When W Hotels decided to move into Bellevue, Washington, the brand quickly found out its neighbors are serious gamers. Around the corner are Bungie, 5th Cell, Sucker Punch and Valve, behind blockbusters Halo, Destiny, Scribblenauts, InFamous and Half-Life. Down the road is Microsoft’s Xbox headquarters.
So it only made sense for W to start creating its own video games, with the first, Belle the Bear, available to play now.
In the heart of Washington state’s tech but also nature hub, W wanted to do doing something different to showcase both the hotel and the region in opening the W Bellevue, while still maintaining a sense of whimsy. The result is Belle the Bear, an 80s-inspired, Web-based video game that’s playable on pretty much any device.
Like all things like this, there's an element of risk. No one has ever done it before. But that's sort of in W's DNA.
In the game, Belle travels Frogger-style through Bellevue’s forests, highways and technology centers to the W Bellevue, gathering as many bitcoins as she can along the way. (The W Bellevue is the chain’s first hotel to accept the digital currency.) She also has to avoid a variety of enemies and obstacles, ranging from bees and snakes to robots and drones.
While many animals hibernate in the woods, Belle, prefers accommodations that are a bit more upscale. After all, why stay in a damp, drafty cave (where you have occasionally have to wake up and chase off interlopers), when you can snooze on a W Signature bed and relax with a 43-inch flatscreen TV?
The problem is: The journey from her forest home to the W Bellevue, the chain’s first North American hotel in seven years, is filled with hazards. And Belle needs your help to navigate them.
While it’s a game with ample throwback charm, there’s more to Belle the Bear than just providing a brief distraction from your day or earning bragging rights among your friends. The person with the top score at the end of June will receive a three night stay at the W Bellevue, including airfare, $500 spending money and more.
Bellevue, for decades, was a retreat for people in Seattle — and the entire Northwest. Located along Lake Washington, it’s a city that takes special care to ensure commercial development doesn’t overshadow or overwhelm its natural resources.
Over the last decade or so, though, it has also become a Northwest tech hub. Microsoft and Nintendo of America call the area home. Expedia and T-Mobile are other corporate residents — and there’s an active tech startup community. Those companies catch the attention of a high-tech, millennial traveler — and that’s exactly who the game aims to attract as well.
We wanted to find a way to attract an audience rather than disrupt them.
Blending together both the budding tech community and the area’s natural wonders was critical to both the W Hotels brand and Pen & Public, the developers of the game.
“We wanted to find a way to attract an audience rather than disrupt them,” says Brock Marlborough, production director at Pen & Public. “A video game felt like the right amount of tech and entertainment. It gave us a blank canvas to tell the story of Bellevue, infusing in nature, technology and elements that were unique to the property and the W brand.”
Belle the Bear is browser-based, meaning players don’t have to go through the headache of downloading an app or program. Playtime is just a browser click away. That makes the game accessible to just about anyone, regardless of the device they’re using or the strength of their Internet connection. And they don’t have to worry about chewing up storage space on their phone or PC either.
Plus, it features retro, 8-bit graphics (think Space Invaders, Donkey Kong or the original Super Mario Bros.), a graphical style that’s especially cool these days.
“Like all things like this, there’s an element of risk,” concedes Anthony Ingham, global brand leader at W Hotels Worldwide. “No one has ever done it before. But that’s sort of in W’s DNA. … It’s a game that appeals to the techies that are going to be coming to our hotel, but also to a large general audience.”
Naturally, W Hotels is planning on having some fun with Belle. It’s already started putting its new digital character inside the company’s properties — in the shower, and enjoying the pool.
To appeal to that millennial, tech audience, W pushed a few boundaries with Belle the Bear. In a winking nod to Washington’s recent legalization of certain substances, Belle has some unusual power-ups. She can imbibe magic mushrooms and/or marijuana leaves as she works her way from the forest to the city. And she can sip on cocktails once she makes it to the hotel bar, before headed out to the bonus level, which we won’t spoil.
That’s not a feature every hotel chain would add to a game, but included in the risk-taking DNA of W Hotels is a keen awareness of its target audience and their interests.
“I think it’s about looking at it through the lens of our target customers, particularly people living in Washington state,” says Ingham. “You’re looking at a younger, affluent connected crowd. I think there is no stigma attached to marijuana or mushrooms in that audience. … There obviously will be more traditional consumers in the market for whom it might be a bit more risky, but that’s really not our target.”