Experience It! Exposed

by SpaceBass
Much of the focus lately in the world of Unfiction has been on the decided lack of campaigns that have enjoyed success on the order of the Beast. Certainly amongst the Cloudmakers, the main collective of players that followed the Beast, it's a bit harder to recognize success if it doesn't live up to the scale of that original experience.

However, there were two Alternate Reality Games recently that each culminated in a special event catering to the players. Both events featured bonus schwag being handed out to the attendees. Both events were part of a marketing campaign. And both campaigns were very successful, according to their developers.

I'm talking about Uncap The Ride, a promotion sponsored by BMW in conjunction with their BMW Films short films series, and Experience It!, an "experience" developed for the Boise Art Museum. The big difference in the two campaigns was their intended scale; but an important similarity is the level of success each had in achieving the project's goal.

BMW Films held its event in Las Vegas, Nevada, on the night of January 11, 2003. But it wasn't as easy as just heading to a location and partying down; players had to contact the "man in the black warmup suit with white stripes" in front of the Stardust casino and ask him for a fork. His response would set them off on a mini-scavenger hunt for clues until they were eventually directed to the main event at the Stratosphere, where the bar was upstairs and a brand new 2003 BMW Z4 was downstairs, waiting to be given away to the lucky winner. According to the puppetmasters, over 20,000 people played the online portion of the game, which began with clues embedded in the first 2001 series of films, but only 250 actually followed through to the end and won a chance to enter the drawing for the car. It was estimated about 200 people showed up for the January 11th event.

The Boise Art Museum event was held, interestingly enough, at the Boise Art Museum and launched a new exhibit by contemporary "video artist" Gary Hill. Where Uncap The Ride was aimed at a nationwide audience, Experience It! was aimed at attracting an audience from just the Boise, Idaho, area. The Boise Art Museum was reportedly quite pleased with their turnout of close to a hundred people, many of whom were new to the museum.

The Experience It! campaign was launched with a limited scope in mind – since it led up to a local event, it wasn't really designed to be played worldwide – yet it still attracted a healthy number of participants, not to mention the attention of a few hardcore ARG communities. The local event attendees weren't told what they were in for until they actually made it to the gallery opening, but a dozens of them still turned out at midnight to see what was up. The campaign was also developed on a short timeline and a small budget.

BMW clearly had a very large budget which made for a quite polished production value, but the Boise Art Museum managed to enjoy much the same success with much less effort. There may be a lesson there to aspiring puppetmasters who wish to make a go of their art as a legitimate business. Though a small-scale campaign may suffer when relying on subscription or ad placement revenue for its business model, the small-scale campaign as the ad itself can be quite effective.

We spoke at length with Jeff Bodell, the man who put the Experience It! campaign together.

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