Microsoft Embraces Machinima

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While the news of its $6 billion purchase of aQuantive will surely be toplining today's trades, Microsoft has also recently unveiled a highly immersive digital effort that merits a fraction of the spotlight. To promote its new Visual Studio rollout, the Redmond, WA giant enlisted McCann Worldgroup (along with production company Exopolis) to design a developer-friendly gaming world that adopts the burgeoning machinima technique. The virtual filmmaking method involves custom dialogue and audio coated on top of captured videogame footage, and is the centerpiece of this Microsoft microsite.

But for McCann, the objective was not just to showcase cool footage (actually based on the Xbox game Fable: The Lost Chapters) to sell a product, but to highlight how gaming is a metaphor for the daily challenges facing developers and backend coders. "They like to build stuff and they like to interact, says John McNeil, EVP/Executive Creative Director for McCann Worldgroup San Francisco. "It's a culture of science fiction and gaming. What we thought was really great when we all sat down to talk about this new campaign, [there] was a broader understanding of who developers were and what kind of stuff they were interested in. We really tried to get a deeper, richer understanding of who the target was and then just shape creative around the kind of stuff they'd be in to."

What they were into was music and above all, gaming. As a result, the site itself is a well-rendered landscape filled with shooting robots, forestry, dark castles, and appropriately enough, a virtual desktop computer and torch-lit conference room. Visitors can wander the vast terrain, watch up to nine amusing spots that feature characters taking on real-world office issues like troubleshooting, and then ultimately create their own machinima on the site and vote for favorites.

For McCann, a ton of research and feedback from blogs and creatives yielded this highly conceptual highlight of the developer's life. "What was cool to me was having this core notion that there's a real culture here—and it's not a boring culture," McNeil adds. "We could throw all kinds of insider experiences and different reference points against that notion of the developer as a gaming character, the developer as a hero. That's actually the nature of machinima. It was started by guys who were playing Halo all day. Suddenly, they got so into that notion of wearing a headset and having these dialogues."

The site tells a story, according the McCann team, which is planning to expand upon its initial creation. "It's a very unique narrative and to build on that was really logical," McNeil explains. "I love the user-generated nature of it. It's so phenomenally interesting to me that we can create an environment that really is about talking software and selling this kind of stuff. But we're doing it in a way that's really immersive that you don't want to put down."
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