Brain Dump: Games as Branded Entertainment

Here are some stray tidbits which came across my desk in the past week or so which warrant your attention:

Games as Lifestyle Brands

David Edery, who is one of the smartest observers of the business side of the games industry (I should know — he works in the CMS program with me as our key corporate relations person), published an article this week in Next Generation \which explores whether game companies can join the ranks of so-called “lifestyle brands,” such as Harley-Davidson or Apple — that is, brands which transcend individual products and seem to embody a particular taste or philosophy. His examples were EA Sports and RedOctane/Harmonix in the music game sector. We might add Maxis as a company which people associate with intelligent simulation style games. To put this in context, though, a recent industry study found that only 2 percent of gamers consciously consider the publisher or developer in deciding to purchase a particular title.

For another take on this issue, read CMS graduate student Sam Ford over at the Convergence Culture Consortium (c3) blog.


Avatar-Based Marketing

Paul Hemp has a fascinating new article in the Harvard Business Review which explores what it would mean to try to sell brands and products not to consumers but to their avatars. He explains, “Advertising has always targeted a powerful consumer alter ego: that hip, attractive, incredibly popular person just waiting to emerge (with the help of the advertised product) from an all-too-normal self. Now that, in virtual worlds, consumers are taking the initiative and adopting alter egos that are anything but under wraps, marketers can segment, reach, and influence them directly.” What might it mean to read an avatar as embodying consumer fantasies and in game experience as a kind of aspirational consumption — trying out brands, lifestyles, products which consumers might aspire to consume some day in the real world? Paul Hemp presented these ideas in an earlier form at a closed door event we hosted for the sponsors of the Convergence Culture Consortium (C3).

Lost’s Alternate Reality Game

Jason Mittell, who participates as an academic advisor to the C3 consortium, has an interesting article this week in Flow about Lost and the alternate reality game which it is running this summer. Lost has sought to extend the experience of the series through an experiment this summer in transmedia storytelling — creating an online game which reveals more about the evils of the Hanso Foundation. Mittell discusses the contradictory demands of fans (for more series specific information), advertisers (for compelling product placements), gamers (for challenging puzzles), and the networks (to insure that nothing here is so essential to the series that it confuses regular viewers when they return to the aired episodes in the fall).

For those of you who don’t know Flow, you should. It’s an interesting experiment in media criticism being run out of the University of Texas-Austin: every two weeks, they produce a webzine with a handful of smart, provocative essays by some of the world’s leading media scholars addressing themes in contemporary television and new media. For those of you who don’t know about alternative reality games, you might also want to check out this column I published in Technology Review a while back.