When the old-style Lego brand needed a way to showcase its new-wave Bionicle action figures, it turned to Peter Mack and his colleagues. Their strategy? An online game that would both capture the imagination of players and introduce the product. Mata Nui did just that, attracting more than 500,000 visitors a month, spurring a crop of fan sites, and catapulting Bionicle to a leadership position in the toy market.
President and founder, Templar Studios LLC
New York, New York
FROM PETER'S ORIGINAL ENTRY:
Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.
We make games and toys. We make them for fun, and to help our clients market their products. This essentially derives from our foundation as artists who, years ago, tired of the linear nature of filmmaking and conventional storytelling. When clients, such as LEGO, needed a new approach to promote and showcase their toys online, we said, "make games." The challenge was to build games that would capture users' imagination and effectively present the product at the same time. Immersing someone in a story is much more compelling when the story is subjective, when the action is occurring not to someone else on a theatre screen but to you, and hinges on your decisions. A powerful game can be as effective a promotional tool as having an entire feature film based around your product, at a fraction of the cost. A 30 second commercial holds a consumers attention, at best, for 30 seconds. But if a consumer is choosing to play a game that they enjoy and is informative, you have their attention indefinitely.
What was your moment of truth?
This idea was really proven to ourselves, our clients, and the advertising community at large when LEGO Bionicle became the best-selling action figure for Christmas 2001, after the release of our game. The game was incredibly popular and in the end was as vital to the sale of the toys as the Star Wars movies are to selling Star Wars action figures. It demonstrated how much a quality game, large or small, can attract and build a community around a product. The key here was quality; LEGO was willing to put the dollars behind it so that it was above and beyond your typical Web game, but was still a minor expense compared to conventional advertising. And since it's a Web-based community, we had clear evidence that showed exactly how much the game contributed to the products' sales; more important even than traffic reports, there are fan-run online billboards where you can see kids talk about how much the game meant to them—some even cried at the end. How often do you cry at the end of a TV commercial? This was hard proof that we had created a form of advertising far more powerful than conventional methods.
What were the results?
The game quickly drew a large, regular following. Kids kept coming back for more. In 2001 the game received more then 500,000 visitors each month. Fan sites cropped up. The online game received five industry awards. Most importantly, Bionicle became a huge hit for LEGO, outselling all other actions figures in the second half of 2001, proving what we knew all along: that if you're going to advertise online, do it with a game. Computers are interactive. They do stuff. Advertisers need to take more advantage of that. LEGO was obviously pleased with the results and has ordered more adventures for 2003.
What's your parting tip?
Games sell. But make sure you have fun playing someone's games before you hire them to make one for you.