Bank­able as­sets

quest bank Abn Amro’s As part of Dutch it tal­ent, we re­veal to recruit the hottest an ar D’azur con­structed how agency code with a techy twist es­cape room ex­pe­ri­ence

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Find out how agency CODE D’AZUR con­structed an AR es­cape-room ex­pe­ri­ence.

as the con­nected world con­tin­ues to progress at light speed, the bank­ing sec­tor is a crit­i­cal arena for in­no­va­tion. This is, of course, largely re­liant on the at­trac­tion of new tal­ent into the in­dus­try and the at­trac­tion of the bright­est IT prospects from each gen­er­a­tion. The in­her­ent chal­lenge then is con­vinc­ing these kinds of fledg­ling tech­nol­o­gists that “tra­di­tional” banks are mod­ernising enough to ex­cite them, while pro­vid­ing a wor­thy plat­form for their skills. So when Dutch bank ABN AMRO was fac­ing a huge re­cruit­ment drive for the bright­est IT minds, it needed some­thing spe­cial. In a cam­paign to find over 400 of such IT and dig­i­tal pro­fes­sion­als, it de­cided to es­chew post­ing the nor­mal job ads for some­thing more am­bi­tious and pro­gres­sive, re­sult­ing in a part­ner­ship with cre­ative agency CODE D’AZUR and an in­cred­i­ble Aug­mented Re­al­ity (AR) ex­pe­ri­ence. Billed as the world’s first mo­bile AR es­cape room, The Lock­down is an im­mer­sive on­line game that uses Ar­core and ARKIT on An­droid and IOS plat­forms to ren­der an in­spir­ing sto­ry­telling ad­ven­ture. Set in 2028, money has been wholly digi­tised and se­cured on the blockchain only for the sys­tem to crash and call on the play­ers’ IT prow­ess to fix the leak over a se­ries of chal­lenges. “Blockchain was con­sid­ered in­no­va­tion tech­nol­ogy a few years back, but now the bank al­ready em­ploys it for sev­eral pro­cesses,” be­gins Cre­ative Di­rec­tor Jeroen Thissen. “For that tech­nol­ogy, as well as other emerg­ing tech, it needs spe­cial­ists, but also de­vel­op­ers and data an­a­lysts. The brief was, there­fore, to cre­ate a re­cruit­ment cam­paign that stands out, and is com­pelling, while fit­ting the in­ter­ests and frame of ref­er­ence of the tar­get group.” Thanks to in­tense col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween ABN AMRO and CODE D’AZUR with its part­ners, The Lock­down was cre­ated in un­der just 15 weeks and by speak­ing to the team in­volved we dis­cover how.

Part­ners and Per­cep­tions

Based in Am­s­ter­dam and Barcelona, CODE D’AZUR are an agency that cre­ates dig­i­tal ser­vices and cam­paigns for global brands such as KLM, Red Bull and Tele2. In ad­di­tion, a long-stand­ing work­ing part­ner­ship with ABN AMRO bank sug­gested a trust be­tween both par­ties for tack­ling this lat­est project. CODE D’AZUR’S mantra of “Stand Out. Fit In.” seemed im­me­di­ately ideal for some­thing so in­no­va­tive, while in­evitably re­quir­ing ad­di­tional ex­per­tise to pull off. “It was ob­vi­ous that a project like this, be­ing the first of its kind, needed the com­bined knowl­edge and skills of a great many pro­fes­sion­als and ar­eas of ex­per­tise,” con­tin­ues Thissen. “We in­volved the ex­perts of Sher­locked, for ex­am­ple. They are the team be­hind some of the most suc­cess­ful and award-win­ning es­cape rooms, with two of them be­ing here in Am­s­ter­dam.” To un­der­take this project in such a short pe­riod of time, the agency would need to work to­gether closely with the client and these other part­ners, opt­ing for an ag­ile process. This en­abled ABN AMRO to be very in­volved in every step of the project. “Specif­i­cally this meant that we worked closely with the bank to tackle the themes, in­for­ma­tion in the chal­lenges and the method­ol­ogy of them. Be­ing a bank that pro­duces a game that is specif­i­cally tar­geted to­wards IT and dig­i­tal pro­fes­sion­als, the facts and chal­lenges that you present them with need to be cor­rect as well as re­al­is­tic.” A com­mon dis­cus­sion through­out would be how recog­nis­able the bank’s brand will be, how promi­nently it should pre­side. Be­ing such an open client, ABN AMRO recog­nised that for the game to most ef­fec­tively change the per­cep­tion of the bank as an em­ployer, its brand shouldn’t be overly present in the game. “This was trans­lated to where the game would fea­ture the bank’s iconic green colours, but noth­ing more. The only ref­er­ence to the bank is fea­tured at the very end of the game, when it’s com­pleted, to in­vite play­ers to put their skills to work and ap­ply for a job.”

com­bined ex­pe­ri­ence

As an ini­tial con­cept, the es­cape room idea had been some­thing the client had used in pre­vi­ous re­cruit­ment cam­paigns. They had al­ways been phys­i­cal lo­ca­tions how­ever, so the amount of en­gage­ment was limited by the amount of peo­ple that could be ac­com­mo­dated. The idea for The Lock­down was to in­tro­duce themes like blockchain, cryp­tocur­rency, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and in­fose­cu­rity into a vir­tual AR es­cape room open to all. “We wanted to cre­ate a sce­nario for this game that al­lowed play­ers to dive into chal­lenges that the bank faces to­day and will face in the close fu­ture. Chal­lenges in in­fose­cu­rity and

“even though the sce­nario Would Be fu­tur­is­tic, it needed to feel like a close fu­ture”

ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence are be­com­ing more com­mon and blockchain is start­ing to be an in­te­grated part of pro­cess­ing not only at the bank, but also through­out tech­ni­cal pro­cesses in other in­dus­tries.” This im­plied to the de­sign­ers that even though the sce­nario would be fu­tur­is­tic, it needed to feel like a close fu­ture that could con­ceiv­ably take place a decade from now. “In terms of how the game should look and feel, we im­me­di­ately knew that AR changes the play­ing field com­pletely when it comes to user ex­pe­ri­ence,” ex­plains De­sign Di­rec­tor Priscilla de Gier. “Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some­thing ‘flat’ or 2D, can’t be com­pared to an ex­pe­ri­ence where you can walk up or even through el­e­ments that are in front and around of you. In AR there are so many more and other ways to solve chal­lenges.” In­deed, this dis­tinct dif­fer­ence in user ex­pe­ri­ence meant that from the out­set the team had to ap­proach de­sign, tech­nol­ogy, de­vel­op­ment and cre­ation co­he­sively to en­sure user flow was right. “We’ve wanted to use the AR tech­nol­ogy to its full ca­pac­ity. The AR user ex­pe­ri­ence was not only in­te­gral to think­ing about how the chal­lenges were solved but also to de­tails about how the player would en­ter their an­swers in the sys­tem.”

Pixel Per­fec­tion

When it came to the vis­ual and graphic de­sign work, ef­forts were pur­pose­fully steered away from giv­ing the game too much of a sci-fi feel. Favour­ing a more re­al­is­tic fu­tur­is­tic set­ting that would be easy for play­ers to dive into, the team looked to ref­er­ences such as TV se­ries Black Mir­ror for in­spi­ra­tion around what 2030 might look like. “It’s been im­por­tant to match all art di­rec­tion of the videos, 3D and UI, to bring this vi­sion to life,” Priscilla con­tin­ues. “The many mood boards at the be­gin­ning of the project were key in crys­tal­liz­ing the vis­ual style of the game. For the op­ti­mal ex­pe­ri­ence and the style to be ul­ti­mately re­al­is­tic, we’ve worked closely with A.I. and blockchain ex­perts to en­sure every de­tail was where it’s sup­posed to be. All vis­ual de­tails in the game are cor­rect. There is no bo­gus code or de­tails in there

that wouldn’t work in real life.” This ap­proach would also ac­knowl­edge the de­ci­sion to keep brand­ing sub­dued and pas­sive, us­ing sub­tle styling like ABN AMRO’S cor­po­rate ty­pog­ra­phy and colour palettes across cer­tain as­sets. “The start­ing point was to sim­u­late game el­e­ments anal­o­gously, test­ing what an AR ren­der­ing of the fea­ture would look like dis­played in the real world. This meant a lot of back and forth be­tween the dig­i­tal and the ana­logue world to en­sure the high level of re­al­ism was achieved. The game is built in Unity, which also meant we had to push the bound­aries to en­sure the game was re­al­is­tic, looked beau­ti­ful, but these choices were not de­tract­ing from the per­for­mance of the game.” The close col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the in-house de­sign team and the de­vel­op­ment team has meant that lines were in­cred­i­bly short and con­ducive to main­tain­ing a high qual­ity in vis­ual re­sult. “The de­sign team has had con­trol in en­sur­ing the de­sign would be ex­e­cuted prop­erly, by ac­tu­ally mak­ing the de­signs them­selves in Unity. This way the de­vel­op­ers had all feed­back and con­tin­u­ous sup­port, and to­gether cre­ated pix­elper­fect ex­e­cu­tion.”

engi­neer­ing au­then­tic­ity

In terms of the de­vel­op­ment side, this was al­ways a project where de­vel­op­ment con­sid­er­a­tions had to run right through it. The aware­ness for the tech­nol­ogy was hugely im­por­tant there­fore, aided by the re­cent fo­cus on AR plat­form sup­port from Google and Ap­ple. With Ar­core and ARKIT re­spec­tively show­ing ma­jor ad­vance­ments, the over­all tech­ni­cal chal­lenge was made fairly smooth sail­ing. “How­ever, one of the chal­lenges that we did en­counter was a mem­ory is­sue with all the high res­o­lu­tion tex­tures we had to in­clude in the holodesk and ‘info-wall’ in the game,” as Tech­nol­ogy Di­rec­tor Erik Rave con­cedes. “We wanted play­ers to not only view the many doc­u­ments, pic­tures and other key items from far away, but also be able to zoom in. This meant that all as­sets had to be high res­o­lu­tion, but this would not be able with the mem­ory. What we then de­cided is to make cer­tain items click­able and then ex­pand for the player. Most items are still very high res­o­lu­tion, to main­tain the level of re­al­ism, of ac­tu­ally be­ing able to walk up to your info wall and have a close look at what’s up there. With this so­lu­tion we’ve found a way to ad­just the UI to best fit both the de­sign and the con­cept goals, as well as to el­e­vate the us­abil­ity of the game.” That pur­suit of high-res­o­lu­tion re­al­ism also trans­lated into the chal­lenge of mak­ing the world au­then­tic. Of­ten a gripe of Hol­ly­wood’s por­trayal of tech­nol­ogy is those com­puter screens that ap­par­ently a hacker is us­ing to hack some­thing, only for the dis­play to look bla­tantly false or fake. Since IT and dig­i­tal pro­fes­sion­als were the tar­get group of the game, the team knew it needed to avoid this at all cost. “What ties into that is the ad­di­tional con­tri­bu­tion of the tech­nol­ogy team in the shape and dif­fi­culty level of the puz­zles. The team is the tar­get au­di­ence, so it’s been great to test and play around with the de­vel­op­ment of the chal­lenges. This, in com­bi­na­tion with help from the ex­perts from

“screens Went Black and our hacker de­liv­ered a spe­cial mes­sage to the au­di­ence”

the bank in cre­at­ing re­al­is­tic sce­nar­ios that peo­ple en­counter there, as well as es­cape-room ex­perts, has been key in suc­cess­fully cre­at­ing chal­leng­ing and en­gag­ing puz­zles through­out the game.”

num­ber crunch­ing

The launch process was suit­ably geared to meet the game’s tar­get au­di­ence, too. Un­veiled dur­ing one of Europe’s lead­ing tech­nol­ogy con­fer­ences, The Next Web, it si­mul­ta­ne­ously had its land­ing page, ban­ner ads and even cin­ema trail­ers go live be­fore show­ings of the new Solo Star Wars movie. “Dur­ing the open­ing of the con­fer­ence, with 3,000 peo­ple in the au­di­ence, we hacked the con­fer­ence,” laughs Thissen. “Screens went black and our hacker de­liv­ered a spe­cial mes­sage to the au­di­ence that chal­lenged them to play the game. This was sup­ported by a stand at the con­fer­ence where peo­ple could not only chat to the bank, but also play the game on sam­ple phones. It was great to see that we had a few bright minds ac­tu­ally solve the com­plete game un­der 30 min­utes, nat­u­rally, they were in­vited for a cof­fee.” The week­end af­ter this launch event yielded thou­sands of down­loads and very quickly saw the story get picked up by the IT com­mu­nity and me­dia. Spread­ing the de­sired mes­sage at home and in­ter­na­tion­ally, a to­tal reach of 311,000 was achieved within the Nether­lands — in other words, around 73 per­cent of the work­ing IT tal­ent in the Nether­lands had been reached solely with the earned me­dia of the cam­paign. So with such promis­ing en­gage­ment fig­ures to date, do the CODE D’AZUR guys an­tic­i­pate more to come? “Since we’ve left it open ended, who knows what will lay in store for The Lock­down,” grins Thissen, cryp­ti­cally. “With the de­vel­op­ment of AR now by Ap­ple and Google, we ex­pect so much more to be pos­si­ble in fu­ture. Un­like VR, AR has a very low par­tic­i­pa­tion thresh­old, you aren’t clos­ing your­self off to your en­vi­ron­ment, and ac­tu­ally can share your ex­pe­ri­ence with more peo­ple than your­self. It wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing if this and next year, we’ll come across many more AR ex­pe­ri­ences.”

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