Last week, I posted a brief blurb about a package I received in the mail from “J,” a man with an unwholesome fixation with barn swallows. In that relatively innocuous package, J sent over a Sony IC Reader pre-loaded with 18 seconds of birds chirping. While I did not know it at the time, the package was the entryway into a secretive, five-part application process for Her Majesty’s Secret Service, MI6. The campaign, developed on behalf of Sony by Wieden+Kennedy, revels in secrecy through every step of the design process. As such, unlike many alternate reality games, much of the thrill in this experience can be derived from tackling the challenges on your own.
If you’re up for the challenge, start out with this YouTube video: it should have all the information you need to get to the next step. Otherwise, read on to learn more.
The key to unraveling the first puzzle was in the audio file of birds chirping: the file’s name, 50-112-251-215.mp3, directs attentive players to the IP address 184.108.40.206. Earlier today, visitors to Reddit’s main page were also presented with an advertisement driving to the same IP address, along with a companion ad for the Sky Full Society driving to the same audio file. The stark website features the Royal Secret Intelligence Service’s seal, along with a simple question: “ARE YOU FIT TO SERVE?” Beneath that is an image of a microphone, prompting users to use an audio cue as the password. While visitors aware of the file featuring birds chirping could proceed by playing the audio, others managed to access the site by vocalizing passphrases such as “God Save the Queen” or “Bond.”
Wieden+Kennedy’s viral experience for Skyfall begins in earnest after crossing this final threshold with a five-part employment examination conducted through a series of interactive fiction text adventures. Each test is designed to determine the player’s aptitude in five different skills MI6 requires in its agents: Situational Awareness, Emotional Detachment, Technical Improvisation, Lateral Thinking, and Instinct. In each test, players guide an agent on a mission, armed with limited time and supplies. A series of helpful hints makes it difficult but not impossible to fail missions, although finding the optimal solution to each challenge is not a simple task and may involve looking beyond the website for answers.
Win or lose, the experience is capped off with the Skyfall trailer. Sony product placement features heavily at every step, from the Sony IC Reader containing the first piece of the puzzle to the virtual phones and laptops used by agents to protect Queen and Country. While normally this might come off as heavy-handed, product placement and James Bond have gone hand in hand so long that Sony’s presence is a comfortable reminder that we’re dipping our toes in 007’s world.
On the surface, the Skyfall viral shares much in common with Byzantium Security, Campfire’s campaign for Cinemax’s Hunted. Both campaigns crafted a five-part employment examination, and both teams made explicit overtures to the Reddit community. From a gameplay perspective, however, the campaigns are polar opposites.
For Byzantium Security, the online test is designed to be the spectacle, with each new test carefully crafted to subvert expectations. For each new test, the challenge is to identify what Byzantium Security is really testing for—the answers themselves are largely irrelevant. Framed as an extended magic trick, the experience is designed to entice players to go through multiple times to figure out the trick.
With Skyfall‘s MI6 application process, the tests are much more straightforward assessments of the player’s mental acuity: either you’re capable of navigating the challenges, or you’re not. Since every mission involves guiding MI6 agents through missions, players face increasingly difficult challenges as they acclimate to the text adventure system. Players know exactly how their skills are tested: the challenge is continuously finding the optimal solution. And, by imposing artificial limits on the number of times each mission can be attempted, the Skyfall testing system more closely replicates an application process for secret agents, with all its urgency and finality. Knowing the all too real possibility of failure, successes in the Skyfall tests can be celebrated as personal triumphs, while messages noting better solutions may drive greater care in future missions. Despite their similarities, the two campaigns serve as distinct variations on a theme.
If you’re interested in testing your mettle against the five phases of Skyfall‘s MI6 application process, head over to RoyalSIS.co.uk before the newest installment of the Bond franchise hits theaters on November 9th. You can also join in the discussions about the missions over at Unfiction and Reddit. There are more than a few easter eggs out there for die-hard James Bond fans, so even if you found the best solution to all the challenges there may be some elements you missed.
EDITED TO ADD: Soon after Skyfall‘s premiere, the Royal SIS website was replaced with a fake 404 page claiming, “The exam you are looking for does not exist. In fact, it never existed.”