Guest post from Karen O’Rawe @classygenes

Friday saw the first ever #ArtsNI meetup for people working in or with arts organisations in Belfast. The initial concept was to create an informal get together which would provide an interesting way to learn about new and existing digital ideas and hear how they worked for others. The Black Box kindly loaned us the use of their café bar and the space really added to the informal atmosphere we had hoped for.

Surrounded by a mixture of arts and digital people, freelancers and geeks, Oonagh Tweets (aka Oonagh Murphy) gave an excellent introduction to #ArtsNI and some useful stats from the Culture 24 ‘Let’s Get Real’ report.  If you’re interested in this report, but have limited time, Chris Unitt has outlined it’s key recommendations

Matt Johnston from Digital Circle outlined what the Creative Industries Innovation Fund was for, who could apply and gave a few examples of the interesting projects he had heard about.  It was refreshing to not only have some practical tips for applying, but also to see just how excited and inspired Matt was about the projects CIIF hoped to fund. If you are interested in finding out more about the fund there is more info here >> 

After a short tea-break with tea served in beautiful china teacups from Emma Victoria Vintage , we asked Alan Hook from the University of Ulster to tell us about his experiences of Alternate Reality Games. He made references to many projects, two of which really caught my attention – Invisible Belfast  an Alternative Reality Game that was created as part of the Belfast Book Festival and Where’s Wally?, created by a UU student.  It has certainly whet my appetite to find out more about ARGs and discover if developing a game might be an innovative way to attract more visitors to the www.testdrivetheartsni.org site which I manage.

Almost everyone in the room had used Twitter in some shape or form, whether for personal or work related reasons.  This made for an already converted audience for Chris Martin from the Grand Opera House to speak to.  Chris talked about the Grand Opera House’s Twitter Policy, trending and running Retweet Competitions.  There was discussion around how much time people should spending updating Twitter and Facebook and it was agreed by almost the entire room that, as always, there is never enough time.

We finished with Melissa Gordon from the Crescent Arts Centre who gave the group a quick run down of how QR Codes worked for her venue.  The venue use the codes quite extensively, on tickets, posters, print, internal advertising and on outdoor advertising such as Adshels.  Melissa explained her success at getting customers to click through for ticket deals, provided some tips on what we should remember when using a QR Code and showed us cute ideas from around the digital world.

As is always the case at these kind of events, the real networking started at the end of the event.  We had Marketers questioning Geeks, Arts Managers talking to Designers and Media people talking to Bloggers.  Lots of faces were put to lots of names and many new contacts were made. Feedback from the event was excellent and we hope to have another event very soon.

You can see what people where talking about on Twitter on our storify 

So any ideas, let us know on the Hashtag #ArtsNI and watch this space for news of the next #ArtsNI Event.

Karen O’Rawe @classygenes

Has Alternative Reality Gaming Gone Mainstream?

I was prompted to write this post when I saw my dad playing an ARG this weekend , all thanks to Mercedes new ‘Escape the Map’ campaign.

A TV advert (see video below) directs viewers to a website to help Marie Escape the Map..

When viewers log on to the website the game automatically starts, and on screen directions guide the player around the game. Mercedes is a big, mainstream brand, as a result most of the people who want to check out it’s new car will be unfamiliar with the concept of an ARG and many will simply be logging on to find out about the car. Suddenly they are without choosing to do so, thrust into a game.

I showed this site to a few different people after the add came on TV, what I found really interesting where the different responses to it. Female friends got really involved in the game and where slightly confused about what was going on, Male friends (and my dad) commented on how nice the car was throughout the game.

The interactive features which include carrying out ‘normal, every day tasks such as having to search for directions to a car park that a man on the street gives Marie, or inputting your phone number create the sense that this is real, and not actually a game.

Is this the biggest commercial use of an ARG? It is after all being advertised at peak TV times, and Mercedes is a pretty big brand.

Will Mercedes engagement with an ARG format catalyst them into becoming the next big marketing thing?

Mercedes using ARG’s moves the format far from its original cult existence as discussed in Frank Rose’s book ‘The Art of Immersion’ 

Could this be the tipping point, ‘the’ campaign that makes ARG’s mainstream?

The answers to these questions has yet to be seen, but ‘escape the map’ certainly lowers the barriers to engagement, participation is not by selection, or a passworded website, participation is simply by inserting the escapethemap.com URL

The final genious in this campaign is the unexpected follow up….a call from Marie to thank you for your help and to let you know that she is safe. Simple, brilliant, genious use of information the user has provided in the game. A truly Transmedia experience that starts on your TV screen in the comfort of your sitting room, moves to a website then via maps, and sat nav screen shoots you out into the ‘world’ via your computer screen. Then just when the participant think its over, the final piece of the experience a phone call …that leaves the recieptent confused, intrigued but mostly, I think impressed.

….and just incase you want to find out more about Maire she’s on Twitter @girlinmap : ‘I’m a girl who’s trapped inside the map’