The partners at San Francisco-based agency Dojo have a long history marketing games. Now they’re turning their efforts to creating them with the release of an iPad game that started life as a side project.
Abductionary is a beat-the-clock word game developed by Dojo’s in-house IP unit, The Prototype Factory. Best described as a mash-up of Tetris and Scrabble, Abductionary is both a passion project from a team of self-described “gaming addicts” and an attempt to establish an alternate, long-tail revenue stream for the agency.
“We work in an industry where we spend a lot of time trying to help other people create temporary things,” says Mauro Alencar, Dojo’s cofounder and executive creative director. “So we thought it would be interesting to do some permanent things for ourselves, things that will continue to generate revenue after the lifespan of a campaign.”
“Our goal as an agency is to have at least 50 percent of our revenue come from our own R&D,” he adds.
In the game, which is available on iTunes for $1.99, players assume the role of aliens trying to learn English by fashioning words out of letters stolen from the brains of earthlings (just go with it). As letters stream down the steam-powered “Language Extractor 6000” on the right side of the screen, Tetris style, players must grab them and form words. Points are awarded based on the length and complexity of the words formed. Allow too many letters to go unused, and the Extractor overheats.
As branded casual games become a popular marketing vehicle (see Volkswagen’s Touareg Challenge, Pleasure Hunt from Magnum Ice Cream, or anything on the USA Network’s CharacterArcade.com), ad agencies large and small have entered the business of producing them–or at least dreaming them up and outsourcing their production. Dojo is no exception, having recently produced an online game for the release of Lucasfilm’s Red Tails.
The agency was founded by two men steeped in gaming cred–Alencar, a former creative director at AKQA, met cofounder Geoff Edwards, a former creative director at the T.A.G. agency, when the two shops jointly launched Microsoft’s Xbox 360. And Dojo is equipped to produce such games entirely in-house. The Prototype Factory unit houses illustrators and coders, and Alencar himself created all the music. All characters in the game were inspired by Dojo employees.
Of course, more than just a revenue stream, Abductionary is intended as a calling card for Dojo–though players could be excused for not knowing that. The agency’s logo appears on the “settings” page, but nowhere else. More obvious are the three videos to promote the game that Dojo produced and uploaded to its website.
Still, Alencar says the subtle branding of the game reflects his agency’s approach to branded entertainment. “You need to create content that’s relevant to people first before you try to convince them of anything,” he says. “We want to continue to show how we can create socially relevant content not even in the context of trying to sell a brand.” He says that several clients have already caught wind of the game and have inquired about doing something similar for their own brands.
Whether the game becomes a standalone moneymaker is another story. In the few days since the game was officially released, it has been downloaded only a few hundred times (Dojo plans to make versions for other tablets, but not smartphones, says Alencar, in order to preserve the playing experience). Early reviews on iTunes, however, are positive.
“I love this game,” wrote one user. “On one hand I want everyone to know about it because it is so fun but on the other hand I want to keep it new so I can have a high score!”