Those who've ever played a Kinect game know that it serves your gamer score best when you either check your ego at the door--or bring it on full force. That's no exception with "Discovered," a new branded Kinect-enabled game promoting the Intel-inspired Ultrabook, created out of Microsoft's Yarn and Amusement Park Entertainment. The game, launched earlier this month on Xbox Live, puts the player into hardcore celebrity training, requiring him to perform a series of superstar moves--from upper cuts in an action film, to crowd-hyping fist pumps at a dance club, to catwalk poses that ultimately look ridiculous if you're anything but a 6-foot tall 105 pound model. To help you along the way, you have a trio of famous coaches, actor Chris Evans (Avengers, Captain America), DJ/singer Redfoo of LMFAO and super model Chanel Iman.
The game is part of Intel's concerted push in 2012 to tap the youth and millennial demographic, or what the brand calls "young adult plus," said Intel U.S. Media director David Veneski. "They're the tastemakers of our society and influence a lot of the decisionmaking around technology. We haven't proactively targeted them in the past and now that opportunity is very ripe for us to build amazing experiences for them that show the value of the Ultrabook."
Over the last year the company has focused on four passion points of the demographic--music, sports, fashion and gaming, with initiatives like "The Music Experiment" with MTV, a series of free secret music shows across the country featuring up and coming artists, as well as "Inside the Music," which gives listeners a deeper look into Pandora's Music Genome Project. "Discovered" marks the brand's first leap onto Xbox and Kinect. "We wanted to create a media program with Microsoft that showed the Ultrabook in a different media platform and integrate a celebrity component and the audience into the experience," Mr. Veneski said. "With Kinect you can do that."
BMW Films Meets Subservient Chicken
Earlier this year, Intel had presented a youth-plus focused RFP to its media partners, and Microsoft's Yarn, a division that collaborates with creative agencies and publishers, responded with the celebrity-driven Kinect idea. It tapped Amusement Park Entertainment, the transmedia creative shop founded by former TBWA/Chiat/Day, L.A. ECD Jimmy Smith to put the "creative meat on the bones," said Mr. Smith, or, in the words of Yarn Brand Strategist Mel Clements, to create something along the lines of a "BMW Films meets Subservient Chicken."
Mr. Clements said that "Discovered" is just one aspect of a bigger branding package that also includes a parallel mobile game created by Ansible Mobile that challenges players' celebrity skills like acting and DJing. There's also a documentary series "Becoming" on MSN produced out of Electric City Entertainment, which explores how celebrities like Evans, fashion designer Charlotte Ronson, hip hop artist Nas and actor/writer Johnny Knoxville achieved fame. Moreover, Intel and Microsoft will be taking "Discovered" cross-country on a six-city college tour, where students will be able to compete to win Ultrabooks.
According to Microsoft, in the first week of the game's launch, users spent 185,400 minutes interacting with "Discovered" and associated content. They also averaged more than 24 minutes on the game--more than twice the CPG average of about 11 minutes for similar branded content pushes.Mother of All Mashups
A Kinect game involving live action footage, "Discovered" was not your everyday commercial production and required an atypical alliance of creative talent. Along with Mr. Clements' team at Microsoft and Amusement Park, other key players were production company Caviar and directors Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) and Jaime Valdueza, aka Jaume and Jaime, as well as Utah-based game developer Wahoo, a long time Microsoft collaborator. "Not one of us could have made this game alone, in the way that it turned out," said Amusement Park Director of Creative/Content Development Donna Lamar. "It was a very synergetic collaboration, which is important in today's advertising world."
Wahoo has developed original games for Microsoft under its NinjaBee label as well as branded work for clients such as Doritos. "Discovered," however, was its first experience in a major live action production."That aspect was very new and seemingly insane," said Wahoo President Steve Taylor. "Especially at the actual shoots. These were serious film sets with full crew, tons of equipment, video village, movie stars, the whole package. I kept asking what I'm sure were incredibly naive questions about filming and post-processing. Of course, most of the film people had never made a video game before, either."
Even for the more experienced advertising vets it was unlike any other film job. "Part of the challenge was that this wasn't 3D animation," said Amusement Park Director of Visual Arts Jim Darling. "With live action, you can't shoot all the different possible outcomes. You'd be shooting for all eternity. So the trick was in figuring how to write and navigate in a way where you create very planned options, yet the outcome feels very organic."
"We had very interesting meetings about what we could do and what we couldn't do in terms of programming the game," said Caviar's Jaume Collet-Sera. "The biggest challenges were that it had to feel like a very long POV take and all of our edits had to be invisible, with the exception of cutting away to the gamer's profiles and the photo booths." Added co-director Jaime Valudueza, "In addition to that, the sound had to be married to video which meant no music, because we couldn't cut the music without knowing where everything was going to end."
When creating a Kinect game, in general, Wahoo's Taylor said it's important to keep time lag in mind--"this comes from technical sources, from speed of user perception, and from needing time to really interpret the player's actions--is the player jumping, or is she preparing to jump?. These are standard Kinect challenges we've dealt with plenty of times, but what was unique with live action video was needing to find a decent place to cut and branch video based on the user's actions," he said.
Merging this with the directors' desire to create a natural storytelling experience posed another huge challenge. "Jaume's vision was to deliver a seamless-cut experience, and that required some tricky timing and a couple of redesigns of UI to make it work for the player," Mr. Taylor said. "On the film side, we had to be constantly thinking about the player's experience. Jaume was out there throwing punches, ducking, kicking at stuntmen, to really understand where the points of impact would be for the player, and the DP, Flavio, pretty much had to be the player the whole time while filming."
Parodoxically, the campaign's biggest obstacle, the timeframe, was also its biggest boon. If this had been been a typical game, developers would have had a year or two to create it. "Discovered" was developed over two months and change. "However, with more time comes more discussion and more dragging of the feet," said Mr. Smith. "The time crunch helped us a lot. If we would have had more time, it would have invited overthinking."