Everyone was talking about “The Game” (in the Oscar-nominated Inception sort of way) at the recent 2011 Hubbard One Excellence in Legal Marketing Awards gathering. Yes, marketers were duly thrilled for Jeffrey J. Berardi, chief marketing officer, K& L Gates LLP, who was named Marketing Professional of the Year, and they were delighted for Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP who received the Marketing Initiative Award for their Gold Medal Initiative for the 2010 Winter Olympics. But it was the Best Use of Technology to Support Marketing Efforts award recipient, Houthoff Buruma, which left the marketing community wondering if “The Game” was part of their first-, second- or third-level dream marketing campaign.

Houthoff Buruma, in conjunction with Ranj Serious Games, developed an interactive, multimedia game specifically for law firm recruitment. The realistic, serious game is based on a fictive take-over deal of a Dutch family company by a Chinese state owned giant, and the players represent the Chinese company. Throughout, players are faced with video and text chats, film clips, emails, CNN new flashes, websites and more than 100 fictional documents to inform their counsel.

To explain the specifics of development and rollout is the following post by Jaap Bosman, Head of Marketing at Houthoff Buruma. While this post is a bit longer than our norm, hold fast because you will want to learn every detail about “The Game.”

Houthoff Buruma is a long-established, truly Dutch law firm, and with over 300 lawyers it is one of the largest law firms in the Netherlands. The firm has a strong focus in the areas of corporate, finance and litigation. Most people stop reading right there, but this should prove a bit more interesting in the following.

Like any top-tier law firm within its field it needs to compete for the most talented law students. Problem number one: there are less than 200 top-tier students amongst 800 graduating law students each year in the Netherlands, which makes competition fierce. Problem number two, and more universal: how do you find the talented students since grades often have nothing to do with it? These days a law firm is looking for more than legal skills, a good lawyer has to be creative, solution-driven, immune to stress, worldly-wise and have excellent people skills.

Jaap Bosman, Head of Marketing at Houthoff Buruma explains: “We realized that the limits have been reached with what you can achieve with printed media. Especially if students is the specific target group. They are being reached by ‘viral campaigns’, apps and social media, often strange words to law firms. Just as alien as computer games. We knew we had to enter a new field in our marketing efforts and it didn’t take long before decided to make a serious game. We teamed up with a global player in making of computer games, Ranj Serious Games. They knew everything about serious games, and we knew everything about a law firm and what we wanted.”

There is an increasing gap between university life and what working at a top-tier law firm is really like. A serious game would not only provide a tool to find talented law students, it would in turn give the students an impression of what working at a Houthoff Buruma would be like. The primary target group of The Game is all Dutch legal students at the end of their studies. By the end of 2010 The Game had been played by some 600 Dutch law students and in 2011 that number will be higher.

Houthoff Buruma emphasizes that The Game is not only a vital long term investment as a recruitment tool, but also the perfect marketing tool for its specific target group.

Jaap Bosman adds “Everyone is welcome to come and play The Game at our offices. We have had the young section of Association of Dutch In-house Counsel come and play, competing against our young lawyers. We have even had clients asking if they can come and play. It has turned out to be a great networking tool.”

Gameplay

Great efforts have been made to make The Game resemble reality. The basis is a fictive take-over deal of a Dutch family company by a Chinese state owned giant, where the players represents the Chinese company. The players have 90 minutes to convince enough shareholders to sell their shares and to come up with solutions for hidden issues. In this time they will be confronted with video chats, text chats, film clips, e-mails, CNN news flashes, web sites and more. Over 100 fictional documents have been drafted that could be mistaken by professionals for real. Specially created 3D visuals and seven professional actors playing the various characters bring The Game to life. No serious computer game exists today with such a multimedia content.

The players will play in up to five teams, with up to five people in each team, and the teams will be competing against each other in each session. Each team has a touch screen computer, where the interactive part is played, and a lap top connected to the ‘data room’ filed with documents, along with a pile of hard copy documents that contain valuable information. It is crucial for teams to choose a strategy and to divide tasks amongst one another in order to avoid losing time and to cope with information overload. Once the 90 minutes have passed, a plenary meeting will be held in which the results will be presented and where each team will be given the chance to present arguments in favor of their particular solution. Every decision taken will result in a different path through the story line. You can play the game several times over without experiencing repetition.

The Making Of

In times of crisis Houthoff Buruma made budget means free for this project, and it took three quarters of a year of joint efforts by Ranj and Houthoff Buruma (three people full time) to realize The Game.

Purpose-made software was needed for keeping track of the numerous story lines corresponding to the virtually unlimited different choices a player can make.

The 3D visuals has been specially created for The Game, including animations using various patented technologies taking a central place within the story line and the Shanghai office of the client.

Seven professional actors were used to play the various characters in accordance with scripts. In order to enhance credibility, the Chinese client is acted by a Chinese actor speaking Mandarin and filmed in Shanghai.

Nearly one hundred fictional documents were created to fill the “data room” where the players can dig for necessary information needed to make decisions or solve issues. This includes Articles of Association, work orders, contracts, shareholder registers, Panamanian ship registrations, minutes of meetings from work councils and shareholder meetings, just to name a few.

”The Game”

The word ‘game’ will inevitably invoke images of animated figures ascending numerous levels of increasing difficulty by collecting points, or a multiplayer, online game involving warcraft. This could not be further from what a serious game actually is, in particular, Houthoff Buruma The Game. It is difficult to explain to people who haven’t played “The Game” what it is. Not even the six-minute jury film we made can fully paint the picture.

We have gone to great lengths to make Houthoff Buruma The Game resemble a real situation in real time. Everything the player experiences could be happening in reality at that very point in time. Every document the player comes across, such as letters from the bank, Panamanian ship registrations, or newspaper articles, could be mistaken for real documents. The in-game corporate websites are real websites, filled with all the information a corporate website would have in real life, including annual reports, detailed accounts on research and development as well as company history. The characters communicating with the players via pre-recorded video chats are played by professional actors who respond to what the player says not only with facts but in accordance with their various personalities. The player has to figure out the best way to handle each individual in order to make progress, the same as is in real life.

Premiere in Shanghai at the World Expo

In May 2010 we were ready for release. First we made three trailers to tease our target group and placed them on YouTube as well as spreading DVDs amongst various student associations. Soon our recruiters started getting contacted by students who wanted to play The Game. They had heard a rumor that only the best get to play and wanted to be able to tell their friends they had been picked. Word-of–mouth method had worked. Of course in reality every student who wants to can play.

The Game premiered at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai where it was chosen to represent ‘state-of-the-art’ in serious gaming. At first people were nervous to present the game in Shanghai due to the Chinese content, we weren’t sure how it would be received. But the feedback was very positive; the Chinese attendees were thrilled.

A few months later in November 2010 The Game was awarded the European Innovative Games Award, an initiative of the Hessian Ministry for Economics (Germany) in co-operation with the European Commission. The Game was then named a ‘business sector first’ according to the legal sector magazine The Lawyer and has been identified as the next step in the world of serious gaming.

The Game was recently awarded the Excellence in Legal Marketing Award by Thomson-Reuters and Hubbard One in co-operation with the Hildebrand Institute. We are particularly pleased to have received the recognition from the legal sector. Firms in the US are in general ahead of European law firms when it comes to marketing approach. It’s nice to hear the enthusiastic jury report of how they visualize that The Game should even be applied to Law Schools.