Aug 30, 2012

Swag Review: Deadly Affairs

This is the start of a series wherein I review the physical objects from various transmedia projects. If you have a project and you want to send me something for review, drop it in the mail.

Today, I’m looking at a box I recently got from Investigation Discovery, leading to a short ARG that’s playing for the new show Deadly Affairs. The team was kind enough to send this to me after it was released to players, because I told them I wanted to start reviewing game swag.

Before I opened it, my mother saw the package with its return address (Susan Lucci, Investigation Discovery) and was perplexed – she’s the ID fan in the house, not me. By now you might have seen it, but here’s some lovely photos anyway.
We’ve got a shiny black box with the program branding on it:

…and inside, a card…

…and tied to the card, a key.

This isn’t a very complicated or very ambitious mailer. The key is a craft store buy, and I happen to know that because I built the key for the Ladies’ Mechanical Companion out of an identical one.

This is basically serving the same role as a postcard – just like the Random Acts of Fusion viewmaster that was sent out last month, and which I’m still writing my review of. From the mismatched sticker on the front of the box (it’s more matte than the box itself, making the sticker look cheaper than it likely is) to the fact that there it contains so little for its size, my first impression is that there could have been a lot more going on here – especially because the design of the website tugs at my artifact-loving heart strings.

Can you imagine if the mailer had half this stuff in it? Family photos, ticket stubs, a fashion label tag, a receipt for a romantic dinner, a business card, a tiki-themed party invitation, a napkin with a phone number – by the time you read this, this list will be incomplete because new virtual artifacts are being added constantly. All with little, elegant calls out to the experience’s various bits of content, in old school ARG style. Love. So much love. Getting the equivalent of this in the mail would have been so boss.

So the question is, if you’re going to send out a postcard mailer, why even bother tying a key to it and putting it in a box? In this case, it works with the overall experience design, and I think this shows how far a strong design goes in making a good piece of tangible work.

Players’ first interaction with the website was to open a virtual box using a “key” (a code provided on the card), so Deadly Affairs sent out physical boxes with physical keys in them. The relationship between the artifact and the online experience is clear, and the call to action is simple but compelling – if you give someone a key, how can they NOT use it?  It’s trip and fall simple.

There are no puzzles here, nor is the mailer in character, but it sets up Lucci’s role in the experience – half Greek chorus, half eyebrow-cocked gossip. Hers is the voice of someone who knows a story, but wants to draw out her story as long as possible, dropping little hints along the way to keep you at the height of suspense. (I can only assume this is the way the show will feel, too, because it’s the way *every program on Investigation Discovery feels.* I can’t be the only child of ID fans who gets the urge to google the case fifteen minutes into a show.)

Ultimately, a lot more could have been done with this, and it still feels like a waste of opportunity and resources not to include some of the artifacts from the virtual box in the physical one. But for what it’s supposed to do, it works. I can’t see shoehorning in more items just to have more items if it doesn’t work with the structure of the experience. Hopefully, ID will start doing more stuff like this, because if any brand lends itself to ARG, it has to be them. Maybe next time we’ll get something more robust.

Note: I have two friends working on this experience. I am not, nor am I privy to any of their creative decisions on this project.

Have some swag you’d like to see lovingly lambasted?  Go right ahead and send it to me.

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