(Originally posted on the Qube Blog here)
Last week the gaming communities were working together to uncover a mystery. The popular Valve game, Portal, had received a mysterious update that added a new achievement to the game. No other information was given from Valve and initially the update looked like it may have been due to some sort of legislation agreement claiming it had “Changed radio transmission frequency to comply with federal and state spectrum management regulations”
It quickly became obvious this wasn’t just a regular update and something was afoot. When moved to a certain place in the game, radios started transmitting strange signals and messages. Over the course of several days these messages were decoded by gamers. One morse code message translated into a series of letters spelling “LOL” – very funny Valve! Other noises turned out actually to be images when ran through Slow Scan Television (SSTV) application.
The most interesting transmission was a phone number that when dialed by a modem led to an old BBS (bulletin board). The password and username were worked out from the hidden images and more secret messages were uncovered. Various text and ASCII images all hinting towards something brewing inside Aperture Science, the game’s fictional laboratory setting began to emerge from the BBS.
The beauty of this campaign was not just in its clever design, but in the way the community responded. The only information that Valve gave out was that there was an update and it was up to the community to do the rest. Fans worked together across a variety of platforms and communities to unravel the mystery, with the gaming blogosphere picking up on every update as it happened.
This was a triumph in public awareness for valve but also one for the gaming community. A second game update extended the games ending and was shortly followed by an official announcement of Portal 2, but the ending is not as exciting as the journey.
The obvious take away from this would be ARGs are good ways of getting publicity, or clever marketing gets you buzz, but these are not interesting conclusions. The lesson to be learned from this is that your fans are your biggest asset and fastest way of spreading a message. They will speak louder and longest about your products than anyone else.
What this update did was supply fantastic fan service and give the fans something they wanted to share with everyone. Giving your fans something to get involved with and get excited about is much more fun than a press release!
Start thinking about how you can better treat your fans and how they can help you when you need them. They are not just a bunch of message board users to throw PR at.