LOS ANGELES—If you’re a fan of the wildly popular mobile game Merge Mansion—or at least its viral ad campaigns starring the likes of Kathy Bates and, more recently, Pedro Pascal—you’ve probably dreamed of stepping inside its puzzle-filled world. For a few lucky fans, members of the press, and VIPs, that became possible on March 28.
To coincide with the game’s biggest-ever update, which lets players inside the Boulton family mansion for the first time, game developer Metacore took over a real-life mansion in Los Angeles on the same day. Described as “part live-action theater, part escape room, and part lore museum,” the live experience featured actors playing in-game characters, who guided guests through the space to find clues, solve puzzles, encounter props related to the game, and even dig their hands in real pies and crawl through a fake fireplace.
“Metacore as a company has really high ambitions, and we always think of the players first—which means we’re always trying to think of new ways to entertain them and immerse them, and to tell our story,” explained Sandra Fenyo, Metacore's vice president of brand marketing, in an on-site interview with BizBash.
To bring the concept to life, Metacore worked with Finnish creative agency Reaktor and experiential agency Jack Morton Worldwide, along with Scout Expedition Co. and JFI Productions, on the scenic design and immersive theater experience. “What’s so great about this universe is the lore, the fans, and the way people just connect and engage with the story that’s in the game,” said Kali Heitholt, creative director at Jack Morton. “So we pitched, ‘Why don’t we actually allow guests into the mansion itself?’”
After a week of “mansion shopping,” Heitholt said with a laugh, the team settled on the Paramour Estate, an 18,000-square-foot, 1920s mansion and event venue in LA's Silver Lake neighborhood. “What was really cool was that while we were designing the activation, [the Metacore team] was still designing the interior of the mansion in the game,” Heitholt added—meaning that it became a sort of collaborative process, with both teams sharing ideas for things to include. “So we’re feeding off each other along the way, which was super unique. We were getting inspired by the IP, but the IP was also getting inspired by what we were doing.”
Another unique aspect? The Jack Morton team’s use of artificial intelligence to bring the experience to life. AI was used to create artwork, personal documents, clues, and other details that further immersed guests in the game's world—all aiming to evoke the feeling of stepping into a lived-in mansion and rifling through personal documents. Artwork using Midjourney was seen in postcards from the fictional town of Hopewell Bay, for example; it was also used to design all the props and labels in the house’s kitchen. ChatGPT, meanwhile, generated copy seen in the house, on invitations, and in a voicemail inbox recording that guests could call pre-event.
Heitholt stressed that AI wasn’t used to replace any human jobs. Instead, it was used to enhance the universe in ways they couldn’t have done on their own in the necessary time frame. “This would be hours and hours of work for designers—but now, they could really focus on what’s key and what matters, and then go in there and build so much more," she said.
The Merge Mansion game launched in September 2020 and quickly garnered as many as 40 million users—in part due to its viral ads, including the recent spot with Pascal that has been viewed nearly 37 million times and counting since its initial release on March 10. "I'm super happy with how the campaign is performing," said Fenyo, who is conscious of the challenges that come with making players feel immersed in a mobile game. "We wanted people to experience it in different ways, to really feel what it is to be in the Merge Mansion universe...We always want to do something different and do something really exciting. We are really happy with the results."
Scroll down to see more from inside the mansion...