Alternate Reality Game Used in Viral Promotion of NinnWorx_SR's 'The Four'

Tom Hymes
CHATSWORTH, Calif. — Adult publicity firm Black and Blue Media has engaged the alternate reality gaming (ARG) phenomenon in an ingenious campaign to promote the summer release of NinnWorx_SR's "The Four."

Started barely a month ago by Jay and Sherry of Black and Blue, Kronos480BC almost succeeded in maintaining complete anonymity as an adult promotion until being outed last week by Argnet.com, a website for alternate reality gamers.

It is still going strong, however, and has attracted a healthy number of players, though exactly how many is impossible to determine. In the alternate reality gaming world, everything is fluid, rules are made to be broken and participants determine pretty much the entire unfolding of the experience.

According to Wikipedia, "An alternate reality game (ARG) is an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants' ideas or actions."

The reason Jay and Sherry decided to employed this unique form of consumer engagement was part inspiration and part marketing pragmatism.

"You can't sell to people anymore," Sherry told XBIZ. "You have to let them sell themselves on something, and ARGs are a great way to get people to become attached to the game and ultimately the product you are promoting with it.

"Since "The Four" has the potential to appeal to the gamer and graphic novel enthusiast, as well as the typical adult consumer, we wanted something that was different and would get those that played or heard about the game caught up in the virtual world we created, using elements of 'The Four', as a catalyst for a separate story line.

"Black and Blue Media is handling everything about Kronos480BC. We've taken it on as our personal project. Ninn Worx_SR is supporting us in what we're doing, and letting us handle everything unfettered. Jay and I worked together on the major plot twists, and I've been acting as the Puppet Master for the Kronos480BC game."

In the ARG lexicon, the Puppet Master is the person who puts the game into existence and provides ongoing clues to keep up the momentum. According to Wikipedia, "Puppet Masters are simultaneously allies and adversaries to the player base, creating obstacles and providing resources for overcoming them in the course of telling the game's story."

The story of Kronos480BC contains story elements from 'The Four," and revolves around the search for an ancient necklace that dates back to 480BC. Agamemnon Cronides claims the necklace is a family heirloom and has enlisted the aid of Roberta "Bobbie" Hope, an archaeologist with the Hope Ranch Foundation to find it.

Michael Andersen, the ArgNet.com writer, was bemused by the fact that the ARG is promoting an adult film but also impressed with the manner in which the game's creators embraced the medium.

"Given the rather explicit nature of the product Kronos480BC is promoting, it is surprising to note that the alternate reality game itself is anything but," he said. "I've covered campaigns promoting a fairly diverse range of products including books, television shows, movies, beer, and even heavy machinery. So I can't really say that I'm surprised to find an alternate reality game promoting pornography. But I can say that I am impressed with their treatment of the campaign so far. While the subject matter relates to the plot of the upcoming film, the production staff made a conscious decision to eschew attracting players through titillation, preferring to rely on the strength of the story."

Q Ninn, Michael's wife and CEO of NinnWorx_SR, told XBIZ that she could not be more impressed with the creativity involved in Kronos480BC.

"I think it's incredibly imaginative," she said. "I don't know how they even came up with the concept. It blows my mind, and frankly, I'm not sure I understand all of it!"

She stressed that even though the ARG incorporates some of the themes of the upcoming film, it is a completely different product. She added that the interactive art form has been a passion of her husband's for years, and he supported Black and Blue Media in creating this to promote "The Four".

"Michael is a gamer," she said "He loves anything creative and electronic. In fact, he did Latex, the game, about ten years ago. It was an interactive DVD that no one else had ever done, and people still talk and write about it because it was so unique."

As far as the endgame of Kronos480BC, Q's take was entirely appropriate for the ARG crowd.

"I don't know that it's been written yet," she said.