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
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”