Web Surfing Turned Into a Game

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

A really intriguing new experience called PMOG — for "passively multiplayer online game" — has nearly 5,000 people playing as they surf the web. It sits on top of their Internet browsers, and lets players leave messages, traps, games, rewards, and links for one another. Points are accrued and spent on more tools or better protection.

What does playing in addition to surfing look like? A visit to one site prompts a pop-up from another player who has left a "mission" for you to explore (a puzzle that could take you to another web site, for instance). Another site has a "bomb" that goes off when you arrive, costing you points. An evolving give-and-take between players has them forming castes, strategies, and social connections.

The goal? Playing. There’s no conclusion. It is a game paradigm spread over and within a non-gaming experience.

Anybody involved in branding or marketing should pay close attention to what’s going on here.

We’re already seeing greater use in marketing of ARGs, or "alternate reality games." An ARG has a story line replete with its own context, which is then presented via a variety of media (web sites, emails, phone calls, even real-world events) so people can participate in it. 

An ARG called World Without Oil let consumers experience an an energy meltdown as if it were really happening — blog posts and videos made it seem real — and it just won the activism award at SXSW’s Web Awards. 

Clues in movie promotions, posters, TV show web sites  posters and on CD packages have engaged people who are interested in tracking down faux web sites, plots, and other experiences that feel like a game even if there’s no obvious conclusion. 

Playing is interacting. It’s engagement, only with passion.

PMOG applies these qualities to an existing activity, and I think it’s a simple leap to consider other activities — contexts, relationships — that have never seemed to be anything more than channels and targets for branding and marketing.

So imagine if, say, a similarly interactive experience were spread over interaction with your insurance provider, or across blogs and chats for one technology product or another. How about allowing mobile phone subscribers to play such a game with one another? Could your employee communications program become something that’s equally involving and rewarding to play, not just in which to participate in some inert way?

You could see branded filters that laid such a level of interactivity over what we today consider brand behaviors, so I could access a heightened experience having designated myself as a member of one consumer group or another. Accrue points for customer service wait time, then use them to blast users who post unhelpful answers in chat rooms. See feedback from my fellow group members when I do things. Turn the most unpleasant tasks (like filling out required forms) into entertaining diversions, allowing me to ding others (or they me) while I do the work.

The PMOG Beta is wonderfully strange, too, as the overall look-and-feel is very Steampunk (why? I have no idea). It seems that you can join groups (Associations) with avowed purposes (one group tries to mess things up, while another wants to simplify them). There’s a solid dose of alternate-reality history on the site, and the imagery is very neo-Victorian, which I just love. 

But beyond its look-and-feel, it’s the latest indication that playing is the next step after interacting. It’s commenting with consequences. Participation with a memory. Give-and-take with true give-and take Web 2.x, or maybe even 3.0, or whatever.    

It could be branding with behaviors.

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/03/web-surfing-tur.html