Friday, May 27, 2011

Nude video-game parties gathering

The naked gaming trend was all part of a carefully planned campaign to attract attention to what, for many viewers, had a modest background presence.

The naked gaming trend was all part of a carefully planned campaign to attract attention to what, for many viewers, had a modest background presence.

All across New York, young men and women are taking their clothes off and getting their game on at nude video-game gatherings.

At least that's what James Percelay and Michael Krivicka, co-founders of the viral marketing agency Thinkmodo, wanted New Yorkers to think when they launched a staged video on YouTube "documenting" one such gathering in a SoHo event space Monday.

Of course, there's no such thing as a nude video-game party — at least not yet.

As the Daily News witnessed with behind-the-scenes access of the video shoot, the naked gaming trend was all part of a carefully planned campaign to attract attention to what, for many viewers, had a modest background presence — the ergonomic, stress-reducing device covering the video-game controllers.

But the staged video, complete with local actors, still caught fire this week, amassing more than 100,000 hits on YouTube and dozens of blog posts wondering whether nude gaming really could, or really should, be catching on.

Though the product, the Xtendplay video-game accessory, was mentioned, most viewers managed to sit through this 90-second film without even knowing they were watching an advertisement.

Here's how they did it: Thinkmodo hired 32 actors, including friends, Craigslist hires, and members of New York's Young Naturists, who didn't mind hanging out in their birthday suits while playing video games equipped with the Xtendplay video game accessory. The shoot lasted three hours and all the testimonials were scripted.

It's all designed to get past your defenses.

"If it were a typical ad, you'd have this filter on and then you'd look at it a certain way," says Percelay. "But if it's content that's seemingly un-sponsored, then people are fully engaged and then are really open to exploring it."

This is the company's third sponsored video hoax, following February's Shaving Helmet — a gizmo that seemed to streamline one's grooming routine — and March's Times Square video hack, which had people guessing whether a guy with an iPhone could control the jumbo screens in New York's epicenter.

Both concepts worked.

The former pushed Headblade's sales up 39% in a week, and the latter helped the film "Limitless" open at No. 1 at the box office with nearly $19 million in ticket sales. Now, Web traffic for Xtendplay's online home is spiking as much as 41% in a day.
A campaign dependent on media buzz and audience participation is still seen as a gamble, says Krivicka, and the most challenging aspect of his job is convincing the client that it's going to work.

"Everyone wants to go viral, but then once you pitch them the idea, they're like, ‘Nude gaming party? What?'" he says. "[We say] if you really want to make an impact, you have to be a little edgy."

For new companies with a small advertising budget and a need for big exposure, though, the risk seems one worth taking.

"Unlike Microsoft, we don't have half a billion dollars around to try to raise the visibility of our product," says Dave Sparling, co-founder of Xwerks, the company behind Xtendplay. "So it's really getting down to getting the most bang for the buck."

For the new L.A. startup, using a New York-based company to make a New York video had all the promise of attracting a lot of attention. Adding to their confidence was the condition that, for the first time, Thinkmodo would feature the product in the video explicitly.

Percelay believes branding isn't a part of Thinkmodo's ideal strategy because it immediately arouses suspicion of a greater agenda. But it's not a deal- breaker either.

"It's almost the way you go to a magic show," says Percelay. ‘You know it's not real, but you still want to sit down and figure out how that guy pulled a car out of his briefcase."

The trick, says Krivicka, is to pick a concept that will raise eyebrows and generate skepticism but remain close enough to reality to seem plausible. The resulting head-scratcher keeps viewers clicking again and again.

"We create questions, so there are then conversations," says Percelay. "For us, everything we do has to end in a question mark."

As for those that find viral video hoaxes a disingenuous form of advertising, Percelay believes that most Americans are smart enough to catch on.

"The art form is progressing where people presume now that these videos are hoaxes," he says. "We're entering into an understanding that, ‘It's kind of the implicit agreement now where the audience just wants to figure out how we did it.'"

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