The Art of Viral

The Art of Viral

Written Saturday, April 07, 2007 By Dan Webb
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In the twenty first century, different developers advertise their games in totally different ways. Recently there has been an sudden increase in the so called viral advertising campaigns which involve us gamers more and more. I decided to take a look at this recent phenomenon in a hunt for the truth of whether they really work.


Viral marketing - The two words that sound more like an evil plan to the destroy the world by selling some biological weapon rather than a simple marketing technique, is being used more and more these days in regard to the gaming world. Viral marketing used to be a scarcely used marketing ploy used to hit the die hard fans but it's fast becoming a must-have when the marketing teams discuss it round their big, round, polished tables. What triggered my interest in this subject this week was the possible release of two new viral campaigns which came out of the woodwork. I say possible simply because the companies behind these campaigns never tend to acknowledge their involvement in them.

The whole point of viral advertising is to create maximum coverage for minimum effort and cost. Companies focus on pre-existing social networks and drop subtle hints or some amusing anecdote to build awareness for their product. But the basic premise of it really is the simple fact that is low cost effective advertising. Viral though? What sort of bizarre name is that you ask? Well the whole concept runs on a similar basis to a virus, it is designed to stir a response from an interested individual and then they get some what infected and then spread the word on behalf of them, and so on. Who needs fancy ad campaigns when the fans can advertise for you!

Microsoft adds to the hype.

One of the biggest campaigns was instigated by Microsoft and approved by Bungie, in the run up to Halo 2, the infamous ilovebees website. A simple URL that created one of the biggest hypes known to gaming, but from a marketing point of view, this relatively cheap tactic drummed up support and allowed them to plug their product on a global level. If people don't know the full story of this, I recommend a quick trip to Wikipedia to reveal all, trust me, it will be an interesting read as an explanation from me would end in this editorial being three times this size. It was, however, a perfect example of minimum effort, maximum gain as it encapsulated the imagination of the masses. Microsoft continued this use of their overtly surreal tactic in the build up to the release of the 360 with their OurColony stunt which again was an outstanding success.

GTA returns to a revamped Liberty City

3 weeks ago, on the biggest GTA forums on the net,, an individual with exceptionally good grammar and creativity claimed to know the location of the new GTA, after which, he became bombarded with insults for yet another 'my cousin works at Rockstar-esque stories that they so frequently hear. But this one was different, after this post, he only ever came on to post at intervals but only posted extremely long excepts of his elaborate story. People just presumed this individual was not of sound mind and instead praised the entertaining story. It was 3 weeks later after people first watched the trailer that people started to realize that the aforementioned 'deepthroat' (the same alias as the Watergate informant) was actually dropping a series of subtle hints regarding the trailer and maybe the new game. I for one was certainly gripped, whether this is Rockstar's clever and effective viral campaign or a really imaginative individual with a few too many coincidences remains to be seen, but either way, the response to something so simple was phenomenal!

Then last week you have the turn of the eagerly anticipated title Mass Effect with the subtle drop of a small media clip on no other than YouTube. Seems like they have all areas covered these days. All it takes is a simple 15 second clip of the new game, no words, a few recognisable characters battling in this upcoming war and it cause a big stir. All this released from an unknown source who's YouTube account is mysteriously brand new adds to the effectiveness of it. Oh, whats this? Another video from this YouTube member, let's click on what it is. Low and behold, another clip; so the viral campaign continues. Meanwhile, this slight exposure has fans licking their lips and spreading the word. I mean, look at me now, writing this article mentioning these two bits of exposure for both games. I suppose I am another pawn in the marketing web but one nevertheless that I do enjoy being a part of.

Before I can conclude, let me just make a big warning to game fans worldwide... Beware of the hoax!! Some of these virals are obviously hoaxes, people trying to get in on some glory pre-release. These efforts tend to stick out like Fat Boy Slim at a folk music gig, but some die-hard fans go to drastic measures to get in on the action, so let this be a warning; beware and trust at your own peril. On an amusing note, it may seem like developers are in a 'win-win' situation, but some have been known to backfire of course, take the Resident Evil: Outbreak viral campaign in 2004 where the website they set up sent unsolicited messages saying that their phone had caught the "T-Virus" and was infected. A group of people who received this message panicked upon receiving it, not realising that it was a gimmick and part of a viral campaign. Oh, how that was a interesting decision by the Resident Evil marketing team to let that one go ahead. Surely they must have heard of the panic caused by the original "War of The Worlds" radio plays first airing. Quick lesson; telling someone they have caught something, or may be in danger, could trigger a negative response!

So this viral marketing malarkey may seem like like the cheap man's advertising when in actual fact, it's the big gun's most effective output through non-conventional sources. Who other than Microsoft, Bungie, Rockstar or Bioware can pull it off so effectively with their hugely anticipated products? Such a campaign for any other game could just cruise right under the radar, so one could say that the fan base is the key in such situations. Either way, such gimmicks and campaigns are certainly entertaining for us fans and more importantly, kill a bit of time while we're waiting for those killer apps to hit the shelves!


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