March 30, 2006

ARGs - Alternative Reality Games and Viral Marketing [7:12 am]

New games; and blurring the line between entertainment and marketing online: These players phone it in [pdf]

To the casual eye, the clothes’ graphics look like the latest in urban cool, but step a little closer and you’ll see words embedded in the designs. Each word translates into a secret code that when typed into the Edoc website (edoclaundry.com) unlocks a video that plays into a larger story. It’s a game — piece together enough clues, and the players solve a murder mystery.

Landing in boutique stores and online outlets last week, Edoc’s shirts, caps, wallets, belts and backpacks are the newest permutation in alternate reality games, or ARGs — games that blur boundaries between the virtual and real worlds using websites, blogs, instant messaging, e-mail, telephones, fax machines and more to bring players together in solving a multilayered puzzle. Conceived as marketing tools for movies, video games and other products, some ARGs are now becoming commercially viable in their own right.

It’s been five years since the first ARG sent players on a story-based scavenger hunt both on- and offline. Since then, thousands have joined in, and dozens of games have come and gone, doling out clues on the Web and sending players into the real world to pick up ringing pay phones, play poker in cemeteries and engage in acts of derring-do.

[...] “Our society’s become increasingly adept at filtering out all the marketing messages they’re barraged with constantly,” said [42 Entertainment's Jordan] Weisman, whose company plans to branch out into non-product-pushing ARGs later this year. “Our premise was, maybe it’s time to whisper as opposed to scream. If you’re providing entertainment and they enjoy it, then they’ll seek it out as opposed to filter it out.”

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