Best Practices for Digital Product Design
The TRON Legacy Alternate Reality Game: Marketing via user experience
Long before the theatrical release of TRON Legacy On December 16th, I – and many others - had the opportunity to see TRON Legacy content (such as first looks at trailers and concept art) ahead of any media outlet, by playing the TRON Legacy Alternate Reality Game. The TRON campaign is a masterpiece of marketing via user experience, and demonstrates a carefully designed digital strategy.
Bringing depth to the TRON universe
In the December 2010 issue of Wired, Adam Rogers briefly describes the TRON ARG: “…[Disney] has run alternate-reality games that started as websites based on characters and companies from the movie.” This definition is an excellent description of the ARG as a whole. Each Web site is structured to give depth to an aspect of the fictional TRON universe, or to advance a game in the ARG (or both). The Web sites provide specific information for the user, but are not so overt as to give information away or force them down a path.
Even though all of the sites in the Alternate Reality Game are created by the same company (42 Entertainment) is the corporate mastermind behind the ARG), the “websites” are designed to reflect the look, feel and overall user experience of different types of real websites, enhancing the realism of the ARG. Throughout the course of the game, 42E created sites for many fictional organizations in the TRON universe: from a dinky parachute design company (http://www.perfectparachutes.com) to a sleek corporate site (http://www.encominternational.com). The ARG players have to visit these Web sites to locate relevant information in order to advance the game. (Just think of the sheer amount of information architecture and user interface required!)
Step by step through a carefully plotted experience
One of the Web sites encountered in the TRON Legacy ARG is a great example of an intricately planned user experience. Here is the trail that led to discovering that site:
- Users who registered their real address on the main ARG in-game sites received a postcard. It advertised a fictional video game briefly mentioned in the original TRON movie. It has a suspicious black bar on the back. Using a blacklight, you could see a series of dots on the black strip.
- Communicating with other users online (I used the Unfiction message boards), we discovered that different people were sent different postcards (each had a different set of blacklight dots).
- Combining all the different sets of dots together spelled out a phrase: ENCOMGAMESDOTJP
- Typing in encomgames.jp into a browser pulled up a new in-game web site, a Japanese company page for Encom’s games.
- After letting Google Chrome translate the page from Japanese, I could read the page and see a few places to navigate.
- Clicking on the circuit Cycles image on the right, players reached a page that hosted a new video game, Circuit Cycles. The game was a 32-level, single-player video game called Circuit Cycles. Players have to navigate different colored light cycles, one at a time, to touch different points without running into another cycle’s jet wall.
- Users who registered on the Flynn Lives site (and used the login to play Circuit Cycles) would get a series of badges when they completed sets of Circuit Cycle levels.
Keeping the experience believable
A key to the success of this campaign: Knowing that users would have little use for thinly-masked “push” advertising. Note how the Encomgames.jp Web site is focused on presenting the company information for Encom; it’s not just centered on pushing the user to Circuit Cycles. It does not force the user to content. Users explore the site and intuitively discover the content in logical areas. The user experience on any alternate reality game Web sites must be detailed enough that visitors can immerse themselves in the experience without shattering the 4th wall. These in-game sites must also assist players in locating information needed to advance the game. An alternate reality game Web site, just like a real Web site, must be intricately planned to provide an excellent experience for the user.
From my perspective as a gamer – and as a user experience professional – the TRON ARG campaign sets a high bar for early 21st-century marketing. This campaign required exquisite planning, hard work, and most of all, a deep understanding of the user. Whether you are a nerd like us at Interface Guru, or have no interest in SF at all, take a moment to look at everything this campaign did right.