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ARGs and Viral Marketing

Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) are fast becoming a defacto choice to promote certain movies and television shows. This is especially true if the target audience of said show is of above average intelligence and has an above average amount of free time and patience. I, unfortunately, don’t qualify for any of the three (although my fellow Geeks might call me out on the second claim). Whatever the case, no matter how much I wanted to be a part of the Star Trek movie ARG from last year, which involved people in France and the UK, I realise I was much happier following its progress on TrekMovie.com.

Fortunately for slothful fans like me, there’s a more accessible form of viral marketing – online interactive games. The viral marketing of two movies in particular have attracted me over the past couple of days so naturally, I’m sharing them here. First we’ll look at Tron: Legacy, and the ARG they’ve developed and then we’ll check out the much simpler interactive story “Day X Exists”, a tie-in to the Angelina Jolie movie Salt.

As a movie that currently holds the record for longest gap between film and theatrical sequel (28 years – longer than two of three Geeks have been alive), Tron: Legacy has had an insane lead time on its marketing. First debuting back in Comic-Con 2008 with a trailer that literally stopped the hearts of any Tron fans because it featured Jeff Bridges himself, the movie also set a precedent for being promoted at three Cons with Comic-Con 2010 being the latest.

Around this time last year, the Tron: Legacy ARG began to build momentum, with an amazing treat for Comic-Con attendees – a real life version of “Flynn’s Arcade” – as seen in the 1982 movie, along with a life-sized lightcycle from Tron: Legacy! At around the same time, the viral site FlynnLives.com began recruiting members – fast becoming the main source of information about the ARG. To further build on this Alternate Reality, the titular star of Tron, Bruce Boxleitner (who will also be appearing in Tron: Legacy) hosted an press event as his character, Alan Bradley. As if this wasn’t crazy enough, he then announced an online version of Space Paranoids – the original game created by Jeff Bridges’ character Kevin Flynn.

Of course, there was no such game back in the 1980s, but Space Paranoids Online owes its appearance and gameplay to the joystick-trackball inputs of arcade games from that glorious era. The best part was that Space Paranoids Online was just the second of three online games revealed so far. The first, a hilarious quiz about video game names can be found at ArcadeAid.com. Though there are no longer any ARG rewards, the game itself is truly enjoyable, especially if you’re a gamer geek with a warped sense of humour. The rewards for completing all 15 levels of Space Paranoids Online are limited to bragging rights on FlynnLives.com, but the latest game, a puzzler called Circuit Cycles promises a pack of seven Encom postcards featuring their top arcade games to each person who completes all 32 levels! Of course, you have to regisster at FlynnLives.com and provide a mailing address first. Now that’s marketing.

On a personal level, I found all three games difficult to complete – the first, because my knowledge of video games old and new are still rather limited; the second, because it was way too challenging for me; and the third, because after 13 levels I really couldn’t be bothered to play for another 19.

Fortunately, there’s another interactive game going on, this time for the Angelina Jolie spy thriller Salt. True, it isn’t exactly a geeky movie per se, but I’m covering it for two reasons. Firstly, Sony Pictures has got a panel at Comic-Con next Thursday at 1pm for this movie. Secondly, it’s the first blockbuster I’ve seen with a local version of their online game. That’s right, a Singapore site has been created, and Sony is giving away a 32″ Sony Bravia LCD TV, a Playstation 3 and a Cybershot DSC-WX1 to the top three players.

Called “Day X Exists”, you play a junior agent at a task force out to stop Russian sleeper terrorists who are seemingly aided by your fellow agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie). Salt contacts you and gets your assistance in several weekly missions, revealing a little more backstory with each successfully completed mission. Each mission is a mini-game which ranges from the straightforward to the extremely tedious.

What is interesting is that the local version of “Day X Exists” is exactly the same as the international version with one glaring exception – it is lagging some four to five weeks behind. The international version has since ended this week. Presumably this is to accomodate the later release date – “Salt” opens August 5th in Singapore, compared to July 23rd in the US. Nonetheless, such a difference can be easily overlooked – the fact remains that Singaporeans need not compete with the rest of the world on a viral marketing interactive story.

So whether your tastes lean towards the vast alternate realities that ARGs are meant to provide, or the simple yet meaningful interactive stories of other marketing strategies, there can be no doubt that when it comes to promoting geek movies, there’s definitely a lot of excellent precedents already being set.

Peter Lin

His teenage years spent nursing a giant man-crush on Steve Rogers, the first Captain America, Peter naturally found himself drawn to many other heroes who depicted strong, manly qualities, including the honour-bound warrior Worf, first Klingon in Starfleet, and the muscular rock hard abs of The Thing.

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One Comment

  1. I think these promotional games are brilliant. I haven’t checked out the Day X game yet, but I love the sheer idea of using something people might have fun with. Win-win.

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