‘The greatest time suck ever known’: W+K Lodge builds physical worlds for Reddit robot escape

Be prepared to waste a few (fun) hours today

A palm-sized robot is bringing together the digital and physical worlds on Reddit in a real-life escape room experience through a combined effort between tech and creative groups.

Robotic and AI company Anki, the maker of the popular Cozmo robot, along with Wieden+Kennedy’s creative technology group, W+K Lodge, are bringing the weight of the Reddit community together in a game attempting to help the little robotic wonder make its way out of the live challenge site.

In what the trailer calls, “the greatest time suck ever known,” Cozmo Lost in Reddit begins today at 10am Pacific Time and will run for six hours livestreamed, a first for Reddit, and hosted by eSports host Rachel Seltzer and host of Disney XP’s The Attach, Alex Corea.

“This campaign marks a first for Reddit and our brand strategy team,” said Zubair Jandali, vice president of sales at Reddit. “Not only is it the largest-scale campaign built entirely around the Reddit community, it’s also the single, most creative brand activation we’ve had a chance to work on. It’s been incredible to watch this concept come to life over the past several months, and I can’t wait to see how our users respond.”

Added Nilesh Ashra, director of creative technology at W+K Lodge: “This is a combination of game design, robotics design, a narrative of puzzles, live streaming and other capabilities. As far as the format goes for the experience, this is a first.”

The simplest, and likely most reductive way to explain the game is that it is a “choose your own adventure” but powered by the Reddit community, which has past experience in user collaboration with The Button and Place, two collaborative social experiments. The sheer amount of thought and work that has gone into Cozmo Lost in Reddit, however, underscores how interesting and unique it is.

“It’s the first physical manifestation of the Reddit community, and we knew that in order to get this right, we had to strike a balance between something both unique and familiar to Redditors,” said Joe Federer, senior brand strategist at Reddit. “Most importantly, it's a powerful demonstration of what's possible for brands that embrace Reddit communities."

The physical worlds created by W+K Lodge are of popular subreddits: r/shittyrobots, r/showerthoughts, r/rarepuppers, r/gaming, r/memeeconomy, r/whatcouldgowrong and r/hailcorporate.

Where the quest begins to get Cozmo, launched last October, out of Reddit is in r/hailcorporate, the subreddit where attempts at advertising go to pasture. The physical design is described as a “Dystopian Times Square” and it is also where one can learn the basics of the game mechanics throughout the experience, including voting, tapping on cubes to spur an action, and how Cozmo is generally controlled.

From there the robot will make its way into one of three ‘experience rooms’ in an attempt to get karma points, a currency on Reddit that rewards contributions of the community.

In the case of the r/rarepuppers room, for example, Cozmo will be surrounded by real puppies at a ‘pupper birthday party’ (the interaction of which should be entertaining on its own) and attempt to build karma. In r/shittyrobots, Cozmo, with the help of the community, will need to operate a shitty robot to get karma.

After exploring the ‘experience rooms,’ Redditors will then take Cozmo into the ‘challenge rooms,’ where the tasks further demand community knowledge, acumen with a healthy does of experimentation and collaboration.

The difference between the rooms, said Ashra, is that in the experience rooms, Cozmo’s main challenge is to do things to get karma points, while in the challenge rooms, “he can use those karma points in gaming, meme economy, and what can go wrong, where there’s much more significant and complex challenges to solve. And in those, he gathers the key cubes that are keys for him to escape.”

All the time, no matter the experience or challenge, Cozmo, designed by Anki head vehicle designer Harald Belker, best known for designing the Batmoble in Batman & Robin, is continually learning (the AI part) but also is injecting its own personality to the entirety of the six hours.

“[We’re] allowing people to form relationships with technology that feels a little more human,” said Craig Rechenmacher, chief marketing officer of Anki. “Cozmo’s all about personality and [he is] the little robot with big personality.”

The Reddit reaction?

Indeed, W+K Lodge has deep experience in the “classic” brand world — with interesting work for Nike’s Maker Experience and KFC with a robotic Colonel Sanders. The team, based in Portland, has also been about unique collaboration with more non-traditional and evolving brands such as food company Soylent and now with San Francisco-based Anki.

Yet, Cozmo Lost in Reddit is fairly deep brand placement, albeit extraordinarily unique. Getting close to the hot sun of advertising demanded a balance. However, the nature of the product suits the more tech-forward thinking crowd on Reddit and the idea of collaborative puzzle-solving and internet quests is also desirable.

“If you look at the culture of Reddit, there's a couple things that they've really identified with. One, is like they're definitely tech forward. They appreciate experimentation,” said Ashra. And then collaborative puzzle solving, internet quests. You can get Reddit into a collaborative problem solving faster than any community that's ever existed.”

Therefore, even though the game is essentially advertising for a highly sophisticated robot, they acknowledge that up front.

“We’re going to fully embrace the fact that this is advertising. We get that out of the way, right off the bat and we hope people move beyond that at that point and just realize we’re providing them with a fun and entertaining experience, but I’d be lying if I said that we weren’t a little anxious about how they were going to react,” said Rechenmacher.

So though this is a first for Reddit, all are optimistic that it will be received well by the community just by the sheer number of possibilities in the game.

“The only other thing we can do is just make something awesome,” added Paulo Ribeiro, managing director of W+K Lodge. “Every one of these rooms is deep, the puzzles are interesting, there’s a lot of different stuff that can happen and it’s full of homages and awesome Easter eggs for each of those communities. We worked really hard [and] they should love them. Our goal is more people get introduced to Cozmo...There’s not one happy path through this game. There are endless permutations of what could happen.”

When the game goes live at 10am Pacific Time today, Redditors will speak with their actions, and the designers of the game and of Cozmo, the second best-selling premium-priced toy last holiday season, hope that they’re giving all the tools to help the players get through the game in time, and possibly before the six hours are up, so they make a connection with Cozmo in a real way.

“Cozmo is one of the most sophisticated robots in existence,” added Ashra. “This experience is about using Reddit as a place where significant culture happens, to put that aspect of Cozmo on a pedestal. And to essentially be part of that conversation in a way that is true to Cozmo.”

Doug Zanger

Doug Zanger is the Americas editor for The Drum. He leads the Americas editorial team’s content activity in the growing region. Based in Portland, Oregon, he is committed to sharing the most meaningful stories that benefit the global industry and its people. A Minnesota native, Zanger has covered a wide range of brands, issues and personalities, including Aloe Blacc, Seu Jorge, Wendy Clark, Susan Credle, Dan Wieden, Jeff Goodby and more. Fiercely dedicated to diversity, equality and talent, he has interviewed several women in leadership roles through his Exceptional Women of the World podcast.

All by Doug