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New game has players fighting AIDS instead of aliens

New game has players fighting AIDS instead of aliens

December 19, 2012 | By Colin Campbell

December 19, 2012 | By Colin Campbell
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Design, Business/Marketing

Coca-Cola is using an iOS game to raise awareness and funds in a partnership with RED, a charity dedicated to fighting AIDs.

THRED [iTunes] comes as part of a partnership between the company and RED, and was developed by North Carolina's BitMonster, founded earlier this year by former Epic Games staff. It's a 3D running game in which players collect powerups, choose paths and avoid obstacles, all set to an uptempo soundtrack.

What's interesting here is the choice to use a video game to help explain a serious health issue, and raise funds to eradicate mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015.

Lee Perry, president and designer at BitMonster (and former Gears of War gameplay designer) explained why Coca-Cola opted for this approach. "One major limitation with things like print or TV campaigns for an issue is that they're inherently passive," he said. "You can provide loads of information to someone, but they're not enabled to do anything that could make a difference right that second.

"With games you've got the definitively interactive media to benefit from, players can actually do something right then, both from an awareness driving perspective as well as a financial perspective."

He added, "Huge numbers of people are walking around with the iOS App Store in their pocket, able to complete a purchase with a couple taps. It's the ultimate in impulse driven buying power, why not use that potential to actually make a difference in the world? The top grossing iOS games pull in upwards of $500,000 per day in in-app purchases. It's not hard to imagine how much treatment and prevention could be provided if we had even a fraction of that success."

Speaking for Coca-Cola, Anne Carelli, senior manager of global sports and entertainment marketing said, "We were inspired to develop a RED product that captures the attention of teens and one where they will contribute their time, money and networks to help end the transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies by 2015. Teens have the power to help deliver an AIDS-Free Generation in their lifetime."

Perry said designing the game brought some unique challenges. "Obviously HIV is a hugely serious issue, you can't just make a whimsical AIDs shooter game. You have to handle the subject very tactfully. Players with 30 seconds to spend in a game session aren't going to spend their time reading a block of text. To spread information about the cause without feeling preachy or wordy, we took every chance we could to tactfully place 'did you know' information tidbits on things like the score screen, or the places where you're upgrading your ship. Typically those are screens you see often, so we're hoping over time those facts sink in without feeling too obtrusive."

One solution, he said, was to make a strong connection between the game's visuals and its music. "There have been many games recently in the indie scene that have proved the strong link between music and basic gameplay. With THRED we had this amazing situation where they brought DJ Poet and TOKiMONSTA for the sonic landscape and the music, and had special music provided by Tiesto. From there we had the opportunity to make the THRED gameplay really stand out from other endless runners by making it something of a living music visualizer. We wanted something that would look at home projected on a screen behind one of these DJs at a concert."

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