.

So even thought Eidos went as far as to start such pre-sales online activity such as Arkham Care and Gotham City Digital, they actually managed to miss the one URL that appears in game. Astonishing.

Anyway – to my point…

One of my colleagues over at 1000heads recently blogged about the excitement born out of the ‘easter egg‘, the notion being that just by being ‘in the know’ about a hidden secret within something like a DVD or a video game (or even a fast food menu), you suddenly feel like being part of something incredibly exclusive.

Including such things in the video games of the future (given that we’re now talking about a multi-billion dollar industry), is only going to become more and more commonplace as we move into 2010.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait 😉

Canabalt

Watch the video first, context to follow…

Canabalt is, would you believe, an iPhone game. One that, a few weeks ago now, my good friend Utku introduced me too.

I remember it quite clearly, he turned to me and muttered the now immortal words:
“This, is the new Flight Control.”

The premise is simple: your character runs and, when a gap or an object is coming towards you, you tap the screen to jump.

Oh so simple, yet oh so addictive.

If you have an iPhone, get this game. If you don’t like it, find me. I’ll play it for you.

Joking aside, Utku, after he told me about said game, went on to write a rather awesome blog post about how much he enjoys playing it. Said post is indeed, a great read.

However, it is in the comments that things get really interesting (and please, go read the post before you carry on).

And I quote:

I think the reason I prefer Canabalt over the bigger budget games is not the retro feel (although that plays a part), but rather the lack of story that you mention above.

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Most big budget games have large story arcs to take you from one piece of game play to the next and on the whole I find them disappointing. Even when the voice talent is top notch, the dialogue tends to be turgid. As the graphic engines moved forward I found myself becoming that horror of horrors – a casual gamer.

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One slight disagreement. I think in Canabalt there is more than a hint at the reason why you’re running. In the background loom the silhouettes of what appear to be tripod like machines laying waste to your city. Man-made? Alien? No idea.

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I love that you probably know as much about what’s going on as your hero. Things are falling apart – run like hell. We don’t find out he’s some super soldier or why exactly he’s so adapt at leaping or what he risks to lose if he doesn’t escape. I love that. Allows you to project what you like on the little guy rather than try and ignore the rubbish some hack has written for you.

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But with a little branding in place this could be easily ported as a BOND or BOURNE tie in. They won’t do that though. They’ll spend a lot of money on an iPhone app that concentrates on selling the franchise and results in muddy game play. Like most of the movie-tie-in apps available so far.

Those middle three paragraphs are what do it for me.

With just a few short sentences you get such an insight into a) the idealism behind the game in question and b) the machinations that exist between the ears of Mike Atherton…  And that, my friends, is what makes him such a good writer.

From a single, and yet dare I say it, casual gamer-aimed, 2D platformer, @sizemore (as he is more commonly known) has already established in your mind some ideas as to why this man is running for his life…

And yet, at the same time..

You really have no clue at all.

“What Wii did on Sunday…”

First official ‘proper’ post of the new blog site, AHOY!

How to make a Minority Report-esque interface using your Nintendo Wii!
(by yours truly and geekyouup aka Richie Hyndman of Mippin fame)

🙂

Now, this all happened thanks to the awesome social media world of the internet, how?

Well the thing is, I (along with a few others) like to organise Mario Kart Wii competitions over Twitter.
So far so Nintendo Geek…

But ‘Wadds‘ – aka Stephen Waddington, Managing Director of Rainer PR – spotted this regular occurrence and decided to share that he’d given up playing games on his Wii and how he now is all about creating something like this.

“Wow, cool!”

I took that link, threw it at Richie and he came straight back to me and said:

“Come over Sunday, let’s do it!”

ROCK. ON.

So – Big love to Johnny Chung Lee for showing us the way – and also bonus props to Stephen for giving us some blog love first thing this morning!

Nice work all round,
Cheers.

🙂