Commentary

Putting Backchannels Into Games

There is a game set to take the Xbox360 by storm in the next few months called "Mass Effect." The game is developed by BioWare, which also created the "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic" series. The company's games have generally focused on gameplay with a very complex and detailed "choose your own adventure" type of structure. Players make decisions in forging friendships or rivalries, and these decisions can have a massive effect (hence the name of the new game) on the game world.

What this kind of feature offers to branded games is huge. Imagine a standard survey incorporated into a game scenario, where the content and participation in the survey is the payoff for the users. This could be something like Ford creating a game where users create their own cars, putting a limited number of points into features like safety, gas mileage, performance, and design -- getting information on what that user is most interested in, and the user then getting a game experience customized to him. That customization is the key element. Someone putting major points into safety is not going to be happy to play a racing game, where performance would be the desired metric. This would also skew the results of the "survey."

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Putting backchannels for information into branded games could be very successful, but the experience must be complex and have equal payoff for each "answer." Marketers using games as a tool might want to get a feel for the system done well from the BioWare games, and then consider implementing a similar system with a backchannel for information in their own offerings. They might be pleased with the "effect."

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