AKQA Sends Gamers on Global Cog Hunt to Hype Gears 2

“Gears of War 2,” the follow up to the popular 2006 Xbox game, hit stores at 12:01 this morning, signaling the end of a long wait for fans of the popular first-person-shooter game. But a handful of faithful followers have been enmeshed in the story line for weeks now thanks to an alternate-reality game (ARG) waged by digital shop AKQA to build anticipation for the sequel’s release.

Over the past several weeks, AKQA has been sending mysterious packages that contained heavy, machine-like “cogs” (playing off the name of the game and its logo) to select members of the media, as well as bloggers and other high-profile gamers. Each cog contained a a unique CSID code, which, when entered at the Gear of War “Last Day” site, could unlock bits of a story that bridged the gap between the end of “Gears of War” and “Gears of War 2.”

Once a piece of the story was unlocked — sometimes a brief sound bite, other times a full 30-second trailer- — it was available to anyone who visited the site. But not all cogs were created equal. Some bits of content required two or three CSID codes to open, leading bloggers to create communities online dedicated to organizing all the available CSID codes. (Some cogs even ended up on eBay, with one going for more than $200.)

“The inherent nature of gamers spun off into spontaneously created blogs and communities, digging deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Gears of War 2 and finding that the tags are hidden all over the world,” said John Jakubowski, creative director at AKQA in San Francisco.

Indeed, the campaign, which carried the byline “Every cog tells a tale,” wasn’t limited to pillars of the gaming community. Anyone who logged onto the site could find GPS codes hidden in Easter eggs that gave the location of other cogs — also bearing CSID codes — hidden around the world.

“From the initial concepting we knew that seeding elements ‘in the wild’ would energize hardcore gamers,” Jakubowski said.

One thousand cogs had been placed in strategic spots such as a desert in Reno, NV, a fountain in Philadelphia, a stone wall in Toronto, and as far away as Budapest. As of this writing, only 150 have been found.

AKQA — the digital AOR for Xbox — has used such games to promote Xbox releases such as “Lips” and “Halo 3.”

Expectations are high for Gears of War 2 after the original sold 4.7 million copies. Both games were created by Epic Games and published by Microsoft Game Studios exclusively for the Xbox 360.

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