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Marketing & PR
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WESTWORLD 'The Maze' Interview

09 January 2019

Last year, HBO and digital marketing agency 360i took home four gold LIAs and one silver for their work on “Westworld: The Maze,” an interactive voice game created for Amazon’s Alexa. Crafted to delight even the most die-hard fans, “The Maze” delivers a true extension of the Westworld universe, offering over two hours of unique gameplay. LIA Insider sat down with 360i Chief Creative Officer Menno Kluin and Creative Director Andrew Hunter to learn more about the project, and the elements that made it such a creative success. Their answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.



What was the original brief for this project, and how did you settle on Voice as the medium for this particular idea?


“Westworld: The Maze” is a great example of a project where Voice was a big part of the original brief. HBO already considered Voice to be an area where they needed to be playing and experimenting, and we agreed that it made a lot of sense for the brand. Voice has a natural link to entertainment. If you’re already looking at a screen, it’s the most convenient, comfortable way of getting additional information. HBO knew that, in the long run, they would need to become experts in Voice no matter what. Given the elements and themes of the series—A.I., the personification of machines, robots taking over, etc.—Westworld made perfect sense as the subject of HBO’s first foray into the space.


“Westworld: The Maze” won numerous awards in 2018, including five LIAs. Why do you think this project has had so much success on the awards circuit?


There are a few elements at play here. First, I think it’s because we did right by the show and right by the platform. Voice really is just such a natural fit for a show like Westworld. And one of the things that we saw over and over and over again on social, maybe the single most talked-about subject related to the show, was how much fans wanted to go to Westworld. If good marketing is about identifying and speaking to people’s desires, then it’s hard to imagine a better way of doing that for Westworld fans than giving them the chance to travel to the world of the show and explore its dangers from the comfort of their homes. That’s a quality that I think is really important to awards show juries.


Marketing and PR also played a huge role in our success on the awards circuit. One of the great things about the Voice format is that you don’t have to show the user everything. It’s not a video game or a website. We took advantage of that to build in Easter eggs for specific reporters, so that someone who was maybe thinking about covering the game might find themselves actually in it, being addressed by name by one of the nearly forty built-in characters. That gave us a huge boost on the PR front. But really I’d say that throughout the entire process, we were very methodical in making sure that everything—PR, social, creative assets, etc.—had a cadence that could allow the project to naturally build into culture. Ultimately, we wanted awards show juries to hear about our work long before they sat down to start judging.


What would you say was the biggest challenge from the creative process, and how did you overcome it?


Speed. This was a sprint from start to finish. The client basically said, “Hey, you have twelve weeks. Go do something to a level that no one has ever done before. Good luck. Make it great.” That meant a couple of different things for our process:


First, we needed everything to be finalized and fully ready for launch by the time the last few episodes of the season were airing. “The Maze” was intended to extend the viewership, engage the fans, and keep them engaged way after the show was finished airing for the year. It ended up premiering just ahead of the finale. We had a hard deadline.


Second is that, because speed was of the absolute essence, everything had to start with the user experience. Everything had to be mapped out to a T—these are the different paths you can take, here are all the characters you are going to encounter, etc. We mapped out every bit of dialogue we needed to record and all the scenarios we needed to hit, so that when we went to get the whole sound library from the Westworld production team, we knew exactly what was going where.


How do you draw a distinction between creative that uses new or emerging technologies well, and creative that uses it as a gimmick?


Everything has to be rooted in storytelling. This is especially true when you’re a brand like HBO, and you’ve built your audience specifically around your ability to deliver narratives and storytelling of the highest creative caliber. It’s not enough to just build a technical application. There’s no soul in that. It doesn’t fit with the HBO persona.


And when I talk about storytelling, I’m not just talking about the delivery of the game itself. It’s the story around it. It’s the trailers. It’s the teaser. You have to get the fans on board; get them excited. We especially needed people to be excited to try and figure out the endgame for “The Maze,” because it’s very complex. It really is a very challenging game. You have to be a super fan of the series to make it all the way to the end, and even then I would say it is very, very hard. There’s a learning curve, so the story and the narrative surrounding the game were really crucial in building the appeal for the game itself, and keeping users committed and engaged during the gameplay experience.


What advice would you give to creatives who are considering diving into the world of sound/audio creative? Any special considerations when you’re building creative without any sort of visual component?


The first thing I would say is that subtlety is not your friend. When you get started with an audio experience like this, you’re going through the world blindfolded. You can’t touch anything. You can’t smell anything. You can’t taste anything. You can’t see anything. The only tools you have are your ears, so if I want you to know something, I have to tell you. If I want you to do something, I have to tell you to do it.


For example, when you’re playing a video game and your character dies, blood comes splattering onto the screen and the words GAME OVER appear in giant letters. There’s no ambiguity. But when we were beta testing “Westworld: The Maze,” we had set up 32 different ways a player could die, and we would signal that through subtle audio cues—the sound of a stampede or cannibals rending flesh, all these different ways to die. The problem was that we weren’t really telling you that you were dying, we were just telling you if you were getting things right or wrong. Ultimately, at the last minute, we decided to add in audio stingers that would not only tell you if you got an answer write or wrong, but also provide clear, non-diegetic signals once you either won or lost the game.


What do you find most exciting about “Westworld: The Maze” and the field of Voice in general?


With regard to Westworld and HBO specifically, it’s really impossible to understate how thrilling it was to work with talents like Jeffrey Wright and Angela Sarafayan, or to fly the team out to LA and get them collaborating with the Westworld writers. It was amazing to be able to give our creatives this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with the best of the best in the business. I think everyone who was involved with this project grew creatively, professionally, and personally from the experience.


 Thinking about Voice more generally, I’d say the thing that has been most exciting has been the fact that no one else is really doing what we’re doing with it. This is becoming less and less true, but I think it’s still fair to say that most people think of Voice as being very functional, very basic, very rudimentary. But at 360i, we always try to bring a level of ambition to channels that people aren’t necessarily ambitious in, and Voice has given us a really wonderful sandbox to play in as far as that’s concerned. Our attitude has always been: let’s take this seriously, put it at the center of things, and find the elements within this new medium and channel that are exciting to us. With “The Maze,” we really tried to imagine what Voice skills would be like in 2025 and achieve that today—more direct engagements, more sophisticated interaction. There’s so much more to be done with this medium and that’s what’s really exciting.