Hex168.com hyping 360 giveaway

Microsoft's latest alternate-reality game is promoting a lowly contest that will give 360 gamers a next-gen console bundle.

Last week Microsoft launched its latest alternate-reality game via the faux conspiracy Web site Hex168.com. As with the previous ARG ilovebees.com, which promoted Halo 2, the site is packed with cryptic language. And as of noon today, the site is asking visitors to solve bizarre riddles a la the ourcolony.net ARG, which gave the first teasers about the Xbox 360.

Unfortunately, those hoping for a big revelation, such as the final Xbox 360 launch lineup or Halo 3 details, should prepare to be underwhelmed. It turns out Hex168.com is nothing but fancy window dressing for a garden-variety sweepstakes that will see 360 winners walk away with an Xbox 360, three Xbox 360 games (Perfect Dark Zero, Project Gotham Racing 3, and Kameo: Elements of Power), a one-year membership to Xbox Live, and a night trip to an unnamed Xbox 360 event.

How do we know? Because like all companies staging sweepstakes, Microsoft must post the rules of the Hex 168 contest by law. And lo and behold, click on the blue "official rules" tab in the "submission subsection" of the site, and a page listing the rules appears, pulling the curtain back on the whole affair.

Under the heading "THE HEX 168 CONTEST OFFICIAL RULES," the site describes the contest as "a skill contest in which participants can submit a photograph or video exhibiting 'the power of hex,' defined as the unusual among the mundane, for a chance to win." It says the contest began today at noon and will continue until 11:59 p.m. PST on November 4.

The rules also explain exactly how to enter the contest, dispelling any mystery that mysterious requests for submissions are anything other than a gussied-up gimmick to solicit entries in the contest. "Access the Hex 168 website online at http://www.hex168.com," read the site. "Complete the online entry form as instructed and click to submit. You will then be prompted to submit your entry materials."

So what exactly will entrants be submitting? "Entries in the 0-1 person category must feature an occurrence of 'the power of hex' with zero persons or an occurrence with one (1) person (original entrant) 'under the power of the hex,'" says the site. "Entries in the Six (6) person category must feature exactly six (6) persons (including the Original Entrant) 'under the power of the hex.' Entries in the Thirty (30) person category must feature exactly thirty (30) persons (including the Original Entrant) 'under the power of the hex.'"

The site defines an "entry" as being either a video "a minimum of twenty (20) seconds and a maximum of forty (40) seconds in length," or a digital photo. It does not, however, say what "being under the power of hex" is. Presumably, though, it's showing people displaying the hex symbol, which first surfaced on the Xbox365.com forums last week.

However, before you start slapping hex-symbol stickers on to the backs of flabbergasted strangers, note the very large catch to the Hex 168 contest. Entrants must have each "Participating Entity"--that is, person--featured in the six- and 30-person entries "sign the release form available on the Hex 168 Contest website at time of entry as instructed." These release forms must be then be printed out and submitted in writing to the not-very-mysterious, New York-based Marden-Kane advertising agency by US Mail (via overnight delivery), or scans of the forms can be submitted via e-mail to hex168@mardenkane.com. All submissions must be received by noon on November 7, 2005, though the rules did not specify for which time zone.

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