Why Mr Bean’s guide to London could be brilliant – or a disaster...
Mr Bean has been enlisted to promote London and its various attractions in a new mobile game - news which leaves me with mixed emotions. Not because I don’t like Mr Bean – I love him – but because I think he’s not being used to his full potential.
Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean is an icon of British creativity, and has been a brilliant ambassador for this country, particularly in the field of TV humour. He has global mass appeal, is recognised around the world and his non-verbal humour is understood and appreciated no matter what language people speak.
In that sense, he stands with the greats of the silent movie era, like Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp, or such figures as Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot or Marcel Marceau’s Bip. All of them transcend national and cultural barriers.
Mr Bean’s appearance in the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games was sheer genius and brilliantly set the tone for an Olympics that was all about taking part and having fun... It helped build an image of Britain as warm, welcoming, funny and worth visiting.
So yes, the idea of licensing Mr Bean to promote London has so much going for it.
However, as someone who has been involved in translating TV shows and fictional characters into the digital space for the last 15 years, I’m a bit disappointed that the actual mobile game – which is apparently going to be called 'Play London with Mr Bean' -- that’s going to be released is just a Match 3 game.
Match 3 games are the easiest possible genre for mobile and online games – which is why there are so many of them out there. Like fast food, they fill a need, but most of them don’t exactly excite and inspire.
Looking at the official release from London & Partners, Endemol and Pointvoucher, there are certainly some elements of the proposed Mr Bean game that do look like they could be really exciting – particularly the integration of geo-location into game play.
The release says that the game will engage with visitors so they can “discover London’s hidden tourist gems, and the city’s cultural and foodie highlights. It will feature hidden treasures and great offers that can be found all over the city.”
As I understand it, by playing the game, people can discover or earn vouchers which they will be able to trade in for discounts and offers on tourist-related activities – money off hotel rooms or visitor attractions and free WiFi, for example.
But I think there is so much more that could have been done with Mr Bean, and I’m not sure that a Match 3 format is the best use of the character and the emotional equity he brings with him.
I’d like to think that this is just the start, and that there are plans to leverage Mr Bean to engage visitors to London in more complex ways, with a game that perhaps has a greater depth and experience associated with it, offers more of an educational angle and brings to the fore some of London’s historic, cultural and social heritage in a richer experience.
The glory and the appeal of Mr Bean is that he is an innocent who has no understanding of how the simplest things work, coupled with a massive ego which means he thinks he knows the answer to everything. Imagine Mr Bean being given full rein to explore London, its history, its instructions and the people and cultures that live within its boundaries. Now that would be a game I’d like to play...
In the interests of transparency, I need to make a couple of things clear here.
Firstly, I used to work at Celador and Endemol; my business partner and I were responsible for the company’s digital strategy for some years, and oversaw a huge number of award-winning digital games based around Endemol’s properties, including Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Secondly, we are currently working with the City of Paris and the Ile de France on developing a mobile app which will enrich people’s experience of their visit to Paris while helping city authorities and cultural guardians better understand and manage how millions of visitors move around. So we have been looking at the whole idea of how a city can promote itself and the various attractions within it via mobile gaming and apps for a couple of years now. We can’t say too much about what we’re exploring for Paris right now, but geo-targeting and the distribution of relevant money saving offers are certainly elements we are looking at.
At the same time, though, we’re also trying to leverage the Intellectual Property of one of the world’s greatest cities to its fullest extent in a treatment that will involve more than just collecting ‘tiles’ showing the Eiffel Tower, Pont Neuf or the Arc de Triomphe. The point is to create games and digital experiences to enrich visitors’ experiences and make Paris more accessible – and it’s vital that anything we create should not simply be about reducing great cultural icons to the status of digital postcards. There’s too much meaning and history in a city like Paris – or London – for that.
Or, for that matter, reducing cultural icons like Mr Bean to the status of a transfer sticker...