Pearl Jam's Puzzling Play

by , May 1, 2009, 10:39 AM
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RAM-Creative Roundtable: Grunge and GamesRAM: Grunge and Games

Online gaming and grunge. Who would have linked them back in the early 1990s? But they have come together, via pearljamtengame.com. Created by New York's Freedom + Partners for client Sony Music, and designed to promote the reissue of Pearl Jam's 1991 debut Ten, the site challenges visitors to complete a puzzle to unlock and listen to new mixes of tracks off the album. Visitors who unlock all of the songs are rewarded with access to a video telling the story behind the making of Ten.

The site also includes links to purchase the Ten reissue (there are actually four different versions, including a "Collector's" edition that goes for $124.99) and a share function through which you can tell your friends about the game.

While pearljamten-game.com is aimed at Pearl Jam fans who grew up on grunge, the hope is that it'll also introduce a new generation to the iconic band, says Freedom + Partners senior executive producer Craig Elimeliah, adding, "With this site, we are taking Pearl Jam into the digital age."

Not everyone who followed Pearl Jam back in the day is a hardcore gamer, so the goal with the Pearl Jam Ten Game was to make it "challenging but not too challenging," Elimeliah notes. Stickiness was also important, he says, reporting that people are spending an average of 24 minutes on the site.

One has to ask: Did Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder approve of this game? "The approval process went directly to quote, unquote the band," Elimeliah responds. "Sony assured us that they had to show everything to the band." In turn, OMMA showed Pearl Jam Ten Game to digital creatives Rick Gardinier, chief digital officer of Pittsburgh's Brunner, and Todd Grant, the executive creative director of Seattle's Cole & Weber United, to see if they thought the site rocked. Additionally, we sought the expertise of New York Daily News music editor and critic Jim Farber. fyi: Gardinier has been to a few of Pearl Jam's live shows and describes himself a "fringe fan," while Grant says he likes Pearl Jam but is more into Nirvana.

RAM-Creative Roundtable: GrungeandGames-bOMMA: What do you think of the idea of linking casual gaming and music in the way this site does?

Gardinier: I love the overall concept. I don't know if it's because that's what I do for a living, but I love the fact that they're trying emerging media and going down that path, and I thought the production value was really great.

Grant: It was very interesting, a cool idea, and the colors and graphics were great.

OMMA: Does this kind of marketing approach go along with Pearl Jam's image?

Farber: I don't think that it really violates their image. I just don't think it's necessary. The game is purposeless. It's just a gimmick. It's not offensive, and again, it's not contradictory to their image. It's not a sellout; it's just goofy.

OMMA: How did you find the experience of playing this game?

Grant: It wasn't like the game itself was so difficult. It was that the usability of the game was crazy bad. I want to stress that the game was really cool. Once you figured out what was going on, it was like, Oh, I got it. But when we were manipulating the cubes, we kept losing them. They were slippery. It felt like you were using digital oven mitts.

Farber: I found the game completely confusing. It took me awhile to figure out what I was supposed to be doing. I started dragging things all over the place; then I finally found some instructions that told me how I was supposed to do it, but by then I thought, I don't care that much.

Gardinier: I felt like it was work to get at the content - too much work. I got frustrated after probably five minutes because I could never do Rubik's Cube, which this reminds me of. So I just hopped onto some of the Pearl Jam fan sites, got a couple of hints and went back, and then it was a little easier. I was able to unlock a couple of songs after maybe 10 minutes. I was disappointed to find that after you unlocked a song and went back to play the game to unlock others, the song you unlocked turned off.

OMMA: Todd, did you and your colleagues get through the game?

Grant: We got through it. It took about 25 minutes. When you unlocked a song, the blocks dropped in and were like an equalizer - that was really cool. We actually got all the way through to the video, which, frankly, wasn't that interesting.

OMMA: Can you think of a better payoff? Perhaps users could download an unreleased track for free?

Gardinier: Exactly. Even buy it.

OMMA: Do you appreciate the simplicity of this site, or would you have added more content?

Grant: They could have done a better job peppering in more content on the site. I almost think of it like Jeopardy. If you're playing Jeopardy, the Daily Double is a surprise. It might have been nice if there were surprise cubes with hidden interviews or something.

Gardinier: Some of the folks on the fan sites were posting [how long it took them to unlock all of the songs]. It would have been nice if you could have posted your times on this site, and they had a top 20 of times with some comments and brought some interactivity to this.

OMMA: Jim, do you think Pearl Jam fans are going to put time and effort into completing this game?
Farber: Not your average ones. These things are designed for fanatics, and this whole Ten rerelease is for fanatics to begin with. Pearl Jam already puts out an awful lot of special products. They're like the Dead now, where they release all of their live shows, or many of them certainly, and I feel like they're asking a lot of their fans. It's not like the Grateful Dead, where the shows are radically different. They don't jam that much. So the shows seem pretty much the same to me. As far as this Ten promotion, I think it's a lot of bucks you've got to shell out for this super-deluxe groovy version [the "Collector's" edition] where you get some of Eddie Vedder's drool or a lock of his hair or something. But I suppose there are some fanatics that would care about that.

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