Video game makers have always been keen to use whatever means necessary to drum up a bit of additional publicity – who could forget Maria Whittaker’s bikini-clad figure on the cover of C64 fighter Barbarian, or the use of infamous dictators to promote PC strategy title Command & Conquer?
However, while these examples used shock to gain attention, modern gamers are a little savvier these days, and this has forced developers to up their game considerably.
Kingmaker is an excellent indication of just how smart they’ve become. It’s an Android app (also available on the iPhone) which has been launched to create hype for the upcoming Xbox 360 RPG Fable III.
The concept is disarmingly straightforward. Once you download the app and register an account, you’re automatically assigned to one of two warring factions: the Royalists and the Rebels.
By planting flags, you can earn more territory for your faction as well as gold. Flags are planted using your phone’s geo-location service, and you can even check a map to see how much of the country has been dominated by your side. The more flags planted in one place, the more chance that it will fall to your cause.
Kingmaker plays out like a medieval version of FourSquare, although you’re not really competing for specific locations but territory. You can plant up to 10 flags in a day, with each one earning your 50 gold coins. You can even visit certain branches of GAME to uncover special treasure items, which adds even more cash to your war chest.
Of course, gold is only valuable when you’re able to actually spend it, and what’s where the promotional element comes in.
The money you gain through your flag-planting exploits can be used to buy items, upgrades and other commodities in the fully-blown version of Fable III (at least, it can when it’s eventually released – the game doesn’t actually hit store shelves until the 29th of October).
It’s a light-hearted bit of fun, but there are elements which reduce your enjoyment. Firstly, you have to sign in every single time you open up the app, which is annoying when you’ve entered enemy territory and want to quickly drop a flag down.
Secondly, the map doesn’t always update as quick as we’d like; sometimes it takes a few refreshes before it display your actual location, and not where you were three hours ago. It’s also worth noting that the app doesn’t work outside of Europe.
Ultimately, the biggest issue with Kingmaker is that it’s just a promotional tool. If you have no interest in Fable III then there’s little point in using it, as the only reward you get – aside from feeling part of a large, nation-wide movement – is gold to spend in that particular game.
As an interactive advert for a video game, Kingmaker is a success. But as a stand-alone application, seemingly in direct competition with the likes of FourSquare and Gowalla for your valuable time, it’s less convincing.