“The Walking Dead” videogame uses consumer data to write stories and explore ethical quandaries.

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Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series of videogames (based on the hugely popular AMC series) is a great example of how to use customer data to strengthen your brand in an engaging way.

The games play like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book for the digital age, keeping track of your moral and ethical choices throughout the story and comparing your decisions to other players at the end of each level. It’s a creative use of data that encourages players to think about the choices they’ve made – if they’re braver, or more merciful than others – and also gives the game’s developers additional information about their audience. According to a new article by FiveThirtyEight:

“The data doesn’t just influence players, it’s also an important tool that allows developers to tailor the game as they’re making it. In every episode, there are decision points designed as narrative barometers, opportunities to gauge how the audience feels — and whether they’re having the reactions Telltale hoped for.”

Screenshot from Telltale Games' The Walking Dead.

Screenshot from Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead.

Telltale Games uses this player data to tailor more intense, nail-biting scenarios that don’t always have obvious answers: do you tell the rest of the group that the pregnant woman you’re traveling with is sneaking extra rations?  Do you save your old friend at the expense of your new team? It’s a beautiful marriage between the science of big data and the craft of storytelling, resulting in an organic and evolving product that was named “Game of the Year” by respected publications such as USA Today and WIRED Magazine. It also strengthens the brand and engages customers to speak up about their choices:

“These morally ambiguous forks in the road have prompted passionate debates both online and offline about which choices players believe are “right,” “wrong,” or even “unforgivable.” And of course, the comparative data that appears at the end of each episode feels like a conversation all its own, a digital expression of social norms that can leave players feeling justified — or judged — by the decisions of their peers.”

There’s more to say about the marketing innovations of The Walking Dead videogame, from the episodic release that builds hype between new levels, to the omnichannel experience that allows the game to be played on mobile, tablet, PC, and television sets. All of these have certainly contributed to the titanic success of Telltell Games’ The Walking Dead games, but perhaps most impressive thing about the franchise is its ability to elevate videogames from casual entertainment into a learning experience for players about themselves and their place in the human condition. This is the line between entertainment and art.

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