Yaris Plays The Arcade

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In October, Toyota and Saatchi & Saatchi, L.A. entered the realm of brand-created gaming with a free Xbox Live Arcade offering called, simply, Yaris. It's a dodge & shoot driving game that takes place in a futuristic world of tubular roads and armed automobiles. Because it's part of the seven million-user strong Xbox Live Arcade community, the game features multi-player, leaderboard and achievement tracking capabilities. "We've been doing some in-game banners and things like that," said Saatchi/L.A. ECD Harvey Marco. "So what we really wanted to do is take that experience to the next level and put it in people's hands." The agency contemplated posting the game online but decided that tapping the passion and diversity within the Xbox Live community was the best way to go. "The controller is much more powerful that way than a keyboard," said Saatchi/L.A's director of emerging media Sam Bergen. "Xbox Live is the dominant online gaming platform so it was the obvious choice. [They're] virtually untapped in terms of gaming brought to users by a brand."

The agency incorporated the existing national campaign into the concept of the game in an attempt to, as Bergen puts it, bring the cheeky attitude and clean design that is the spirit of Yaris to the game. And instead of a goofy mascot or spokesperson, the car itself is the main character. This also addressed one of the client's key concerns. "Toyota didn't want us to be too brand-heavy," said Marco. "They didn't want us to come out too hard with vehicle attributes and mentioning Toyota every two seconds. The consumer can get all the car information online. So there were two things working in our favor. One, the fact the campaign already existed and had some momentum. And two, that the car itself is the main character and message in the game. It is the game."

Response to the game so far is hard to measure. In terms of download numbers, Marco and Bergen said it's a bit too early to gauge success. As for anecdotal online response, the reviews so far have been tepid at best, downright nasty at worst. Many online player complaints stem from the actual world in which the game is set – a futuristic fantasy instead of a Gran Turismo-like reality. But the agency says it wasn't going for a videogame version of a test drive. They wanted a place where a laser-wielding robotic arm could believably pop from under the hood.

"I think it was just about keeping with the vibe of the campaign," said Marco.
"The vehicle lives in this very interesting space, if you look at the advertising. It's a very stark, futuristic world and that's the land Yaris lives in and it gave us permission to let the car behave the way it does in that space. It doesn't live in the real world, it lives in the Yaris world."

With Yaris now under their belt, Marco and Bergen expect to be working on similar ventures in the near future. "The gaming industry is bigger than film, if you look at things like Halo," said Marco. "It's just another toy to play with, in terms of communication, and clients are more open to it than ever before because they realize that fact. Our client wants to tap into this diverse audience and gaming is a huge component of that."

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