Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The best thing George Lucas ever did...

No, your thing is wrong! It wasn't Star Wars or that guy who survives nuclear blasts in fridges. No, the best thing George Lucas did was set up LucasArts, the game development studio that made some of the best games of all time (including one that did involve the miracle fridge dweller).

I grew up with the early LucasArts adventures and can thus blame them for everything from my sense of humour, to my inquisitive nature and mild kleptomania. And no game was more important to me than Monkey Island - a game about ridiculously named pirates, health conscious cannibals and the second biggest monkey head you've ever seen.

If you'd like to know more about the story, just watch Pirates of the Caribbean, which is pretty much copied wholesale from this game (apparently the writers were working on a Monkey Island film, but went to Disney when it was cancelled...).

However there is another way to learn more, as after 9 years LucasArts have finally stopped milking Star Wars and bought Monkey Island back, with both a new game AND a remake of the original. You should buy it. You should all buy it!

Anyway, now for a seamless link back to advertising...

Expect The Unexpected

In actual fact I thought of quite a few things my favourite games could tell us about interacting with consumers so this may well become a new regular feature of the blog. But for now, I'd like to talk about how LucasArts rewarded their consumers for playing the games wrong.

For those who don't know, these games were essentially interactive stories (a bit like the old text adventures or choose your own ending books - only less terrible) where the player advances the narrative by saying the right things to the right people and using the collection of objects they have stored in their pocket to overcome a situation.

The inevitable problem is that there is only ever one story and one path to the end, so either the game requires no real interaction from the player, or the poor schmuck at the keyboard is going to spend a lot of there time doing pointless and irrelevant activities in the hope of finding the one that the programmers needed them to do to move the storyline along.

This isn't exactly sounding much fun, but they were! And the reason why is because LucasArts were brilliant at anticipating where the player would ignore the correct path and filled these situations with jokes and hints to keep them entertained and looking for the action that the programmers wanted them to make.

Recently two ad campaigns (I told you it would be seamless) that I've enjoyed most have used a similar technique of anticipating when the consumer would go off their desired path.

An advert for a comparison website needs people to remember the website name and then to type it in online. It's a set path to more visitors and they achieved the first step for the audience by making an advert that confused Compare the Market with Compare the Meerkat.

But if the campaign had stopped there and assumed everyone would take the correct path to the comparison site then those ads wouldn't be half as loved as they are. Instead they anticipated that people might try something different and created a Meerkat website that rewarded people for ignoring what the marketers ultimately wanted. This website entertained while reinforcing the aim of the advert and pushing people towards the action the company really wanted -pure LucasArts magic in action!

Another example is the recent Stephen Merchant Barclay's adverts. In an ideal world the fact that the ads were on every day should have reinforced the messages the marketing department wanted me to know until I was compelled to open the appropriate account. Of course in the real world after the first time I see the ad, I know what happens and my mind goes for a nice wander.

This was what happened for several weeks, but then the campaign recaptured my attention and admiration with just one little tweak - "No, it's different this ad". Suddenly I felt like Barclay's knew why I wasn't paying attention to it and, well, it's hard to ignore something that's trying to outsmart you.

LucasArts would spend hours analysing teams of people playing their games before they were released, to make sure they had a comical quip for everything players would attempt that didn't fit into the storyline they were ultimately aiming for. I think when you look at it like that, there's still a lot more advertising campaigns can do to keep their audiences engaged and heading in the right direction.

And so, in the end, I think I can forgive George Lucas for all the prequels and that ridiculous fridge scene.





No, I can't do it... it was a nuke dammit!

1 comment:

Rob Mortimer said...

The influence is clear in the Rabbity guy saga... I only played your damn Games Factory games to read the Rabbity guy sub-plot.

Read my lips, I can't pick that up.