Sneak King is an advergaming title from Burger King for the Xbox and Xbox 360 video game consoles. On November 19, 2006, Burger King started selling it for an additional $3.99 USD with any value meal. Players takes control of The King, the mascot for Burger King, in a stealth food-delivery themed game than spans four unique levels based on Burger King's own commercial advertisements. Sneak King is one of three titles released by Burger King and developed by Blitz Games as part of five week promotional campaign between November 19 and December 24, 2006.
The three game project began at an award festival in Cannes when senior executives from Microsoft and Burger King met at the awards for the I Love Bees and Subservient Chicken advertising campaigns. Blitz Games was chosen to develop the games, originally for Xbox Live Arcade, but this was changed to an multi-platform single-disc that would run two separate masters of the game for Xbox and Xbox360. Development of the project was closely tied to the other two games and was done as a collaboration with Sneak King' development being directly lead by Burger King's vision. The game started as a tile-based puzzle game, but quickly became a Spy vs Spy-style caper until Burger King rejected multiple Kings, players becoming the King or the King being threatened.
Sneak King did not win critical acclaim and its reviews often reflected its unusual design elements, but the project was a financial success and resulted in millions of units being sold. Collectively, the games ranked amongst the top 10 best selling games of 2006. Burger King's Russell Klein would attribute the three game project as being the driving force behind the company's 40% quarterly sales increase.
The player takes control of The King, the mascot for Burger King, attempting to sneak around and deliver Burger King meals to hungry people. Each level starts with The King in a "sandbox" free play mode in which the King is able to walk around and freely explore the level. It is here the player also selects the challenges: a set of specific rules for food delivery. Some missions may require completing a certain type of challenge, like not being spotted or require a certain chain combo be reached. After a challenge is completed a letter score of "A", "B" or "C" will be given based on points and/or completion times. Sneak King's gameplay consists of four levels to explore, the Saw Mill, Cul-De-Sac, Construction Zone, and Downtown. Each level features a unique map and 20 challenges each.
The general gameplay borrows from games such as Metal Gear Solid and Manhunt. Other characters have a blue "cone of vision" in front of them, if the player walks into this cone or if a character approaches the player will be spotted. The King also makes noise as he runs, being too loud will alert nearby characters. Silence and stealth are the primary means of food delivery. Food may also only be delivered if a hunger icon appears above a character. Characters that are hungry for too long will eventually pass out from hunger for a few minutes, encouraging quick delivery. However, the more hungry a character gets, the more points awarded for delivery. The hunger icon will change from green to red, finally flashing prior to the character passing out. A character who spots the King may not become interested again. In addition to merely sneaking up behind a character, the King may also hide in various locations and surprise a character with food when they approach. It is not possible to deliver food in sandbox mode nor will characters either see or hear the King. The types of food the King can deliver are Burger King's own menu offerings, these include Whoppers, BK Joes, French fries, and Croissan'Wiches.
The bottom left-hand corner shows a circular area map, with the noise meter circling the right side. The map displays an area around the player and turns as the player moves, with an arrow pointing north. In free play mode it displays challenge markers. In challenge mode it indicates where NPCs are and their status. Each challenge marker displays a "!" when the challenge has not been accepted. A letter score will be indicated upon completion, and an "X" indicated either challenge failure or quit. Challenges may be retried at any time.
Points are awarded based on how hungry a character is, player stealth, proximity to an NPC and other style points. When presenting food, a Flourish meter appears which quickly fills and empties, requiring a timed button press. The higher the flourish meter, the more style points awarded and the more elaborate the food delivery display. Pushing nothing results in a standard delivery. Fulfilling half the challenges on a level opens the way to the next level. Once all 80 challenges are completed, an alternative costume is unlocked. Gamerscore is rewarded for achieving certain goals or style on the Xbox 360 version.
The origin of three Burger King-themed Xbox Games came about in Cannes when senior executives from Microsoft and Burger King met at the awards for the I Love Bees and Subservient Chicken advertising campaigns. Microsoft wanted the Xbox games to be fun for the players and that the environment would be a Burger King-themed context not be reduced to simply pushing its brand. In the fall of 2005, Blitz Games entered into talks with Burger King and the development team began work in February 2006. In an interview with Gamasutra, Philip Oliver stated that he was talking with Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade portfolio manager, Ross Erickson and had an interest in developing Xbox Live games, but lacked funding as an independent developer. During Oliver and Erickson's talks, Erickson agree to notify Oliver of any leads on advertisers looking for product placement in video games. A week or two after that, Oliver received a call from Erickson about Burger King's interest in creating three games. Gamasutra's interviewer, Brandon Sheffield, noted the odd choice of an American company using a British developer, but Oliver explained that Burger King was familiar with their first Xbox release Fuzion Frenzy.
The development began as Xbox Live games, but Burger King wanted the games to also be playable on the Xbox, but the console platform was not able to access Xbox Live Arcade. Burger King decided that having them as boxed games which would require the customer to come into the store to obtain the game. When advised of the difficulty in the production, Burger King explained that it would be able to get approval from Microsoft and that both the Xbox and Xbox360 versions of the game should be available on the same disc.
Blitz Games assigned two project managers for the games, Chris Swan and John Jarvis, who held daily conference calls with Burger King and Microsoft's Xbox division throughout the project. Blitz Games worked on increasing communication between the companies by showing the development process for a previous game, from "first the black and white sketches, then the color concepts, environment blockouts, texturing and lighting, and finally the results on screen." By laying out a previous workflow process, Blitz Games helped to bridged the advertising presentation gap Burger King's marketers; a failure of which could have "crippled the project." Burger King and Blitz Games held daily conference calls to review the designs and Burger King was most concerned with the positive portrayal of the characters.
Blitz Games had staff of fifteen people working on the original Xbox360 games grew to nearly sixty persons after Burger King increased the contract and budget for the games. In total, 80 developers were involved in the project. The task of producing two different versions were made easier by Blitz Games' production toolchain that had built-in compatibility for Xbox and the developers able to adjust the game with appropriate hardware coding that had already been previously developed by the company. During the end of each month of the development, the builds of the games were provided to Microsoft as required of all developers. Both masters of the games are included on the discs, Oliver guesses that the Xbox and Xbox360 were able to launch the specific executable based on file name because each disc contains two separate masters and two separate sets of assets. Oliver judged that the Xbox 360's graphics were twice as good as the Xbox, but was far from utilizing the full performance of the Xbox360 hardware. Tasked with creating three games, Blitz Games managed to get an extra month to develop the game due to the challenges involved in the production and a second month after Microsoft agreed to "fast track" the games through the Quality Assurance process. Oliver summed it up by stating "But we still had to effectively do three original games, two (Stock keeping units) of each, in seven months. Scary, but we did it! They're all mastered, they're all in production, and there's going to be two million units of each disc."
Sneak King development
The three games were a collaboration of ideas between Burger King and Blitz Games, with Sneak King being Burger King's vision based on their commercials. Oliver stated, "Sneak King is derived by them, purely from their commercials. It was basically 'here's our commercials, we have to have a video game around them.' They threw in all their ideas, and we made it work." Originally, the game was designed as a tile-based puzzle game, but it soon evolved into a Spy vs Spy caper with multiple Kings "trying to out-deliver one another while laying traps for their enemies. This was where the notion of hiding inside everyday objects came from." The developers designed the four environments, "the sawmill, suburban cul-desac, construction site, and urban downtown", based on Burger King's commercials. Burger King was very precise in the requirement that its characters had to be large, but had not been concerned with the level of advertising holdings or logo advertisement.
Several defining aspects of the game impacted its development, first by making sure there was only one "King". The developers had the idea of the Xbox avatars playing the game and finding the crown to become the King, but this was rejected. The next idea was to have one person be the King and the other players lay traps to interfere with his deliveries, but it was rejected because the King could be in any danger. With the usual hazards and competition elements of the video games removed, the developers decided upon stealth game with no human opponents. In order to better capture the accuracy and authenticity of the King's movements, the King was flown to Britain for motion capture for the game's production. Blitz Games' Edward Linley described Sneak King as the riskiest game concept of the project because it "is the appearance and antics of the King himself that give the game its humor and life; without him, the game simply wouldn't work. Until we had the finished King model and motion capture in the game, we couldn't be certain the concept would gel. Fortunately, the moment he went in, we knew we had created something truly unique." Linley also highlighted that the project was a success because of the priority over quality, Blitz Game's in-house tools and Burger King's commitment and backing of the project. Production of the game suffered from the disused character customizer, the change in memory made possible by a physical Xbox disc release mid-project and changing player profile practices which factored into the early development of the project. Sneak King's programming code consists of 60,000 active lines with another 43,000 developer comment lines. The game did not include a list of credits in its instruction manual.
Sneak King was one of three promotional Burger King-themed releases for winter 2006, the other two games were Pocketbike Racer and Big Bumpin'. The Burger King-only marketing run was from November 19 through December 24, 2006. The games were available for $3.99 with any purchase of any Burger King value meal. Destructoid later noted that the cost of the games were later reduced to $0.99 in February 2007. In January 2007, the marketing firm Crispin Porter + Bogusky stated that more than 2.7 million games were sold in the promotion. It was reported that more than 3.2 million copies were sold, Sneak King sales by itself were not given, in Game Developer's April 2007 issue.
Reception and impact
GameSpot's Jeff Gerstmann gave it a 5.8 out of 10 and despite describing it as weird and poorly made, he concluded that "Sneak King is a one-trick pony that is an interesting curiosity with a subversive sense of humor." X-Play gave the game a one out of five, but noted that "[t]his is the game that really got the buzz going about BK's whole foray into gaming, thanks mostly to screenshots of the Burger King hiding in a garbage can, lying in wait for what appeared to be a college-age woman walking toward him. Stalking in the name of great taste." Kate Macarthur of Advertising Age noted that, "Burger King's 'Sneak King' video game for Xbox may not have won rave reviews, but gamers still bought more than 2 million copies."
The immediate impact of Sneak King on Blitz Games was the financial boost it provided, it allowed the company to improve its technology and it also partially funded Blitz Games' Blitz Arcade. Collectively, the games were enough to be ranked amongst the top 10 best selling games of 2006. Story wrote, "Using Xbox data on game use, the Burger King game equates in time spent to more than 1.4 billion 30-second commercials[.]" The success of the project, including Sneak King was noted as a key part of Burger King's 40% increase in sales during the quarter and it was affirmed by Russell Klein that Burger King attributed the majority of that success to the project.
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