In preparation for the debut of its new animated web series "Electric City" in mid-July, Yahoo offered a preview via a covert online alternate reality game. The dark, post-apocalyptic Web series is written by actor Tom Hanks, who also supplies the voice of the title character. The game, created by Pereira and O'Dell, is called "Tap Joint," and served as an interactive version of a traditional movie trailer, The game was unbranded and only by playing it and blogging about it could users learn about the new web series.
Visitors to the game's site get a first-person view of someone in front of a device similar to an old Morse code transmitter, with a written code key alongside. They can click on the device, or "tap kit," to write coded phrases that unlock messages and video to figure out the story. Players share clues with each other through social media. For instance, by following #tapjoint on Twitter, users learned about a mobile workaround that allows them to enter typewritten commands using their smartphones.
Launched in March, the "Tap Joint" game created an almost instant community among gamers, which mirrored the fictional resistance community in the series. Together, users cracked the game's code in only nine days - less than half the time its creators expected - unlocking a sneak peak of the Web series. But even though the mystery is solved, the game site continues to draw visitors. By mid-June it had attracted almost a million page views and more than 300,000 unique visitors, according to Yahoo. Returning visitors spend an average 30 minutes on the site.
Interestingly, the game has only a minimal presence on Facebook and Twitter. The @tapjoint account had 312 followers by mid-June. Most of the interaction has taken place elsewhere: on gaming blogs, user-created forums and YouTube. One game fan spent his lunch break making a YouTube video that walks players through the game. It quickly got more than 1,000 views.
Pereira and O'Dell introduced the game by sending cryptic teasers to influential gaming bloggers, says Gary Theut, director of client services. "Launching our game unbranded was meant to spark interest in the intrigue and subversiveness of the Electric City plot," he said. "The game's imagery and equipment all tied in authentically with Electric City, providing a real-world version of Yahoo's animated series. We wanted players to feel like they were trying to survive in that world," he said.
Comic, anime and animation enthusiasts are the key demo for the Electric City series. The preview game targeted hard-core gamers, who are the thought leaders for that enthusiast crowd, according to the agency.
Both the agency and Yahoo have been surprised by the tenacity and skill of the "Tap Joint" players, said Theut. They unlocked the final code to the sneak peak in nine days, that the marketing program had planned. These results have prompted discussions about more game clues to drive viewership when the series begins.
"Electric City" is Yahoo's first scripted project and the portal is banking on the Tom Hanks name to help raise awareness for it.
Originally expected to debut in the spring, the series consists of 20 episodes that are 3-5 minutes long. The videos will be supplemented with nonlinear elements such as social media and a 3D interactive map. In addition to the game preview, Yahoo is tapping offline ads on gamer TV programs to promote the show.
Yahoo executives said the project is designed to woo the audience that liked the ABC series "Lost." The futuristic Web series tells of the conflict between a totalitarian regime that controls the power grid and a resistance movement that tries to siphon off electricity.
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Joan Voight is a Contributing Editor to ClickZ. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has covered online and offline media, marketing and advertising since the mid-1990s for several business publications. She spent nine years at Adweek magazine, where she was San Francisco bureau chief, national senior writer and contributing reporter.
March 19, 2014