Jun 26, 2013

[Games] Dumb Ways to Die (iOS)


At first I thought it was just another silly game app. As my partner Tobie and I went through the game, we certainly found it entertaining enough. After all, it was a series of diverse mini-games that fully utilized the iPad's capabilities while the time pressure element just increased steadily.

But after a little online research helped me find out that Dumb Ways to Die was far more than just another gaming app. In fact, it's just the latest component of a highly successful public service announcement campaign from Australia, which is now a game that is sweeping across the web.

And this is all centered around a nicely catchy tune that just won't get out of my head.

Let's rewind a bit to November 2012. At that point, Metro Trains in Melbourne Australia launched a new multimedia campaign to promote rail safety. The campaign, created by McCann Melbourne, featured these quirky little blob-like characters demonstrating various dumb ways to die. Of course the "dumbest" ways to die involved common rail safety concerns like standing past the yellow line or trying to cross the tracks without looking.


The centerpiece of the whole campaign was this extremely catchy song written by John Mescall with music by Ollie McGill and The Cat Empire. It was performed by Emily Lubitz, the lead vocalist of Tinpan Orange. The video above was developed by Pat Baron and animated by Julian Frost. Since it's initial release, it has been viewed over 50 million times and the iTunes version of the song is considered to be Australia's biggest viral hit to-date.

Now the game was released in May 2013 and uses each of the characters as the lead in a mini-game demonstrating different ways to die. Each uses different iPad / iPhone actions to drive the game such as the need to tap repeatedly so the character can put out his burning hair or to carefully swipe a piece of toast that you're fishing out of a live toaster with a fork.


You get three "lives" for the game and every time you fail the challenge given the time limit, you lose a life. Ultimately your goal is to get the highest possible score, which you can share with your friends on social media. Beyond the basic enjoyment of bragging rights, achieving certain point targets unlocks more characters who will appear on the train station, which is the default menu for the game as well.

And eventually you get to unlock the video itself and other little features like making a safety pledge not to be stupid around trains.

To be fair, this entire campaign has proven to be rather successful. And I'm not just talking about the awards that McCann Melbourne has won, but more in terms of how successful this campaign has been. Compared to accident data from the year prior to the launch of the campaign, Metro Trains reported a 30% reduction in "near-miss" accidents in the span of 3 months. And that's a pretty good thing indeed.

The game is brilliant in its simplicity - and I admit finding myself playing it repeatedly. I won't say that I'm addicted to the game or anything - but it does make for a great casual game that you can pick up when you have some spare time. And of course the whole time the message of the game just creeps into your subconsciousness.

A lot of advertising and marketing folks can learn from this campaign. It's a total social media win.

Dumb Ways to Die impresses me on so many levels. But in the end, I have to admit that it's the song that really clinched the deal and I love re-watching the video too. As for the game, it gets 4.5 psychos trying to get into your home out of a possible 5.
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