Friday, 17 April 2009

The Routes of success

Routes, the cross-platform game and mini-series developed by Channel 4 in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, proved a big hit with its target audience of UK teenagers, particularly girls. Figures released by Channel 4 Education show the Routes website was visited by some 150,000 people, with 44 per cent of registered players from the UK and some 70 per cent of those girls.

Routes, part of the Trust’s Darwin 200 activities, was launched in January as a new way to engage young people with science, particularly genetics and bioethics. The project ran for eight weeks, spearheaded by a web mini-series following comedian Katherine Ryan on her quest to find out more about her genetic make-up.

Accompanying the episodes were flash games, challenges and web forums. But the centrepiece was an alternate reality story linking characters from the Routes universe with events staged in real life.

At the launch of the project, it was announced that the Routes scientific adviser had been found dead, and this kicked off a murder mystery for players to solve. As Routes progressed, players joined forces to find clues across the web. One player hit the streets of Plymouth with flyers, while others created blogs, went to in-game lectures and gigs, created Facebook groups and even business cards. The culmination of the story saw six players, including a young science teacher, break into a fake lab to solve the case.

The Routes video and games were featured on Youube, Bebo, MSN, Miniclip, Fingertime, and E4, and spread virally to Facebook, Twitter, Flash Arcade, Gameslist, The Awesomer, and Gamegirly.

The flash games, introducing players to the principles of evolution, virology, DNA and genetics, were played over 3.5 million times. Over 50,000 votes were cast in the image challenges, and thousands of photos uploaded to the main Routes website as players clocked up points and achievements in a competition to win one of nine Playstation 3 consoles.

The success of Routes illustrates how games and cross platform projects can help reach a teenage audience and address the issues they face in a rapidly changing world.

“Routes was the best way we could attract a young, technically-savvy audience who wouldn't normally pay any attention to information about Darwin and genetic science,” said Dr Daniel Glaser, Head of Special Projects at the Wellcome Trust.

“By giving young people something that they could get deeply involved in – to the extent of coming along to real-life events and even joining in the action of the story – Routes hooked their interest in the relevance to their own lives of genetics and genomics.”

Although the project has now finished it’s run, you can still access all the web episodes, games and other material at

UPDATE: The Guardian has an interview with the Routes alternate-reality game developer, which explains the concept pretty well.

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