Virgin seat-bouncing game

A few years ago, corporations decided that it would be really cool to create tiny Flash games inside online banner ads. The concept was that it would lure people into clicking on the ad. The problem is, these weren’t games at all: They were little bait-and-switch scams. Sure, it looked like you were supposed to “pin the tail on the donkey” or putt a hole-in-one — but as soon as you touched the ad, it would merely click through through to the corporate website. These were among the most annoying things I’ve ever seen online.

The weird thing is, corporations finally seem to have gotten the message. The smartest ones have ditched those stupid quasi-games, and are now creating tiny Flash ads that are genuinely playable — and, what’s more, rather fun and clever. I blogged a while ago about the brilliant GE ad that let you play a set of water droplets like a violin. And today I saw another excellent one one: An ad by Virgin Atlantic where you try to bounce a man off a plane seat-cushion, and see how high you can get him flying in the air.

What’s particularly cool is that it doesn’t even advertise itself as a controllable game. I was simply reading the web page that had the ad, when I looked over to notice something funny: The way the man jumps correlates to the way I moved my mouse. So I started experimenting, and quickly figured out a few techniques to get him to jump so high he vanished out the top of the ad. But nowhere did the ad say “click here to play this.” There are no instructions. It’s just designed so organically that you can instantly intuit what you’re supposed to do. I’ve seen commercial games developed for $10 million that haven’t achieved this. And I gotta say, it nicely conveys a message that Virgin is a fun company.

The only problem is, I’m not sure how to guide you to the game. I was reading this story at Business Week online when I saw it, so you could try looking there to see if it crops up; unfortunately, you have to register to view the page, I think.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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