GDC 07: Burger King gets its game on

Blitz Games' Sion Lenton discusses the backstory behind the trio of Burger King advergames--and what the future holds for future alliances between big brands and the game biz.

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SAN FRANCISCO--As the 2007 Game Developers Conference winded down on Friday afternoon, attendees were given a look into the success story behind Burger King's recent advergames.

The presentation, titled "Burgers and Blitz: Creating a Brand-Funded Game," was delivered by Sion Lenton, development support manager for Blitz Games. Throughout his talk, Lenton stressed two major pieces of advice: avoid forcing brands down players' throats, and woo players with gameplay, fun, and quality.

Blitz Games, a UK-based developer, was hired in 2005 to make three games for the Xbox and Xbox 360: Pocketbike Racer, Big Bumpin', and Sneak King. As Lenton recounted, the project was started in May 2005 when Microsoft met with Burger King in hopes of starting a project that would attract mainstream players. Blitz Games was brought on board later that year, and production began in February 2006.

The games, released in November 2006, have sold more than 3.2 million units to date. Some analysts have suggested that the game helped fuel the 40 percent increase in Burger King's Q4 profits.

Despite this success, the studio encountered a number of challenges. Blitz Games was given only seven months to produce three games for a simultaneous release. Moreover, as Lenton explained, the Burger King adverts are very different in the UK. As a result, the team had to spend time learning about the quirky, "rich world" of the Burger King brand.

In discussing the three games, Lenton particularly focused on Sneak King, which he claimed "seems to be the favorite of the three." According to Lenton, the team "really [tried] to replicate the experience in the advert." From the very beginning, "Burger King had a very very specific idea of how this game was going to work." Lenton recalled that Burger King even flew the King mascot to the Blitz Games mo-cap studio.

Throughout the presentation, Lenton emphasized a mantra of "quality over quantity." He also explained that "visuals were a key factor" in everything from the models to the icons. Touting the studio's internal middleware, Lenton revealed that "there's no way we could have done the game without our cross-platform tools."

Lenton urged advergame developers to understand the brand and to work closely with clients. According to Lenton, the combination of a short timeline, changing requirements, and numerous stakeholders necessitated an agile, transparent development style. In particular, he recommended a separation between art and gameplay in order to prevent client reviews from slowing down the development process.

When asked about the specific business model behind the Burger King deal, Lenton only smiled and commented that the arrangement "worked out OK." He was similarly vague on Blitz Games' future plans, remarking, "We've been busy, yeah. It certainly has opened the door."

Looking back on the three games, Lenton concluded that "there's no reason why [advergames] can't be approached like any other game." However, he warned that advergames of low quality can "actually work to the detriment of the brand." Nonetheless, Lenton expressed his satisfaction with the three Burger King games, asserting, "I think we have proved that advergaming on this scale is a viable business model."

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