Building brand awareness with 30-year-old videogames

Will the ability to play a classic text-based adventure stoke your desire to purchase an Amazon Kindle? Probably not. However, Amazon has figured out a clever way to build awareness of the Kindle by leveraging the brand equity of Zork–a videogame that inspires nostalgia amongst those who spent time in the late 70s and early 80s imagining an epic world as they clacked away on their IBM Model M keyboards and basked in the glow of green or amber monitors.

Visitors to portablequest.com can now play four different versions of Zork using the keyboard and whispernet-powered Internet connection of the Amazon Kindle. A portion of the project appears to have been developed by Etropa, a Hawaii-based development company, whose email address is provided for “questions and comments” related to the game when you type ‘help’ on portablequest.com. A developer using the Twitter handle planetsurfer has also been credited with working on the project. Activision is the current copyright holder of Zork and all related assets.

Zork is unlikely to be a killer app for Kindle in a world where social media style co-op play, colorful sprites, and saturated 3D graphics rule. However, Amazon was able to leverage the novel idea of making a familiar retro game accessible to Kindle users to get positive coverage in many popular blogs including GizmodoLifehackerGamepron, and Advertising Lab. Gizmodo and Lifehacker are ranked in the top 25 of Technorati’s Top 100 Blogs, and each garners lots of unique readers/influencers every day. Interestingly enough, neither of these blogs made comparisons between gaming experiences available on the iPad, Nook, Kindle, or Sony Reader — they merely commented on how “cool/addictive” playing Zork was and made gentle references to lifestyle use of Kindle (e.g., playing from the beach). What a great thing for Amazon! They received free praise for the benefits of their device without being compared to other products in the market.

One other interesting detail: the experience is not exclusive to the Kindle–this iteration of the game can be accessed via any Web browser (i.e., you could try to play via an iPad, iPhone, or Android-based device). Also, note the link at the top of the portablequest.com Web site which reads, “Take your adventure on the go. Click here to buy a Kindle.” I think it is safe to say that this isn’t about gaming or apps for mobile devices — it is about using advergaming and blog coverage to promote awareness of the Amazon Kindle, which in turn helps Amazon to build a stronger brand.

The take away for business and marketing people should be that encouraging and supporting projects like porting Zork to modern devices appears to be a great and relatively low cost way to gain media coverage and impressions.

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