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Online Exclusive: Interactive News

AD AGENCY CREATES NEW XBOX 360 CONSOLE INTERFACE

AKQA Project Marks New Level of Marketing Involvement in Game Production

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In an effort that marks a new level of ad agency involvement in the production of a major video-game system, AKQA created the user interface for Microsoft's new Xbox 360 console, according to the agency.

AKQA first won Microsoft's confidence when the Halo 2 Web site it designed played a major role in facilitating $125 million worth of product sales during the first day of the game's release.
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"The most exciting thing to us is we've gone from game promoter to game creator and developer," said Tom Bedecarre, CEO of the San Francisco agency in an interview with AdAge.com.

Secret project
The project, which AKQA has worked on since 2003, was so top secret the agency referred to it by a code name, "Xenon," and Xbox team members worked on a separate floor cordoned off from the rest of the agency.

AKQA's work on what is essentially the user's main navigational tool to enter the console is believed to be a first. It signals the further intrusion of marketing deeper into the game-production process. Interactive agencies have designed advertising for games as well as some games that actually are advertising gimmicks. But this is the first time an agency has participated in the actual development and production of a major console game.

The Xbox 360 user interface, or UI as it is called, lets gamers use the console as a hub for their home-entertainment needs, accessing the Internet, music, photos, movies and instant messaging. It also carries the user online to play games with others across the Web. And it can be customized to each user's individual needs. Everything is designed to be seen on high-definition TV also.

Testing around the world
Developing all this was an unusual experience for AKQA. "There were a lot of prototypes and testing around the world," Mr. Bedecarre said. The agency conducted focus groups in Berlin, London, Madrid, Tokyo, Chicago, New York and San Francisco. "We wanted something that was clean and consistent for people using it around the world."

AKQA first won Microsoft's confidence when the Halo 2 Web site it designed played a major role in facilitating $125 million worth of product sales during the first day of the game's release.

AKQA's online campaign for Xbox starts today, with the rollout of a Web site devoted to the console. Mr. Bedecarre would not provide details but said the site was designed along the lines of the Halo 2 site, which was written in an alien tongue so that intrigued gamers would buzz about the site and work together to crack the code of the language. That is exactly what happened.

No financial details
Other online advertising hasn't yet been pinned down. Mr. Bedecarre would not reveal the amount of the online marketing budget for Xbox.

A team of six to eight people comprise the core of the interface design group, formed to focus on the Xbox business, Mr. Bedecarre said. The group will continue to be led by Nick Constantinou, director of project delivery, who is based in London. Rei Inamoto, global creative director, "is going to have a lot of involvement in Xbox 360 work going forward," Mr. Bedecarre said.

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CORRECTION: The original version of this story inaccurately reported that Microsoft had chosen AKQA as its global online advertising agency of record for the Xbox business.

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