Viral marketing in the Information Age is a tried and true method of advertising that, when executed successfully, involves fans in the promotion of a particular product or brand in a direct, and usually fun way. Such campaigns for video games often have effective, and interesting results.
For instance, in anticipation of the upcoming Halo 5: Guardians release, 343 Industries founded a Tumblr site dedicated to expose Master Chief’s true history. Originally teased as a hashtag in the first story trailers released for Halo 5, the rather ambitious project is entitled HUNT the TRUTH, and features a fictional, albeit intrepid journalist and war photographer, Benjamin Giraud. Throughout the series, Giraud explores the origins of Master Chief via an in-depth podcast heavily influenced by the groundbreaking narrative told through Sara Koenig’s popular, Serial.
“Boxing Story” is the sixth and most recent episode in the Halo 5 pre-story, and initially brings listeners up to speed before delving into the theories and rumors of others. After re-briefing fans with Giraud’s prior discussions and revelations about Master Chief’s past and bootcamp training, the reporter claims that most everyone believes ONI (the Office of Naval Intelligence) is lying about the real origins of the universe’s most famous Spartan. Plus, after Ben talks with his friend Ray, the reporter learns some vital, game-changing information involving his source, Deon the boxing coach.
For those not following the tale, it’s incredibly easy to jump in from the very beginning and catch up, and it’s highly suggested to do so. The voice acting is top notch, and for what’s basically a radio show, the plot is surprisingly heady and complex, with new twists being introduced in each chapter. In addition to the digital docu-diaries, the HUNT the TRUTH site also features cool additional tidbits that reference Halo 5 like mock-up notice violations sent to Ben Giraud from the Unified Earth Government for continuing with his investigation, and graffiti tagged across Master Chief propaganda posters.
Viral marketing campaigns for video games are nothing new, but 343 Industries‘ attempt pushes the boundaries of the concept, and toes the line in between advertising and art. For those who don’t know, the Halo franchise has been wildly successful with viral ads before. Prior to Halo 2’s release, the game developers at Microsoft wanted more exposure for the title, so they created an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) titled ilovebees.com, and sent out jars of honey to pro gamers with links to that specific URL. After eventually getting 3 million unique views from players logging on to help a fake AI program debug the “hacked” website, the strategy was a triumph.
Of course, for every viral marketing project that successfully takes flight, there are a million others that crash and burn. For instance, before Splinter Cell: Conviction‘s release, Ubisoft made profiles for a fake security agency on Facebook and Twitter encouraging users to help them find the game’s protagonist, Sam Fisher.. Unfortunately, things got disastrously out of hand in New Zealand when the company sent an actor playing one of the game’s villains to wave a pistol at a crowded pub. The police were alerted, and luckily, no one was injured.
Thankfully, with the HUNT the TRUTH campaign, 343 Industries is taking the safer, and more tactful route of offering Halo fans a chance to delve deeper into the game’s lore through online storytelling.
What’s your opinion? Is viral marketing like the HUNT the TRUTH campaign just a cheap ploy to drum up attention? Or is it an opportunity for fans to get a more in-depth experience with the games they love?
Halo 5: Guardians releases for Xbox One on October 27, 2015.
Source: Hunt the Truth