Product Placement: Tomb Raider

Right, watch [the first 30secs of] this:

See that there? At around the 23second mark? Hang on, here’s a screen grab –

See that? That’ll be an iPhone 4 and, just to the right, a pair of Beats by Dre in-ear headphones. IN A VIDEO GAME TRAILER.

While in-game advertising is nothing new, in-game product placement is. However brazen, it does – in a weird way – kind of work. I spotted it, admittedly, as my marketing/advertising eyes and brains are trained to spot this stuff a mile away. However, it wasn’t exactly in your face per se, in fact it was quite subtle.

Best of all, if Lara Croft was a real person then I bet she probably would be an iPhone4 user (and would no doubt be rocking the Beats by Dre also).
So it kind of works. Ish.

The question I have is whether or not this placement is purely for payment/sponsorship purposes or will the game developers (completely blind-side us all and) make the handset itself integral to the progression of the game?

My money is obviously on the former. As I’ve already made clear, game development is costly and any kind of media partnership like this has to be sold in pretty quickly so as to capitalise on the opportunity to its full potential.

As a side thought, Apple ‘famously’ don’t pay for product placement*, but I wonder if Dre did? And if so, how much does eight seconds in a close-to-a-million views YouTube video cost?

The question doesn’t need to be asked – this is the start of a new trend and, as new home systems and games start rolling out to the masses, more and more placements will be occurring before our very eyes. Some subtle, some not. We could be verging into James Bond territory here, hell – we may even end up like The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.

Be certain of one thing, ever since Modern Warfare 2 had an ‘opening week’ bigger than Harry Potter, hunting season has been declared on this marketplace.

Watch closely, it’s coming.

 

*I can’t remember where I read it, but the word is ‘payment’ refers to an actual exchange of money. No mention at all of equipping every man, woman and child in the office with brand new iPods/iPhones/iPads/MacBook Pros etc…

Reputation Management: Duke Nukem Forever

Chatting to Neville Hobson the other day about gaming (of all subjects), we touched upon a mutual love of the first person shooter (FPS).

To put this into context, Neville and I have talked about a multitude of things in our time, including but not exclusive to; a love of technology, social media, all things mobile and – on occasion – a shared love of really good whisky. Not this day however, this day we touched upon gaming. Particularly: Duke Nukem Forever (DNF).

It was when Neville and I were attending a conference together that he happened to tweet this Duke Nukem Forever review (from Ars Technica). To save reading time the overall opinion of the (fantastically written) piece is that DNF is terrible.

The first 30 minutes of the game consist of moments where people idolize you—oh, and you can turn the lights on and off. You walk through a museum where relics from the first game are stored, which gives you a hint at how this title was put together. While Gearbox obviously remembered all the neat little details that made Duke such a classic, they didn’t remember to put those details in a good game. The game is hollow.

The thing is, Ars Technica aren’t alone either; to put it bluntly, the game has been universally panned.

Not good.

Another thing to make clear at this point is that I am not a Duke Nukem player. However, I am aware of the series in general and, even if you have only a modicum of knowledge around the DN series, you know that this game has been at least 15yrs in the making and one point was consigned to the deadpool of games that were rumoured to exist but never actually get made – aka ‘vaporware‘.

So at long last – after 15yrs of waiting – the game arrives and it is ‘an overwhelming disappointment’.

“They’ve ruined it” said Neville. “It’s terrible. It’s like the developers [on purpose or not] have never left the 90s”

When such a monumental mistake is made with this kind of global brand property, the question has to be asked: what kind of effect has this had on the long term validity of the franchise?

Will there be another Duke Nukem game? Perhaps not. In the same way that in the film industry, trilogy opener The Golden Compass didn’t exactly set the box office alight (and subsequently never got finished), will Duke Nukem suffer also?

More and more we’re seeing money being thrown at invested in gaming and – when systems are so far advanced and development costs are so high – a decent ROI is required to keep things moving. The question I posed to Neville, a fellow social media industry pundit and veteran, was:

How long will it be until the kind of reputation management processes we preach about make their way into this industry?

Devs on Twitter defending their work? Programmers blogging up in arms about the stress they’re placed under to deliver? What of the fans?

Another, arguably more popular, FPS franchise Modern Warfare came under fire recently for their plans around Call of Duty Elite that will require players to stump up an extra monthly fee for access to certain features. Pleased with this trend, the fans are not.

My point is: Reputation Management isn’t just about big FMCG brands, car manufacturers and retail. Other industries need to be involved too as, when the proverbial hits the fan, the processes need to be in place to handle it.

And, while Duke Nukem won’t exactly be taken off shelves and redesigned from the bottom up, perhaps the publishers will think twice in future before ruining such a beloved franchise ever again.

As the old adage goes:

It takes years to build a good reputation, and only seconds to destroy it.

—- —- —- —- —- —- —-

UPDATE:
Shortly after publishing, Neville pointed me to this further post from Ars Technica pointing out almost exactly what you SHOULD NOT DO in this kind of situation. Wow.
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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.

 

————

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.

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.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

The Sony W705 ‘Zeemote Edition’ launch!

Last night, the Really Mobile team was invited along to The Sports Cafe on London’s Haymarket to celebrate the Sony’s launch of the Zeemote JS1 Bluetooth Gaming Device

Last night, the Really Mobile team was invited along to The Sports Cafe on London’s Haymarket to celebrate the Sony’s launch of the Zeemote JS1 Bluetooth Gaming Device (which means it’s a fancy joystick, in case you were wondering).
The accessory, we’re told, will come bundled with the Sony W705 and available exclusively on T-Mobile with 18mth contracts starting as little as £25pcm.
Each purchase comes with Fast & Furious out of the box, as well as an additional two free downloads available from the Zeemote area of the TMO’s Web n Walk portal.

Gaming is a sport, geddit?
Gaming is a Sport, geddit?

So far so press release.
Let’s get to the good stuff.
🙂

First of all – these guys mean business. A three way announcement (JS1, TMO & Sony), the representatives on hand were quite confident in their ability to deliver a truly enjoyable gaming experience.

Personally?
I had my doubts.

A short chat with the Sony chaps (most of whom were sporting the rather swish 8MP C905) revealed that their 2009 was about to get very interesting indeed (more on this later), and that this new partnership with JS1 was just the first of many announcements over the coming weeks.
JS1 themselves were equally pleased with their road ahead; with Sony’s backing of the UK launch and a promise of future SE handsets to come with TV-Out as standard (as per most high-end Nseries devices), things are certainly looking up indeed. It was noted that the emerging markets were key to JS1’s success moving forward, citing recent stats about workers in India saving months upon months of hard earned cash to buy the latest portable device, but never – ever owning a home gaming system, a’la Wii or Xbox 360.

Makes sense to me.

When pressed on the competition, namely – Nokia’s N-Gage, my new found friend was keen to tell me that the controller was compatible with Symbian S60 devices too. With a quick visit to their website you can download and install the Zeekey software which makes the Js1 controller magically work with your N95, or – in my this rep’s case – the N85, which he uses at home as a media player (bluetooth controller as standard – natch).

Then came the fun part.

Actually not a bad little phone...
Actually not a bad little phone...

Each device comes with the game ‘Fast & Furious‘ out of the box and, to tie in with the evening’s festivities, there was a competition for the attendees to take part in.
A racing competition in fact. Could you, with the slowest car available, finish the first track in the fastest time?

The prizes were as follows:

  • First Prize: A bottle of champagne and £250 towards a day out at top UK race track, Silverstone. (Err.. Wow!)
  • Second Prize: A bottle of champagne.
  • Third Prize: A teeny tiny bottle of champagne (that probably has shower gel in it).

As soon I walked into the venue, the above was explained to me at a breakneck pace and I knew instantly that I would have to take part.
The Really Mobile reputation was at stake!

First time go: 1:58.00.

A couple of the demo guys, one of which I immediately recognised from a former life, commented that – for a newbie – it wasn’t a bad score.
Nice. I was happy to hear that.
What with being a gaming geek long before I was a mobile geek; I can haz skillz.

Then I checked the leader board, the current 1st place was a guy with a staggering 1:44.58. Amazing. I immediately sought him out, only to discover that he’d been there since they’d started and was continually playing over again until he got it just right. The guy was a machine.
I would not be beaten. Again I tried, this time coming in at 1.56.32.
I showed the others, thinking I might just settle for third place.

No. I would not be beaten.

I swear I must’ve sat in the corner (on my own actually), playing and replaying and replaying until I got it right. See what with the game being Fast & Furious, the other racers are actually out to GET YOU. So you’d get mere seconds away from the finish line and POW, someone would ram you off the road.
I could’ve thrown the damn thing out the window at one point… but still I persevered. This time I hit 1.54.47. Getting better.
Now I had a crowd, “Have you beaten it yet?” – “You need to submit a time soon James”

LEAVE ME ALONE! I NEED TO DO THIS!

I even secretly tried attempting to play the game without the controller, thinking that actually – the buttons on the handset would be more responsive than that of the JS1, but no – I actually scored worse.
The controller, it seemed – works.

One more try…

Race, corner, turn, nitro… and…. Pow! 1.45.80.
A very, very well-respected 2nd place. High fives all round and yours truly walked away* with a bottle of champers.

Aces.

So, what has this got to do with the launch?

Well, as I said earlier – I am a gamer. I’ve been a console-fan ever since I first picked up Super Mario Bros on my mate’s Nintendo Entertainment System all those many moons ago but mobile gaming has never really done it for me. My friend Ricky Cadden, of Symbian Guru fame, has oft-argued with me about the awesomeness of N-Gage combined with his TV-Out, to which I laugh. A lot. And let’s not even start on the N-Gage woes I have at the moment, (I’ll save that for a future Really Mobile feature).
Needless to say, my phone will never take the place of my Nintendo. However, remarkably, with the addition of the JS1 Bluetooth controller, I was v-e-r-y slowly (and almost quite unwittingly) won over.

I’ll come out and say that I went in extremely sceptical. Thinking it’ll be another failed attempt to ‘maximise gaming possibilities’ in this ‘new mobile world’, but no. I was wrong. The smart chaps at TMO/JS1/Sony were happy enough to let me just sit and play, the experience itself wove its own magic.

We’ve got a review copy here at the Really Mobile offices, of both the Sony W7905 and the JS1 controller, which I’ll be sending out to the team for a 2nd opinion… as soon as I can beat that last time… 1.45.80

*I say ‘walked away’ – they’re sending it to me in the post. Boo.