Max Payne: the Latest Geek-chic Fashion

The technological revolution that took root in our national consciousness two years ago hasn’t led to the glowing, silicon-coated future that may have been envisioned at the height of the boom times, but among the sea changes ushered in by that period is a fundamental change in the way we perceive the architects of that revolution.

To say it plainly, Geek-chic is in and Hollywood moguls have not been slow to take notice. Hollywood has mined traditional bastions of Geekdom with more energy than oil execs going after the Alaskan wilderness, and there’s no sign that the pace will let up anytime soon. They’ve tapped comic books (look at the success of the X-Men movie or the buzz about the upcoming Spiderman movie) and role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons. (Sheesh! Nobody said the movies had to be good!) And the upcoming film version of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings has many in the Geek community salivating.

But, the most obvious example of this trend is perhaps when video games are brought to the big screen. And riding on the success of films such as Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy, the newest character coming soon to tantalize your imagination is… Max Payne.

For those of you who aren’t so Geek-chic and need an explanation, Max Payne is a game that has been on the market for all of about two weeks.

Max Payne is a third-person shooter. The story follows the title character — an undercover cop who has been framed for the murder of his wife and child — as he seeks John Woo-esque vengeance with guns blazing in the middle of the worst blizzard to hit New York City in decades.

And that John Woo-esque quality certainly lends the game to easily translate onto the silver screen. Collision Entertainment has been awarded the film and television rights for the game, created by Remedy Entertainment and 3D Realms, while Dimension Films took home the rights for domestic distribution, according to InternetNews.com sister site Consolewire.com.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to craft the next successful videogame icon into a larger-than-life film icon,” said Collision’s Scott Faye. “We are extremely fortunate to have a great creative partnership on this project with the game’s creators, 3D Realms and Remedy Entertainment. We hope this will be the first of many creative collaborations.”

Granted, just because someone has picked up the rights doesn’t mean a movie will be made. So why all the fuss? In a word, marketing.

The Blair Witch Project let the cat out of the bag: the Web is now one of the world’s most powerful tools for word-of-mouth marketing.

The result? “max payne” was the third most popular search term on Google this week, trailing only “code red virus” and “mariah carey.” And a movie made up of game clips is currently the most requested download on GameSpy’s FilePlanet download site. The actual movie-like trailer for the game, launched at this year’s E3 trade show, is the fifth most requested download.

So why all of the devotion to geek culture? Well, for one thing, geeks are a good demographic to target, according to Yankee Group analyst Rob Lancaster.

“The technology users of the world are a great group for marketing products to because they’re very loyal to products and their interest is heavy,” Lancaster says. “They become passionate.”

That interest only grows if you offer them a discussion area like an online forum or list-serv, Lancaster explains. If you doubt him, just look at Google, or Linux, or the oft-resurrected Apple Computer and its Mac.

“Viral marketing is any sort of marketing that is non-traditional,” Lancaster explained. “It’s anything that’s sort of off-the-wall. Viral marketing actually tends to be a lot less aggressive than normal marketing. It’s reactive as opposed to proactive from the marketer’s perspective.”

Google, itself, is a case-in-point. “Google is a case study in viral marketing,” Lancaster says. “This is a company that essentially has never done any marketing and has become one of the most popular search sites on the Web.”

“It’s not really marketing at all because Google is not really actively doing anything to promote its product.” Instead, users are swept away by the quality of Google’s product and tell their friends. It’s old-fashioned word-of-mouth all the way.

Of course, a Web site and possibly some discussion boards or a list-serv help to get the word out there. In the case of video games, fan sites often pop up long before the actual game is released, following development news slavishly until the product ships. Then the sites offer discussion boards, tips, cheats and other codes, walkthroughs and skins (alternate graphics for characters in the game).

Note, however, that just because it’s powerful and less aggressive doesn’t mean marketing — especially viral marketing — on the Web is necessarily easy. At some point, the choice will have to be made: continue to satisfy the niche fan base or attempt to extend the appeal to the mass market.

“You have to be careful,” Lancaster says. “You’ve got to appeal to the mass market without offending the sensibilities of your loyal following. You have to make a conscious decision about who you want to cater to. To take the step to the mass market you’re going to have to go beyond viral marketing to more traditional marketing to which the majority of the mass market is more receptive.”

For a review of Max Payne, visit InternetNews.com sister site SharkyExtreme.com.

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